From a young age, I have been involved in numerous choirs. I like to sing, but I haven’t had a lot of praise or criticism related to my ability to sing. I’ve some mildly positive comments, but that’s about it.
I am grateful for this. First, I’m not a great singer in the first place. But I’m also not a bad singer. So when I sing, I’m not worried about whether I’m doing it well or not. I’m just singing because I like to.
There are other aspects in my life where I have been much more sensitive to any praise or criticism that has come may way. I built my self-image around being good at academics or writing. The things I received the most praise about became part of who I am. And that wasn’t really a good thing.
Because no matter how good I am, there are always so many people who are better than me. I always have room for improvement. Sometimes, I’m not quite as good as I think I am–I have failed miserably at things that someone once praised me for.
I should never do things just to get praise. Who I am is different from what I do.
If I never received grades throughout school, I would probably be a different person. I would have a different, more resilient view of myself. I might be more willing to ask questions and admit what I don’t know. I would have learned more quickly to seek after learning for the sake of learning, not just to receive top marks.
Praise often does not lead to resiliency. It can lead to increased pressure and an inflated ego. Our self-worth needs to be based on who we are, not just what we can do in comparison to other people.
That doesn’t mean we stop praising people all together. But we need to be careful about the praise we hand out. Instead of saying, “You sing really well,” we can try, “I love to hear you sing.” Instead of saying, “You are really smart,” we might say, “I really am proud of how hard you have worked in school.” I am working on this with my children, but it’s hard, and I often shift back into the easier way of talking about things.
Sometimes we do things whether we are good at it or not–we do it because we enjoy it. In my experience, I find a lot more fulfillment and joy when I do things not because I’m good at them, but because I want to do something for its own sake. I learn to learn. I write to write. I like when I am focused on the work I am doing, instead of focused on myself and my reputation.
I am slowly trying to stop praising myself. I don’t have to be a good writer or a good singer or good at anything. I can just be me, and I can do those things and love them and that’s enough.
I’m not very good at making mistakes. I hate making mistakes, which means I find myself falling into a pit of despair. Sometimes I become unable to function as I think that I’ve irrevocably fallen off my (completely imaginary) pedestal of perfection.
Here’s the truth: everyone makes mistakes on a daily basis. It’s part of life. We are all very far away from perfection and we all do horrible things.
But still, one small mistake can ruin my day. I fall into my abyss of guilt because I want to go back and change what happened (which is impossible). I feel deep discouragement because I think there is no way to fix it.
And sometimes we make mistakes that we can’t really fix. We might hurt someone’s feeling so badly that it changes our relationship forever. We might wreck our car. We might wreck part of our life.
We can’t change the past. Mistakes happen, and the consequences can last a very long time. That hurts.
But I’ve been learning how to avoid the pit of despair and move forward. Here are ways to deal with mistakes better:
1. Accept what happened.
Not too long ago, I learned about “radical acceptance.” This means accepting life how it is, totally and completely. It means we accept that things happened and we can’t change them. Acceptance can be very difficult. We might think life is unfair. We might want something different.
But reality is what it is–and it’s a lot easier to accept it (possible) than to fight against it (impossible). It can take practice and patience, but we can accept that we made mistakes and we can’t change what we did.
2. Fix what you can.
Instead of dwelling on what we did, we can take some time to think about what we can do to make right. When I yell at my children, I can’t take back that yelling. But I can apologize. I can start speaking kindly to them. I can give them hugs and cuddles. I can work harder to not yell as much in the future.
Fixing things doesn’t always make the mistake go away completely–there are often scars. But people can forgive–and we can forgive ourselves, knowing that we’re trying.
3. Laugh at yourself.
Often, many mistakes we make are small and unimportant. And they can be hilarious, if we have the right perspective. We may slip and fall, but we can also laugh at how silly it all was. We can laugh at botched recipes, bad haircuts, forgotten information, fumbled words, and awkward encounters. We can laugh when our mistakes don’t define us, when we realize everyone makes mistakes, and that we don’t have to be perfect (or even close to it).
4. Learn from mistakes.
If we do something wrong, we don’t have to keep doing it over and over again. We can learn. We can know that we can do better. We can change. That offers a lot of hope to keep at it and to keep climbing towards being a better version of ourselves.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ makes it so that we can be completely forgiven and change for the better. It means that even those scars can be healed and there is almost nothing we can do to completely ruin our lives. We can be saved from our mistakes, not matter how small or how big. There is always hope.
