Shattered Silence

Shattered Silence

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Of Good Courage

I always prefer a fresh beginning to implement
new goals.
A member of my extended family recently confessed on Facebook that she was an “all-or-nothing person.” There were many who spoke up to declare the same about themselves, including me. She was referring to the many New Year’s resolutions that she wanted to implement in the coming 365 days. She asked others for suggestions on how they stick to their annual goals of focus, especially with an attitude of black-and-white perfection like hers. I could only lament as I empathized with her; personally, if I can’t be a top performer in any one of my endeavors, my first instinct is to give up completely. Even worse, I so often let fear of failure (whether along the way or as my end result) stop me from even pursuing goals to begin with.

With the New Year here, so suddenly as it always seems to me, many friends and family are using social media to toss around ideas and philosophies about life and where we need to be as individuals, families, communities, nations, and as a world. Many are taking time to reflect on the up and downs of 2013, and then setting a course correction for the journey through 2014. I am following suit, but not for anyone else; most of the changes I want to make happen this year are all for my own wellbeing and personal benefit as an individual. I am also going about it more privately, telling few about my goals in advance—probably so nobody has to know if and when I fail.

My all-or-nothing think patterns and fear of
failure are an explosive combination.
Once, a while back, I read through some of my old homework that I’ve saved as I’ve attended college. One response paper from a health class was really interesting to read again. I had to respond about how I could improve in all the areas of my overall health during the four months of the semester—physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. The instructor wanted us to set small goals in each aspect of health, but to make one area of health our focus, and then try to make a behavior change in that area. I chose to focus on my mental and spiritual health.

My mental health goal was to seek more motivation and resolve in attending my classes, not procrastinating, and completing my assignments on time; each of these things I have struggled with in college, with the roots probably going back to some bad experiences in high school to which I never adjusted well. Daily I have been affected by these issues, even when not in school. Jobs have been difficult since I graduated from high school because of my apparent inability to care about whether or not I show up, and my tendency to crush under stress and responsibility.

Even though it took me longer than expected, I
still reached my scripture-reading goal.
My second goal was to improve my spiritual health by reading more from the scriptures and saying my prayers more often. I made a goal to read from the scriptures every night or every morning, which ever was more convenient on a day-to-day basis, but at least once a day. I didn’t reach my goal by the end of that year like I wanted to, but I did reach my goal of reading the Book of Mormon front to back in the early months of the subsequent year. Through diligence, I was also able to make praying a more ritualistic part of my daily life; I prayed on my knees at my bedside every night before bed, and sometimes in the morning, too, if I remembered before I left the house. Since then I have been able to make prayer a daily habit in my life, and my communion with God has strengthened me immensely in many aspects of my overall health.

My successes don't have to look like
someone else's successes.
At the end of the semester, we had to write another response paper reflecting back on the health goals we made, what our experiences were, and if we felt we achieved the goals in the manner we wanted. Surprisingly, though I had not met my mental health goals as well I had wanted—I still missed a lot of days of class that semester, and put off a lot of things to the last minute—I nevertheless learned a lot about myself and why I behaved the way I do. I felt like my perfectionism in everything could be just as much of a curse in some areas of my life, as it was a blessing in other aspects. I understood better that my successes didn’t have to look like other people’s successes, and that my failures were truly better for me when they were learned from and then forgotten from week to week, instead of harbored and dwelt upon for unnecessary lengths of time.

In my final behavior change paper, I came up with a unique analogy for what I had learned about the struggles I had been through that semester, and that I would likely go through every day in my life from then on. Here is what I wrote:

          “We are not expected to complete the challenges of life by blazing triumphantly across the finish line on a majestic white stallion, clothed in a spotless, regal robe, with a glimmering crown of achievement resting upon our unfurrowed brows.
          “Sometimes the only way we can make it to the finale is by crawling low through the dregs and refuse of mortality on raw hands and knees, bearing the weight of our long venture upon our twisted backs. And so often, there is no royal welcome—no fanfare to announce the feat which to us is so monumental.
          “It is, in fact, when the self-satisfaction of personal accomplishment and the promise of greater enlightenment fuel the body and mind through each endeavor worthy of our every strength that we find ourselves pressing forward to journey’s end.”

In comparing life to a race, sometimes we can only
make it to the finish line by travelling slowly, but consistently.
I wouldn’t say that my lesson learned during that semester was utterly life-changing, but it did strike a chord with me. It helped me realize that, very often, success is not reached in a perfect manner, free from pain, struggle, or hard, dirty work. Very rarely do we look over our shoulders after completing the journey to a higher plane in life and say, “Wow! That was easy!” More often, I think we feel exhausted, drained, and humbly but honestly glad that it’s over and that we made it at least that far. And most likely, it will not be our last time making such a trek; if we find ourselves unhappy with where we are or who we’ve become, we should naturally seek to better our circumstances and move forward and upward to greater strength and enlightenment, and we will do so many times in our lives.

I also learned that living my life for the rewards I received from others was not the way to go about things. I couldn’t perform like a trained seal in order to please my parents, my friends, my teachers, my counselors, or anyone else. I had to stop living for the praises of the men and women who surrounded me, even when their encouragement and support were genuine and sincere. I needed to learn that doing my best for myself was what was required for ultimate happiness. I had to center my pride, satisfaction, and the joys of success upon my own efforts and abilities, and be willing to celebrate my own power in meeting my responsibilities. More importantly, I had to learn to rid myself of the guilt and shame that I was heaping upon myself by supposing that I had let everyone down. I needed to learn that I was the most important person in my life, that I was the one who would be most affected by my behavior, and that truly loving myself meant that it was important not to let myself down more than anything.

Even taking the same steps every day can count
for something if you are reaching a higher plane.
Once again, and for the first time in nearly three years, I am enrolled in school in an attempt to complete my higher education. And so, these lessons of the past are ever more relevant as I face some of the same challenges all over again. So far my New Year’s goals are going smoothly. With some, there haven’t been any mistakes. With others, my track record for the year is not perfect, but not yet ruined or even tarnished. The overall goal with all of these smaller goals is to rise up when I fall, and carry on. To not dwell or sulk for unnecessary amounts of time on mishaps once they’ve occurred; to be better today than I was yesterday, and to be better tomorrow than I was today. Daily improvement is my resolution this year, even if the successes are few and small, and the rewards are celebrated only by me. 

Some days will be easy; others will be hard. And my resolve to be my best self will be challenged more than once, I’m sure. But as long as I am trying to be a little bit better each day, and accomplishing something—anything—that I didn’t accomplish the day before, then I will be more comfortable with my shortcomings and temporary failings and more willing and quick to overlook them. I also know that I can’t expect to be perfect every day, or any day. Some days I might just barely make it, other days I may only make it halfway. But where I find quiet courage to do it all over again with each rising of the sun, I will also find peace, hope, and joy in living. 

Indeed, my mantra during this time in my life has been, and will continue to be this:  
          “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day, saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”
                  ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

I relate so much to the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz."
It was not until he went looking for his courage that he
discovered he had had it within him all along.

**NOTE: My personal inspiration for daily improvement, consistence, and courage to try comes from many recently published sources. See, for example, some of the following:

~ President Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (2012), 93-105 (Chapter 6).
~ President Thomas S. Monson, “Living the Abundant Life,” Ensign, Jan. 2012, 4-5.
~ President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Best Time to Plant a Tree,” Ensign, Jan. 2014, 4-6.