As you might've read in my post two months ago, Kyle and I decided to take some time off and enjoy life together. It's not that we didn't enjoy life, but we've decided to prioritize things a little differently than we have before. We've decided to remove the pressure that came with our previous definition of "success" -- the goals we had when we first got married-- and focus on what we need now... now that we're different people than we were four years ago.
Along with that comes a lot of reflection. Reflection on our relationship, reflection on who we are now as individuals... and what has changed us in the past four years to get us to this point. For both of us, blogging about what we learn and feel is a good way to help others who might be reflecting on the same thing... but mostly for ourselves to be able to articulate what we've learned.
FYI - this one is personal... and not a short read.
The Mormon Path
There's a certain stereotype of "success" that comes with being a total believing mormon. In a lot of ways it's great because it puts you on a path that paints your whole life out giving you very specific goals and places to be at certain times. From a very young age I knew exactly the kind of guy I wanted to marry, exactly the kind of wife I wanted to be, exactly the kind of house I wanted to live in, and exactly the kind of family I wanted to have. I did everything I could to shape my life in that direction and let absolutely nothing get in my way. I'd say I was one of the few in high school or college who knew exactly what my future would look like and had a set plan to get there. Each year in my life I was checking off boxes to get there. I think I was probably more driven to get to my "successful" future than the majority of my classmates.
At that age, in a small rural town in Georgia, it was what differentiated me from my peers. It was an aspect of life that made me original. My devotion to that path without any worry or care of how different it was from my friends or what I would miss out on in the short term to get there let me fearlessly be my own person that was nothing like anyone else. And boy did I embrace it. I felt that I was in 100% control of my own destiny without the influence of anyone else.
The Importance of Originality
My junior year in high school, I was in a pageant with a platform of "the importance of originally in teenagers today" encouraging youth to be their own person without fear of rejection-- I encouraged others to embrace their differences from the crowd because being different meant embracing your true self, being confident in who you truly were, and loving yourself for being the individual "snowflakes" our creator made each of us to be. Dressing modestly, saving myself for marriage, never drinking alcohol, never smoking, performing in musical theatre, playing sports, being engaged in tons of extracurricular activities, playing guitar -- those were all things that clearly set me apart from others, and I was proud of that. I didnt judge others who didn't have that same mindset, part of it was embracing others' differences as well, but I felt comfortable in my own skin and being with others who were different than me because peer pressure was never something I dealt with. I put my foot down when I needed to, but I loved learning what others loved and how they developed their interests.
I would say being different made me comfortable. Challenging the status quo meant I was in control of my own destiny. It meant I was destined for my definition of success and no one could stop me.
Not So Original
Fast forward five years.
Moving to Provo, Utah was interesting because all of a sudden I fit in as a clone. Many of the things that made me different my whole life-- the differences that made me comfortable... were no longer differences. As someone who fit in by being different, I found cookie cutter versions of girls who seemed 90% the same as me... all around me. And in all actuality, many of these girls seemed to be better versions of me. They were better at sports, better at singing, better at art, better at being wives, better at nannying, better at working out, doing their makeup, decorating their houses, dressing stylishly, etc. For the first time in life, everything I had identified as being unique in myself, I realized was not unique at all and was instead a product of the religion I had been brought up in through the same exact manuals, the same exact lessons, and the same exact teachings and family structure as all of these girls I was meeting. What was my individual worth if so little of me was actually individual and just a part of the cookie cutter mold of a modern mormon girl? Was my worth now based on how similar I was to this cookie cutter? Sure, I was out outlier in Georgia but not in Utah. Correlation was king in Utah County.
This was really strange for me.
Because I had always been so different from everyone around me, I had never spent time comparing myself to others (there was little to compare side-by-side on). Judging other people was something I didn't fully understand because only a handful of people had the same beliefs as me growing up. When there's only two other Mormons with you in school, you stick together because you're all each other has. There's no time to judge who is better than the other. You're both surviving in the "non-Mormon world" and that's all that matters. Who cares who wears a bikini to the pool party or says "shit" every once in a while? You're motivating each other to stay awake in seminary by passing notes and splitting a coke on your drive to school. if someone faked sick to stay home from church, you didn't think they were less of a person for not attending... you were bummed they didn't give you the heads up and you were stuck in Sunday school by yourself.
Yet, here I was... being judged and looking at other people in a way I had never looked at people before... lining them up side-by-side... trying to figure out who I wanted to be friends with or even talk to when I felt I was surrounded by people like me... people who I felt couldn't expose my mind to new experiences or new beliefs or new ways of approaching life. We were all doing it like we were told... which happened to be the exact same way. And, even if they weren't doing it the same... they sure were acting like it. I didn't really make friends in Provo. I kept to myself (outside of one couple from church) and remembered how much I missed the openly selfless people I had met in Maui, the quirky minds I had gotten to know in art school, and the fun-loving friends from back home in Oconee County. We had all embraced each other for our differences.
