"When is the best time to plant a tree?" I'm sure was a common question for county agents back when people used to visit their local Extension office. The answer according to an old proverb answers, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
Now I'll ask, "When is the best time to fix Extension?" The best time was 20 years ago, but the second-best time is now. Extension professionals could have been early adopters of the Internet back when it was commercialized in the 1990's - but we didn't. And Extension could have jumped all over social media in 2004 - but we didn't. What could we do right now that we're not?
I was in a leadership meeting last month and a more senior agent said, "Hey we gotta get on this social media stuff, it's not a fad, it's here to stay!" Although I've been saying that since I discovered MySpace back in 2004, and more publicly since I started in Extension in 2011...my eyes got big, I thought, "Yes! Hello, it's 2014! There might still be hope for you people!" Some get it sooner, others get it later - what matters is she finally realized it and others are starting to as well. Extension is late, but now is still the time to start investing in this new technology.
The word now is hopeful. The fact that we can choose now, at this moment, to move forward is empowering. Now is the best time to change the way you work and start becoming the professional you want to eventually be in 20 years.
It's a new year and you get a fresh start. At one time or another we have all wanted to start again with a clean slate. In a sense I'm starting over with a very clean slate this year. My office burned down two weeks into 2014. We lost everything we use to deliver our Extension programs (not my files of course, thank you dropbox). What a way to start the year!
As I watched my Extension office burn down, trying not to think that this was some sort of sign of things to come in the next 100 years, I started making a list of all the important things that I would need replaced so I could keep moving programs forward. I also thought about all the clutter and junk that had been collected over the years that everyone was too afraid to throw away. This caused me to ask myself, "What programs are slowing me down? Holding me back? Keeping me too busy to make more impacts? What am I holding onto that I need to let go of so I can move forward?"
This is when I realized I needed to cut some of my programs. They're good programs, but they're holding me back. They take up too much time, the time I could use to focus on developing more relevant, creative, and innovative programs that would better meet the needs of my community.
One of the things that derail our efforts to change is procrastination. We sometimes delay starting, waiting for the right moment to begin: the first day of a new year, the end of summer, when we get tenure, after the kids move out, after we retire.
We don’t need an invitation. We don’t need to wait for permission to start. We must reject the tyranny of being picked. Pick yourself. We can waste years waiting to be picked. This is a false premise. In the morning the sun will rise. With every new day, a new dawn comes. And with a new day comes a new start. The opportunity to begin again.
Sometimes the thing that holds us back is fear. Are you afraid that you won’t succeed? Or maybe you will? That you might be embarrassed? That success might change you? And so you wait. Or give up.
We certainly will fail (at least in the short run). Rather than let this knowledge discourage you, let it empower you. This understanding removes the pressure of being perfect right now. Knowing this up front takes away most of the discouragement of failure. Approach your goals this way, failure doesn’t have to limit you. Even if you fail to reach your ultimate, desired destination right away, you will have made progress along the road that will lead to success. Just continuing the journey makes us greater than we were before.
What successes would you like to have this year? The best time to fix Extension is now.
I want to know about your ideas and what you are doing. Please comment below or find me on twitter and lets share. I want to fix Extension (#FixExt) together.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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