Some people have asked me how I do everything–I don’t think my list of accomplishments is overly impressive or unachievable. I’m mainly a stay-at-home mom, but I also have a lot of things I do on the side. I write books, I blog, I take photographs, I read books, and I try to keep learning. Here is how I do it–and how you can probably achieve a whole lot more than I do.
1. Set goals.
This is the first place to start. You won’t achieve much of anything unless you set it as a goal. Wanting to do something is not enough–it will always remains a wish. A goal must be specific and it must have a deadline. Examples: I will write a rough draft of a book this year.
2. Make a timeline.
After you have a general deadline, you break up the goal into smaller tasks. For example: I will write a 10-page chapter every week. I will write two pages five days a week.
3. Schedule out the day.
I did a lot during nap time when my kids actually took naps. Quiet time can also be helpful–quiet time is when you tell your kids to quietly entertain themselves for a while. Also, sometimes my kids really like playing with each other and I’m not needed. And they go to bed early, so the evening provides some more time for me to work on things.
When you plan out your day, you are much more likely to accomplish the tasks that help you complete your goals.
4. Focus efforts.
Sometimes my kids get ignored for a minute. Sometimes dinner is late and not very fancy. Sometimes the dishes wait. No one can do it all and everyone has to learn to make sacrifices in the right places. If you need more time, try sacrificing social media, reading the news, or watching television.
5. Allow for wiggle room when things don’t go according to plan.
When I wrote a novel in a month last year, I had a goal to write 2,000 words a day instead of the suggested 1,667–because I knew I needed some wiggle room and some space where I could breathe and have a bad day. I probably should have increased it to 2,500 words a day (or just written a novel in two months), because I still got very behind. We all have really good days and really bad days. Don’t get discouraged when you fall behind–it’s better to try and not quite get it done than to not try it all.
6. Believe in yourself.
You can do more than you think you can. You might already be doing more than you realize–and instead of feeling overwhelmed about life and your circumstances, you can be proud of your strength and your efforts. If something is hard, you continue forward with the understanding that you are learning and growing. You can believe that you can accomplish your goals, and you will keep working towards them.
You are the only type of superhero this world has: ordinary people doing one small task at a time. All those small things combine to make something amazing.
Lots of my extended family members are going through difficult times. Health problems, marriage problems, life problems. Sometimes I want the problems to go away. Sometimes I selfishly don’t want to worry anymore. Sometimes I genuinely care about someone and I want them to have a break from painful experiences.
I can only do little things like sending a note or a text or saying a prayer. I have been praying a lot for others lately. It has at times been a little overwhelming, particularly when it combines with some of my own worries.
So how do we deal with hard times?
I have found the best way is to remember Jesus Christ. The suffering of the world is so great, yet He has experienced it and so He can succor us and help us through it. We cannot go lower than He was. We cannot go to a place without light. The light of Christ is always there, giving hope in difficult times.
That makes it okay. Hard times happen and people struggle and there can be so much pain, but it is never too much because of Him. He provided a way through it all.
It will get better eventually, even if it gets worse right now. There is hope. And there is happiness in that hope.
The internet is a wonder. When I want a movie streamed on a computer, I have 24 frames per second being sent to me over thousands of miles almost instantaneously–and not over wires, but straight through the air in waves of information. I don’t understand how that works.
I can look up about any question whenever I want it answered–like what the standard frame rate is for movies. Which started a rabbit hole about why we have that particular frame rate, and I’ve learned a bit about the history of recording video, CGI and video games, high frame rate, and augmented reality.
I could go into a rabbit hole about the origin of the phrase rabbit hole, which I’m pretty sure is related to Alice in Wonderland, but I will resist. Her rabbit hole was a dream, actually–a fall straight into absurdity.
And that’s what the internet feels like. It feels absurd. It feels like disappearing cats that pop up in unexpected places. It feels like mixed up life that doesn’t sound quite right anymore.
I am pretty sure I would be happier without the internet. And without smart phones. And without computers, even.
The thing is, I don’t have to use them. I don’t have to turn on my computer or check my smart phone. I don’t have to have a Facebook account and I don’t have to follow people on Instagram. But I do.
What stops me from cutting the cord, from waking up from this dream of absurdity and actually living my life instead of falling into the rabbit hole?
Quite a few things: connecting with people, searching answers for simple questions, creating and sharing posts and videos, watching television shows, reading news, taking classes, shopping, listening to music, etc.
There are so many good things that technology can do.
I have invested in blocking software–blocking websites in the morning and limiting distracting websites to certain time limits and numbers of launches.
But on days when I feel tired and cranky, I still find myself wasting time, going around the limits I’ve made for myself and falling down the rabbit hole.
