Farm Horizons, April 2013

Pursuing success – through failure

By Starrla Cray

“More people’s lives are transformed by failure than success,” dairy farmer/author Hank Wagner said at the Carver County/University of Minnesota Extension dairy expo Feb. 18. “That’s really when personal growth happens.”

As a public speaker who was once petrified of talking in front of people, Wagner knows the pain that accompanies growth.

“In the 1990s, I joined the church council, and my wife, Pam, was the secretary,” Wagner said. During their first meeting, Pam had to leave early for the evening milking, so Wagner took over recording the minutes.

Everything was going fine until the end of the meeting, when the council president asked Wagner to read back the minutes, as was customary.

“I could not get one single sound to come out of my mouth,” Wagner recalled. “Every single eye was wide open, and everyone’s mouths were big enough to drive a truck into them.”

So, Wagner did the only thing he could – “I slammed that book shut, ran out of the church, and ran all the way home.” (Fortunately, he only lived about a half mile away.)

That night, Wagner thought, “My life is over,” and vowed never to let that kind of thing happen again. Some might think he planned to take public speaking courses, but that wasn’t the case.

“I decided to quit, and never allow myself to get in a place where I’d have to speak in front of people again,” he said.

Ultimately, Wagner reconsidered his plan, and today, he is an influential speaker and past president of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.

He’s also written a book, “Teachable Moments,” and his goal is to have a positive influence on at least 100,000 people in his lifetime.

Happiness and success

At the dairy expo, Wagner’s presentation was titled, “How to Achieve True Success and Happiness.”

“How many of you want to be successful?” Wagner asked the audience. “How many of you know what success is to you?”

In order to measure success for a business, family, or individual, Wagner said it helps to have a goal in mind.

“We all have different levels of desire and passion, and we all have different talents and abilities,” he said.

No matter what, however, “every single one of you is going to fail,” he added.

Many people think of failure as a bad thing, but Wagner encouraged the audience to embrace it. “If you’re not failing at something, you’re not trying enough things.”

“What we may think of as failure can be some of the most important times in our lives,” he said. “If we run from it, that positive change is not going to happen, and we’ll keep bumping against it.”

Take risks and be thankful

As a fourth-generation dairy farmer, Wagner and his wife have operated their 550-cow dairy farm in Oconto Falls, WI since 1987. Wagner urges dairy farmers to be proud of the risks they take each day – and the important work they do to produce food for the world.

No matter which path a person chooses, “your journey to success should include books,” according to Wagner. “Books are the hearts of people poured out on paper and ink.”

Learning from others is essential, and people should take the time to thank those who’ve helped them, he added.

“The things you’re thankful for in your life will increase or multiply,” he said. “The things you’re not thankful for will decrease or exit your life.”

A person who’s thankful for their car, for example, will change the oil and tires, and keep it washed, waxed, and properly maintained – thereby lengthening the life of the vehicle.

The same can be true of a person, Wagner added. If someone is thankful for their spouse, for example, they’ll invest in the relationship and enable it to grow.

Thankfulness is a theme in Wagner’s book, which was inspired by his mission trip to Togo, Africa in 2004. The book is available for purchase at

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