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Lifelong learning: Making the most of challenges

Hank Wagner for Progressive Dairy Published on 19 July 2021

We’ve all asked that question at one point or another. Whether it’s on the farm, a committee or at church, we sometimes find ourselves in a role that feels over our head.

And that can leave us uncertain about how to handle our new position.



I found myself in that situation in 1997. I attended a PDPW meeting; the next thing I knew, I was on the board of directors of this exciting new organization. (OK, yes, I had agreed to be a candidate; however, I was confident I wouldn’t be elected.) As a shy, introverted person who much preferred being alone in a tractor, when I heard that I had been elected to the board, I was overwhelmed. Despite my natural inclinations to find a way out, I mustered up my courage and served my term. Eventually, I even served as vice president and president.

Each additional step was challenging and terrifying. I began to see how the new levels of responsibility were helping me to grow. I now felt compelled to read books about leadership, work on my communication skills and participate in the John C. Maxwell leadership program. It lit a fire within me, and since then my hunger to grow in the area of leadership has been relentless.

The experience required me to grow and stretch more than anything else in my life. With a new perspective, I realized my occupation as a dairy farmer is important, but it’s not what matters most in my life. We all have gifts, talents and boundless potential. It’s up to each of us to believe in ourselves, to set goals and stretch to reach them.

The first and most crucial step is making the decision to grow yourself. After that, it’s easy to find programs that fit your time and schedule. Successful people know learning doesn’t stop with formal education offered by high school, trade school or college. Once those degrees have been earned, it’s up to each of us to decide what we want to improve and then develop a plan to do so. Any number of options exist, including structured training programs like those offered by PDPW or more casual choices, such as working with mentors on specific topics. Deciding to surround yourself with people who will challenge and share their knowledge with you can be one of the best decisions you can make.

“Not having enough time” is one of the most common reasons we give for not taking on a challenge or learning something new. However, we all make time for what is important to us. And we all have access to 1,440 minutes each day; it’s up to us to decide how to use them.


What priority do you place on your own improvement and growth? Start with basic steps; it can be as simple as getting up 10 minutes earlier or opting to read a specific book or article instead of turning on the television or checking social media feeds. Every step is important in building new habits and investing in yourself.

Once you’ve spent even a little time developing yourself, start sharing your knowledge and mentoring the rest of your team and others around you.

More than 20 years after joining the PDPW board, I’m still an introvert. I still need time alone to recharge after speaking at events. But I’ve learned that committing to personal-growth experiences – even when I’ve wished I hadn’t – has afforded me life-transforming experiences. end mark

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Hank Wagner is the founder of Wagner Leadership Training and owns a 650-cow dairy farm in northeastern Wisconsin with his family. A John Maxwell certified speaker, trainer and coach, Hank has authored a book titled Teachable Moments and formed Wagner Leadership Training to help individuals, families, organizations and businesses be their best. Learn more about Wagner Leadership.

Hank Wagner
  • Hank Wagner

  • Founder
  • Wagner Leadership Training