Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Just Dance!

I have never been what anyone would call graceful.  Stories of my childhood and adolescense are populated with stories of me tripping over things and being attacked by inanimate objects.  I always wanted to be a dancer, but as the chubby, uncoordinated kid that was just not in the cards.  One of my most embarrassing moments was auditioning for a music dance theater program as a high school senior and completely forgetting the choreography to the very simple dance about 8 counts in.  Still, I didn't shy away from opportunities to dance.  I went to lots of dances and parties and danced away.  I took social dance in college and loved every second of it even though I knew I didn't look as much like Ginger Rogers as I felt.  Now I go to a dance exercise class called Zumba every week and I enjoy myself hugely.  I get half the steps wrong and I know I look funny doing the ones I do get right, but you know what?  I don't care.  Sometimes I work in my dad's woodshop for hours all by myself, and you know what I do?  I crank up the music and dance like I think I belong on Broadway (or maybe a Shakira video, but I won't burden you with that image...).  I LOVE to dance.  It feels free and liberating and FUN!

I think I got this attitude from watching my sweet little sister Carissa, who had Down's Syndrome.  She loved to dance, too, and she never let any inhibition get in her way.  When the music started, she was always right there in the thick of things.  More than once I saw her get right up on stage with the band.   She could shake it with the best of them, and she always had the best time of anyone because she wasn't worried about others' judgment.

A while back, my brother Dan of Single Dad Laughing talked about his "dancing black duck" -- how he had stopped himself from dancing for years because he was so worried about what other people would think, and how he decided to get over it and just dance.  He invited all of his followers to send in clips of themselves dancing, which of course meant we all had got to be in it, too.  I showed off my awesome moves for a few seconds and then rolled my ankle really, really badly.  (It still hurts, weeks later!)  Dan asked me if he could use that in the video and I hesitated only for about half a second before I said yes.  It's not cute, but it's totally me.  And since the whole point of the dance video is enjoying dancing without worrying about how you look to others, how could I say no?

Today he finally posted the finished product.  I'm stealing his video to post here, but you should definitely go read his original post about dancing.  It applies to so many things in our lives.  What are we holding ourselves back from enjoying because of how some past experience has affected us?  Just dance, people!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gratitude -- a "Perfect" Thought for the Day

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  Gratitude is such a liberating power in our lives -- I hope we can all take time today, whatever our circumstances, to thank God for the multitude of blessings he gives us each day.

I am thankful for this life, with all it's challenges, happinesses, and heartaches.  I'm grateful for each experience, because I know that they are all gifts from God to help me become the person He sees in me.  Because in the end, this life is not about what we have or what we've done, but about what we have become.

Much love!
Tomi Ann

P.S.  Here are a few more thoughts for the day that I really like:

Gratitude is an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture.  ~Kak Sri

If you have lived, take thankfully the past.  ~John Dryden

The unthankful heart... discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!  ~Henry Ward Beecher

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.  ~William Arthur Ward

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The right to bare arms...

Yesterday my beautiful, wonderful sister Emily got married.  Before the ceremony started, my (also beautiful and wonderful) sister Amy was bemoaning the cap sleeves on our bridesmaid dresses, not feeling particularly enthused about showing so much of her "fat" arms.  I told her I had recently been thinking about my own fat arms, and how EVERYONE says they hate their arms, and entire half-hour segments of the Today show are dedicated to showing us how to get Michelle Obama's arms... and it occurred to me that if everyone thinks they have fat arms, when are we going to realize that maybe that's just how female arms naturally are?  Soft and maybe a little jiggly, but perfect for giving hugs, right?  So we made a pact to accept our arms for what they are...

Of course, a few hours later, at the reception, we were cleverly using our Spanish fans to camoflauge our ample arms in all the pictures.

Accepting imperfection is definitely a one-step-at-a-time process...

Seriously, though -- isn't she beautiful?  You should totally check out her new blog, So Says Amy.  It is both thought provoking and hilarious, just like Amy herself.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Best Self/Worst Self Snapshot

I've written a few posts now about what I call the Best Self/Worst Self Scenario, and a few weeks ago I had an experience that really drove it home to me.

