Coat of Arms

Earlier this month I had to prepare a personal coat of arms for an offsite – a common term referring to any all day team meeting that occurs outside the office. This particular meeting was going to be a team building exercise. Every participant was given a template for their coat of arms which included nine questions we needed to answer during a 15-minute presentation. We could create the coat of arms using any format we wanted and I decided to go with a good old-fashioned posterboard. I wanted to visually represent the answers to the eight questions and I had a lot of fun cutting out posterboard shapes and pasting them on my shield. The completed project has now found its final resting place behind my dresser. I thought I should revisit the project and the things I learned about myself before I let February slip away.

Question 1: What are some fun facts about you?

I think one of the most unique things about me is that I am one of four daughters and there are no sons in my family. If memory serves, I believe the probability of having four boys or four girls in a row is .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 = .0625. If that isn’t a fun fact, I don’t know what is.

I was born in October and it is a cold hard fact that Halloween is my favorite holiday. Candy and costumes were two of my childhood favorite things. My best friend and I would sketch designs for our costumes months in advance. We’d Trick-or-Treat together every year and I usually had a birthday party on the night of Halloween or just a few days prior. Many of my best/sugar-crazed memories are rooted in late October.

The final fun fact I’ll mention is I’ve seen Les Misérables eight times. The first time I saw it I was really young (6? 7? 8?) but I had already been listening to the soundtrack for a year or so. My dad and I actually got into the show on accident (we were supposed to drop off my mom at the theater in San Francisco and after we walked away she ran after us and told us she scored scalped tickets) and it was the best thing ever. It was my first experience seeing something played out in front of me that I had only ever imagined in my head. I saw the show in San Francisco five more times over the next 10 years, then once at the Tuacahn Amphitheater, and most recently in London. The show has different meaning for me every time I see it.

Question 2: What were some unique challenges you faced during childhood?

Did I already mention I have three sisters? Just kidding! My sisters were great. The only had part was when they moved out.

The other routine challenges I faced involved needles, loud noises (I used to HATE fireworks on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve) and math. Oh, math math math. I didn’t actually pass algebra until I was a junior in high school and when I took my math competency exam for junior college I placed in beginning algebra. I ended up taking nine semester credits’ worth of remedial math. I guess something finally clicked because I ended up with the highest grade in my College Algebra & Trigonometry class. Statistics was also kind of fun. I thought I’d be able to reclaim my former math powers in order to conquer the GMAT last December but... more on that later.

I played soccer for nine years (ages 8-17) but I never felt I was particularly good at it. Sure, there was the growth spurt when I was 12 that suddenly made me faster than many of my competitors, but that only lasted until I discovered the vending machines in my high school when I was 14. I always found extreme competitiveness off-putting and tried to “have fun” while I played. Maybe that was my problem. Somewhere in those early adolescent years I took a swing at refereeing soccer and boy was that a mistake. Some of the calls I made back then still haunt me to this day. Hopefully the players and parents have long forgotten me.

Question 3: What was your biggest disappointment?

I played on my first volleyball team at the YMCA when I was 10 and I loved it. (I remember going to practices at my elementary school but I can’t remember if we ever formed a school team. I kind of doubt it.) When I was 11 I tried out for my middle school’s volleyball team. I felt like I had prepared sufficiently – I had gone to the volleyball camp the coach (my PE teacher) told me to attend – and I was a little disheartened to see how many girls showed up for the tryout. There was only going to be one team and I had very little technical training. I noticed one main difference between myself and the others: I couldn't serve overhand. Near the end of the two-day tryouts my teacher mostly hid her face behind her clipboard as she wrote notes. When the team list was posted my name was nowhere on it. It was the first “crushing blow” of my life. I tried out again when I was 12 and I even made an overhand serve right in front of my teacher. She had a look on her face that seemed to say, “Too little too late,” (or maybe she could tell it was just pure luck) and the next day history repeated itself. I remember attending one of the games (I had made friends with girls on a rival team) and wishing I were out there. Memories like that are the worst. I decided to stick with soccer and in high school my schedule was full of practices, games and theater productions. Volleyball has remained a hobby and most importantly I still love to play it. So there, Coach Leftwich!

