It was a Sunday afternoon, and my grandpa and I were on a mission to complete a task that required the upmost concentration, the skill of a master, and some intense strategy. We were… completing a puzzle. Again. My grandpa is the puzzle king. It seemed like every time we went to my grandparents house I would find myself in his work room, helping, or rather watching, him complete yet another 5,000-plus piece puzzle. And, every time, before grandpa had time to put those final puzzle pieces in place, there would be my parents, telling me it was time to head home. I never have seen those puzzles completely finished.
Unfinished. This is a word we often look at negatively. I mean, do we not all just love those movies that end with the lame "to be continued?" Sometimes, though, "unfinished" can be a positive statement! I am totally guilty of enjoying a good ole' chocolate chip cookie that may not quite be my mother's definition of finished baking. What about considering ourselves to be unfinished? Think about that. Are we ever completely finished growing as individuals? There is no way we could be! If we were finished, that would mean that we would never again learn something new. That would mean that our entire purpose that we discover we personally have that, in some way, allows us to serve others, would be nonexistent, because we would be finished learning how we can make an impact. That would mean once we reached a goal we had set, or our vision, we would have nothing else to work toward, because we would be finished. To continuously seek that personal growth, we must be unfinished. We must be unfinished learning. We must be unfinished serving others. And, we must be unfinished pursuing our personal visions.
Ever since placing my GPS, fondly named Lucy Lou, in my car last year, I cannot tell you the number of times that I have heard, “Jordan, you really need to learn to quit relying on that GPS thing!” “I know, Dad, I know.” But, I already knew I could read a map if I needed to, and I had Lucy Lou to tell me where to go. Besides, how hard is it to follow a few arrows on a sign if I need to, anyway? My navigational skills were just fine. I am sure you can guess where this story is going. Sometimes, Lucy is… wrong. Take, for example, last fall, when I was attempting to navigate around the Kansas City area. It was going great, thanks to Lucy, until I found that the exit I was supposed to take was closed, and Lucy did not want to recalculate. I look to my teammates in the passenger seats… asleep. Great. Now, I have two options: A, I can pull over and pull out the map my dad had stuck in my glove compartment just in case I decided to listen to his advice, or B, I can try to understand the signs.
If I had listened to that advice I was given to learn an alternative method of navigating my car, I probably would have had much fewer turnarounds. But, instead, I had decided that I was finished learning. We have all had those circumstances where someone was trying to tell us about a better method to accomplish something, and all we want to respond with is a, " I know, Dad, I know." But, no matter where we are at, there is always room to learn more and grow. Think about how many opportunities we have to continue learning: in class, in sports practice after school, at our jobs, at home. It does not matter whether the learning opportunity is large or small, as long as we always think of ourselves as unfinished learners. In the words of Henry L. Doherty, “Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study. Be a student so long as your still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.”
Imagine what we could learn if we made the conscious decision to be unfinished learning. There would be no limit to the knowledge and skills we could gain. FFA members, every day, you demonstrate a want for learning. On each of these puzzle pieces (on screen) is something that a Kansas FFA member wants to learn. This puzzle only shows a small portion of all of the learning opportunities that over 8,000 Kansas FFA members are seeking. And, this puzzle is never finished. What pieces will you add to your puzzle? What do you want to learn? Even more, how will you make sure that you approach each day with a desire to learn, so that you can take advantage of even the unexpected learning opportunities that come your way? To be unfinished learners, we continue to add pieces to this puzzle. If we strive to do so with the purpose of continuously growing the puzzle but never completing it, we allow our learning to be unfinished.
While we continue to learn, we discover areas in which we can serve others, showing us that our service must also always be unfinished.
I had the opportunity to meet an individual who quickly became one of my greatest role models. It seems to this individual, Becky, it does not matter whether she is putting everything she is doing aside to sit down an offer advice to one individual, or inspiring thousands through a leadership conference or presentation of some sort, it is service. Here is the thing, though, about Becky. She has done some absolutely incredible things to serve others, but I am not going to try to pick one huge act of service and share that with you today, because the reason why Becky is my role model is that she does not accomplish one amazing feat, realize she has made a difference, and stop there. She continuously serves others with every action. She realizes which areas she can make the greatest impact, and serves with passion, with everything she has, because she knows she is always unfinished serving.
