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Guilt and Apology: Letting Go of Unrealistic Expectations

Have you ever said that you were sorry when you didn’t actually do anything wrong?

I have. Sometimes I find myself constantly apologize for myself, as if I was a constant inconvenience and never doing as well I need to.

Apologizing can be necessary and a really good thing to do. Saying I’m sorry when I have hurt someone is meaningful. But have said it too much, to the point where my existence almost became an apology. But I don’t have to apologize for existing, or for having weaknesses, or for never always doing everything quite right.

I’ve heard from a few different places that you can substitute “I’m sorry” for “Thank you.” We say things like this: I’m sorry I’m late. I’m sorry for not doing better. I’m sorry for not getting it done. I’m sorry that I talk so much. I’m sorry for having emotions. I’m sorry I’m not perfect. But we can say this instead: Thank you for waiting for me. Thank you for being patient with me. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for spending time with me.

When we are always apologizing, we just end up sticking shame on ourselves and clinging on to unrealistic expectations. It makes other people feel incredibly uncomfortable sometimes, because they often want to help and be with you and they don’t mind the inconvenience because they like you.

Sometimes apologizing is simply a reflection of our own insecurities.

I have been trying really hard lately to let go of unnecessary guilt just like I’m letting go of unnecessary apologies. They are the same thing, really. We can’t ever change what happened, but we can know that change is possible now and in the future.

So I have to let go of what happened and look forward to doing better. I am so glad I get to keep trying. There is so much hope in the world.

I’m not going to apologize for not being perfect, because no one is. But I can be grateful that I can keep trying. I’m grateful for hope. I’m grateful for letting go of expectations and knowing that I am worthwhile and being okay with myself while still striving to improve.

essay, my life

Progress

The first year of homeschooling was difficult for me. It did not always go well. We had some amazing days, but at the end of it, I just felt like a failure. (I wasn’t a failure, though. My sister challenged me about why I felt I had failed, and I had to reframe it in my mind. Failure is just a framing device anyway, a way of labeling what happened even when the label doesn’t fit.)

We had some good moments and my kids were actually learning, even if we lacked consistency. But I was also learning how to do it better. And I wanted to keep trying.

This year, I’ve been trying to completely eliminate that failure label. We won’t fail at homeschool. We’re going to keep trying through rough days. I’m going to keep adjusting expectations, changing things up, and becoming better.

I feel like I do a really good job some days. I love learning, and that filters down to my kids. They read so many books. Their handwriting has improved. Their spelling has somewhat improved.

I’m also improved at being a teacher. I had no idea what I was doing at first, and I’ve practiced and I’ve made mistakes and I’ve persevered even when I didn’t want to. There was a lot of complaining and I still don’t want to do this long term.

But I’m glad I kept trying. I was not that good at being a homeschool mom. But now I do okay. Progress can be slow and seem impossible, but it does happen.

essay, everything

Challenge the voices you hear

I read a few articles lately about people leaving their 9-to-5 jobs in order to live the life of their dreams. And it sounds like a good story. It makes me question for a minute: would I be happy if we were financially independent and self-employed in some creative task?

I think the answer is no. I enjoy having my husband’s predictable income, sending him to work five days a week, and having the safety of good benefits.

Some people like to take risks, but I don’t enjoy it much. I’m not afraid of it and I’m not limiting myself through my fear; I just prefer stability. It’s like when I go to a theme park and I feel pressured to ride the intense ride. Sometimes I do. And it’s okay, but I don’t enjoy it enough to actually pay money to go get motion sick.

I always wanted to be a writer, but in my adult life, I realized that I despise promoting myself. Which means that I would also hate being a successful writer.

I get caught up in what other people think is successful. It might be nice to go to nice schools and get high-paying jobs. It might be nice to travel all over the world. It might be nice to get a homestead and work from home. But just because someone else loves their life doesn’t mean I would love their life.

I have to be careful: I asked myself the other day if I wanted to pursue graduate school because I actually wanted to be in that environment or because I felt it would be prestigious. Did I want to tell other people I had a specific degree, or did I really want to actually get that degree?

I really enjoyed working as a legal secretary, even though it was a low-paying job that didn’t require many qualifications. I have to look at myself and what I want to do instead of just copying someone else’s success.

