#27 Go to a movie at Sundance

I’ve lived in Utah for almost 10 years and haven’t managed to make it to the Sundance Film Festival before. I’m not a fan of crowds or driving through snowy canyons, I always miss the early morning ticket scramble, and am reticent to attend a film without knowing what I’m signing up for ahead of time. But this year I put all of those hesitations aside and went to two films. They were both phenomenal. And attending reminded me why I love film as a genre of storytelling.

Inventing Tomorrow

This documentary was delightful in every way. The story of four genius teenagers participating in the world’s largest science fair with projects that solve environmental projects in their own backyards. You can’t help but feel hopeful as you leave this movie, that despite the destruction we’ve caused on our planet, we might be able to save it after all.

http://www.imdb.com/videoembed/vi1509865497

Sweet Country

This movie was intense. Imagine watching a Western from the perspective of the person of color who killed a white man out of self-protection. It has a fugitive, beautiful and terrifying desert journeys, and a determined lawman, but all of those genre tropes are complicated by issues of race and gender. Even the most despicable characters have moments where you pity or empathize with them, and yet you’re left bereft at how little the state of the world has actually changed.

http://www.imdb.com/videoembed/vi1627371545

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#30before30

me in front of the bean in Chicago

One of my co-workers informed me yesterday, during my birthday lunch, that during the last year of a decade, rates of marital affairs, suicide, and fitness go up significantly. As depressing as two of those three statistics are, it makes sense. There’s something about the end of an era that makes a person retrospective. They think about their life differently and consider where they thought they would be in their lives. Sometimes seeing how different life is from what you’d imagined leads to a sense of defeat or a desperate cry for validation, and sometimes it drives you to work toward goals that have laid dormant.

In order to focus the next 12 months on the desire to live a full life, I’ve compiled a list of 30 things I would like to accomplish before I turn 30.

Become

  • Become a better listener
  • Become more involved in my community
  • Become more at peace with who I am and where my life is going

Learn

  • Get an MBA
  • Take Hebrew lessons
  • Read the New Revised Standard Version of the Old Testament
  • Read a big, intimidating, classic novel
  • Make tortillas from scratch
  • Make sushi
  • Take a class on coding or graphic design or photography
  • Find more of my ancestors
  • Try skiing or snowboarding
  • Try snowshoeing
  • Learn how to change a tire
  • Learn to change the oil in a car

See

  • See the Grand Canyon
  • Visit Arches
  • Hike in Zion National Park
  • Travel to where my grandmother grew up in Denmark
  • See New York City at Christmas time

Create

  • Blog monthly
  • Get something published
  • Write a first draft of a book
  • Start singing again
  • Be a part of a creative project i.e. podcast, vlog, etc.
  • Give a TED-like Talk

Enjoy

  • Go to a movie at Sundance
  • Go to 12 museums
  • Re-read the entire Harry Potter series
  • Join a yoga class weekly

President Monson and the Importance of Hufflepuff Leaders

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As a member of the LDS faith, this week brought the sad news that our prophet, Thomas S. Monson, had passed away. As I’ve reflected on his life and legacy, I keep coming back to the unique example of leadership he offered both those in my faith and the world.

President Monson: The quintessential Hufflepuff

President Monson was the perfect example of a Hufflepuff. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the world of Harry Potter, Hufflepuff is one of the four houses at Hogwarts, a school for aspiring, young witches and wizards. According to the ceremony which sorts students into their respective houses, “You might belong in Hufflepuff where they are just and loyal. Those patient Hufflepuffs are true and unafraid of toil.” As an avid Harry Potter fan, my impression throughout the books has always been that Hufflepuffs are unfailingly kind and value people more than accolades. Doesn’t that sound exactly like President Monson?

In his obituary in the Deseret News, they highlight his commitment to “the one,” stating, “As a bishop, he befriended 84 widows who lived in his large ward, visiting them regularly and giving each one a gift at Christmastime. He remembered them long after he was released as their bishop and wound up speaking at every one of their funerals.” The Salt Lake Tribune’s obituary quotes his biographer, stating, “He [was] never too busy to pick up the phone to call a friend from high school who just lost her husband, never too busy to sit by the side of a friend as he passes on, never too busy to write a letter of encouragement to one of his friends.”

The case for Hufflepuff leaders

I should state for the record that I would never be categorized as a Hufflepuff, but I see in those who would be, important, often undervalued characteristics, especially in the ranks of leadership. Those who grace the political, religious, academic, and social halls of the world, among other traits, tend to be ambitious, competitive, and outwardly talented. None of these are negative characteristics on their own, but too often they can get in the way of what really matters.

