Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Woman of Excellence


For several years, the Proverbs 31 Woman was one of those women I loved to hate.  She was just TOO perfect and her lifestyle didn’t come close to being like mine.  Then one day I was sitting quietly after putting my small children to bed and thinking about likening the scriptures to myself.  I realized I needed to find out why the P31 woman was included in the scriptures and what I was supposed to learn from her. I set aside my feelings of inferiority and set about discovering just who she was.  I was amazed at what I found.  She was the woman I wanted to be.  She was generous and giving, responsible and capable, industrious, diligent, productive, organized, efficient, inwardly and outwardly beautiful, regal, faithful and blessed.  She was a Woman of Excellence.  I then had to find out how to become this woman of excellence in the modern world and so began a life-long pursuit of learning and growing.  

The P31W is included in the scriptures for more than just me, more than just women.  She is an example of someone who seeks excellence in all she does.  It makes no difference if your years of development happen at home while raising a family or out in the world.  The point is to be excellent in all you do. No matter how trivial or mundane the task, do it with excellence.  We wont be able to accomplish everything perfectly every time we try, but we can be perfect in our attempt.  We can go after everything with gusto using the best of our abilities and practice to improve those abilities.
Over the years, I have learned that even though excellence is elusive, it is possible.  Excellence takes years, and I am not there yet, but there is good news, I am getting closer everyday!

Friday, January 15, 2016

On Aprons, UFO’s, Accumulation and Not Letting Go

Graduation is less than a year away and I am scared.  But, let me back up a little. 

I am a wearer of aprons.  Most days I have one on.  It is something I started as a young mother to keep myself clean of runny noses and splatters from mac and cheese.  As my children grew, I continued to wear an apron as I completed my household chores because of the convenience of the pockets.  As I would go about my tasks for the day, I collected all the little things my family left behind. These UFOs (Unclaimed Found Objects) made their way into my pockets to be put away as I worked my way through the various rooms of my home. I always kept pen and paper for taking notes of things I needed to refill or replace, and by the end of the day, with six females living in the house, I had a hefty accumulation of hair accessories, mostly hair elastics and bobby pins.  There were Legos and Matchbox cars and always at least one puzzle piece with the occasional Domino.

These fabulous pockets held little remnants of my life with my family.  Now the pen and paper have been replaced by a smart phone, the number of bobby pins has been reduced and I haven’t had to pick up a miniature car for several years.  Yet, I still wear my aprons. I still feel I need my aprons.
What does this have to do with business classes or graduation?  Just this, I don’t know what to do with my aprons. They represent much of who I am and what I have been doing with myself for the last 25 years.  I was confidently going about doing the things the Lord wanted me to do with the knowledge of why I was doing it.  I knew the role I was filling and loved it. When it was time to finish my education, I knew again, this is what the Lord intended for me, but this time it was without knowing the why.   Now, graduation is coming and I am scared. 
I watched the interview with Tom Monaghan, of Domino’s Pizza with fascination.  I was intrigued by his words referring to his work with Ava Maria University,
 “It is a privilege to be given the wisdom to see what God wants me to do.”  
Although I am actively seeking His guidance, I have not as yet been given this privilege.  So in the meantime, I am facing my last few classes and graduation with some trepidation.   What I do will have a significant impact on what I am, but I want what I am to be more significant.  As I ponder the avenues I could take with my new-found skills, it is thrilling to have so many choices before me. Of all the choices, I know I want to keep my aprons.  Perhaps I can make aprons for new young mothers, so they can fill their pockets with the lives of their own families. Perhaps they will love their apron as much as I have loved mine.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My Friend Eleanor

Saturday, March 21, 2015

I went to the funeral of a friend today.  I will miss her.  I want to be more like her.
In reading this week I came across something that describes her perfectly.
“If you want to shape your own hero’s story, you first must know yourself and then 
choose challenges that help you develop a sense of mastery.  You must be willing to 
invest in the growth of others, prepare for and learn to embrace adversity and practice
 courageous acts of character building.” 
I learned things about my friend I had never known before.  Her daughter gave an excellent life sketch that made me love her even more.  You see, Eleanor always gave to me and asked very little in return.  She was the grandma I needed when my kids were small and my own mother lived far away.  She had the uncanny ability to know when I needed her and had just the right kind of support ready to help me through whatever hardship or grief I was experiencing at the time.  She never let on of the things she had already suffered in her life, she only shared the wisdom she had learned from them. 
She was willing to invest in my growth having already embraced adversity and courageously moved on from it.  She was one of the happiest people I know.  
Much of my course work has talked about finding mentors, people who have been where I am and already know the ropes.  I am to search for those I want to emulate and learn to be successful from them.  But, am I a mentor for someone else?  This is the question I have had on my mind this week.  Am I helping to lead others down the paths I have already gone through?  Can I do more for others so they see the path for themselves?  Can I be an Eleanor for some else?
I want to be.  I can be.  This is what we are here for.  This is what I need to learn to do, to invest in the growth of others.  True Charity.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Becoming a "Yes Man"

  I admit it, I trend toward the selfish side with my time.  I always have a list of the things I need to do and have a schedule for how to get it done.  When asked to change this schedule, for whatever reason, I usually start thinking about what is left to be done instead of focusing my attention on the person who needs me.  There is a line in the Disney movie “Frozen” where Ana asks Christoff if her hair looks bad.  Although he answers her the way she wants, Olaf, the snowman, points out that he paused before answering which makes his answer sound manufactured.  I know I do this same thing to people.  I pause.  It’s not that I don’t want to help, I just know I have to rearrange things for myself before I can help another.  This is the attitude I don’t like in myself.
     I recently watched a recording of Guy Kawasaki (Garage Technology Ventures) speaking to a group of business students at Standford University.  He suggested we develop an attitude of always defaulting to Yes.  It should be an immediate response to requests.  It immediately puts us on the path to giving service to someone else.  It isn’t an attitude of martyrdom, there will be time after the “yes” to analyze and schedule.  It is simply a statement in the affirmative saying we will help in whatever way we can. 