I don’t have an answer of how I can balance this in my life. It’s hard. Having too many options is hard.
Here is what I do right now:
I only check social media once a day.
I have a fifteen minute time limit on YouTube.
All websites are blocked until 11:00.
10 or 20 minute limit on websites I commonly get distracted on.
I don’t have access to a web browser or a search engine on my phone.
But I feel like I’m falling down a slippery slope, one that I can’t seem to master. Good days, when I’m feeling happy and motivated, I do fine. But the days where I just don’t want to follow my rules. And I don’t.
I’ll keep working on it. I want some sort of conclusion, but I don’t have one.
We all judge other people. We do it daily. It’s super easy to say that someone hasn’t done the right thing. But it’s a lot harder to actually live and make those decisions and try to do your best.
The fact is, we all struggle, we all fail, and we all succumb to weakness.
So how do we stop judging other people?
Well, first, sometimes we can just keep our mouths shut. That’s always helpful.
Second, we can remember that we don’t need to condemn individuals and their actions–that’s not our job. We are usually not in a position where we need to determine if someone else’s actions were right or wrong. It’s not helpful to our friends and family; they need our love more than they need our advice about what to do or our opinion about what they have already done. And when we judge strangers, we pretty much are guaranteed that we are getting it wrong anyway.
That’s not to say that we have to be completely tolerant and say that morals are relative and everyone can make their own decisions and there is no right or wrong. There still can be right and wrong, good and evil–but we don’t need to go around applying those standards to individual actions we see or hear about and then condemning people and calling a person right or wrong, good or evil.
We can determine if something is right or wrong for ourselves. We don’t usually need to do that for anyone else. They are responsible for their own actions, and they are not accountable to us for them.
Of course, there are times when judgment is helpful–usually when someone else’s actions directly affects our lives. Sometimes we may have to separate ourselves from people in some way because they have a negative impact on our own life. But that doesn’t mean that we have to harshly judge them in the process. We can still hope for the best and give people space to choose right and wrong.
I make thousands of mistakes; I hope people will give me the benefit of the doubt and know I’m still trying to do the right thing. I want to do the same for others. I want to judge less and love and support a lot more.
We’re in this together and we’re usually trying to head in the same direction. It’s better to keep hiking and to help people up than to point and laugh when they fall.
I moved when I was five years old, and then I lived in the same house until I was twenty. I had the same bedroom for over a decade. Home was very much a specific place that I could rely on.
And then I moved out and I moved again and again and again.
We haven’t ever found a singular place to call home. The house I have lived in for the majority of my life still sort of feels like home in a way, but I’m now a visitor there.
For a while, my husband and I wanted to find someplace to call home. With all our moves, we knew that we hadn’t landed yet. We hadn’t found a place where we could settle down and live for years on end without thinking about moving again.
But more than that, I wanted a feeling of home. I wanted that place that was constant and unchanging. A place that felt reliable. A place that was always there. A place that felt more familiar than anything in the world.
I wanted a place where I could always feel like myself. A place I never had to pretend in. Somewhere where it was safe to laugh and safe to cry. Somewhere that would always forgive. A foundation to my life that never shifted.
Going home when I was a child was safety and peace. I was taken care of at home. I didn’t want anything more or less. I was happy.
I wanted that feeling again.
And after years of being an adult, I have realized that that feeling of home only exists when you are a child. Nowhere will ever feel like home quite like it did when you were young.
Because part of home was the fact that I had a mother and a father to take care of me and to take care of the house. Now I’m in charge.
So I’m worried about housing markets, interest rates, insurance, and bills. I’m worried about paint colors and furnishings. I’m worried about what’s for dinner and what I need to clean up next. I can’t ever sit and be completely still in my house again. Home is a feeling that doesn’t contain worry.
I can’t ever be completely at home because I am the one making the home. I am the one providing safety and peace. And while I can enjoy it in some ways, it will never be the same.
But that isn’t a bad thing. I am so grateful that I got that feeling of home when I was younger, because some people never have it in their lives.
And I know that my kids can feel how I did. That makes me happy–a different sort of happiness.
Home is different now. But different isn’t bad.
And I know that when this life ends, I’ll be able to find that feeling of home again, just like I felt as a child. Because I think that what I was feeling when I was kid–that feeling of safety and security and love–that was heaven.
My two-year-old took off his poopy diaper today while I was taking a nap. We are attempting potty training. The diaper was on so that I could take the nap. I woke up because of the screaming baby who wanted attention, but the diaper situation won over her cries. We got him all cleaned up, as well as parts of the bathroom that had gotten a bit dirty in the process. And then I picked up the baby.