Hufflepuffs have their priorities straight. Despite the fact that they are the most accepting of all four houses (they’ll take anyone, even if the other houses won’t), they’ve produced the fewest number of dark wizards. And J.K. Rowling shared on Pottermore that nearly all the Hufflepuff students stayed to fight during the final battle of the series against the big baddie Voldemort. She says, ‘They didn’t want to show off, they weren’t being reckless, that’s the essence of Hufflepuff.’ They have a deep commitment to morality and integrity, but it is practiced quietly and without fanfare. It is enough to know they’ve done the right thing, even without recognition. This lack of self-aggrandizement seems like an incredibly valuable character trait, so why do we have so few Hufflepuff leaders?

So much of attaining leadership responsibility depends on the recommendation of others: elections, office politics, and social capital all factor into success. You’re not going to be CEO if you don’t get the board on your side. You’re never going to be pope if you don’t convince the other cardinals, you’re not going to win an Oscar unless you campaign, etc. Despite the fact that Hufflepuffs are the most people-focused group of individuals, it’s easy to take them for granted in these situations because they don’t fit the typical mold of what we expect from our leaders.

I think the lack of Hufflepuff leaders says a lot more about us as a society and what we value, than it does about Hufflepuffs themselves. Susan Cain offers an interesting take on leader selection in her book Quiet: The Secret Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. She says,I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas. It’s so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded. Well, why is that? They’re valuable traits, but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance.”

If we truly want our communities to be places of safety and trust, we would likely find more success if we sought out leaders who exemplified these very traits.

What President Monson taught us about Hufflepuff leaders

President Monson was credited with being a minister instead of an administrator. Heidi Swinton, his biographer, cites a quote from Mormon apostle Neil L. Andersen, “He doesn’t act as if he is an administrator who has to get through all of the issues, he acts more like a shepherd. That’s who he is, someone whose impact on people is more important than are his calculations or strategies for the church.” President Monson led an organization of 14.8 million people by focusing on individuals instead of institutions. How many organizational and societal difficulties could be alleviated if our leaders prioritized the time they spend in the trenches with those who are dealing with the greatest challenges?

Despite his individualized approach, he did recognize the power of global strategy and expanded the LDS Church’s mission to include “caring for the poor and needy.” By adjusting the Church’s mission, he elevated social programs, service, and humanitarian work within the LDS agenda, he put the institutional power behind such efforts, increasing involvement significantly. What impact could organizations have on overwhelming economic inequity if they were willing to change the mission of their organization to address these individuals?

President Monson embodied the inclusive approach of Helga Hufflepuff in how he interacted with other religious leaders. According to the Tribune, the Monday after he was sustained as prophet, he spoke of partnering with other religious faiths saying, that Mormons should “eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute for it the strength of people working together.” Rather than feeling a competitive edge with his fellow clergymen and women, he saw people with similar values that he could partner with. How many more problems would we solve if leaders were better at working together?

This ability to seek relationships with those who were in very different circumstances was highlighted again in his Deseret News obituary. For “21 years, until the [Berlin] wall fell in 1989, despite the close scrutiny and wariness of government officials, President Monson managed to regularly cross into [East Germany]. He forged friendships where it was felt friendships could not be forged, while strengthening church membership, preserving records, gaining approval for missionaries to enter the country and paving the way for a temple to be built in Freiberg.” The talent for reaching out with respect and authentic consideration is one we will likely need with increasing frequency as technology brings the world closer together despite sharp cultural and ideological differences.

It is especially in times of contrasting views that we need more Hufflepuffs in roles of leadership. McKay Coppins, in his Atlantic tribute to the prophet, made a similar observation: “In a country plagued by atomization—where ever more isolated people are growing ever more suspicious of their fellow citizens—Monson’s was, in its own way, a radically countercultural message. ‘Often we live side by side but do not communicate heart to heart,’ he said in 2009, imploring church members not to let ‘the busyness of our lives’ get in the way of Christian charity.'”

A note to aspiring leaders

If you, like me, are not a Hufflepuff, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for you in leadership. The very essence of Hogwarts was to emphasize the importance of different strengths and weaknesses in a community. We need Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and yes, even Slytherins in addition to Hufflepuffs. Rather than replace all of the leadership positions in the world with Hufflepuffs, we should increase their ranks to a more proportional size and seek to emulate their admirable qualities.

