The Greatness Within You

I have a dear cousin who is always brimming with ideas and makes life so much fun. Some of the brightest of my childhood memories are of the imaginative games we played together for hours or days on end. (On one family trip, we braided feathers into our hair every day and took on the invented personas of Indian girls with long lists of the names of our horses and even longer lists of our devoted suitors!) I only realized recently that the reason I’ve always enjoyed being around her so much is that she brings out the lighthearted, playful side out of me. I love who I am when I’m with her. When I asked her what energy type she thought I was, she pegged me as being the same as her. After all, she only knows me in the context of herself. I was completely surprised, as this type of energy is the least natural for me. I have to try really hard to be bouncy and fun. But she brings it out effortlessly whenever I’m in her presence.

We tend to calibrate to a similar energetic level of those we spend the most time with. We take on their moods, attitudes, and interests. If they are complacent, we tend to become so. If they are motivated to accomplish things, it spurs us to find our own motivation. If they are fun-loving and carefree, we become more that way. If they are negative and destructive, that can rub off on us very easily, too, unfortunately. This is why it’s so important to be aware of the kind of people we routinely surround ourselves with.

I absolutely love the following quote by Edmund Lee:

Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers, but most of all surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.

How many of us weren’t aware of something great in ourselves until someone else pointed it out or helped us to see it? Tragically, far too many people remain unaware of the greatness within themselves. Some even deny it completely. But I know that the spark of greatness lies within every single person ever born.

What I love about mentoring is when I can see something in someone that may not be apparent to that person, or even those in the closest relationships with that person. It’s so exciting when I get to glimpse this! Even those who are aware of their gifts and talents sometimes find it tempting to give up on their dreams or slack off when the going gets tough, but the job (and privilege) of a mentor keep holding on to that vision for them through their weak times. An anonymous observer once noted, “No man can fail, if some one person sees him successful.” Do you have a person, or people, in your life who hold on to this kind of faith in you and your dreams?

The story of how I first got started with mentoring involved someone seeing something in me that I had no idea was there. Furthermore, this person was a complete stranger that I’ve never exchanged a word with before or since.

Almost two years ago I attended a free promotional training with 3 Key Elements called the Body Language Show. At the end of the evening, the company gifted audience members with free registrations to other courses of training that they offer. The 3-day Art of Mentoring course caught my attention as being one that might be useful to me as a parent, so I raised my hand as the giveaway began. I thought, why not, if it’s free? I was on the very back row, and other people were standing on their feet waving their hands enthusiastically, hoping to be the recipient of the training. I eventually put my hand down, thinking there was no way I would be chosen when these people clearly wanted it much more than I did.

I’ll never forget what happened next. The young man tasked with choosing the recipient kept walking toward me at the back of the room, looking me right in the eye, ignoring all the other people on their feet with their hands in the air. I remember that his eyes were blue and he was very young, maybe a teenager. I think he might have been one of the sons of Kirk Duncan, the presenter. He came all the way to my row and dropped the registration packet into my lap. I sat there, grinning, in disbelief. I hadn’t even put out my hand to take it from him. I knew that this was not random. I had been chosen, deliberately, for a reason I hadn’t known at the time. This one moment started me on a journey of learning and self-discovery.

It comes powerfully and certainly at unexpected times, that moment when your life mission becomes instantly clear. I know it doesn’t happen this way for everyone. For many, it’s a gradual realization, but for me, it needed to be this unmistakeable and powerful, because otherwise I would have talked myself out of it long ago. I just had never thought of myself as “that kind of person.” But now I know that anyone can be a teacher and a leader, a listener and an example. We’ve all had unique experiences, we’ve all had insights, that others can benefit from. The only qualification is to truly love people and desire to serve them.

I’m so grateful to that young man who could tell just by looking at me what I had to give. His choice changed the course of my life, and I’ve never been the same person since. His example reminds me that any of us, if we are in tune spiritually, can see the greatness and potential in any other person.  So look for and cultivate that in others. Remember to surround yourself with people who see that greatness in you, who lift you up, inspire you, and safeguard your dreams. Surround yourself with people who believe, think, and do.

