Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Do Unto Yourself...

One of those classic staples of leadership is this concept: Never ask an employee to do something you're not willing to do yourself. Of course, it's a bunch of crap; that's the whole reason you have employees, so you don't have to do certain things yourself. I'm pretty sure it's the main reason my dad had kids. But the underlying principle, that you'd theoretically at least be willing to entertain the idea of doing that job, makes assigning that job to someone else okay.

Well, I came up with my new Mormon-womanized version of that statement: Never sign up to do something that you wouldn't ask another sister to do. Would you really ask another woman in the ward to single-handedly handcraft the refreshments for a stake Relief Society dinner? Then don't volunteer to do it yourself. Would you assign a woman to bring dinner to a deserving family on the same night as your daughter's wedding reception? Then don't say yes yourself! Would you call your visiting teacher and ask her to embroider thirty towels as handouts for your next lesson? Then why on earth would you do it yourself??

Because we don't want to let other people down.

Because we underestimate the time it will take and overestimate how much spare time/energy we have.

Because we like doing craftsy things and it seems like it'll be first.

Because we are perfectionists and don't trust anyone else to do things the way we want them done.

Because we want to make our calling/responsibility more important than it really is.

Because we get a kick out of people saying, "You did all this? By yourself??"

Because no one ever says, "One day I want to delegate as well as Sister X." Nope, never.

Because we take an unhealthy amount of pride in sacrificing ourselves.

Because we feel guilty burdening anyone else, so we'll shoulder the burden ourselves.

I think you see my point here. Your own personal reason for overburdening yourself may vary from this, and I'd love to hear your additions to my list. This comes up today because I volunteered to make the refreshments for our Young Women In Excellence night tonight. When we were brainstorming ideas, I thought I'd make some gingerbread girls out of sugar cookie dough and decorate them. Another counselor suggested making them out of rice crispy treats instead and I thought, Bingo! That'll save me so much time! I had several weeks to prepare for this and I like doing craftsy things, so it sounded like fun.

And then I got a kidney stone. Not a horrible one, thank goodness, but it set me back a whole day and left me pretty wiped out. I wouldn't have minded asking for help except that I realized that the scope of the project was so massive, the day before the event, that I couldn't possibly ask anyone to do it. It was going to take me hours and hours and no one should be expected to wipe out that much time from their busy schedule for a treat that people will eat in less than one minute. And that led me directly to this a-ha moment. I should not expect MYSELF to wipe out that much time from MY FAMILY to do something of fleeting value.

How do we turn this boat around? How do we stop expecting so much from ourselves and, by extension, other women? What is it going to take to pull back the reins on this runaway horse? I think it's only going to come one refusal at a time, by each woman in their respective wards. JUST SAY NO. And let me be perfectly clear: I'm not saying to say no to reasonable requests. I'm saying to say no TO YOURSELF. Tell yourself no the next time you think, "But it won't take too long..." or "But it's such a good cause..." or "But if I don't, who will??" When I was at the dessert table tonight, one of my advisors said to me, "Did you do all this yourself?" And I realized that instead of feeling pride in my accomplishment, I felt embarrassed. Why? Because I realized that it was too much to do myself and that it was unhealthy. I wished I had asked one advisor to make the five trays of rice crispy treats and the other to cut them out, leaving me with the (fun!!) job of decorating. Divided, it would have been a reasonable amount of work for each of us.

(To be fair, I'd like to mention that my YW presidency and advisors are, overall, pretty minimalist. We don't do over-the-top activities or lessons or handouts very often. I love working with my president and the other counselor, and I learn as much from the other advisors as the girls do. I think we try to focus on the spiritual needs of the girls, not the temporal, cutesy, gotta-impress-the-other-ladies things that happen in some wards. Every so often we re-learn this lesson, though, and tonight was that night for me.)

So how am I going to remind myself of this lesson the next time I have a super-cute idea for an activity/handout/refreshment or in some other way try to overextend myself?