I was at a large fabric store with my 2-year-old daughter, waiting in a loooong line to get fabric cut.  She was grumpy and I was trying to entertain her with one of the animal-sounds apps on my phone, but she got frustrated and threw it on the floor.  That, of course, was the end of her getting to play with my phone, which inevitably led to her throwing a fit.  After a minute she wasn't really screaming and yelling anymore, but she was still doing that "I'm just going to keep crying because I still want my way even though I probably don't remember what I'm mad about" cry, which I'm sure any of you parents of young children know all too well.  At that point, honestly, I was completely tuning her out. I was still trying to soothe her, but my brain was definitely more involved in the sewing project I had planned.

A couple minutes after that it was finally my turn at the cutting counter.  As the lady was cutting my fabric, a middle-aged woman approached the counter and started demanding (loudly) that I do something about my screaming baby, saying that it was upsetting people and that I should leave the store immediately.  I don't even remember what I said, just something like, "I'm sorry, I really am doing the best I can."  Before I even really had time to register anything but shock, she turned and stormed away.  As she passed a man a few feet away, he said loudly "She's not bothering me!"  And then every customer and employee within 15 feet jumped to my defense, saying how awful she was for being so mean and how great I was for not getting angry back at her and that I was right not to give in to Eliza's tantrum and that she really wasn't upsetting anyone.  I really did appreciate the kind things they said, but of course I was embarrassed and I really did want to get out of there as quickly as possible.  One lady even chased me up to the cash register to tell me I was doing a great job as a mom, and another found me in the parking lot.

But I didn't feel like the hero of the situation.  I really was tuning Eliza's crying out instead of being considerate of others.  I'm sure I could have done more to settle her down, but I was tired and stressed.  As for the customer who got angry at me, who knows what her situation might be?  Maybe she was tired and stressed, too.  I thought about my grandma, who had a nervous condition that was great exascerbated by constant, grating noise like crying.  Whatever the reason, obviously that woman was not having a Best Self moment when she lit into me.  But I wasn't, either.  I wasn't a saint for not getting angry back.  Mostly I just didn't have time to be anything but surprised.  The people who went out of their way to come to my defense?  I think they were having a Best Self moment -- reaching out to give comfort to a stranger.  Most of them were older (or shall we say, more experienced) moms who, I think, saw their younger selves in me.  But I hope someone was also around to reach out to the other woman as well.

So there we all were, a bunch of imperfect people, all at different places on the Best Self/Worst Self sliding scale that day.  I was really glad that most of the people in the store were understanding and forgiving of my imperfection.  In fact, I felt much worse for the woman who got angry with me -- she probably felt even worse after everyone jumped to my defense.  Maybe she regretted being so harsh.  Maybe she didn't.  Maybe she just felt even more victimized that now she had to listen to a crying baby AND no one agreed with her.  Maybe she was having a terrible day and the whole thing made her feel worse than ever.

We'll never know, because we never can know exactly where someone else is on their own personal scale, or what they are going through that pushed them to that point.  All we can do is treat everyone with understanding and compassion, trying not to be quick to get angry or be offended.  As human beings, we are all going to have Worst Self moments -- let's not define others (or ourselves) by them.

Tomi Ann

P.S.  If you think others might be uplifted by this post, please feel free to share it wherever you share stuff. :)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

True Charity -- a "Perfect" thought for today

This is one of my favorite quotes of all time, and something I strive to live by (though I can assure you I'm not perfect at it). It goes hand in hand with this beautiful talk by President Thomas S. Monson from the last General Relief Society meeting.*

*The Relief Society is the worldwide women's organization for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. President Monson is our prophet and the leader of our Church. Every 6 months there is a broadcast called "General Conference," where the leaders of the Church speak to the entire church. Every October conference there is also a General Relief Society meeting, where they speak to the women especially.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Parable of the Painting

I have two incredibly smart, cute, funny little boys.

Sammy is the oldest.  He's almost 7 and he is pretty much a genius.  He started reading before he turned 3 and memorized the times tables just for funsies while he was in preschool.  But this post is not about him.

This post is about Josh, who is almost 5.  He is sweet and imaginative and hilarious.  He loves to make people laugh, and he also has a special talent for knowing when people need comfort.  At my husband's grandma's funeral this past summer, he went up to Dan's grandpa and just put his arms around him and loved him for several minutes.  He comes up with elaborate stories about his superhero adventures, assisted by all his animal friends. He loves to be a special helper, and Eliza follows him around all day, imitating his every move.  Right now he sounds like a pirate, because he's trying very enthusiastically to say his Rs (including in words that really should have a W -- ever heard of "taking a showrer" or enjoying a "rarm" day?).  What's not to love about Josh?

