Surviving Excellence

Today I received an invitation to Young Women in Excellence. There will be tables spread out in the gym with displays that represent something the girls have mastered or accomplished. There will be quilts and flutes, paintings and trophies. When you are Type B folk living in a Type A town, events like this are stressful. Not everyone’s talents are easy to display. Thankfully we remembered that my 15 year old took a lifeguard course this spring and can count that as her skill. She is indeed an excellent swimmer. I’m not exactly sure what to put on her corner of the table. A pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses? A whistle? A picture of David Hasslehoff? We’ll figure it out.

As I scramble to make sure she feels validated, I am relieved that there isn’t an equivalent in Relief Society. How awful if we had to put our lives on display! Can you imagine feeling like you had to make perfect meals, perfectly presented? Or have one’s house immaculate and on display, every throw pillow just so? But the worst would be for those with kids. Imagine how awful it would be to have to watch other, more together moms present their children as if they were always spot free and adorably dressed? And you in turn would need to orchestrate perfect pumpkin patch pix! You know where I’m going here because we do this. Every. Single. Day. With Instagram and Facebook, we live in a virtual World of Excellence. Instead of displays on tables in gyms, we watch it on our computers and phones. It is always with us.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I love celebrating the talents of the girls in my ward. Some of them have mad skills and I’m glad for an excuse to celebrate them. And I spend way too much time online obsessing over my adorable nieces and nephews and liking the gorgeous pork tenderloin with a balsamic glaze that my chef friend makes. While I get that it’s important to set goals, to work hard, to do one’s best, it can sometimes feel competitive and oppressive. Often we make the mistake of looking at the “displays” presented by others and believing that is the reality. I worry that some young women will look at the symbols of accomplishment and feel they fall short. I worry that young moms will mistake the inability to turn one’s toddler into a perfect accessory as a character flaw.

On my crazier days I want to send out invitations to a celebration of Full Grown Women of Mediocrity. Sister Gourmet might display the cheesecake where she accidentally used corn flakes instead of graham cracker crumbs for the crust. Mmmmm greasy…. Sister Hannah Andersen would show up with kids in tow, outfits mismatched and ill fitting. Sister Calm and Collected would confess to locking herself in the bathroom to eat chocolate while the Lords of the Flies rampage through the house. And Sister Scholar might admit that she Shmooped the last novel for book group because it was too boring to read.

The truth is, we all fall short. We have all been fools. No one gets through this life with total excellence. As someone whose flaws have tended to end up on display fairly frequently, I have tried to not just make peace with my screw ups, but to embrace them as the things that make me me. For example, there was a period when my family and the family of my BFF Denise kept getting lice. Like 3 times in one winter. It was a nightmare. The shame. The nitpicking. The itching. But instead of shaving our kids’ heads and pretending it was a fashion statement, we owned the hell out of it. We did research. We sent warning emails to other families. We taught a class on lice prevention and elimination. We freaking wrote a song about it. And now when someone in the ward thinks they or their kid may have the creepy crawlies, they know they can call me and I will come and comb through their hair, section at a time. Judgment free.

My kids are amazing and hilarious and everyone’s favorite babysitters. But they also have anxiety disorders and faith transitions and all sorts of other not fun things. And I am not ashamed. My hope is that the people who also find their realities are less than picture perfect know they can come to me and be embraced, as I have been by the women who were brave enough to let me see past the displays. I’m not saying we have to wear tee shirts that advertise our pain (“Four Miscarriages and Counting!!” or “Failed the Bar Exam”), but along with celebrating and displaying our triumphs, the Savior has taught me to see value in sharing our brokenness and pain. There is healing to be found in displaying our vulnerabilities.  To me, this is the embodiment of excellence.

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22 Responses

  1. Star says:

    For our displays they ask the girls to put something they are passionate about. I have had kids put a pile of books because they are avid readers. Or a teddybear collection. Or a bunch of manga they draw/read. Yes flutes, trophies, soccer balls. And, I think maybe the title is problematic. With my daughter who is a college student, she tells us when she is “doing great.” Otherwise we are working on average, i.e., “doing just enough.” So that she knows it is ok to have a down day or week, and she doesn’t have to be having a fabulous time at college all the time.

  2. Lisa says:

    Oh I love this Heather! And I also remember you as my #1 lice resource (my liceline?). xoxo

  3. Alys's Wonderlandd says:

    YES! So much to love here! Would you mind if I shared it on my ward’s RS Facebook page?