Who Am I, Really?
It made me think really hard about who I was. All this time I thought I was my own person, with little influence from others, when the entire time I had been directly influenced by the idea of a "perfect mormon woman" I had been sold on for years. Was that what I really wanted, or was it just what I had been hearing over and over again? Had I been accidentally brain washed into believing this was the way for me? Was this just a different form of peer pressure I had actually succumed to? Were we all made to aim for and take the same exact path in life? And, with that being said, if I really searched my soul and tried to follow my heart and live in a way that made me happy instead of this "path of success" I had assumed would work out for me... would it be this same cookie-cutter mindset that all of these other girls had?
Was I really created to have an inate sense of the exact same wants and needs as everyone else? Were we all just the same? Were we supposed to be? I realized my entire life I had been taught there's one path to true happiness... but after standing up against conformity my entire high school and college career.... I was repulsed by what I was seeing around me. Did I ever think why this "path" was what I should take? Did I feel I had a choice in my subconsious mind?
What Is Really Important?
Shortly after arriving in Provo, my confidence fell to the floor. I quickly scrambled to set myself apart to find my own voice through work. Luckily I found an amazing job and moved up quickly into more positions as time went on. I knew I could set myself apart as a great business woman in tech (which isn't the norm in Utah, of course) and my confidence grew as I succeeded at my own goals without feeling the need to compare myself to others. However, I kept seeing my husband's friends' having kids and even though we had been married for less than a year, I felt a pressure to figure out what was next in life... as in, when will we start a family? The thought of focusing on anything outside of my new-found career made me extremely anxious... which in turn made me feel guilty because that had been in my plan from the beginning.
After callings in the primary presidency and stake girls camp that year in Provo, I started realizing how much of what I thought I wanted was based on what I had been taught over and over since I was three. It's not that I have an issue with girls (or women) who want that path... in fact... I may end up there when it's all said and done. However, I do have an issue with telling people what they should want, do, or be, as if they have no choice in the matter if they want to please God or be truly happy and starting them out so early. If agency is key, why are we (as church leaders) doing all we can to heavily influence such specific decisions? Why do we focus on so many teachings outside of the basics of loving unconditionally, forgiving others, doing good to our fellow man, taking care of the planet, and valuing each human life equally important as any other? Why is selfless charity, as taught by Christ not enough?
Long story short, I think it is enough. Especially for young people in the world today.
What is it as Mormons (or just women in general) that makes us feel that because we are told or think that someone else has taken path A or B and is happy that means that we should take (or even be happy with) path A or B? How can we avoid going down that path? How can we teach kids (and adults) that they can create their own path... that they should create their own path... that it's okay to be different?
I think we have to believe that there are a million paths to true happiness depending on each of our circumstances and none are better or worse than others.
That is really important.
My Beliefs Today
Many have asked where my beliefs stand today-- especially since dropping the line about "pressure being total believers" in one of my previous blog posts. I suppose you could refer to the last two paragraphs for some of that. To be honest, I don't think it really matters.
My beliefs don't make me more or less of a person, and your beliefs don't make your more or less of a person either. I think it is important for everyone to question their thoughts/beliefs/morals/etc. frequently to keep themselves in check. I am a truth seeker in all areas of life. I'm constantly looking for the right or "best" answers, and want to stand up for truth, whether I'm alone or beside millions. My beliefs and feelings will change as I experience life. I'm not the same person today that I was last year. That's okay. That's great.
I've learned a lot from my business and design experience over the past few years and it's definitely affected my outlook on life in a positive way. I read Milton Glaser's essay "Ten Things I Have Learned" several years ago, and kept this quote in mind when presenting a product idea or having a conversation about company strategy to ensure a better decision would be made. Being open to critique and feedback... it's a mindset I learned in art school as well:
What's interesting is I never applied this same theory to my spiritual beliefs. I've always felt the need to "know" what's next or what's right or how something really is, when really that just shows how closed-minded, narcisistic, and egotistical I could be in relation to religion. Over the last three years, that mindset has changed. Today, I am okay with not knowing. I'm not certain about anything except change... uncertainty is all I can be certain of. It is inevitable. Because of that, what works for me today may not work for me tomorrow. That's okay. I don't have to agree with any one or any organization... especially one that claims it is absolutely certain. I just have to be true to me and not confuse who I am with the definition others have given me.
Finding that truth over the past few months is where I have found the most happiness.