The reason I needed a nap is because my baby has suddenly forgotten that is she supposed to sleep in her bed at night and she has long periods of either crying or sleeping by my face, which is not restful.
Before my nap, I had spent an hour on Instagram because I was tired and I wasn’t making good decisions. I let the two-year-old and the four-year-old to watch movies or play games or do whatever.
The furniture in the toy room was rearranged today (not by me) and there are games scattered across my living room. Remnants of peanut butter and jelly sandwich are still stuck to the counter and cracker crumbs cover the dining room floor. Did I eat lunch?
The boys are outside while I am writing this, and a part of me wishes I was out there with them, but I have a house to clean up and a baby who still needs to eat something for lunch, even though it is way past lunch time.
My four-year-old insists that I make him jell-o, and I don’t know why he wants it so bad. He’s been pestering me about it all day, which probably means that I should just boil the water and make the jell-o and everyone will be happy. But I don’t. Because I don’t like orange jell-o, when it comes down to it, and that’s the only flavor we have.
I’ve had a string of really good days — some of them have been productive, some of them have involved adventures, and some of them have just been totally normal. Today doesn’t feel like another good day. I’m tired.
But eventually I will get sleep. And even this not-as-good day was full of good moments: I talked to my mom. I read a book as the boys lined up dinosaurs in patterns I didn’t understand. I sorted through the Pokémon cards with my four-year-old and we figured out how many cards we own have over 100 HP. I played Candy Land. I made my baby smile.
At one point, an alarm rang on my phone. It has a text-to-speech function and announces, “Potty,” in a weird, computer voice. I look up after dismissing the alarm to find my two-year-old without any clothes on his lower half, carrying pants towards me. Too late, alarm. Much too late.
Life is about continuing to try. The house will get cleaned up. Dinner will happen in some form or another. I will probably make orange jell-o today and I will go outside and play in the melting snow, happy that it is melting.
So I guess I do want to do this after all. That even through the exhaustion, this is my life. I will keep doing laundry, keep picking up my baby when she cries, keep trying to teach my children how to be responsible while trying to remain responsible myself.
And know that no matter how hard it feels sometimes, this is the life I have always wanted.
When I first heard about the the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, I was extremely confused about the random combination of letters. ISTJ? ESFP? I had no idea what people were talking about.
I did some Google searches, read some articles, and took some tests. I still can’t keep all the letters straight, and the results never resonated with me. I felt that I couldn’t be categorized, that I was a more complex individual than what the personality test was telling me.
And over the years, I’ve changed a lot. My personality is different now as a stay-at-home parent than it was when I was in college or working full-time. I’ve not only adapted to different situations, but I’ve grown and become a better person.
When I was younger, I would have said I was an introvert. I liked books and people scared me. But I worked on overcoming my fears. I set goals so that I was more comfortable talking with other people — not so I could change my personality type, but because I wanted to be in a position to look outside myself, make friends, and help others more.
I love being with people now, but not because I want to be the center of attention. Instead, I want to listen and talk and connect with others. I want to learn how to stop thinking about myself, stop selfishly pursuing what I want, and try to instead help others and make the world a better place.
Personality tests are focused very much on you and what you want. Personality tests don’t care about serving other people and improving relationships.
I could spend a lot of time thinking about what I want out of life. I could spend a lot of time categorizing myself and refusing to change who I am. But that’s not who I want to be. I want to be constantly improving, and I want to be improving and changing in a way that allows me to help and serve others.
I don’t need to analyze how I think and make decisions. I don’t need to determine if I’m more emotional or rational. I don’t need to spend hours determining exactly how I function and exactly what I want out of life. I want to take myself out of the equation entirely and think about myself a whole lot less.
Because my life isn’t about me. It’s about my family, my friends, my community, and all the people I can help.
I like to think that I am a selfless person who serves others, but the reality is that sometimes I’m as self-obsessed as anyone and my service attempts can be pathetic attempts to make myself feel better instead of actually helping anyone.
Last year, I set a goal to serve someone every day and write it down. I didn’t want to serve just so I could check it off my to-do list; I want to genuinely love and help other people. But I’m not always in the right mindset, so I set the goal as a reminder to think outside myself.
This is some of what I learned:
1. Serve small.
Often we want to make a big difference. We want to change the world. We want to give away a million dollars, start a new organization, and travel to faraway countries. We think that if we serve, we need to do it in really big ways. And then we don’t do anything.