And if people like that have chosen to associate with you, you know what that means. You are that kind of person, too. You add immeasurable value to other people’s lives, just by being you!

Yin & Yang Energy

I recently had the privilege of seeing Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew for the first time. This particular comedy has a reputation for upsetting modern audiences, and especially feminists, as it can come across as misogynistic, but the production I attended was respectfully and tastefully done. I love Shakespeare not only for the entertainment value, but all of the insights into human nature. And this play taught me so much more than just the value of being agreeable.

For those of you not familiar with the plot, the “shrew,” Katherina, is so obstinate and ill-tempered that no one, herself included, expects her to ever find a husband. Her beautiful and demure younger sister, Bianca, has men lined up wanting to marry her, but the girls’ father won’t let Bianca marry until Katherina (Kate) has tied the knot. Bianca’s suitors then make it their goal to find some poor shlub willing to woo Kate. They bring in Petruchio, who initially wants her for her fortune, but after meeting her, sees that there is a lot more in her to like. He doesn’t seem put off by her shrewish behavior in announces that he will marry her. As was common in those days, Kate doesn’t have a say in this decision, but I got the impression that she kind of likes Petruchio, even though she won’t admit it. Her father, delighted that he will soon be unburdened of both his daughters, agrees to the match.

shrew

During the wedding and honeymoon, Petruchio acts like an arrogant, controlling jerk. He disregards social expectations. He insists on “nothing but the best” for his new bride, berating and beating the servants to enforce his impossibly-high standards. And he argues with and contradicts Kate about everything. She gets smart and just starts agreeing with him. Gradually you see her become more and more gentle and compliant until she is totally “submissive” to Petruchio. I see this not as female subjugation, but a choice Kate makes when she realizes she really does love and respect her new husband and knows that he loves and respects her as well. She really is happier and truer to herself than she ever was when she was brash and domineering at the beginning.

After seeing the play, I couldn’t help reflecting on how it’s all about masculine and feminine energy. I’ve only recently learned about these energies, and this knowledge really resonates with me as the key to so many of the challenges faced by myself and others. Carol Tuttle’s description of these energies is beautiful: “Feminine energy (Yin) draws in to create, in a soft and subtle expression. Masculine energy (Yang) moves outward to create, in a bold and straightforward expression.” Feminine energy attracts life and is very nurturing and gentle. Its power comes from the imagination and intuition. It connects us with one another and creates bonds. Masculine energy pushes us out into the world to build and create. It is characterized by leadership, logic, control, attainment, and perfection. While opposites, these energies complement each other, and both are valuable and necessary. (Our society definitely values one above the other, but that’s another topic!)

Every person has a different individual “formula” for the ideal combination of these energies, but to generalize quite broadly, men typically function best when in 60% masculine energy, and women typically function best when in 60% feminine energy. When these energies are out of balance, chaos and trouble result, but when they’re balanced, in both individuals and relationships, happiness, fulfillment and peace follow. Men and women need to learn to more completely embrace both these energies within themselves, but the trick is finding the balance that’s right for you and your relationships.

In the Taming of the Shrew, Kate is definitely out of balance in favor of masculine energy. She tries to control her household, dominating her father and insisting on perfection from the servants and beating them when they fall short. Her superior, tempestuous manner is very off-putting to the men who come to woo such a beautiful and rich woman, and she sends them running for the hills, all except Petruchio. Seeing her for who she truly is, he comes up with a plan to help her balance her energies by going into an excess of masculine energy, acting much more controlling and perfectionistic than Kate ever was. Since the energies in every relationship must come into balance, Kate was caused to shift in favor of her feminine energy, which Petruchio must have known had been there all along. When she finds this balance in herself, she is happy with who she is, content with her life, and very much in love with her new husband. I am inspired by the beautiful way Shakespeare has illustrated this principle in this story.