I'll tell you what Josh doesn't love about Josh:  that he's not Sam.  In spite of our best efforts to convince him that he is special and wonderful for just who HE is, he is constantly comparing himself to Sammy.  It's understandable, I guess -- Sammy gets a lot of attention for how smart he is and all the things he can do.  It made me so sad one day when the boys were painting pictures together.  They were both putting their best efforts into their projects and doing a really great job.  But Josh took a good long look at Sammy's painting, then back at his own.  He picked up his painting and with a look of such hurt on his face, ripped it slowly and deliberately in half.  I said, "Oh, Joshy!  Why did you rip your painting?  You worked so hard and it was a really great painting!"  He said, "It's not as good as Sam's."  I tried to talk to him about how it was great that his painting wasn't the same as Sam's, because it was his and that he had done his best.  I talked about how Sammy is two whole years older than Josh, so he's had a lot more practice.  I told him I really liked how he had used so many different colors, and how fun it was that he had made up a story to go along with it.  But nothing I said made any difference.  He ripped his painting up into small pieces anyway.

This particular incident happened a couple of months ago, but I've been thinking about it a lot over the past few days.  I wonder:  How often are we the Josh in this scenario?  We look at what others are creating or accomplishing and we instantly devalue our own abilities.  "Oh, I could never ______ like her!"  But instead of trying our best and then tearing it up, we don't even try.  Or maybe we do, but we never share our experiences with others because we think they have no value.  God has given each of us our own special talents and abilities, meant to enrich our lives and enable us to lift others.  Do we throw them back in His face because we think nothing we do will ever be as good as what others do?  And all the while we are hiding a secret sorrow because we want to share, to do, to be everything that we can be.

It makes me think of the Parable of the Talents in the New Testament, which begins in Matthew 25:14.  The basic story is that a man is going away and gives different numbers of "talents" (an amount of money in the parable) to each of his servants to take care of while he's gone.  To one he gives 10, to another 5, and to one, only 1 talent.  When he comes back, the servants to whom he had given 10 and 5 talents had both invested wisely and doubled his money.  He rewards them both equally.  The servant to whom he had given only 1 talent had hidden his talent in the earth out of fear that he couldn't do anything with it.  But the truth was that the master wasn't expecting that servant to earn 10 more talents like the first servant, just to do something with it.  God has given us all different talents and gifts, and he just wants to see what we will do with them.  He's not comparing us to anyone but ourselves, so why do WE do it?

A few weeks ago my husband Dan took Josh out for a special ice cream date.  They talked about all the great things that Josh can do, and came up with a new motto:  "Have fun along the way!"  They talked about how Joshy doesn't need to compare what he does to Sammy -- the whole point of doing stuff is to enjoy doing it, not to worry about how other people are doing the same thing.  Since then, when Josh starts to get into that comparing mindset, we say, "What's our motto?"  And he replies (with varying degrees of enthusiasm): "Have fun along the way..."  At the same time, we are trying very hard to point out all of the things that are great about Josh.  (And balancing that with doing the same thing for the other kids too, of course -- man, being a parent is not an easy trick.)  Hopefully this is just a phase, and we can get through it and we'll all be glad they're not going through it as teenagers... or in their 30s.

I want to challenge you to "have fun along the way."  As adults, it's not just about fun, of course.  We want to find real fulfilment and bring happiness to others at the same time.  Identify something that you love to do, whether you think you're the greatest at it or not.  Do something that forces you to share that gift with others -- teach someone something, give an act of service, create a gift -- and do so unapologetically. 

Don't worry that someone else could have done it better. 

Don't worry if your talents aren't as "visible" as everybody else's.

Don't feel like you have to measure up to some imaginary standard.

Just appreciate the joy and enrichment you felt in doing it, and the blessing it is to someone else to feel cared for.  If you feel like you don't have any special talents, ask God to help you find the gifts He's given you.  He might answer you by bringing a long-lost interest to your mind, or by helping you see a need that you can fill.  Keep your heart open, so that God can show you the beautiful things He's created in you.  Just you, just the way you are.

