Grit and Gratitude

Last September, the Corvias Alumni Network gathered in Raleigh, NC.  In addition to our regularly scheduled networking and think-tanking, we were treated to a delightfully honest presentation called “Gettin’ Gritty with Goal Setting,” by Dr. Jermaine Davis.  

With a wide grin and a whirlwind of good vibes, Dr. Davis introduced us to his trademark style of ‘edutainment.’  He asked us what it felt like when we accomplished goals, and he taught us the “good job rap” (Good Job, Good Job.  Good Job, Good Job. G – double O – D- J – O – B. Good Job, Good Job). Grit, tenacity, explained Dr. Davis, the ability to work through adversity, that is what helps us reach success, not natural born talent or perfectionism or reinventing the wheel.  He pointed out that the line between success and everything else is really fine, photofinish type fine, and that we don’t need to barrel across the line to success, we only need to cross it by a hair.

What I appreciated most about Dr. Davis is that he didn’t tell us to go work our fingers raw, hoping and praying to be noticed and promoted.  Instead he gave us real tools, tangible and realistic examples of what we can do to get gritty so we can find success. He began by asking us what was on our plate each week.  Each person, he said, no matter who you are or where you from, only has 168 hours in a week. We spend those hours doing things we must and doing things we want. Between sleep, work, and all of our other basic obligations, there’s not a lot of hours left over to do the things that we love.  Dr. Davis asked us to think about that: does the way that you spend your weekly hours match up with your core values? Are your priorities in order? Are you neglecting something you ought not to?

We talked about emotion management.  Emotions happen, they just do (see: Inside Out), and depending on how you approach those emotions they can be helpful (facilitative) or less helpful (debilitative).  Facilitative emotions help propel you, they push you into new things. Debilitative emotions get us stuck, often in our own heads, unable to make decisive action out of fear or shame.  Jealousy of a colleague’s work can be used to invigorate your own work, or it can make you bitter and resentful. Bad emotions are not always debilitative, often they are just a response to negative stimuli.  Debilitative emotions are notable for their intensity (bitterness) and duration (bitterness over a long period of time). If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of debilitative emotions, Dr. Davis suggests gratitude practices.  Gratitude, he says, is the antidote to negative thoughts. While we often try to bury bad thoughts in positive thoughts, what we ought to do is focus on the things that we already have that we are grateful for.

At times in our lives, each of us will experience debilitative emotions.  The grittiest of us know how to identify those negative reactions and use that energy instead of succumbing to it.  It takes practice to know how to do this, the kind of practice that only comes with having failed enough times to learn to be gritty.  Paradoxically, failure is the only way to succeed. When we fail, it’s hard not to take it personally, especially when we’ve tried with everything we’ve got.   Even though rationally, we often know that circumstances are out of our hands, judges have their own interests, everything is politics, companies hire based on the dollar not on the best qualifications — even though we know that a setback isn’t our own creation, we can still feel like giving up, especially when we get in our own heads.  

But gratitude brings us back down.  It takes us out of our anxious headspace and back into the present moment, whatever that is.  Usually, the present moment isn’t the worst case scenario we’ve imagined. Gratitude helps remind us of the job that still pays, the friends and family that still love us in their own imperfect ways, of good health and of new opportunities — gratitude reminds us of the simple things that make our foundation.  A healthy social network, stressed Dr. Davis, is vital for both gratitude practice and recovering after a setback. Friends and family help us back up — nobody got where they are alone, don’t try to be the first.

There are four types of people, Dr. Davis, explained: Adders, Subtractors, Multipliers, and Dividers.  The Adders are your friends and peers, people who push you forward. The Subtractors are your bullies and adversaries, the people who push you backward.  Multipliers are your mentors, they push you way up. And the Dividers rip your life apart, tear you to pieces, break your heart. Most of us, those of us in school especially, struggle with Subtractors.  They’re everywhere and until you’re really comfortable asserting yourself, their influence can add up quickly. Lord help you if you know you have a Divider in your life; some people, you’ve got to love from a safe distance, but you never stop loving.  For me, I realized I was short on Multipliers and my life felt, subsequently, stagnant. Had I skipped this discussion, who knows how long it would have taken me to identify this easily addressed problem.

It was a pleasure to meet Dr. Davis.  I hardly encapsulated his speech and I definitely lack his eloquence.  I find that wisdom is not something new that I’ve learned, but something old that’s been put in its place.  That’s what “Gettin’ Gritty” felt like: lots of things I already knew being arranged in a way that made sense.  Perhaps you need that in your life; I encourage you to come to the next of these annual summits. If any of these points resonated with you, please leave a comment and let’s talk.  