By being around Becky even just for a moment, I realized where we are often wrong in our approach to service. I think about my motives for participating in some of those “service projects” I’ve volunteered for. How many times do we volunteer to “serve” just so that we have a few more service hours to put on a resume? To me, the word "service" just meant I could help for a couple of hours at some cause or service project, and I had finished my good deed until the next time. My idea of what service is definitely had room to grow. If we approach these service activities that we volunteer for with the mindset of, "two more hours here, and I can go home and log these hours for that next application or award," we are considering our service to be finished as soon as we sit down to log those hours. The problem with this is that service is not just an act; it is an attitude, a lifestyle.
Maybe it is time we write our own definition of service. It could say something more along the lines of focusing all of our actions on the benefit of others, not just while at that community service project event and not for our own personal gain. This would mean changing our mindset to follow that FFA motto we have all learned. That last line says, "Living to Serve." If we are truly trying to live out those words through our actions, then we cannot be done serving at the end of the day. We should be adding pieces to our puzzle in the form of service at every opportunity. Our service must be unfinished.
Now, we cannot be unfinished learning or serving if we quit envisioning ways in which we can grow.
When I was on my first grade baseball team, I had this vision. There I would be, up to bat, hitting the ball, and making it around the bases in time to earn my team a point. So, there I was, after a couple of weeks of practice, pumped for my first baseball game. This would be my moment. With my vision in mind, I grabbed the bat and waited for the coach’s pitch, and did what any all-star baseball player would do: I squeezed my eyes shut, hoped for the best, and swung. And missed. Second try, same story. Third try, I was out. That season, I hit the ball a grand total of two times. No matter how hard I tried at every single game, I just could not get myself to keep my eyes open long enough to watch the ball, so unless my coach forced me to bat, I chose to sit on the bench.
I had my vision; I knew what I wanted to achieve. But, it would have been so much easier to hit that ball and achieve my vision of making it back to the home plate if I would have kept my eyes open. We can’t ever allow anything to cause us to close our eyes and be finished pursuing our personal visions. The minute we do that, we lose sight of our goals and the steps we need to take to reach them. We must determine what our personal visions are and then be unfinished, by never allowing ourselves to be done working toward achieving that vision. We must be unfinished by realizing that the vision itself is never complete; we can keep adding pieces to that puzzle that creates our personal vision, and, as we pursue that vision, discover bigger and bigger results by allowing that puzzle to continue to grow.
Take a moment and think of something that is included in your own personal vision. It could be a goal you have set to win a State CDE. Or, maybe it is that future career that you are so excited to pursue. Close your eyes and picture your vision. Open your eyes (on screen is a picture of “the ripple effect” in water with just a small ripple). Here is the impact you have already made, just by creating and working toward that initial vision. But, we have decided we must be unfinished pursuing our visions, so now, you grow from that initial vision. Close your eyes again. This time, envision something that challenges your first vision to achieve something bigger. Maybe this time, envision winning a National CDE. Or, if a goal is to find a career in an area you are passionate about, envision making it to the next level, maybe through a promotion or taking ownership of a company, this time. Do you have your vision? Open your eyes (on screen is a picture of “the ripple effect” in water with a larger ripple). Because we chose to be unfinished after reaching our first vision, we were able to grow that vision into something that made an even larger impact, maybe by benefitting other individuals as well, or gaining additional knowledge. By remaining unfinished in setting and pursuing our visions, we stretch any limits we might think we have, and continue to grow as individuals.
On that Sunday afternoon, I, once again, had to leave my grandparents’ house before seeing my grandpa finish that puzzle. But here is the thing: we want to be unfinished, because when we are unfinished, that means we are always growing. When we are unfinished, we are never done learning. When we are unfinished, we are always finding a way to serve others and make an impact. When we are unfinished, we are never allowing ourselves to stop setting our visions higher and higher each time we reach a goal that we have set. Each time learn, each time we serve, each time we set our vision just a little bit higher, we add one more piece to that never-finished puzzle. That puzzle keeps growing, and growing, and growing, but it is never quite complete. Kansas FFA, keep adding those pieces to your puzzle, but never try to complete it. Be unfinished.