Is this thing on? Bahaha. It's been a while.
I had the great privilege of speaking at a YSA (Young Single Adult -- ages 18ish to 30ish) activity this weekend; it was one of those fireside/dinner/dance combos that people drive a few hours to come to, and I haven't had too many teaching opportunities lately so I jumped at the chance. (The only drawback is it was the same day as a giant work event I had so I felt like I'd been run over by the time the fireside rolled around, but what can you do?). My faith has shifted and grown in some hard and important ways over the last few years so I was hopeful I could find a way to speak authentically and openly about things I really stand behind, and I did, and it was good. It turned out to be a great discussion full of really wise and thoughtful comments, so I'm sharing it with the interwebs in case anyone out there finds it useful.
We were in the chapel, about 100 of us, but I asked everyone to sit near the front so I could stand down below with a chalkboard and visit sans mic. Glad I did that.
Like A Star Shining Brightly: Loving God, Ourselves and Each Other
I started out by asking everyone to think of a time when they felt like a million bucks, just five hundred percent on top of the world. I started by sharing about the time I tried out for the school play in 8th grade. None of my friends were trying out so I was a bit shy, and I almost bailed, but then I went through with it and ended up being the Wicked Queen in Snow White and it was an absolute blast. I think it was the first time I realized that even if my girlfriends weren't doing something, if I felt like it, I could do it, and make my own new friends and blaze my own new trail, and I felt amazing. Any other examples?
One guy shared how he did magic tricks for the school talent show in 6th grade, and it was supposed to be several tricks throughout the show, and he was super nervous for the first one, but by the second one, everyone was shouting "Magic Matt! Magic Matt!" and he felt on top of the world. A young woman raised her hand and talked about a time she got to start a flashmob as a missionary (there were missionaries sitting down in a fireside and she just stood up and started singing "Called to Serve" and then more and more jumped up and joined in). It was scary in the moment but she ended up loving it. "How did you feel after?" I asked her. "Powerful," she said. Another guy shared a football story about how he was the smallest guy on the team but he managed to be part of an amazing play and no one could believe it. "How did you feel?" I asked him. "Unstoppable," he said.
I asked them to remember that feeling of I-can-do-anything, of powerful, unstoppable, the world is mine, and said that I think all of our stories have at least three things in common. (1) Preparation (couldn't have started the flashmob without planning it, needed to prepare a monologue to try out for the play) (2) Commitment (couldn't abort mission mid-magic trick or collapse in the middle of the football play) and (3) Self-confidence. The third one is where I wanted to spend most of my time because it is SO important. I don't think we can fully love others or love God until we have that love to give. We get that by believing in ourselves and developing a healthy sense of our own strengths and potential; God can help us channel that feeling of personal power into much, much more. Accordingly, I offered six tips for becoming our best selves.
(1) Identify your strengths.
Lead with your strengths; choose a field that plays to your strengths. Find something you're good at and that you enjoy and celebrate that about yourself. Many of us can list our weaknesses at the drop of a hat; how many of us know, really know, what gifts we have? Guaranteed we have been given some. We will have to develop them, but they will come to us as they are needed.
My LSAT & GMAT students often have an easy time telling me all the things they're bad at ("I can't finish the reading on time!" "I'm no good at logic games!") and are flat-out stumped when I ask them to list where they've improved, even when they've been studying for months. We're the same way. We are often blind to our own strengths and hyper-aware of our weaknesses. But what do the scriptures teach us about weakness?
Ether 12:27. "If men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." One guy commented that if we trust God, we have to trust that he won't just mitigate our weaknesses but that God is really capable of transforming them into strengths.
(2) Throw your worries away.
Do not worry about things you cannot control. Repeat: DO NOT WORRY ABOUT THINGS YOU CANNOT CONTROL. It is not worth your energy. One girl raised her hand and made the wise distinction between "concerns" (things that deserve our time and emotional energy, e.g., what career path you should take, how can you help your dad prepare for retirement, how can I reach my own personal goals) and "worries" (things that don't deserve our time and emotional energy, e.g., what people are saying about you, what others might be thinking about you, who else got the promotion you wanted). Anxiety can be paralyzing and we have way too much to offer to let it control us.
We read Phillipians 4:6-7 from the NLT version (scandalous of me, right? No KJV? Bahaha. What can I say? I like this verse better), "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." We talked a bit about peace guarding our hearts and minds from that dangerous spiral of negative self-talk, and how important it is to run TOWARD what you want rather than AWAY from what you don't want.