I’m sure we’ve all known a few Kates. Maybe you are her. (I have definitely seen a lot of her in myself.) Men can also take on too much masculine energy, but it’s more unnatural and destructive for a woman to be imbalanced this way. This is what she may look like in the context of our modern world:

  • Whenever she gets afraid, she goes into control mode, becoming critical, judgmental, perfectionist, bossy, and irritable. In her eyes, no one can do anything right.
  • She becomes aggressive, intense, and often disgusted with her husband or partner. She may nag or boss him until he goes into servant mode or withdraws from her. (He may then take on more feminine energy, becoming the primary nurturer the children, with a tendency to overindulge them and be excessively permissive of their behavior.)
  • She tries to control every aspect of her children’s lives, becoming unglued over their failures or refusal to cooperate. Instead of comforting them when they get hurt, she may blame them for causing inconvenience and disrupting her plans.
  • She is extremely critical of herself, beating herself up for every mistake and all the ways she feels that she can’t measure up.
  • She doesn’t like herself, so she overeats, (or over-shops, etc.) and it numbs her pain.

It is healthy for a woman to go into a masculine energy mode when it serves her and others. There are many instances where she needs to take charge and get things done, and that’s good! But it hurts her to stay in that mode most of the time.

Seek to be independently united with your spouse, NOT exactly the same, or else one person’s gifts get smothered in favor of the other’s. Natural chemicals bond and unify couples when their energy is balanced. Healthy couples frequently switch back and forth between their different energies as needed given the circumstances. But when one spouse stays primarily in one type of energy, the other spouse may start to feel that his or her role is being marginalized or usurped and may start to feel resentful. But there’s hope! If you are experiencing challenges in your relationship, you can change it! It only takes one person to begin to balance the scales.

Women, I would love to give you some tips on ways to tune in to and increase your wonderful feminine energy, but this post is getting too long. I promise to expand on this topic in another post, but for now, I hope you will find it helpful just to be more aware of how masculine and feminine energy differences affect you and your relationship. Once that awareness is there, the answers you need to live a more fulfilling life will come to you.

Your Personal Commandments

When Gretchen Rubin, an author I admire, challenged readers to create a list of our own personal “commandments,” I was intrigued and decided to try it. I liked the idea of distilling my core values down to just a few words. This isn’t meant to be a list of resolutions or goals, or anything that can be “checked off” daily, but principles that guide you in creating a happier life. In this post, she lists her own commandments, which are awesome. Here are the commandments I came up with for myself:

  1. Love the people.
  2. Smile, laugh, jump, play.
  3. Get out of my comfort zone.
  4. Never suppress a generous thought.
  5. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
  6. Put the yummy in and get the yucky out.
  7. Welcome challenges.
  8. Be a “hands-free” mama.
  9. Live grounded and centered.
  10. Dream big.
  11. Breathe.
  12. Surrender to the Now.

Do you know what overarching principles and values guide your life? It’s an interesting and informative exercise to condense these down to a list of just twelve succinct items. I would challenge you to try this for yourself, and then review it often, every day if possible. (This review step is one that I have neglected, but have now committed to start doing!)

Here are three tips Gretchen Rubin gives for how to come up with your list:

  1. Consider phrases that have stuck with you. I like the “hands-free mama” blog, which encourages readers to put down electronic devices and really be present with your children, so that phrase has stuck with me. “Love the people” and “Put the yummy in, get the yucky out” both come from Kirk Duncan, the mentor who got me started with mentoring. Other ones like “attitude of gratitude” have been said by many different people, but it’s catchy.
  2. Aim high and fight the urge to be too comprehensive. Yes, these commandments are the ideal that I strive for; they don’t usually represent my day-to-day life and behavior. But I’d really like them to! Keep your list “short and snappy,” so that you can easily review it often, and don’t stress about all the important things that didn’t make the list. And if twelve items is way too many, you can whittle your list down to just the two most important commandments, which for me are #1 and #5.
  3. Think about what’s true for you. Everyone is different and will have unique priorities and challenges. One person might write “make time for others” while someone else writes “make time for myself.” Focus on what makes you happy. When I first read Gretchen’s list, I just wanted to steal a lot of the commandments she had written, and while some of my own express the same principles as hers, they are put into words that are meaningful for me.