1. Set a limit of how many extra-familial things I can handle at one time. If I want to take on a new, large-scale project (i.e. starting a Girl Scout troop) something's gotta get tossed (6 credit hours this semester.)

2. Listen for the undertone. When someone says, "Did you do all this?" hear the underlying, "What are you, nuts?"

3. Give other people the opportunity to serve. In this case, my advisors were prevented from fulfilling their callings because I hoarded the project to myself.

4. Give other people the opportunity to learn from failure. How is anyone else going to learn these (painful) lessons that we're learning unless they are given responsibilities? And give myself the opportunity to feel disappointment. It's okay for things to turn out badly--everyone, generally, survives. I could learn that lesson better.

5. Shut up already. Yes, I might have fantastic ideas about how something should be done, and yes, they might be the best ideas in the entire universe. But guess what? There's usually another way to do things that is just as good. So save the fantastic, over-the-top ideas--and the accompanying energy they will require to implement--for something that's going to be life-changing (i.e., not a group project at school, not a typical Wednesday mutual activity, not a closet-organizing binge.) And until I find that thing, nod and agree to smaller-scale success.

Have you put yourself in the position of doing unto yourself what you'd never do to another? How have you stopped from doing that?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

I Hope They Call (Us) on a Mission!

I'm breaking my blogging silence to express my profound gratitude for the announcement in today's General Conference session that lowers the age of missionary service to 18 for men, 19 for women. For the first time in parenting history, my children stayed quiet all Saturday morning, so that I slept until 10:45. Seriously, how did that happen?? I couldn't even rejoice in that because as soon as I went to FB to catch up on the urgent happenings from the last 12 hours, I saw the announcement. I can't believe I missed it!!! But thanks to the wonders of the internet (and By Common Consent's liveblog of conference) I was quickly caught up and able to join the rest of the Mormon world, reveling in the Spirit that came with this announcement.

My first thought was how this change impacts my family specifically. Brad was watching with me, and he immediately had his TTM (Time To Mission) decreased from four years to three. I already knew that four years was going to zoom by, but now? Oh my gosh, he might as well be leaving next week, that's how fast it's going to come. In some ways it'll be easier, in some ways harder. He's not going to have that buffer year of making sure he really wants to go (or not!), he's not going to have an extra year of dating girls that he could get serious with, he's not going to spend a year working to pay for the mission, he's not going to be able to put off gaining a serious testimony for himself. I think it just got real for him. And for me: if he's going to be ready to go in three years, I can't put off preparing him and hope that he figures it all out for himself. The clock is ticking.

But the impact extends to others in the family as well. Noah could go 6 months sooner, Zack a full year, but 18 and 19 are so distant to both of them it really doesn't matter. The one who will feel the biggest impact, even more than Brad, is Darcey. She'll be able to go on a mission at 19 instead of 21. While this is still 14 years away, the next 14 years are going to be vastly different for her. I expect there will be a huge increase in the number of young women serving missions now that the TTM is so much more convenient. With girls leaving shortly after they graduate the Young Women's program, the YW program will have to be focused on preparing girls for a mission. The new curriculum will go a long way to shifting this focus onto gaining testimonies and preparing for leadership. With more girls going, more girls will see it as an option; they will have more role models; they will incorporate the idea of a mission into their list of immediate possibilities. It will be so much easier to encourage and even expect Darcey to go on a mission, instead of leaving it as a last-resort, if-you're-not-married option. And can you imagine how fantastic wards are going to be when all these returned missionary sisters are teaching Relief Society, Gospel Doctrine, Sunday School, even Primary? Women who have served are already some of the most amazing women that I know--well-rounded, experienced in the world, with a serious foundation in the gospel and the scriptures. When the number of those women are flooding wards and stakes, the teaching and leadership these women will provide will improve everyone in their ward.