Our lives are a blank canvas, waiting to be filled with beautiful colors and stories.  Don't let fruitless comparison make you tear it up and hide it away.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

215 Challenge: Random Challenge - 215-words about Why AVERAGE is ...

My awesome hubby Dan just started a very funny writing blog called "The 215 Challenge," where you have 215 words to fulfill whatever the challenge for the day is.  Today he stepped away from his usual goofiness to talk about "Why AVERAGE is AWESOME!"  I loved what he wrote about not comparing yourself to others.  Read this -- I think you'll see what helps ME stay a little more grounded and balanced than I used to be... :)

215 Challenge: Random Challenge - 215-words about Why AVERAGE is ...: "I'm pretty much average in practically every way. Pick nine random other people and line me up with them. Rank us on anything you like and I..."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The CoffeeShop Blog: How I don't do it all and can live with that.

 I'm already a big fan of the fun stuff for wannabe photographers like me on Rita's blog, but she posted this yesterday and I knew I had to pass it on.  She expresses just perfectly what I was talking about in my first Best Self/Worst Self post... plus she's actually funny. :)  Definitely worth a few minutes to read!

The CoffeeShop Blog: How I don't do it all and can live with that.: "We went to the pumpkin patch this weekend. There was a sea of pumpkins and happy children in cute little black and orange fall costumes. ..."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Let It Shine

Need an uplifting moment today?  My beautiful friend Eliza Wren Payne's newest music video is a celebration of letting who YOU are shine out.  It's full of all sorts of beautiful people and it really made me so happy...

Watch Let It Shine!

And yes, the loveliness of her spirit did influence me naming my daughter Eliza.  Can't you just hear it in her voice?  If my Eliza can grow up to be as loving, caring, and open-hearted as Eliza Wren, I will be one proud mama indeed.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Choosing Happiness

I haven't posted in a few days, because I've been trying to figure out how best to communicate my feelings on this next topic.  I think it's because this is something I've been struggling to communicate for years -- the subject of happiness.

I think if you asked nearly anyone who has known me for more than a few minutes to describe me, one of the first adjectives they'd use is "cheerful" or "positive" or just "happy."  And I am all those things, and I love that about myself.  But all my adolescent and adult life, I have gotten crap about it.  "No one is that happy all the time."  At times, people have accused me of being fake, of just pretending to be happy so that I can keep up the "perfect" facade.  Nothing has ever had more power to hurt me than that accusation: FAKE.  When people that I really care about call me that, it breaks my heart because I suddenly feel like they don't know me at all.  Or they don't understand what makes me... me.  I don't do fake.  I think there is a big difference between being fake and  choosing happiness, but I have never been able to clearly articulate my feelings.  That's what I'm going to try to do here, so bear with me...

Choosing happiness requires conscious action and thought.  No one's life is so free of trials that they can be effortlessly happy all the time.  When you look at people and you think, "Of course they're happy!  Their life is perfect; what would they ever have to be unhappy about?" you can be sure that they have their own sorrows and struggles.  The very purpose of life is to struggle, to learn and grow and overcome, and that can be a painful process.  But we can find happiness in the midst of all of this if we choose to.  I want to talk about three tools that I use to choose happiness.

First, forgiveness.  Being willing to forgive offenses large and small keeps us from becoming bitter and unhappy.  Give others the benefit of the doubt, don't be quick to take offense, and realize that they are also imperfect human beings.  That works well for the little things.  Big things take more time and perspective and work, but you can do it.  Don't let the actions of others determine your own happiness.  Learning to forgive is truly liberating.  When you learn to forgive others, you can more freely forgive yourself for your own mistakes and give yourself permission to move forward and be happy with who you are right now.  Consciously choosing to forgive others and to forgive myself helps me feel happy.

Second, faith.  Faith is a huge key to happiness for me.  I know deep down in my heart that God loves me and He has a plan for me.  He wants me to be happy -- forever, not just today or tomorrow.  So when troubles arise, I try to keep that eternal perspective.  I know that the hard times will not last forever.  I know that the trials we face are meant to help us learn and grow.  And while I'm not always great at figuring out exactly what I'm supposed to be learning at that moment, faith helps me not get bogged down in unhappiness.  Do you know that God loves you, that He knows you personally and He wants you to be happy?  If you can't honestly say that you KNOW it, I challenge you to take a few quiet minutes to yourself, get down on your knees, and ask Him.  I promise you that He will answer you.

Third, gratitude.  I know I just talked about gratitude in my last post, but I don't think its importance can be overstated.  We've all heard "Count Your Blessings" a bazillion times, haven't we?  It really is the key to choosing happiness.  I am grateful to God for everything around me.  Yes, life isn't perfect.  Yes, there are times I am disappointed or I wish things were different.  But I cannot deny the blessings in my life, and that helps me choose happiness.  I am also grateful to the people around me -- my family and loved ones and even lots of random strangers -- who do so much to lift me up and bless my life.  Feeling their love helps me choose happiness.