You might encourage a talented friend who does not seek out the limelight to throw their hat in the ring for a coveted position. You might identify the Hufflepuffs on your team and make a special effort to recognize their contributions. Or you might take stock of Hufflepuff qualities that could help you solve an important challenge in your life and make a plan to develop that aspect of yourself.

History provides centuries of leaders to learn from, but few embody the depth of love and caring that President Thomas S. Monson did. As we lose his quiet example Hufflepuff leadership, may we seek out ways to preserve a little of it in our own lives, homes, companies, countries, and communities.

 

 

 

 

Seeking Charity: A Study of the Heart

In a recent study of charity, I came across an unexpected pattern. I had expected references to service, love, and charity to be plentiful in the Book of Mormon, but found that they were generally isolated to specific contexts such as King Benjamin’s sermon. However, there was a word that is often linked to the concept of love that showed up with surprising frequency: heart. In fact, the heart is referenced on average every 1.17 pages in The Book of Mormon.

These references include the people of Alma expressing that baptism “is the desire of our hearts” (Mos 18:11) and then that their “hearts [were] knit together in unity and love” (Mos 18:21). We see individuals “pour out their hearts to [God]” (Mos 24:12) and are asked if we have “experienced a change of our heart” (Alma 5:26). The state of our hearts is an integral part of conversion, perhaps because of its close relationship with repentance.

We see the Lord “prepare their hearts to receive the word” before Alma and Amulek teach (Alma 16:16), then Alma states that “the word […] must be planted in their hearts” (Alma 33:1). Those who were taught by Ammon and his brethren testify that repentance had “taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the mercies of his Son” (Alma 24:10). And after conversion, it was the origin of incredible joy as Ammon exclaims, “my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God” (Alma 26:11).

But the most prominent usage of the word heart is in reference to the dichotomy between hard heartedness and soft heartedness. While we can dedicate our hearts to the Lord, time and time again, The Book of Mormon makes reference to those who have set their hearts upon riches and the vain things of the world. While it is at the core of conversion, repentance, and divine joy, it can also be at the core of hate, bitterness, and greed.

Instead of thinking about charity as a series of outward expressions such as love, kindness, and service, this line of study convinced me that is deeply internal. Although it manifests itself in these outward expressions, it is actually a state of being at the center of who we are and what we value.

This new insight made Sister Carol F. McConkie’s talk on holiness from April General Conference stick out to me in a new way. Like charity, holiness seems to be an internal state of being, and in fact, Sister McConkie uses similar language in her opening statements: “I see the beauty of holiness in sisters whose hearts are centered on all that is good, who want to become more like the Savior. They offer their whole soul, heart, might, mind, and strength to the Lord in the way that they live every day.”

Charity and holiness go beyond righteousness that can be described in a list. Referencing the story of Mary and Martha, Sister McConkie teaches, “Sisters [and I would add Brethren], if we would be holy, we must learn to sit at the feet of the Holy One of Israel and give time to holiness. Do we set aside the phone, the never-ending to-do list, and the cares of worldliness?” In other words, upon what do we set our hearts? She continues, “Prayer, study, and heeding the word of God invite His cleansing and healing love into our souls. Let us take time to be holy, that we may be filled with His sacred and sanctifying Spirit.” It isn’t enough to do these actions, we must let them change us. That internal transformation is what leads to outward expressions of love, forgiveness, patience, gentleness, meekness, long-suffering, and compassion.

She concludes with a hope for all the sisters, “May our lives ever be a sacred offering, that we may stand before the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”

I would venture to say that the state of our heart is linked with our holiness and I particularly loved the imagery of a sacrificial offering. As we think of charity in terms of the pure love of Christ, Christ’s love was manifested in how he consecrated all he did to the Father and then gave his life for each one of us, it seems to follow that charity could be seen as offering our hearts and lives to the Father as well.

One of the most beautiful discussions of this concept is a poem written by George Herbert, an Anglican priest in Wales during the 16th Century.

A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears,

Made of a heart and cemented with tears;

Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;

No workman’s tool hath touch’d the same.

A HEART alone

Is such a stone,

As nothing but

Thy pow’r doth cut.

Wherefore each part

Of my hard heart

Meets in this frame

To praise thy name.

That if I chance to hold my peace,

These stones to praise thee may not cease.

Oh, let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,

And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine.