Of course, I can't help but wonder what my reaction would have been if missionary service had been an option for me at 19. An oft-repeated anecdote goes like this: I was married at 19 1/2 and had Brad two months before I turned 21. When Brad was five or so, he asked if I went on a mission. I said, "By the time I was old enough to go on a mission, I already had you!"  Of course, when he told this story, it came out like this: "My mom couldn't go on a mission because she had me." Thanks for casting aspersions on my morality, kiddo. But what if when I was in YW I had been encouraged to go on a mission? What if I saw Laurels preparing to turn in their papers when I was a Mia Maid and then saw them come home when I was a Laurel myself? I didn't put much emphasis on my spiritual development the last couple of years of YW--I didn't finish seminary or get my YW Medallion--but if a mission was a very real possibility, would that have changed? I think it might have. It would have forced me to think longer term, at least, and to make a decision about whether I wanted to go on a mission or not, and if not, why not. When I moved to California, the singles ward was a fantastic place of spirituality for me--if a mission at 19 was a possibility, I would have been surrounded by faithful girls who I know would have encouraged and inspired me to go. If I had served a mission, I would have started my family when I was a little older, a lot more mature, and while I think we've all survived just fine, I think a few extra years would have been a great thing. The last year or so has brought me some real spiritual growth, but how much deeper would my testimony be with the kind of dedicated service a mission requires? How much more of the scriptures would I know? How much better would I be able to teach my children? As great as missionary work is for converting and reactivating members, I believe the greatest impact of a mission is on the missionary him- or herself. I'm sad that I didn't get that chance and thrilled that my daughter can much easier, if she wants to.

One point of the announcement has been a little controversial, and that is keeping the age disparity between the young men and the young women. The feminist argument is that stopping the women from going at 18 is another way of showing that they are second-class citizens, that the mens' service is more important and takes priority, and women are an afterthought. I thought I'd share my reckoning of this issue so that I found some comfort in it. Elder Holland (I think) said in the Q&A after the press conference that they have a lot of experience with men and women on missions and that they believe it is in everyone's best interest that men and women are different ages when they serve. They believe it works better for the women to be older. I actually found great comfort in this--first, that it was examined and considered thoughtfully and not just retained as a policy out of habit or laziness or even malevolence. Second, it makes sense to me that men and women ought to serve at different ages, because it keeps things off-balance, relationship-wise. And third, having women go later actually gives them an advantage. When we see age as being a marker of seniority, it makes sense to give women a leg up in this. As much as we'd like it not to be the case, men having the priesthood and women not gives the men an advantage, perceived or real, over women. Allowing women to have an age and maturity advantage over the men evens the playing field somewhat. The beauty is that now the advantage is there without there being a massive impediment to women's service; that is, they don't have to bide their time for three years after high school before serving.

Is the situation perfect? Of course not. Elder Holland said, in response to a question about why women are still only serving 18 months instead of the men's 24, that they considered length of service but decided to make this change first and let it play out, then make other changes. "One miracle at a time," he said. And that might be the best aspect of this whole event--my testimony of these men as humble servants of the Lord was strengthened today. My testimony of the Lord as someone who hears my concerns was strengthened. I cried tears of joy today, lots of them, several times. Miracles happen, miracles will happen. Brad said to me, "I love when the church changes." Me too. It is probably the best thing about this church, that it does change, even when it is glacially slow and my impatience makes me question. Because when it changes in big ways like this, I have confidence that it is the will of God and not the random shifting of human opinion. I feel secure even in the midst of change--evolution instead of upheaval. I have never felt so optimistic about the place of women in the church and the expanding role we will have the opportunity to claim. We're not to the place a lot of members would like women to be (although if a woman says a prayer tomorrow, I think my head will literally explode) but it will happen, I have no doubt. I am so grateful for continuing revelation and a day spent in confirmation that the Lord is the head of this church and that He speaks to us, both privately and as a church. One miracle at a time. I can't wait to see the miracles the Lord has in store for us.