(3) Ditch whatever is holding you back
Leave your baggage in the room! It will wreck your knees. Sheri Dew (I know, I know) tells a story of when she was in a hotel and there was a fire. She grabbed her bags and ran down 20 flights of stairs with them and ended up needing reconstructive knee surgery and she really regretted hauling her stuff with her when it was all replaceable. The main takeaway was simply, "Leave your baggage in the room. It'll wreck your knees." If you are hauling things around that aren't helpful for you, get rid of them. Stuff can be big or small or in-betweensies, but if it is standing between you and who you want to be, ditch it. If you need to seek professional help to help you release them, do it. Take steps toward leaving your baggage in the room right now.
We talked a bit about stuff that can hold us back (bad habits, laziness, plain old inertia, family, comfort) and when can you change? YOU CAN CHANGE RIGHT NOW. You do not have to be the same at 5:38 PM as you were at 5:37 PM. You are in charge of you! I told them about my friend who once, in a moment of clarity, was listening to a CD she knew she shouldn't be listening to and she just threw it out the window on the freeway. If it's holding you back, throw it out. One guy shared how his roommate wanted to get healthy and so he just stopped eating fast food, and now they all tease him about it, but he just doesn't do it anymore and it's easy because he likes how he feels not eating it more than he likes how he feels eating it. Like in Mosiah 5:2, when the people listening to King Benjamin hear his words and their hearts are changed. They have no more disposition to do evil but to do good continually; we can transform our desires, and you can do that right now.
(4) Process your feelings
Life is good and it is also a bummer sometimes. You can't shove uncomfortable feelings under the bed and pretend they aren't there. It's totally okay and yes, even necessary, to really feel how you feel and look your anger/fear/disappointment/whatever it might be right in the face instead of slapping a bandaid on it. In Elder Wirthlin's Come What May and Love It talk in October 2008, he said "How can we love days that are filled with sorrow? We can't -- at least not in the moment. I don't think my mother was suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I don't think she was suggesting that we hide unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life." We mustn't suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain.
I told them that our family is moving soon, and while I'm excited about it, I'm also really sad because I'm going to miss my life here tremendously. I wouldn't be doing anyone any favors if I didn't acknowledge my mix of feelings. If I pretended it was all roses, it would breed resentment and I wouldn't have the space to grieve the end my time here and move on in a healthy way. I gotta feel what I feel and so do they, whatever it might be.
One woman made the wise comment that there's an important difference between processing feelings (as in, really moving through them and sorting them out) and just festering in them, bathing in them, and how we need to think about why we are feeling what we're feeling (e.g., if we are angry, what is the root cause and how can we address it?) rather than just stewing indefinitely.
(5) Look around.
It's a big world, and there are lots of people besides us. It is easy to get self-absorbed, and self-care has a really important role, but there are people who need are help and perhaps more importantly, people who have things to teach us, so look around. The world is full of different kinds of people by design. Elder Wirthlin shared one of my favorite general conference statements of all time when he said, "The Lord did not people the world with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world." Look around! See who is around you and how they can complement your own limited world view. One of my mentors is fond of encouraging healthy debate by saying, "If two of you think alike, one of you is unnecessary." As we pay attention to views that are different from our own and seek out folks who think differently than we do, our minds will be opened in hard and important ways that will allow us to empathize more fully and to love others more deeply.
(6) Be nice to yourself
We are children of God and capable of anything. If we ever think we are too far gone or that we can't do something, we have forgotten who we are. God cares WAY more about our direction that about our past and that will always, always be so. We need to view ourselves with compassion and understand that life is a process and we are learning and growing every day. Thomas S. Monson said, "Do not pray for tasks equal to your abilities, but pray for abilities equal to your tasks. Then the performance of the tasks will be no miracle, but you will be the miracle." That's right, WE will be the miracle and God can bless us with abilities equal to whatever task is facing us. I mean it: we are each a miracle in the making. Please, never leave a gathering like this feeling inadequate or like your to-do list just got longer or your guilt-o-meter rose to the red zone. Leave knowing that you have infinite potential and that God will pick you up every--and I mean every--time you stumble, so be kind to yourself.
At the end, I shared simply that God wants us to be happy, that God wants us to feel those feelings of being able to do ANYTHING, feeling beloved and powerful and unstoppable, like we shared at the beginning. I felt God's love for me and for them and I firmly believe that we can make good things happen in our lives and in the lives of others by harnessing our own potential for good and truly believing in the power we have to lift ourselves and others.