  4. Janika says:

    Amen, Heather! Amen.

  5. Yes, Yes, Yes, Heather. Love this. And I want to join the Full Grown Women of Mediocrity celebration.

    My senior year of college we made a “Wall of Shame” in our dorm hall where we all taped up all of our rejection letters from companies and grad school. There were a lot of letters. And it made us all feel a lot better knowing that we were in good company in our disappointments and rejections.

    • Heather says:

      That sounds so fun and therapeutic. It breaks my heart how so many of us carry things around, thinking we are the ONLY ones to have suffered when we are all just stumbling through!

  6. I needed this today! I have a project I have been working on for awhile now…and I am failing. Last night my husband asked me if I talked about my project at a big event I attended with lots of experts on the topic present…and I didn’t. Because I am embarrassed that I am failing at it. Even though talking to these more knowledgeable and experienced people about it might have helped!

  7. Emily U says:

    Amen, Heather. I needed this today, too. I just got midterm reviews for a class I’m teaching and, as usual, some of them hate my lectures, hate my quizzes, hate everything about my teaching and my class. One wrote that a way to improve the course would be to “get a different professor.” It makes it hard to want to show up and teach the nasty little premed beasties again. I guess being a Full Grown Mediocre Woman means I have to just keep showing up. Like what Courtney Martin wrote in a Letter from Loring Park:

    “Do not equate adulthood with getting your shit together. Equate adulthood with more realistic, if not still challenging, goals: like learning how to give a truly heartfelt apology or thinking in spectrums instead of binaries or mastering the art of picking basil without killing the plant. Maturity, as it turns out, is not really about filing systems or intricately maintained calendars. It’s about showing up in your imperfect form over and over and over again.”

    • Heather says:

      That is such a great quote!! And as someone who has listened to you run a workshop, I can say with complete authority, anyone who doesn’t like you as a teacher a big fat dummy. End of story.

    • Violadiva says:

      Those comments stink. Is it like when kids call us “mean mom”? Does it mean we’re secretly on the right track?
      I would die laughing if you read some of the mean assessments out loud in class to them. Like how the late night hosts get celebrities to read mean tweets about themselves?

      • Emily U says:

        Ha! Maybe I should! On one hand I want to avoid dignifying them by giving them attention, but on the other hand maybe they’ll see how horrible they sound when read out loud in front of 60 people!

      • Beezbuff says:

        I love this suggestion. Or maybe find out if they can add some helpful/useful suggestions to their comments. I mean hating everything may be the way they feel but that doesn’t help the professor do anything different. I do love the description of nasty little premed beasties. I also love your quote on adulthood because it really is about showing up again and again.

  8. Violadiva says:

    I’ve long loved the phrase, “everyone cleans up for church”
    We bring our shiniest most polished selves so often that cracking through the veneer to bring a little authenticity is rare. But so valuable and helpful if we did it more often!

    • Beezbuff says:

      I have given up polishing up for church. I show up in all my frustrated mom of young children glory. I don’t varnish my comments in RS and what is interesting is how often I have women come up to me after and say thank you for being brave I feel the same way. Helps me to realize that maybe my mess isn’t that unusual.

  9. 0. says:

    This is a wonderful post! Thanks

  10. Jennifer says:

    I love this! After all, the Women of Mediocrity ARE, in fact, also the Women of Excellence. I have a daughter who was always so stressed out for YW in Excellence, even though she’s AMAZING, because she didn’t have “show-worthy” talents. It’s important to remember that while show-worthy talents are nifty and fun to see and celebrate, there are lots of other skills just as worthwhile (or more so) that don’t really “work” for a display. Sometimes the laughs we get over our own messes and hearing about people’s fails are so much more refreshing than the oohs and ahs we get from seeing people’s successes.

  11. Emily J. says:

    This is great! I love it when women are good enough friends to show their vulnerabilities to each other. Have you read or heard of the book “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown? Sooooooo good, please read if you haven’t already!

  12. Ziff says:

    This is great, Heather. I like the idea that healing can be found in sharing our vulnerabilities. I think it fits really nicely with the admonition to “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” in Mosiah 18. If we’re all so determined to put our best feet forward that we never show our need for comfort, it all gets a lot more difficult.

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