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The Power of an Agenda

Joe Beaver
Pictured above is the Dean of the Department of
Agriculture at Cal Poly, Andrew Thulin with Sharon,
Barbara Baer, Nancy Robinson Peterson
and the President of Cal Poly, Jeffery Armstrong
(photo by Katie Cooney).

Life is quite a journey and honestly, it takes some maturity (a nice way of saying age), to gage ones success. Sure, there are perks and rewards along the way, but the true meaning of success is found during those personal conversations we have with ourselves. I just returned from a reunion with my college roommate Barbara Baer to our Alma Mater, the first I had attended since graduation. As I look back, accepting the invitation to attend Cal Poly, a university vested in agriculture, not to mention an intercollegiate rodeo dynasty that boasts more National Finalists and Hall of Famers than all other "rodeo" schools combined, was a streak of luck in my young life. As I watched the grand entry, I was taken back to the last grand entry I'd watched during the Poly Royal Rodeo. As a graduating senior, I realized it would be my last intercollegiate competition. I absorbed the moment just as I did then, reflecting back on the years since graduation and smiling to myself for the good decisions I have accidentally made through my life.

I've always been a note taker, a plan maker and personal agenda kind of a person, so reflection has never really been something I've practiced, even today. In high school, I was looking forward to college, then in college in-between my National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association schedule, I was looking forward to graduation. At graduation, I was looking toward my future aspirations. Now decades since those days, I can reflect back, only to see how the past reflects my future, again back to the agenda!

I was always college bound. I was lucky to have parents who had a bigger vision for my life than I had. My dad's agenda was to guide me towards skills that would employ me. At that time words like secretarial and managerial were in most of his conversations; horses and agricultural were in mine, and definitely not office related. I had found a job at a sales yard on the weekends and was determined that horses, cattle and agriculture would be my future. I was city raised, my father an Aeronautical Engineer obviously we had two different visions for my future. So, we negotiated, or I should say, I begged! Pierce Junior College was located in the Valley about 40 miles North of my home. Pierce had an agriculture department so I could take business classes to appease my parents, and agriculture classes to appease me!

Actually, my dad directed my passion. It was dad who drove me to my sales yard job and it was dad who took me to my first National Finals Rodeo. I can honestly say it was that one rodeo performance that instantaneously defined my life's course, turning my agricultural focus from cattle to horses, barrel racing horses to be exact. What dad didn't know at the time when he agreed that I could enroll at Pierce, was that they had a rodeo team! Again an agenda!

Dan Mortensen
Cal Poly's winning-est Women's Rodeo Team in history!
Then: 1968 Cal Poly Women's Team and Intercollegiate
Rodeo National Champions Sharon, Nancy Robinson Peterson
and Barbara Baer pictured with Advisor Bill Gibford.
Now: Nancy, Barbara and Sharon at the 2015 reunion
(photo by Katie Cooney).

The decision to attend Pierce College was another lucky decision. It was during my rodeo team competition that I was noticed by Cal Poly, an intercollegiate rodeo dynasty, and offered an athletic rodeo scholarship. Looking back, it was another lucky break. With the enticement of a scholarship, my parents were much more agreeable to agreeing to let me go up the coast to continue my business studies at an agricultural focused University... rodeo business was on my agenda!

After graduation, I realized my rodeo career was over unless I honed my skills and found a horse that could compete in professional barrel racing. My parents did not agree. They said it was time to go to work... parents, always so practical! I did not want a career and turned down some interesting job offers. Knowing I needed a job that would provide me independence, I decided to go to work for the airlines as a flight attendant. I thought if I couldn't rodeo I could at least visit towns that hosted rodeos. My parents were happy. I had a paying job and they had travel perks. For once we were on the same agenda!

As fate would have it, additional unplanned opportunities arose. During slower times of the year, leaves of absences were offered. I figured I could take time off, travel with my horse to the rodeos and gain some practical experience in the area I hoped I could one day make a living. I figured out that I could substitute teach part time to help pay my way, feed myself, my horse and fuel my car. Looking back, how that plan came together so smoothly, I will never know. I certainly don't give myself credit for being able to make that sweet plan today. When the airlines called me back to work, I would load my horse and travel back to my domicile, anxious to for the next opportunity. Like I said, I always had an agenda.

I made some great friends at Cal Poly and during my intercollegiate rodeo travels to other states and colleges. I was able to impose on several of those lifelong friends during my airline career and my rodeo travels throughout the Southwest. It was on one of these leaves that I met my former husband. A surprise to me, his calf horse had been a futurity barrel horse in his early career, and the opportunity to ride that horse made the difference in the direction my career would take.

I am grateful to have found an interest at an early age. I continue to say that in adolescence, the earlier we focus in on a career path, whatever that may be, the earlier we can start making decisions that direct us toward our goals. Each life choice allows us to contemplate how the outcome fits into the puzzle of life by moving us a step closer or further away from the goal. It certainly takes focus, passion, an agenda, and a lot of luck to be successful. It isn't that the path cannot deviate; the more we mature and learn, the more vision and options are available to us. However, looking back and looking forward, I can honestly say, there is no other path that I would have rather taken.

Today, I teach a similar path, its foundation in preparation, education and an agenda. In barrel racing, I coined the phrase "Plan the Run and Run the Plan." I teach a belief in yourself and I encourage that you pay attention to your surroundings and the people you allow into your inner circle. John Baxter from Academic Gameplan, says "show me your friends, I'll show you your future." I'm grateful for the great fiends I've made along my journey who have contributed to my success, and trust that they know who they are!

The choice for me to not jump into a career, but to take a job that gave me flexibility to pursue and explore my passion at the time was an obvious decision. I look back today and consider myself one of the luckiest Cowgirls in the world, wondering how I got from the beaches of Southern California to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame! Though I never worked in my degree, I have utilized the skills I gained at Cal Poly and through my experience in Professional Rodeo to develop skills for my own business. Standing back at Cal Poly during the opening ceremonies, I found myself smiling at my lucky life's choices, and at the same time amazed at the power of an agenda!