Being true to yourself sometimes that means abandoning dreams. Sometimes that means being completely normal and boring and eating vanilla ice cream because you like vanilla.

There are things that I know about myself: Money does not motivate me. I never want to be famous. I don’t enjoy taking huge risks. I like working on computers. I like spreadsheets and math and paperwork. I like being told what to do. I like teaching and I like creating as well.

Ultimately, I want to live in a way that helps other people in small and simple ways.

If that means my life is boring, then I’ll live a boring life.

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Balance of shame and pride

I’ve been happier lately, and part of the reason is because I stopped shaming myself for not being perfect. I dealt with a lot of shame in my life, feeling that I was never quite good enough: I never did enough when I was homeschooling. I never kept my house clean enough. I never balanced my computer time right. I watched too many videos. I didn’t go outside enough. I needed to get in better shape.

You know those voices. I’m getting better about not listening.

Because I realized that if I listened, then I wouldn’t improve at all. I would actually get worse. If I shamed myself for yelling, I would yell more. If I shamed myself for wasting time, I would often waste even more time. I would punish myself by continuing to do the activity that was causing me pain. It’s not helpful.

I still make many mistakes every day. But improvement does not come from shame; improvement comes when I look ahead and when I focus on the good things I can do and keep pressing forward. If I spend a day yelling and wasting time and hurting other people, then the best thing I can do is apologize, let it go, and do better.

Whenever my kids hurt each other, I don’t make them go sit in a corner so they feel bad. I tell them to make it right by hugging the other person and saying they are sorry. I don’t need them to feel ashamed of what they did; I just want them to learn how to do it right the next time.

In a way, we define what enough is. And enough for me is that I keep on trying, no matter how many mistakes I make. Being enough means that I’m not going to listen to the voices that say I always need to more; instead, I’m going to know that my messy efforts are worthwhile.

***

On the other hand, I tend to get really proud sometimes. I’ve been very privileged in some ways: I can learn quickly. I understand well. I can do a lot in a day.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m better than anyone else, or that the way I live is superior. I like to be on time; I like to keep my house clean; I like to have clean closets and minimal stuff. I like to plan in advance.

There are other people who are always late. They have messy closets and bursting schedules. They make quick decisions and they enjoy taking risks. And that’s awesome.

There are many different types of people and they are all important. I’m not better than someone else just because I know what derivatives are or I’ve read lots of books or whatever.

And someone isn’t better than me if they can run five miles or make homemade bread or they run their own business.

***

There is a balancing act in all of this: don’t be ashamed of who you are. Be confident, but don’t be proud. Celebrate others, give to them and love them. Don’t worry if you aren’t enough. Don’t be complacent and content without moving forward and improving.

I won’t ever be perfect. But I will keep trying.

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Teaching Children

This started with the book 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. One of his rules is, “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.” He goes on to say that we should discipline our children and teach them social norms. He says:

Because children, like other human beings, are not only good, they cannot simply be left to their own devices, untouched by society, and bloom into perfection.

And:

A child will have many friends, but only two parents—if that—and parents are more, not less, than friends.

Parents need to be parents and help their kids, and kids like limits. They like when their parents set those limits. I have noticed, since reading that book, that after I calmly discipline my daughter, instructing her to do the right thing, there is an increase of love with each other. She loves me more afterwards, not less. It may make her angry for a moment, but she feels safer knowing that I’m watching out for her and teaching her.

This sentiment is echoed The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax. He tells parents to get their kids off screens, have consistent discipline, and teach respect and self-control to my kids.

Command. Don’t ask. Don’t negotiate. Modern American parents are forever rationalizing their decisions to their children. There are many problems with that approach. The mere fact that the parent feels compelled to negotiate already undermines the authority of the parent. When you lay down a rule, and your children ask why, answer, “Because Mommy (or Daddy) says so.

I need to be both supportive and authoritative. Sometimes it’s hard to set those limits and follow through. It’s easy to let kids be on screens for hours at a time. It’s easy to do all the work and not have them help with the chores. It’s easy to say they can do what they want.

But it’s not good for the kids. I’ve been trying to be better: they have to sit down and listen sometimes. We put away the TV for five days a week. We try to do daily chores and dish jobs (still a work in progress). I try not to tolerate it when they back talk and remind them to be respectful.