I pray that each of us will have heart-changing experiences, that we may choose to set our hearts upon the things of the Lord rather than the vain things of the world. I pray that this soft-heartedness will be manifested in all our actions and that we will exemplify the pure love of Jesus Christ.

Reflections on My Mission: Purpose and Grit

The beginning of my mission was hard. Soul-crushing, lonely, the stuff resilience is made of hard. Everything I had been excited about, so sure about came crumbling down around me with every investigator who flaked us and every person who sped by me without so much as a glance. I came to appreciate people who would actually say “No, thank you” or “I’m not interested” as they walked by because at least they were acknowledging me as a human being.

Then one day on a crowded bus I had a brief conversation with a graduate student. I told him about my missionary service and he told me about his research. He was from somewhere in Western Europe—the Netherlands, I think—and was studying how humanitarian relief efforts were approached in different countries. With every word, I was filled with more and more envy. If I’d written down a dream life on a piece of paper at that time, it would be exactly what he was doing. As far as I could tell, he was doing something big and important and interesting and noble and I knew that that was what I had given up to come on a mission.

The conversation ended when one of us got off the bus, I think it was his stop, and I was left with this lingering feeling of emptiness and the questions that had been on my mind for weeks flooding back with incredible magnitude: “Why was I here? Was I even accomplishing anything? Couldn’t I be making a bigger difference doing something else?”

Almost as soon as those thoughts crossed my mind, for the hundredth time, another one rose to meet them: “What he is doing is good, but what you are doing is essential.” Humanitarian aid would help people survive and hopefully thrive, but what I was sharing would transform lives eternally. I was offering people the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. In the parable of Mary and Martha, I was choosing the better part. And in that moment, I knew that no matter how many people ended up listening to me while I was on my mission and no matter what I ended up doing after I got home, that this was one of the most important things I would ever do.

After that day, my mission didn’t magically become any easier, but the realization shaped the way I dealt with frustratingly fruitless days, heart-breaking disappointments (because having an investigator call off their baptism is heart-breaking), and not give up in the face of mental health challenges. It gave me a reason to keep fighting and made the small miracles all the more sweet.

Aunthood

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There’s a baby photo on my phone’s home screen that wasn’t there a week ago. On Tuesday, August 1st, my brother and his wife became parents for the first time, and I became an aunt. For the first time in my adult life there’s a baby in my family–a new little human we’re responsible for.

I got to spend the weekend cooing over his sleeping form and holding him until my arms ached. It’s amazing how a baby can be a catalyst to make you rethink everything. What you’re eating, what you’re talking about, what you spend your time on, and what you prioritize.

Now this sweet little boy is the first thing I see every time I check the time. He is the backdrop to the breaking news alerts and new messages that pop up. He has flooded my photo library with pictures of every facial expression he has made in his short life.

It’s amazing what a child’s presence can have. Somehow the context of a newborn helps me see the world in a new light, one that is precious and full of so much hope.

Growing Pains

I used to be so brave. It didn’t seem brave to make big life decisions and move forward with so much optimism and hope, but looking back at those moments now, they seem so bold and big. When do we loose that fearlessness and how can I get mine back?

I’m moving. After three years in this lovely little home, I’m saying goodbye. I remember getting offered the job on Friday and driving up to Salt Lake the next day to look for a place to live. Moving up with literally no friends and no furniture besides a bookshelf didn’t seem that crazy at the time. Me and my books in an empty apartment, listening to audio books while I cooked in the kitchen and sleeping in a sleeping bag on the ground. It was hard, but I was sure it was going to get less hard and I had no doubts that this was a good choice.

This time around, I’m so full of anxiety. So full of wounded vulnerability and fear. Will I like the next place, will my roommates like me, will I have friends, will I feel safe and happy?

Maybe that’s the key to this puzzle. The last three years have been really hard on me. I feel bad for saying that because I’ve been so blessed. I’ve met a lot of fabulous people, I’ve gotten to learn from leadership opportunities in the community, I’ve done most of a Master’s degree, and I’ve grown so much at work. I wouldn’t take any of those things back, but still… it all left me pretty tired and pretty broken.

Do you ever feel like you’re in a rut that you can’t get out of? You make progress. You find joy where you are. But it’s just not the same as before and you desperately want to get out? That’s where I’ve been for a while.

Although a move can’t solve my problems, I’m hopeful. I have hope that it will bring new experiences and a new start. That maybe it can be the catalyst for change and eventually peace I’ve been grasping at for the last couple of years.