Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Striving for Excellence

"Men [and women] cannot... rest content with mediocrity once they see excellence is within their reach." ~Thomas S. Monson

Content with Mediocrity

For most of my life, when things started to get difficult, or I got tired of doing or trying something, I would often use the phrase "that's good enough" and move on to something I already knew I could succeed at easily.

Honestly, many things do come fairly easy to me. I'm not "great" at them, but I'm pretty good, and so I've been content to sail along in ease, without difficulty. I always told myself that I was just easy-going by nature, and didn't need to push myself to do more, or be better.

But over the years, I have come to recognize that this attitude is not always a positive thing. Yes, there are times when the mentality of being content with what we are is healthy. However, I know that deep down inside, I was just in the habit of being lazy.
  • Ten years of piano lessons, and I felt fine just being mediocre and quitting to do something I liked better.
  • After singing in groups for most of my life, I decided that I was better at acting, so I dropped music and focused on theatre.
  • As a homemaker, I did the bare minimum for years-- and my "bare minimum" standards were pretty pathetic, I admit.
  • After trying my hand at homeschooling for a while, I got really stressed out and decided to "unschool" instead for several years.
Now, before anyone thinks this post is devolving into a self-bashing article, I just want to clarify that I eventually worked for excellence in some of the areas I mention above. And I'm very proud of the hard work I have done.

But I also want to acknowledge that there are decisions to give up that I wish I had not made. And I want to learn from the regret I feel and remember it when I start to give up on difficult things.

A Lesson in Excellence

When I was a young mom with four or five kids, I used to get together with a dear cousin of mine each week to do some crafting. (Hi, Nat!) We would laugh and talk, while our kids played and made messes.

It was a wonderful opportunity to do something creative that could not be undone at the end of each day. (Here's looking at you, laundry...)

I will never forget when my cousin taught me a very important lesson during one of these "Sister's Days," as we called them.

We were making invitations for the baby shower of another cousin's wife. The stamps, colors, and papers we were using were so adorable, and we were having a great time. We had been working on the design for quite a while, and I wanted to be done because I knew we still had all the cards to make. I looked at what we had put together, and felt that it was "good enough." So I told my cousin that it was cute, and I thought it would work just fine the way it was.

But she was not satisfied with the design, quite yet. She felt it still needed a few more details, and so we tried a few more things.

I watched in astonishment as we completed the final design. It was beautiful-- professional, even! The end result was so much better and more beautiful than I had envisioned it could ever be. It was not just "cute," or "fine," or "good enough." 

It was excellent.

Many years have gone by since, but I have never forgotten how it felt to create something with all my very best efforts, until it was truly finished.

The Principle of Striving for Excellence

Okay, so a little card for a baby shower is not an earth-shattering creation. But the lesson of the principle of striving for excellence CAN be life-changing.

Why would I remember that experience all these years later?

Because the lesson had begun to change my heart. It gave me a little glimpse into the potential we each have to become better. To create excellence.

Fast forward to this past year. After one terribly failed choir audition the previous year, I made it into the greatest choir I have ever listened to in a live concert. 

I was so excited to sing with such an amazing group, but also a bit terrified. I had a damaged voice from a very long illness, and I had not sung anywhere but in church for several years. Would I have what it took to participate? After support and kind words from friends, I dove in head-first, determined to give it my very best efforts.

Oh, man, was it HARD!  That first rehearsal, I felt like I had been trying to drink out of a firehose. The level of professionalism and the quality of my fellow singers, the pianist, and the director took my breath away. I knew I had to step up my game.

Over the months that followed, I discovered that my desire to excel and succeed was flowing into my every day life, as well as into my musical efforts. I found that I could not experience so much beauty and merit during our rehearsals and then go home and just do the bare minimum there.

It occurred to me that the care of my home and family was a divine calling from God. My singing with the choir was just a rare gift that I knew would only last for a short time.

I wanted to finally become the homemaker that God had been leading me to be for many, many years of learning and struggle.

And because I had experienced putting my heart and soul into praising the Lord through some arduous musical efforts, I knew that I was ready and able to step up my game...

Effort Equals Excellence

Am I a "perfect homemaker" now? 

Um, no.

However, I go to bed every night with the satisfaction of knowing I have given my family, my home, and the Lord my very best efforts at creating a comfortable, ordered environment.

I am still busy, yes, and there are days when I don't complete all-the-things. But I have PEACE, because I am not giving up before I should, and saying "Oh, that's good enough." 

So what am I doing differently?
  • I usually go to bed later than everyone, so I can tidy up the kitchen and living areas before I go to bed.
  • I do my very best to put things where they belong, rather than setting them down somewhere convenient. I avoid saying, "I'll move that/put it away later."
  • Every thing has a home, and if I find something that's "homeless," I find it a home, and declare it out loud, so everyone knows. (That's not to say that they'll remember, but speaking it helps me remember better...)
  • I do something with the laundry every. single. day.
  • I never go to bed without loading and running the dishwasher. (I know this is probably a no-brainer to most homemakers, but I'm a slow learner, remember?)
  • I don't keep things I don't need-- I am unafraid to throw away or donate things that do not truly bless our family. 
  • I clear off cluttered surfaces I see in my field of vision.
  • I have made a schedule for cleaning throughout the week, and included my kids in it. (New post on that coming soon...)
  • I remind myself that I AM THE MOTHER HERE. There is no other. I'm all my people get! If I don't do it, who else will? 

And the biggest thing:

  • I have come to see that I am telling my family how much I love them by the work I do in our home. 
We mothers are serving out of the same kind of sacrifice and perfect love that the Savior has for each one of us-- freely given, without expectation of appreciation or reciprocation.

And that selfless sacrifice is truly excellent.

With love,
Mama Rachel

P.S.-- In case you might want to hear something from the wonderful choir I got to sing with last year (and had to leave when we moved to another state *sniff*), check out the video below:

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