Corvias Regional Alumni Summit 2018

Somehow it has already been three weeks since our first regional Corvias Alumni Summit! Over the weekend of October 13-14, a small group of Corvias Alumni were able to come together for a weekend of networking and personal, professional, and philanthropic development. It is amazing to think that we could accomplish so much in only 2 days…but I mean, come on – we are Corvias scholars!

Our sessions started on Saturday morning with a group breakfast and our first session with Dr. Jermaine Davis. Our first task was to settle into our seats and get our bag of Grits to inspire us for the session entitled, “Gettin’ Gritty: Finish What You Start”. Prior to our gathering, Melissa sent out a packet for us to fill out that focused on our goals, whether they be personal or professional. Upon starting our conversation, we all went around and explained what goal setting looks like for each of us – and we had a mixture of people who love goal setting and marking things off of their list and people who do not like to set goals (though they ultimately came up with some!). Although all of our goals were different and personal, we were able to recognize similarities in effort, tasks to complete to get us to our end goal, and ways that we could utilize each other to ultimately achieve them.

While it is impossible to give a complete recap of Dr. Davis’ talk with us, I hope to include his main points and a few key quotations that he used to inspire our group. Our first session was focused on goal setting and setting yourself up in the best way possible to achieve your goals. After learning the “Good Job” song (ask a local Corvias member that attended the summit to teach it to you – you won’t regret it), we went straight to work. He stressed three points when setting and achieving your goals – the principle of slight edge, complimenting the effort, and practicing the knowing àdoing gap. In summary, it is important to do what you can to give yourself a competitive advantage, always celebrate reaching the small steps that make up your journey as they are happening, and making sure that we understand the difference between knowing what to do and actually doing what we know. All of these are essential to actually reaching the goals that we set in our lives both short and long term.

One piece of information that Dr. Davis stunned us with was the statistic that we have the majority of our conversations with ourselves, and that 77% of all internal dialogue is negative. This seemed to surprise every one of us – and gave us a realization that we need to change our mindset in order to change our lives. In order to view our goals as realistic and through a positive lens, we must have a greater percentage of positive internal dialogue.

We finished our first session with conversations about things that interfere with our goals and our fears. We have internal and external interferences and we identified some as money, negative relationships, imposter syndrome, and self-sabotage. We continued to talk about imposter syndrome as many of us had felt that in our lives – the feeling that you are where you are by mistake or that it is a fluke, and that you are unworthy of successes or accomplishments in your life. It was amazing to see a group of accomplished individuals identify so strongly at some point or another with this idea. Lastly, we talked about our fears; Dr. Davis put fears into four categories – fear of the unknown, fear of success, fear of rejection, and fear of failure. We all identified where our fears lie and how irrational they can sound when we verbalize them.

Our second session focused on debilitative vs. facilitative emotions, plate management, and the role of other people in your life. Debilitative emotions prevent effective performance and facilitative emotions contribute to effective performance. While debilitative emotions can be helpful in the short term, they become dangerous when they increase in duration and intensity. While we were speaking about this, Dr. Davis asked us to name as many of these emotions as possible – it was amazing how many debilitative emotions we could come up with in comparison to facilitative. When thinking of debilitative emotions, we talked about fear, doubt, disappointment, frustration, anger, etc. When we named facilitative emotions, the only one that came quickly was gratefulness. I guess that shows a little bit of proof for how 77% of our thoughts are negative!

Another topic was plate management – or rather, what do you put on your “plate” and how well do you manage all of your responsibilities. We found that many of us overload our plate to the point where we actually don’t end up doing the things that are actually important, while others don’t place enough on their plates. He asked us to identify 5 core values in life that we would like in order to live a values based life; from there, we identified that we have 168 hours in a week and subtracted our hours of sleep and work from that total. From the amount of hours that we had left, we were able to analyze our own lives and determine if we actually put proper weight on, and allotted appropriate time for, our core values and goals. If we looked at these hours and realized we didn’t place our time in those categories or used our time to reach our goals, we were able to reevaluate how we spend our time. I challenge each of you to do this – it can truly open your eyes to areas of personal improvement and illuminate areas of your life that you can take some hours from to better use for achieving your goals.

Lastly, we talked about how people in our lives can be adders, subtracters, multipliers or dividers. Adders push you forward, subtracters push you down, multipliers push you up, and dividers move you away from your goals. It is extremely important to identify the people in your life who fit in each of these categories. Once you identify who is who, you can re-evaluate your relationships with those who do not push you towards your goals.

Quotes from Dr. Jermaine Davis

  • A goal is a target where you aim your efforts and energy.
  • Information + Application = Transformation!
  • We don’t ask for help because we are weak, we ask because we want to remain strong!
  • Goals – Interferences = Success
  • When you know your why, you can withstand any how.
  • The opposite of motivation is not laziness, it’s complacency.
  • You can live a life by design or default.
  • The antidote to negative thinking is an attitude of gratitude.
  • All dreams and goals have a price tag.