My most recent big disappointment came in the form of my GMAT score (most specifically my quantitative score). It was like all of the math insecurities from 1st-11th grade came back to bite me. I’m still not positive if I’ll ever vanquish my math woes but it would certainly be nice if someone would invent a pill that made people better at math.

Question 4: What was your first or worst job?

My worst job was definitely as a soccer ref (as mentioned before) and unfortunately it was also my first job. However, my first full-time job was as a YMCA Summer Camp counselor. All three of my sisters had been counselors and that definitely opened the door when I went in for my interview. I ended up working at three different camps over the next five summers. Luckily they were all “day camps” meaning they only operated from 7 am-6 pm. Most of them were run out of portable classrooms on elementary school campuses. I got to work at my former elementary school’s day camp until the Outdoor Adventure camp at the local regional park requested more staff members. I stayed there two summers and then transferred to the Performing Arts camp at another elementary school. My favorite part of that last job (besides the kids) was editing and writing scripts, designing scenery, creating costumes, directing and doing make-up. Doing all the things I love so much was pretty much too good to be true. I am confident the kids had as much fun as I did. I miss them a lot.

Question 5: What do you want to learn?

Besides really learning how to overhand serve (which is a little difficult due to a fussy rotator cuff in my right shoulder), I really want to learn how to decorate cakes like my hero Buddy Valastro. He is seriously my idol! I also really want to learn how to use the DSLR I just bought. Luckily one of my good friends is on board (she just bought a DSLR as well) and we are eagerly digesting our camera manuals and carving out time for photo walks.

On the serious side, I think the top things I want to learn are:

-How to turn weaknesses into strengths

-How to get out of my comfort zone and stay that way

-How to gain perspective without jumping continents.

Let me explain…

Weaknesses: I feel like I once turned math (a weakness) into a strength. Of course, that feeling was obliterated after I took the GMAT, but regardless, I want to be able to identify weaknesses and come up with plans for transforming them. I don’t want them to just disappear; I want them to become part of what I do best. The scary part about this is asking for others’ help in identifying my weaknesses. If that isn’t scary, I don’t know what is! I think there are few things more valorous than being able to take constructive criticism with a grain of salt and using it to move forward in life as a better person/artist/employee, etc.

Comfort zone: I am always worried about what other people think. It would be nice to come out of my shell and stay that way. I try to think of other people the same way I think of snakes and gross bugs, “They’re probably more scared of you than you are of them.” If I can just remember that everyone needs a friend, a smile, a kind word, etc. then it will be easier to be around strangers.

Perspective: Why is it so much easier to quietly reflect on life and one’s own standing in the world when we are far, far away from home? I noticed this when I was visiting Brazil in 2009 and Europe in 2010. It seems like the 9-hour flights overseas are the key to stepping outside one’s self. I have to find a cheaper way to be able to get away from “real” life and take stock of what’s going on in my life. Maybe this blog will be the trick.

Question 6: What was your biggest achievement?

When I first read this question in the template I struggled with it. No one wants to stand in front of 12 of their peers and tout their own horn. Especially me, the most junior employee of the entire group, with no 3 page resume riddled with key accomplishments at past companies, case study competition awards or 700+ point GMAT score. (All I can say is my colleagues are all amazing people and I wither every time I read through one of their resumes.) I struggled indeed but when it came down to it, I knew what to say.

I wanted one thing for as long as I could remember: to serve a mission for the church. There were a number of things that could have stood in my way but when I was 21 I was able to submit my papers. The only real obstacle was facing the vaccination series and blood test that were required before I mailed the papers to Salt Lake. In one day I got a TB test (probably my 6th by that point), a Hepatitis C shot and my very first blood test that I could remember. It was terrifying, but I did it. When the call to Brazil Rio de Janeiro-North came, I winced at the list of immunizations. The night I went in for the rest of my shots I got four of them (including tetanus) all in one arm. It was fantastic. Well, I meant that sarcastically but it actually was fantastic because I didn’t cry. Go me! The last shot I had was in the MTC in Sao Paulo. I think it was for Hepatitis C. By then nearly all of my “needle” nerves came back but one of the other sister missionaries held my hand. (Thank you Sarah!)