I have been guilty of getting excited over giving away hundred of dollars to some great cause and then refusing to give away a single dollar at a grocery checkout. I want to make a big difference and in the process, I forget to do small, daily things.
Often we want to serve in big ways to make ourselves feel better. I truly believe small things can make a bigger difference than those really big things. Small things can happen consistently in a way that changes ourselves and the people around us.
Once, when my husband was in surgery, my uncle called me. He just called. It was a small thing, but it meant so much to me. It helped me know that I wasn’t alone, and that was what I needed the most.
If we think about true friendship, it exists in small things — a text, a smile, a single conversation, or a small and thoughtful present. Most people around us need support in small ways, and if we are too worried about doing big things to make ourselves feel better, we forget to take the time to say hello, to respond to an email, or to reach out and listen for a few minutes.
People don’t need us to solve their problems and change their whole lives; mostly, they just need a friend who will consistently be there for them.
2. Think about people.
Service isn’t about dollar amounts and hours spent. Service is about people. The people that you know and the people that you come across in your daily life are the people who need you.
We all have our struggles. The rich and famous need help and love sometimes, just like the poor and forgotten. It’s easy to want to help destitute strangers; it’s a lot harder to really get to know someone and support them in a meaningful way.
Often, we serve in ways that make us feel good, but they are not actually helping any specific person. For example, we might feel good about donating specific items — food, stuffed animals, blankets, whatever. We can imagine how those items could help some stranger. But giving stuff and money isn’t as valuable as giving of ourselves.
I try to think of my children, my family, and my neighbors — the people I see every day. They often need help, and I can do the the little that I can.
When I found out my sister was pregnant, I wanted to do something for her, even though I lived hours away. So I ordered her pizza for her family. I would have never thought of it unless I was thinking of her specifically and wanting to help her out.
3. Don’t judge.
It is so easy to judge people who are having a hard time. It’s so easy to say that they aren’t coping very well; they are at fault; their problem would go away if only they could be better.
Often, we refuse to give because we judge.
Stop the judgment and just give anyway.
Your money may not be used in a way that you would agree with. You might be hurt sometimes. You might be rejected. You might find yourself needing to forgive someone.
But forgive. And don’t expect anyone to be perfect. We all make mistakes. We need help because we make mistakes. We need to teach and help each other to become better. We need to have hope that people can genuinely change.
We need love without judgment at certain times in our lives; and we can give that love to others.
Many times when I have struggled with some mental health issues, my mom has taken the time to listen to me, without judgment. It helped me get through that moment and to know that I was still worthwhile.
4. Be present.
Our phones and social media can often take us away from the people we need to serve the very most.
Look up and around you. Notice the people that are there. Take the time to be present with what is actually happening in your life.
Writing texts or commenting on posts or reading the news are not bad things to do — but sometimes we can get so caught up in the scrolling that we never bother to look up and see who is next to us.
We can be kind to the people we encounter at school, work, and wherever else we go. We can be present in our own homes and our own families. And when we are present, we might discover that the people that need our help the most are right there. Just look up.
Often we can intentionally plan for ways to serve others; but sometimes service must be spontaneous, a response to a feeling that we might not fully understand.
I was walking through a store when I saw photo album that reminded me of a family member. I almost walked by it, and then I decided to pick it up and buy it for her.
5. Try, even if you are completely inadequate.
Over the years, I have had friends that have had intense and difficult problems. I have wanted to help them, and I didn’t know how. Nothing I could do would solve their problem in any meaningful way.
Sometimes, I was absent because I felt so inadequate. I was worried about saying the wrong thing, thinking that there was nothing I could do.
Sometimes, I have tried and failed. I have gone to help someone and it didn’t work. I have said the wrong thing. I have had awkward conversations that went nowhere. I have offended.
But I’m going to keep trying. Because my imperfect efforts are better than nothing. Because sometimes those awkward conversations actually do help, even a little bit. Because real friends are present in hard times. Because being inadequate is not a good excuse.
I wanted to give my friend flowers when I found out she was going through some hard times. I lived too far away from the store, but I went out and I got some sticks and some pieces of paper and I made her flowers. I’m not incredibly crafty either, but I tried. I almost didn’t give them to her because I felt they were inadequate. But I brought them over anyway. And months later, they are still on her shelf.
Just try. Try even if you aren’t sure how. Try and you’ll find that you become more adequate and more able to help.
Our lives are not really about ourselves. Our lives can be spent in serving and helping the people around us, even in small ways. As we keep trying to make a difference, we will find a greater degree of happiness and love.