For the rest of the day on Saturday, we spent time creating an agenda to reiterate what we had learned with the current scholars that would be joining us on Sunday, spent time “connecting or disconnecting”, and eating dinner at The Raleigh Times.

Sunday we were able to join together and learn from one of our favorite women, Maria! She led us in a conversation on financial identity and how to determine who we are from a financial standpoint. She stressed that though money isn’t everything, it is important and it is something that we need to think about. We came together and had a great conversation that we always wish could be longer!

One of our favorite events of our time together was our connect time with the current scholars in the Raleigh area. We were able to reiterate the information we learned from Dr. Davis in small groups where we could incorporate the scholars and learn from them while they learned from us. It was a great way for us to continue connecting with each other and show the current scholars what they will be joining when they eventually become alumni. They were inspirational to us and we learned a great deal from their perspective as current students, as many of us have been out of school for a number of years.

Our last group event of the weekend was a conversation about mindfulness and meditation led by our very own Kris Brooks. She led us through a guided meditation, taught us information about mindfulness including tips and tricks and how we could start, and sparked a conversation about how each of us interpreted the provided meditation. We all realized that we could use meditation and mindfulness as a way to center ourselves throughout every experience in our lives that may be stressful or difficult, or simply just to ground ourselves throughout our day.

Overall, our trip to Raleigh, NC and our first regional gathering was a huge success. We were able to chat and network with each other, learn from people who are professionals in their field, and realize just how achievable our goals can be if we continue to appropriately pursue them!

 

An Unexpected Love Story

The following is a written version of the story I told at our Corvias alumni retreat last summer.

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Can I tell you a love story?

Some of you may know that a few years ago I was a Mormon missionary in Italy. You’ve probably seen missionaries around—they’re often young guys in white shirts with black name tags riding around on bicycles like nutheads; yeah, that was me, except I wore a skirt (even on the bike, which is a totally different story that I’ll have to tell another time).

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Me near the beginning of my mission after having biked home in the pouring rain.

There are a lot of rules you’re asked to follow as a missionary, including being with a companion missionary 24/7. You don’t get to choose who your companion is, but once you’re assigned together, you’re supposed to stay within sight and sound of each other for a six-week period called a “transfer”. At the end of the transfer, the mission president, typically an older, married man who leads the missionary efforts in your area, will send you and/or your companion to a new area, or leave you there for another six weeks.

Being a missionary was the most wonderful, awful, terrifying, challenging, amazing, difficult, and life-changing thing I’ve done in my life thus far. I literally would spend all day stopping people on the street to talk to them about Jesus, which, for my somewhat introverted self, was terrifying every single time, and almost assuredly annoying for everyone with whom I attempted to converse. One of the general LDS church leaders once described this terror by saying something along the lines of: “Missionaries are just as terrified to be there standing on your porch as you are finding them there.” So don’t worry the next time they knock on your door–you definitely have the upper hand.

There are a lot of reasons why I decided to serve a mission and none of them was motivated by a desire to get anything from anyone; I simply wanted to help others and do what I thought I needed to do. I quickly realized, however, that being a missionary was an amazing opportunity for me to learn, and I wanted to make goals in order to maximize my experience. I decided to make a list in my journal of things I wanted to learn from my mission, but for the entire length of my 18 months as a missionary, I could only ever come up with one thing I wanted my mission to teach me: love. I’d heard from people who’d already served missions about how much they loved the people in the areas where they served; I wanted to learn how to recognize and accept love and how to give love.

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My mission goals, from my actual journal

Missionary convention dictates that you forsake your first name in favor of your last name, so I became Sister Soh, or in Italian, Sorella Soh (male missionaries use the title “Elder”, or “Anziano” in Italian). I spent the first nine weeks of my mission at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah, where they teach you how to be a missionary and if you’re serving in a non-English speaking country, they teach you the language of the place in which you’ll be serving. Missionaries don’t get to pick where they get to serve, so being sent to Italy was like winning the lottery. The country is beautiful, the people are beautiful, and the food is beautiful (I gained 30 pounds). And despite some unpleasant experiences (people can be very mean), I had many, many unforgettable moments of joy and happiness and love. I felt like I was on track to meet my only goal.

Over the course of my mission, I had eight different companions. I got along great with my first few companions, considering the fact that we were together every moment of every day; they were all Americans, and we’d often talk about home and our lives before the mission and what we wanted to do when we got home. Our mission president encouraged us to serve each other, cook and eat lunch together, and look out for each other so we would get along and be more effective missionaries.

About seven months into my mission, the mission president called me and told me I was getting transferred from the coastal city of Savona to the big city—Milano. Summer was just starting, so the thought of leaving the breezes of the Mediterranean for the sticky, stifling heat of the city was disappointing, but he told me he had a special assignment for me: My new companion, Sorella Sanchez*, needed some love. Right up my alley.