So, forgiveness, faith, and gratitude -- great tools for choosing to be happy.  And when you choose to be happy, you can be cheerful and positive and all those other great adjectives.  Even when life is challenging, you can be happy.  Not just act happy or look happy on the outside -- you can really and truly BE happy.

I also want to talk about times when "putting a happy face on it" can do more harm than good.

#1 -- If you aren't happy, don't fake it.  You have to give yourself permission to have feelings other than happiness, too.  Choosing happiness doesn't mean that you bottle up any unhappy or uncomfortable feeling and just pretend it doesn't exist until you explode.  Choosing happiness means you face those emotions head on and deal with them so that you can make peace with yourself and others.  That peace is what allows you to experience real happiness.

#2 -- If you need help, get it.  For some people and in some situations, you need more help than just "making a choice."  Clinical depression, bipolar, anxiety disorders, and a host of other problems need to be addressed professionally as well as personally.  They aren't things you can control just by the power of positive thinking, and you shouldn't feel like a failure if you need help.  Admitting that you need help and getting it is part of choosing real happiness.  I have seen so many people that I love dealing with these kinds of struggles, and I admire their strength so much.

#3 -- If you are in a bad situation, get out.  Don't "put on a happy face" to hide abuse or to cover for the bad acts of others.  You are beloved, by your Heavenly Father if not by the person you are with, and you do not have to stay in a bad situation. 

Hmmm, did I cover everything I've been mulling over for the past few days and weeks and years?  More or less.  I wish I was eloquent enough to express my feelings perfectly, but I think this will have to do for now.  I'm sure I'll revisit the subject many times on this blog.  Thanks for listening.

Tomi Ann

P.S.  If you think others might be uplifted by this post, please feel free to share it wherever you share stuff. :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010


The expectation of perfection is a prison.  We lock ourselves and others in without even realizing it, and soon we find our way blocked at every turn by walls we've built out of misguided expectations.  Then the Perfect Police keep us in.  Who are the Perfect Police?  Contrary to what you might think, the Perfect Police are not other people telling us what they expect.  The Perfect Police are the voices we create in our own heads, telling us we'll never be perfect but that everyone else thinks they are and expects us to be, too.  It's the voice that belittles our efforts.  It's the voice that tells us we have the right to judge others for not living up to our expectations.

It's time we liberate ourselves.

Liberation from the Prison of Perfection frees us to love ourselves.  When we shut out the Perfect Police, we see ourselves as we really are -- flawed but beautiful, imperfect but beloved.  We give ourselves credit for the intent of our heart and the effort we put in, rather than focusing on the finished product.

Similarly, liberation frees us to love others.  Accepting that those around us are also imperfect human beings allows us to not take offense when they make mistakes.  It allows us to look deeper, to find the whole person rather than relying on appearances.  Liberation frees us from feeling the need to sit in judgment of others.  We know that they aren't perfect, but we also acknowledge that we aren't either, and we can make a conscious decision to leave judgment to the One to whom it truly belongs -- God.

Although it may seem paradoxical, liberation from the expectation of perfection frees us to improve ourselves and become what God wants us to be.  If we let the Perfect Police constantly beat us down by telling us we'll never be good enough because we'll never reach our own impossible standard of perfection, how long will it take before we completely throw in the towel?  But if instead we build ourselves up with the reassurance that we need only do our level best, and that no mistake is so big it will block our path forever, we can keep moving forward and getting up when we fall.

Perhaps most importantly, liberation frees us to feel gratitude.  If we stop feeling bitter because our life isn't the uninterrupted perfect bliss we imagine it should be, we can feel gratitude to God for the countless blessings He gives us.  If we stop belittling ourselves, we can feel gratitude for all the things we can do.  If we stop judging others, we can feel gratitude for the efforts they put in and the intents of their hearts.  Gratitude is the ultimate weapon against the voices of the Perfect Police.

It's time to free yourself from this prison of your own making. Tear down the walls you've built from unrealistic expectations.  Tell the Perfect Police to take a hike.  Enjoy the freedom to love yourself for who you are NOW and give yourself permission to become all that you can be, and you will be able to give others that same freedom.  Free yourself to feel the joy of gratitude, and you will find peace even in imperfection.