Growing up, we had a book that was called What to Do When Your Mom or Dad Says “Clean Your Room!” I loved that book growing up because it tells you exactly how to clean your room, and I still use some of this methods to this day. I was searching on the internet to get a copy, and I found that there was a whole series called The Survival Series for Kids, written in the early 1980s.

So I ordered a set of 17 books. When they came, I looked through all of them. Parenting has changed a lot.

We don’t teach manners anymore, partly because adults don’t always have manners either. Do you know what you should do when someone stops by your house? Well, first, no one is going to stop by your house without texting you first. But if they do, do you remember to invite them in, take their coat, and ask if they would like to sit down?

Do you ever say, “It’s nice to meet you?” Do you instruct your kids to call adults by respectful names, like Mrs. and Mr.? Do you have regular expectations for your kids, like the chores they need to do and having them help clean up and cook? Do you do things for your kids that they could do for themselves? Do you tell your kids you can’t afford it? Do your kids know how to hold a conversation with a stranger? Do you kids know when to say thank you? Do your kids know how to behave in public, like holding still and not talking out of turn? Do you tell your kids to put away screens when they talk to other people? Do you do that?

It made me realize that we forget to teach our kids how to behave. We pretend kids are adults and we treat them that way, which leads to a lot of disrespect and even confusion.

So I’m working on it. I want to be a little old-fashioned in some ways.

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Your Influence Is Enough

I don’t have many readers on this blog. I’ve been blogging for a very long time (since around 2007 or earlier), and I never had a big following. Other people would get lots of comments and interaction. My stats have always been rather low or even nonexistent.

I’m very happy about that. I am a more private person than I realized and I find it awkward when strangers know about me and my thoughts.

And I think that even if a few people read this, that’s enough. Even if I’m writing for myself, that’s enough. My influence doesn’t have to be large to be enough.

Most people go through life and they only influence and help a few people, like their family and their neighbors and their friends. But that good influence can be amazing. Sometimes the most influential people are quiet and unassuming and unpopular. They go almost completely unnoticed, but they change people’s lives. Maybe not a lot of people, but a few, and that’s enough.

It doesn’t matter how big your sphere is. It matters that you do the best you can, that you love others, and that you help people, even if it’s simply one person.

The little things matter. We don’t have to serve and help in huge ways. But the little things really do mean a lot, and they are noticed, and they are what the world is really made out of.

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Choosing majors and careers

I think we can get caught up in trying to find jobs and careers and a life that is perfect for people. There is a myth that you should have a dream and work towards your dream and live happily ever after. That’s not how life works. People fail. Dreams crumble. The real world is messy and complicated.

I feel like a lot of people, maybe most people, simply land in their careers and their life instead of carefully picking everything out. I was supposed to be a writer, but now I’m looking at completely different opportunities and learning about economics and business (and mostly, I’m a full-time mom). My dad was supposed to be an engineer, and then he ended up in college administration. My husband was supposed to be a wildlife biologist, and he ended up in park management. My sister was supposed to be a filmmaker (she still might be), but right now she’s a store manager. I even knew of an anesthesiologist who became a UPS driver after developing allergies.

I think it matters me how hard you work in the opportunities you have than finding the perfect opportunities for you.

I’m currently getting another undergraduate degree in economics and I have rethought my choice quite a lot. Do I really want to do this? Does it fit me? But I don’t have to find the perfect path. Good enough is good enough. I’ve learned about Nobel-prize winning economists that have had strange pathways into their fields: One admitted he was lazy and unmotivated and people didn’t expect much of him. Another had an education in psychology. They didn’t really intend to go into economics and succeed; they just landed there. No one fits exactly into a field, and that’s okay.

Sometimes we follow paths that other people choose for us, like the kid who learned how to play the cello because his parents were both professional cellists. He was really good at it. Sometimes we find our pathway by chance: one person literally pulled a random folder out of a filing cabinet and decided that she would major in engineering because she couldn’t make a decision. She became a successful engineer.

There are going to be times when we are bored and unsatisfied, but the best thing to do is to keep working and trying even when things aren’t working out quite right. Try to help other people. Try to learn new things. Ask questions. Embrace your talents and apply them to whatever opportunities you have.

Don’t worry too much about what field you go into and if you’ve found the perfect job. Just be the best person you can be and things will work out.