Sorella Sanchez was from Peru, but had lived in Rome for 10 years before serving a mission. She was 11 years older than me and didn’t speak any English. When we were together, the church members would often ask me about her personality, which was hard for them to read. The only explanation I could give them was that she was particolare, which is a word Italians use to describe people who they don’t understand. In English, some might have described her as “awkward”, but there’s no word for that in Italian, and even if there was, she wouldn’t have known what it meant because she wasn’t awkward—she was just particolare.

Once, in the middle of July when it was 9 a.m. and 90°F inside our study room, she got mad at me because I’d turned on the oscillating fan and the fan-generated wind touched her. “Artificial air is bad for you, Sorella Soh” she’d told me, before asking me to move the fan two inches to the left so it wouldn’t blow on her. Whenever we went anywhere, she always walked five feet behind me, and if I tried to slow down so she could catch up and walk beside me, she’d just slow down to match my pace. When we’d get on a train or the metro, I’d look for two open seats, sit in one, and then watch her ignore the open seat next to me and sit in a totally different spot. Particolare.

I was beginning to understand why Sorella Sanchez’s past companions had struggled to get along with her, and I almost couldn’t blame them. I tried to serve her and love her, but I always felt that she was resistant. Even when I asked her if she wanted to cook lunch together, she looked at me blankly and simply said “I don’t think so.” I felt like the language and cultural barriers were unconquerable obstacles; she just did things differently than all my American companions, and she NEVER talked about home or her life before or after the mission. I loved her, at least I tried to love her, but I couldn’t understand her. Everything she did was unexpected, and I wondered if there was something wrong with me.

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In Florence, about a year into my mission. And yes, I was absolutely as tired as I look in this picture.

One morning we had an appointment with someone on the far side of our assigned proselyting area, and on the bus ride home, the heat and the bumpy road started wearing down on me and I began to feel motion sick. When we got back to our apartment for lunch, I knew I needed to recover from my nausea before I could even think about eating. I didn’t want Sorella Sanchez to think I was being lazy, which is probably what she would’ve thought, so I told her, “I’m not feeling well, so I’m going to lie down for a half hour, and then I’ll make my lunch” and went to bed.

After my half hour repose, I was feeling better and walked back into the kitchen where Sorella Sanchez was washing the dishes from her lunch. She saw me walk in and with no emotion or expression said, “I have some extra lunch, you know, if you want it” and turned back to the dishes. As soon as she said it, my first thought was a sarcastic one: “Gee, thanks, Sorella”, but no sooner had that thought crossed my mind when another thought popped into my head: “She just offered you food. She almost never makes extra food, and she certainly never offers it to you when she does.” In that moment, it felt like a lightning bolt struck my heart and opened my mind to understanding: “She did that on purpose. She knew you were feeling ill and she made you lunch.” She was making an offering of love.

I accepted her leftovers and couldn’t stop thinking about it the rest of the day. It’s like the floodgates had opened and suddenly I started to understand everything. She loved me. She’d loved me the whole time, she just didn’t know how to show it. And when she did show it, I was too blind to recognize it because I was expecting love to come in a different way. I’d expected love to be like it’d been with my other companions, talking about home and laughing about silly little things. But that wasn’t Sorella Sanchez. Her love was different. It was particolare.

Upon recognition of this love, I immediately felt terrible about how I’d been treating her and how frustrated I seemed to always be with her; after that moment in the kitchen, everything changed. The light switch turned on in my head and I started to trust her love. Without even trying, we started to fall into sync. We began having inside jokes. I’d make eye contact with her across a train car, cross my eyes, and she’d laugh. We laughed all the time. We laughed with each other. We laughed with the people we met. One day another missionary even approached me and said, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I haven’t seen Sorella Sanchez this happy in months.”

It wasn’t just Sorella Sanchez who was happier—I was happier, too. She loved me and I loved her. She still drove me nuts sometimes, but the more I saw her through eyes of love, the more I noticed the effect she’d had on me. She still walked 5 feet behind me, but I noticed she was often texting people on our phone (we only had one for the two of us), checking on them and making appointments. She still never sat next to me on the train, but she was always talking to other people about our message, and because she wasn’t sitting next to me, it made me talk to more people, too. And because we never talked about home, I never felt homesick. Everything she had done had been slowly transforming me into a better missionary, and was helping me to become more like the person I wanted to be.

After 12 weeks together, Sorella Sanchez was transferred to a different city to finish out her mission. I saw her two or three times after that, but it’s been more than five years since the last time I saw her as she boarded her train home to Rome at the end of her mission. But a part of her is always with me, and will remain with me forever, written on my heart. Without her even knowing it, she’d changed my life. She gave me far more than I could have ever given her: she taught me how to give love and how to accept love, especially when it comes in ways you don’t expect.

 

*Name has been changed