Thank you for reading,
Tomi Ann

P.S.  If you think others might be uplifted by this post, please feel free to share wherever you share stuff!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Single Dad Laughing -- The Cure for "Perfection"

If you haven't had a chance to read Single Dad Laughing's posts on The Disease Called Perfection yet, please do it.  Just spending a few minutes reading the comments is enough to make me want to become a crusader for spreading the love of self and others that can ONLY come through "real."

And once you've finished, please check out his follow up post:  "The Cure for 'Perfection.'"  I know Dan was blown away by the overwhelming response to his first post and has truly agonized over the best way to follow up, and I think he's hit the nail on the head.  In a nutshell, he says the only way out is for all of us to help each other, finding the people who can be helped by us sharing our own mistakes, trials, and triumphs.  He even has a plan for how to do it.  Please stop by and join us in the movement!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dare to {not} Compare...

Okay, I realize this is a silly little illustration, but isn't this what we do to ourselves and each other?  We look at each other and we only see the outside appearances, or what little we think we know about each other.  We start belittling ourselves because we'll never measure up to their standard.  We start resenting the other person because they have everything we want.  Pretty soon we can't appreciate the good things about them OR ourselves because we get so wrapped up in our own little pity party.

There are so many people around me that I admire, people that I wish to emulate.  But I may never be as good a photographer as my brothers or as talented a writer as my husband, my Auntie P., or my best friend Julianne (man, I'm surrounded by amazing writers...).  I may never be as 100% every-moment devoted to my kids as my dear friend Liz, as in tune with the needs of my neighbors as Halaulani or as great an organizer as Evelin.  I will never be a homeschooler like Brianna or as good at healthy, natural living as Chelsea.  I may never be as good a singer as my sister Amy or as patient in trials as my mom or as persevering as my dad.  I have friends who are better crafters, better home decorators, better dressers, better moms, etc.  I could go on and on, really.  But that's okay.  Seeing their incredible qualities gives me something to strive for and work towards, and I know there are things I can do to lift the people around me, too.

You don't have to be the best at something for your qualities and gifts to "count."   It's not a contest or a race, and we don't need to compare ourselves with anyone but ourselves.

Marjorie Hinckley said, "We each do the best we can. My best may not be as good as your best, but it's my best. The fact is that we know when we are doing our best and when we are not. If we are not doing our best, it leaves us with a gnawing hunger and frustration. But when we do our level best, we experience a peace."

Peace.  Wouldn't that be a nice feeling?  But if our heads are stuffed full of comparisons to the people in our neighborhood or at work or on TV, there will be no room in our hearts to experience the peace that she describes.

The problem with comparing ourselves to others -- and make no mistake, we will always be able to find someone that makes us feel inadequate -- is that every comparison plants a little seed of bitterness in our hearts.  We start feeling a sense of injustice.  How many times have you heard yourself think something like "It's not fair" or "I never get to do anything like that" or "How come she can do whatever-it-is?"  You probably don't even realize you're thinking that way until the feeling is firmly rooted, like that darn morning glory weed that keeps trying to take over your garden no matter how many times you pull it up.  Even when you love someone, that little weed of resentment is getting in the way of your relationship.  You start feeling defensive about exactly why you're not measuring up to someone else's standard, which in reality is something you created yourself.  I do this all the time.  When I see my own shortcomings, I automatically start up this whole internal dialogue defending myself against an attack that never actually arrives.  When the house is a mess and my hubby is on his way home from work, my mind starts going: "Well, it was just a crazy day, okay?  The kids were constantly fighting and making me crazy.  I had a bunch of graphic design work that HAD to be done today.  And I'm TIRED, okay?"  Now, let me tell you something -- my husband has never once in our marriage gotten on my case about the state of our house.  (Which is a mercy, because housekeeping is not one of my sterling qualities.)  But because I know I could have done a better job of putting things in order and probably not spent quite so much time on Facebook (which, you'll notice, I didn't admit to in my imaginary defense strategy), I'm all defensive and I start getting mad at Dan because I think he's going to think as badly about me as I do about myself. 

Wow, when I actually type that out, it sounds a little crazy.  But I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who does it.  Maybe you don't do it with quite so much actual talking to yourself, but it's easy to get into that sort of mindset when you start comparing yourself with another person or with what you think are their expectations of you.  It's the perfect example of that "gnawing frustration" described by Marjorie Hinckley in the quote above.