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Remembering Humility

I love school, but I have to watch myself sometimes. I have always gotten good grades, but those grades are not reflective of my self-worth, my intelligence, how hard I work, or how much I know. I am not better than anyone because of my grades. They don’t really mean much at all.

Learning in school is good, but it’s not the only way to learn and discover truth. People who are not educated can be successful and intelligent. People who are highly educated can make mistakes and do stupid things.

Knowledge can be like a box of colorful beads. Some of these beads look shinier than others, and so we say that they are better. But it’s all knowledge. It’s all truth, and it doesn’t really matter what color the beads are.

I really want to keep learning in lots of different ways. Humility means that I always remember that I have more to learn and I can continually progress. There is so much to learn and do outside of school and outside of careers. The life I have at home with my children is the best learning experience I have ever had.

You may at times feel inadequate because you don’t meet someone else’s standards. But that doesn’t really matter. You are qualified and adequate, mostly because you are still learning.

There is so much knowledge out there. And we never really know much at all, no matter how educated we get.

do something, essay

Hypocrisy

I was angry with my husband the other day. I really sort of wanted to be angry at him. It didn’t last long, because as I was talking, I realized I was being a complete hypocrite.

I was doing EXACTLY what I was mad at him for doing. I was holding grudges. I was not forgiving. I was picking fights. I was being distant and distracted. And I wanted to blame it on him, but it was totally and completely my fault.

In fact, when I think about it, I often try to blame my own faults on other people. Like thinking that no one invites me anywhere when I don’t invite anyone either. Or thinking that everyone else is cranky, which is a sure sign that I am the cranky one. Whenever I feel tired, it’s okay if I don’t do as much. But if someone else is tired, I get can sometimes get mad at them for being tired. It’s ridiculous.

But it doesn’t seem ridiculous in the moment. Only when I take a step back do I realize that I am being a hypocrite, and I am putting different expectations on others than I am on myself.

I think I hate the faults of others the most when they reflect my own faults. I don’t want to admit my own weakness and so it’s a lot easier to just push the blame elsewhere. But I do have a lot of faults. I’m selfish and proud and distracted and lazy. I stay inside my comfort zone too often and I expect too much from others.

So I’m going to try to be a little bit more humble and try to keep improving my own self instead of blaming the problems of my life on others. It’s hard. But it’s good too: if things are my fault, that means I can fix them.

essay, inspiration

Improving Bad Habits and Behaviors

We all have many brain pathways that make life a lot easier, good habits that help us: brushing our teeth, eating meals, getting dressed, turning the lights off, cleaning up, holding our tongues, smiling and waving, and all of those sorts of things.

But we also have pathways that are not so positive, like checking our phones constantly, yelling, feeling down and depressed, or staying up late.

I have dealt with mood swings and feeling of depression for quite a lot of my life, and it’s really easy to fall back into that again. I’ll do really good for a while, only to have a bad day. Misery can become a habit.

And when bad habits and behaviors keep coming back again and again, it can be really frustrating. We rationally know that we want to stop doing that, but then we keep doing it anyway because it’s so easy.

Change can take a while. And sometimes we need to understand that in order for change to happen, we have to consciously steer our brains away from habitual behavior for quite a long time, longer than we really want to. Deciding that we want to change is not enough; we have to put in the effort to actually make that change happen.

For example, I really like to watch YouTube videos when I am bored or distressed. And it’s really easy just to click on the site and watch video after video. It can be really habitual, and it’s not something I like about myself. I have an app that blocks certain websites, and for a while I flat out blocked YouTube from my life.

I stopped thinking about it. I stopped doing it. It would seem like I conquered my bad habit. But when I re-enabled YouTube again, guess what happened? I started habitually watching videos again. So I blocked it again.

And I’m realized that the longer something has been around, sometimes the longer you have to work on getting rid of it. I don’t know if certain pathways ever really go away all the way–because if you did it once, it’s so much easier to do it again.

But the atonement of Jesus Christ can help strengthen us and become new people. Change can happen. For some people, it happens in an instant, but for most of us, it takes longer. The point is that we don’t give up, that we keep coming back to what we value, and we keep seeking hope and repentance and healing.

And then, maybe years and years later, we can look back and see that we are better and new, and it’s so much easier to do the right thing.