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Can I List Laziness as My Talent?

Reading Moving On, by Sarah Ban Breathnach, I encountered the phrase self-sloth. ? It stung like a wasp. I am a chick in quicksand ? compared to the Girl in a Whirl. I wonder if, for every LDS mother who is overworked, stressed, and fanatically attempting to keep her eternal progression in overdrive, there might be at least one woman who is stumped in a slump.

Breathnach quotes the best-selling writer Toni Morrison, If the book you need to read has not been written, then you must write it. ? Alison can write with authority on organization and efficiency. She wrote the book ? on pantry perfection, and is now working on the sequel. It is my hope that there are others out there who need some chapters and verses on getting the lead out. I will leave the mess quandary to the professionals. Is a filthy or hopelessly chaotic environment a symptom of depression, or a cause? Surely it must be both. But how can we transform the mess, daily and weekly, so that a nice, normal, efficient woman emerges eventually? When I see a pathologically messy home, I react automatically. Do you? I assume the occupant is injured or very ill and has no one to help him. Maybe the messy person is a drug or alcohol abuser. Maybe something is so wrong in her life that she simply doesn ?t see her surroundings or can ?t force herself into action. When the mess reaches critical mass, a strong back, a large truck, and a forklift would be required to fix it. At that point, somebody outside the situation would have to intervene. When I walk past a house in this pitiable condition, I think, It would take some money and determination to clear away all that junk and repair all the neglect. ?

That ?s extreme, but I think the process is predictable. I could improve without renting a forklift, but improve I must. I go to bed at night with piles of papers, clothing, dishes, books, craft supplies you name it all over the room, and I ?m too tired to sort and tidy everything, so I scoop everything into a new pile and go to bed. In the morning, there are routine tasks to manage and nothing improves before bedtime. The solution is ridiculously simple. Never get anything out until the things we were using before are put away. One thing at a time. My five-year-old grandchild can recite one thing at a time ? as one of the rules in her family. I wonder how long it would take for a grandmother to master this small area of self-discipline. The reason I wonder: I haven ?t learned it yet.

My son recommended Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton. It ?s a quick, interesting-enough read, and the bonus is a code on the dust jacket that enables you to take the talent profile test on-line. To me, one of the most important messages appeared in the chapter on what you can do to manage around your weaknesses. The theme of the book is that you should capitalize on your strengths rather than spending your energy trying to compete in areas where you are not talented. I wondered if it might be possible to find a strategy that would work for me, rather than feeling inadequate for the rest of my life because I seem to have been born without the organization gene.

Here are the five ideas:

  1. Get a little better at it.

    I loved the way this was worded. You don ?t have to master it. You don ?t have to compete with the geniuses. Just become adequate. The book says, You will have to hunker down and work to get a little better. You many not enjoy this hunkering and you will most certainly not reach excellence if this is all you do, but you need to do it nevertheless. Otherwise, these weaknesses may well undermine all your great strengths in other areas. ?

    Can I get a little better? Sure. I have already started.

  2. Design a support system.

    I think this suggests the core of the Gospel. There might be others who will joyfully bear our burden, and free us up to bear another ?s. Our Relief Society featured a talent swap one year, in which everyone listed an activity she especially enjoys, and traded it for one she struggled with. Organizers zipped through the chaos of bakers or seamstresses or baby sitters. Musicians traded lessons for meals. Carpoolers traded rides for tutoring. It was a wonderful thing. Many tears of gratitude were shed. Many sisters had a banner year, reveling in their strengths while their sisters picked up the slack where they were weaker.

    I have already begun this step as well. My next door neighbor has found a wonderful cleaning woman. She ?s going to do my windows for me. I ?ll make up the money by planning less expensive meals that week. I ?m good at that.

  3. Use one of your strongest themes to overwhelm your weakness.

    Interesting. My five themes were so abstract I ?m having a hard time seeing them as strengths. But I am committed to exploring this. If Alison runs a follow-up to this story, I ?ll commit to finding and testing a strategy. Suggestions are most welcome.

  4. Find a partner.

    This is similar to the support system, but much more committed. Examples are brilliant entrepreneurs who have disastrous management skills. They find a trusted associate to run the shop, so they can focus on the creativity that dazzles the customers. Another way this buddy system can work is to ask a trusted friend to become your peer mentor. Give this person a copy of your goals, and create a feedback system of accountability. This works very well for me.

  5. My favorite: Just stop doing it.

    Don ?t gasp! The idea is that many of us do certain things that would not be missed if they were not done. This even applies to people who do not suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Of course we don ?t need to wash our hands every ten seconds or make sure all our socks are tied into two knots. But many of us are somewhat compulsive about things that simply are not required and don ?t add value, even to us. A common example is computer reports that never get reviewed, and wouldn ?t improve the decision-making process even if they were faithfully examined. Another is home sewing. If you love, it, wonderful. It can be an exciting creative outlet. But if you don ?t enjoy it, for goodness sake, just buy your family ?s clothing on sale. You ?ll come out way ahead financially.

    C. S. Lewis, in Screwtape Letters ? makes this clear in one of his memos to Wormwood. He says we humans don ?t need to be tempted by deliciously sinful pleasure, to do horrid things that will derail our lives. Many of us grind our lives away doing useless things we don ?t even enjoy, just because it doesn ?t occur to us to stop.

    Have you ever slumped in front of a television show that you thought was unbearably awful, instead of just jumping up and turning it off? Many of us have, or have wasted an hour doing something boring and unnecessary. Maybe we could be more conscious of our option to walk away. I have found, when I have mustered the courage to do this, as soon as I abandoned a post I didn ?t enjoy, another person stepped right up, very pleased to have the opportunity. Sometimes we think we are doing everyone a favor, when it would be much more appreciated if we ?d stop.

Remember what happened to the Girl in a Whirl. Even self-sloth might be preferable. And I think this specific paralysis can be overcome with faith and diligence. I ?ll keep you posted. Please let us know what is working for you.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Sharilee10 June 9, 2007, 2:08 pm

    The article didn’t show up for me. Anyone else having the same experience?

  • Alison Moore Smith June 9, 2007, 2:41 pm

    My bad. I posted it with the current date to let it get some “air play.” (It’s a great article.) Then I changed it to have the date it actually posted to the old site. I just didn’t realize that in doing so it would change the post slug.

    Try again, this is well-worth reading.

  • CamBendy June 10, 2007, 5:30 pm

    This is a really good article, Kathy. I have read your Sisters column for a long time (once you even answered my question), and I just think you give such great ideas. Your five ideas should help me alot. Thanks.

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