So please, stop comparing yourself to others and imagining up standards you'll never be able to meet.  You can be sure that they have their own list of things they're beating themselves up about.  It can be difficult to hold a mirror up to yourself and try to separate where you're really doing your best and where you're not -- independent of what you think others are doing -- but I think it would be worth it to feel that peace.

P.S.  If you feel others might be uplifted by this post, please feel free to share it wherever you share stuff! (There are buttons below for Facebook, Twitter, etc.)  Thanks!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Best Self/Worst Self Scenario

I have one belief about people:  Some people are very, very good; some people are very, very bad; but the rest of us (like, say, 99%) are somewhere in the middle, just trying to do the best we can with what we have and what we know.  This applies to the whole population of the world, and it applies to any group of people that you want to talk about.  Mormons, Muslims, teachers, policemen, moms, dads, you name the group and that description applies.  You want to know why?

Because we're people.  And the same truth applies to us individually -- sometimes we are very, very good; sometimes we are very, very bad; but 99% of the time we are somewhere in the middle.  Some days we're closer to that Best Self and some days we're a whole lot closer to our Worst Self.

On my Best Self days, I...
  • Play with my kids and patiently work with them while they do their "chores," thus helping them become responsible adults and citizens of the world.
  • Have the house respectably clean -- at least enough that I wouldn't die of mortification if someone dropped by.
  • Have a delicious, healthy home-cooked dinner on the table by the time my hubby gets home.
  • Read my scriptures and say my prayers.
  • Exercise.
  • Remember to help the kids call their grandparents and great-grandparents, just to say hello.
  • Fulfill my church callings with 100% diligence and a good attitude.
  • Take dinner to someone in the neighborhood who needs it.
  • Remember that other people are just imperfect human beings like me and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Spend wisely and save money where I can.
Sounds perfect, right?  Well, on my worst self days, I...
  • Completely ignore my kids while they watch 17 cartoons in a row because I'm totally engrossed in a project of my own.
  • Blow up at them in a major way when they haven't done their jobs after I've asked them 12,000 TIMES!  Or if they're making noises that annoy me.
  • Leave the house a total wreck because I'd rather dink around on Facebook or blog-hopping.
  • Have Dan pick up a pizza because I'm just not in the mood to cook.
  • Don't think about anyone but myself and the project I'm working on.
  • Spend WAY too much money on craft supplies and other things that aren't necessities.
  • Resent the time that I spend doing church callings and fulfilling other responsibilities.
  • Totally space commitments that I've made, even if I had good intentions.
  • Think negative thoughts about people, even those that I really love.  
  • I stew about stupid things I can't control.
  • Feel needy and underappreciated.
The truth is, there aren't very many days where I'm all one or the other.  It's like a Chinese takeout menu -- choose 2 options from List 1 and 3 from List 2.  I'm nearly always somewhere in the middle of that sliding scale, and I bet you are too.  If you don't believe me, make these lists for yourself and then for the next couple of days, just see how things stack up.

So why does this matter?  Because we take our "worst self" characteristics and put them up against other people's "best self" moments.  And nobody is their best self all the time, but we generally don't update our Facebook status with things like "I was horrible to my kids just now and I feel terrible about it."  We wait until we have something fun, like "Just hanging out with my kiddos at the park enjoying the sunshine!"  I think I actually have said that before.  Was it true?  Absolutely!  But it's also true that sometimes I am horrible to my kids and I do feel terrible about it.  I'm not a perfect mom by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have moments where I'm doing it right.  I know you do, too, in whatever role you fulfill in life.  We are all striving to be our best selves, but don't let that desire oppress and and make you feel inadequate. Give yourself credit for times when you are your best self, and take those worst self moments in stride, knowing that you can learn from them and that everyone else has those moments, too.

Now, one last comment about the best self/worst self scenario.  Don't ever let another person make you feel like your worst self is the REAL you.  Recently I was talking with someone I love about a guy she had just broken up with, a guy who did not deserve her one bit and made her feel like garbage.  As a result she spent a lot more time at that "worst self" end of the spectrum than she ever had before.  She said, "Well, what if that's the real me?"  Someone who makes you feel like the worst version of yourself is the only real version is WRONG, and you deserve to be with someone who believes the best of you and makes you feel like your best self, someone who knows your weaknesses but doesn't define you by them.  After all, that's how you should treat yourself.