     So, as I think about how to apply this to my life, I keep remembering the sweet sister in my ward who called on Sunday morning to ask me if I would feed the missionaries sometime this month.  What I said was, “I don’t know.  Let me look at my calendar. Oh, yes, this day works for me.” 
  Next time, I will say, “Yes.  How does such-and-such day work for you?”    

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Practice, Practice, Practice

Ugh, the dreaded "P" word.  How often, as a kid, do we hear that word and hate the teacher or coach for saying it?  As a piano teacher, I have said it many times, and as a parent many more.  Most of the time I get the same reaction I gave when I was a kid, namely the slump of shoulders accompanied by an eye-roll.  Why? Why do we hate it so much?  For me, it is the fear of the upcoming performance.

I often put too much pressure on my practice times.  When I am learning a new piece of music because someone needs me to accompany them or perform for some event, I feel the weight of the performance and it can overshadow any enjoyment I may get from the experience.  Maybe my imagination is too vivid because I can feel the emotion of being in front of the audience just as strong in my home, with no one around, as I do when actually performing. Contrast this to when I am just playing to play or learning a new piece just because I want to.  At these times there is freedom and if I make a mistake, I try again and move on.  Often these practice sessions feel more like prayer time.  As I make music, I let go of myself and I can feel a bond with eternity and there is joy.

I think this joy is what George Leonard is referring to in his book, Mastery: the Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment when he says:

"Practice, the path of mastery, exists only in the present. . . To love the plateau is to love the eternal now, to enjoy the inevitable spurts of progress and the fruits of accomplishment, then serenely to accept the new plateau that waits just beyond them.  To love the plateau is to love what is most essential and enduring in your life."

We can apply this to all aspects of our life, not just music or sports.  Practicing my religion is one of the areas I can really apply this.  I am not a perfect Christian and will likely never be one, but I am better at it than I was last year, and I can be better tomorrow than I am today.  The Lord does not put pressure on me, only I do that to myself.  He celebrates my improvement and challenges me to keep going, but never belittles when I fail.  He is the perfect coach.  I will work at being a better student of Him.  I am looking forward to the practice.

Gifts and Something to Work On

The introspection of the last few weeks coupled with discussion of my personal character with friends and family (as per an assignment regarding my ability as an entrepreneur or manager) has caused me to think more about the gifts my Father in Heaven has given me and what I am doing with them.  Most especially, my ability as a public speaker and teacher.  I have come to a new realization that this ability is a spiritual gift.  I admit it isn’t one I have ever heard before on any list in relation to gifts of the spirit, but I don’t think that makes it unqualified as a gift.
 D&C 46: 11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts,
and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
I also ran upon this verse during my studies.
D&C 29:34 Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual,
and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal . . .
With this new understanding, I am wondering what to do with it.  I have been a teacher several times as a church calling and I always except the call to speak in a sacrament meeting, but is this enough?  Is there something I can do in my life to use it better in building the Kingdom of God?  Or to build my community?  How is my study of business going to make me better able to use this gift?  How do I use this gift in the business world?  Is it needed there?  Is it profitable?  What is the message I would share? 
With this ability also comes a level of confidence, or perceived confidence by others.  This confidence can make me unapproachable.  One friend said it was in much the same way a shy person is perceived as being a snob.  No one came out and said it, but it would seem I have an arrogance about me and it can rub people the wrong way.  I am glad they shared this with me, because I wouldn’t want to purposely make someone feel they couldn’t talk to me about an issue.  I need to work on being able to get my point across while still enabling others to share their view too. 
I love the Proverbs 31 woman and strive to be like her.  Verse 26 reads
She openeth her mouth with wisdom;
And in her tongue is the law of kindness.
I think I can be both confident and kind.  To find the balance will make my confidence a success trait instead of a stumbling block.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

Life's Many Missions

 I am supposed to find a mission for my life, but what does that mean?  Is a life mission one big event?  Have I missed it?  Is it still waiting for me?  How will I know it when I see it?  What if I find it but I am unable to complete it? 

What is my mission in life?
The canned primary answer just slips off the tongue. We are sent to Earth to have a mortal experience with a body and learn to be more like our Father in Heaven. While this may be true in the most general sense, the mission of a specific individual is much harder to define.

I believe we have many missions in life.
The most obvious one for me is: It is my mission to be the mother of my particular children.  This has been the biggest one I have found so far.  But there are also many small missions which are easily overlooked.  These are the little acts we do for others as we live our lives.  Who know but that time you showed kindness to someone was a job only you could do.  I believe the Lord has us in situations to do His work for him.  He inspires us to action for the benefit of His children. 

Sometimes we can feel like we don’t have a mission because we are not part of something grand.  We feel small and useless, but the accumulation of mini-missions can add up to a lifetime of service, glorifying not only ourselves, but God as well.  Isn't this what makes a life well lived? 

Doctrine and Covenants Section 58: 27 reads:
"Verily i say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will,and bring to pass much righteousness."

 Most of the time, when we feel mission-less, it is because we have turned our thoughts inward to ourselves.  When we reach out, we find missions every day.  This mortal experience is about finding those missions and completing them well.

I also like the next verse. 28:
"For the power is in them . . ."

The power to find and complete our missions is in us as we follow the teachings of the Savior and listen to the guidance of the spirit.   This is comforting.  I am certain there have been opportunities to serve in mini-missions which I have missed, but that also means I have many more to look forward to.