I hope you’ll try this, and then I really hope you’ll post your own commandments (or at least a few of them) in the comments section. I’m interested to see what’s important to different people. Each of you has a vast amount of wisdom, gleaned from your own unique experiences and point of view. Let’s inspire one another!

Don’t Teach the Colt to Fall Over!

My past couple weeks have been filled by potty-training my two-year-old, who turns three in a couple months. As other parents who’ve gone through this know, it’s one of those things that will fail if you try to control it. The child must be ready and be given the opportunity to exercise authority over himself. The parents’ jobs are to provide support and guidance, make it fun and stay positive. Which isn’t easy to do, especially after multiple accidents! My little Toad ignores me or shuts down the moment I get stern or serious with him, so he’s teaching me the value of a light, bright, good-natured approach to life.

Earlier this year I took a Parent Personality Assessment and found that I scored high in the attitudes of Controlling and Superiority, and low in Pleasing and Comforting. I want things done my way, and when my expectations aren’t met, I tend to correct and lecture others. This invites power struggles with my children, and as soon as you’ve entered one of those, nobody wins! Simply becoming aware of my natural inclinations as a parent has helped me make better choices in the moment.

My four-year-old son, Buddy, is very strong-willed. A few weeks ago, when my husband was out of town, both my sons were being noisy in church, so I took them out. I held them tightly on my lap, but Buddy just kept screaming. I covered his mouth with my hand, so he started to kick me. I grabbed his legs with my other arm, so he started bucking his head back. This made it very uncomfortable and difficult with a protruding pregnant belly and another child to the side of me! My hand on his mouth wasn’t muffling very much of his noise, and I must have looked pretty ridiculous trying to wrangle that kid with my skirt and heels on.

That’s when a sweet friend left the meeting to come to the rescue. She knelt down on his level, talked to him soothingly, and asked him if he’d like to see if there were any treats in her bag. Buddy composed himself immediately. Then she took him by the hand, led him back in to the congregation, and let him pick some candies for himself and his siblings before sending him back to me. She was a great example of gentleness and kindness, and her way ended up being much more effective than mine!

I see a lot of my parenting attitudes in this story, recounted by M. Russell Ballard:

Please remember the experience of a friend of mine. He had never owned a horse in his life until he married a wonderful woman who loves horses. Wanting to impress his new bride, he announced one evening that he was going to the pasture to teach a colt how to be led. He weighed more than the colt. He knew more than the colt. He assumed all he would need to do was pull on the lead rope and sooner or later the colt would follow. He was confident that the process would be short and simple.

He attached the lead rope to the halter, got in front of the colt, and pulled. The colt resisted. My friend pulled harder, and the colt planted his legs more firmly. So he really pulled, and the colt fell over. The process was repeated several times until my friend made this assessment: in just four or five minutes he had successfully taught the colt to fall over. All he had to do was get in front of the colt, pick up the rope, and over it would go.

His wife, watching this process, finally suggested that instead of getting in front of the colt and pulling, he might try wrapping the rope around the colt and simply walking alongside. To my friend’s chagrin, it worked.

There seems to be something inside each of us that resists being told or pushed or pulled. But if someone puts an arm around [us] and walks alongside [us], [we are] likely to follow.

Like little horses, children want to be led and guided, but not pulled nor forced. This is true not just of children, but of all people. I’m sure we’ve all felt the resistance and resentment that builds up when others try to control us, as well as the eagerness we feel to follow a leader whom we know loves us, listens to us, and cares about us. Joseph Smith expressed this beautifully when he said,

Nothing is so much calculated to lead people…as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power is has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind.

As we lead children in love and gentleness, we will be able to see them for who they really are as magnificent spirits, and we’ll be more receptive to the many lessons they have to teach us. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made, and that I keep making, is seeing my children as “just children” rather than the glorious spiritual beings, my equals, that they truly are. Though these spirits are housed in small, unskilled bodies, they have a light about them and an ability to love unconditionally that most adults have forgotten. As I change my perspective from seeing myself as “in charge” of them, to seeing them as my own exalted spiritual teachers, I grow in amazing ways and enjoy happy, flourishing relationships with them.