P.S.  If you know others who might be uplifted by this post, please feel free to use the buttons below to share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you share stuff. :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Being perfectly honest... there's no such thing as perfect.

Hi.  My name is Tomi Ann, and I am starting this blog in an attempt to crystallize my feelings about the issue of "being perfect," so that hopefully I can clearly articulate them next time, instead of spending an hour therapy session with two people that I love bawling uncontrollably while trying to explain.  Although given how incoherent that sentence was, I'm not sure if I hold out much hope...

I think I need to start by telling a little bit about myself and my family.  I am a 31-year-old woman, wife, and mom of 3.  I am a graphic designer a few hours a week and I like doing crafty things whenever I can squeeze that in.    I am a devoted Christian and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon).  People would probably describe me as happy, kind, and scatter-brained.  Perhaps most importantly to this post, I am the oldest of 10 kids, all of whom are now adults.  Our family is complicated, but I've always thought of us as being close and having a lot of love. 

A few days ago (moments before the aforementioned incoherent bawling incident), I was literally mouth-hanging-open shocked to hear my brother (the uber-talented Dan of Single Dad Laughing) say, "Our family just needs to quit pretending everyone is so perfect."  I could only look at him and then ask, "Have you MET our family?"  In our family, we have dealt with (and in many cases are smack in the middle of dealing with) drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, family members in jail, eating disorders, divorce, stealing, lying, mental illness, teen pregnancy, and sometimes just plain being rotten to each other.  And that is just in our immediate family -- if you branch out to our extended family, the list gets longer.  Most of that hasn't been any kind of secret, either.  I thought imperfection was a given.

But my sister was nodding and agreeing with him.  They both described feeling so much pressure to be perfect, pressure that has made them feel terrible about themselves.  Pressure from our culture, our religion, and our own family.  I was shattered.  I wanted to scream at them "There is NO SUCH THING!"  There is no such thing as being perfect.  There are only people, all of us muddling through life as best we can, all of us with strengths and weaknesses and good and bad and ups and downs.  I'm not quite sure why I wanted to scream it.  Maybe because seeing them in so much pain made me want to do something, anything to stop it.  Maybe because I have seen this impossible idea of "perfection" hurting other people that I care about, but I didn't think they would feel that in our own completely imperfect but loving family.  I didn't scream it -- I just blubbered away incoherently.  But I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since then.

Dan hasn't been able to stop thinking about it either, and he wrote a very honest and intense post about what he calls "The Disease Called Perfection," which I think is a must-read for anyone struggling with comparing themselves to others.  Scratch that -- I think everyone should read it whether they think they are struggling or not.  I agree with what he says, and I think the most tragic thing about this disease is that it's something we give ourselves.  The people we compare ourselves to and find ourselves lacking are themselves flawed.  99.999% of the time they have no intention of creating that kind of pressure.  I don't think many people say to themselves "I'm going to make myself look as good as possible with the intent of making other people feel like garbage."  I'm sure those people are out there, but I think most people are so involved with their own struggles that they'd hardly believe they are the object of "perfect" envy. Reading the comments on Dan's post, it's indisputable that every person has their own demons to face.

And yet we feel that pressure.

Where does it come from?  Why do we put our weaknesses up against other people's strengths and then (of course) find ourselves wanting?  How does it feel to be the person who is supposed to be perfect?  Why do we have such a hard time believing the best in ourselves? Where does wanting to be your best cross the line into trying to be perfect?

These are just a few of the questions that I want to work through.  I am very much figuring all this out as I go along, so I'm not pretending to have all the answers.  I'm just trying to create an uplifting place where I can work out and share my own perspective, and hopefully help others in the same predicament.  Because I believe that despite our own imperfections and those of the people around us, the world is a beautiful place and we have so much to share and to give.  We can be "real" and still be positive and happy -- in fact, I believe that being real is the key to true happiness.

Okay, so I promise that my subsequent posts won't be as rambling and confused as this one.  I don't promise that I'll post on any kind of schedule, because I am a busy mom who already tends to over-promise to everyone around me.  But this is really important to me, so I'll be here as much as I can.

Thank you if you made it this far and I hope to see you again soon,
Tomi Ann

P.S.  I am really waffling as to whether I want to go through with this and actually press "PUBLISH POST."  If you're reading this, I've overcome my own fears about this whole endeavor.  For right now, I think I'll just save it as a draft...