Besides all of these silly shots, my mission really was the one thing I can look back on and say, “I did it!!” It was 18 months of out and out mental, emotional and physical labor. I loved it but every time I have a dream that I’m being called on another mission (I just had this dream again on Wednesday), I nearly have a heart attack. I think I was able to get through it the first time because I didn’t know what to expect. In my recurrent dreams I find myself thinking, “How am I going to get through this AGAIN?” I am very grateful other missionaries are out there serving and I know they’re doing better than I could in my current selfish state.

Question 7: What do you want your legacy to be?

This was probably the hardest question of all. Finally the answer popped into my head: I want to leave a place better than I found it. That goes for my school, college, home, work, everything. I want to “be the best me” I can be. It sounds clichéd but it really is the case. If I fail, I hope it will be in the smallest endeavors. Let me disappear in the annals and be forgotten as a crummy ref. If I fail as a daughter, sister, wife or mother, I’ll never forgive myself.

Question 8: What brings you joy/happiness?

I love being able to create things. They can be small or big, useful or useless. I love to draw, write, craft, photograph and paint. I just wish I did all of them more often.

Teamwork and camaraderie also bring me a lot of joy. I think team dynamics (and group dynamics in general) are very interesting.

Of course, my family brings me great happiness. They are fantastic and they’re pretty much the only reason I’m a decent person.

Question 9: What are your hobbies?

Ah, the classic first date question! Are you ready?

-Traveling –Playing soccer and volleyball –Running –Writing –Movies & TV –Theater –Playing violin

I started playing violin three years ago because I really wanted to learn a musical instrument. I played clarinet when I was in 4th and 5th grade but I never really practiced and therefore wasn’t very good. (I think at one point I was 11th chair out of 12 clarinet players.) These days it’s fun to practice violin at my own pace. It’s a demanding little piece of work but I adore it all the same.


For now my Coat of Arms remains securely nestled between my dresser and my wall. I think it will be fun to pull it out next time I rearrange my furniture or move apartments. Maybe it will be like looking in a time capsule or maybe it will be like looking in a mirror. Only time will tell.


What is Love?

'Tis the season of love.

I stopped by the grocery store last night to pick up a wedding card for my friend. The place was packed (thank you "PTA Night") and the lines were a little long for my liking. I was so wrapped up in digging my wallet out of my purse that I didn't realize I got in line behind two kids. I sighed and thought, "Irrrr... they probably have cash... that's going to add at least 20 seconds to each transaction." They must have been brother and sister. The boy was about eight or nine years old and gave a handful of candy bars
to the cashier. She rang each bar code and said, "Your total is $4.61." To my surprise the little boy threw his fist in the air and exclaimed, "Yessss!! Cheap valentine!!" I forgot to be mad about the long lines and had to stifle a giggle. The boy seemed really excited about his prospects and after his sister completed her transaction (with a debit card, I might add), he left the store smiling.

Hours after my grocery store visit I made it to the wedding reception with 15 minutes to spare. As I stood in line and watched the glowing bride and groom greet guests I marveled at the fact they had found each other and made this leap of faith. I suppose love comes in many forms. Sometimes it's hidden in a candy wrapper or a ring box but most of the time it seems intangible. It can be a look, a touch, a word or a feeling hovering in the air. It is hard to separate the goopie commercialized Valentine's Day goo from the real substance of romantic love. "Love" has become associated with spending money and, even if we can get it for $4.61 or even cheaper, we're buying into the concept that the Beatles were WRONG and money CAN buy us love. If the Beatles are proved wrong, is this life really worth living?

Tell me - what do you think love is? Can you put a price on it?


Slippery Slope

Every time winter comes along I wonder if this will be the winter someone will talk me into skiing. Whenever people ask me if I ski I say, “I tried when I was 8 and 10 and it was a disaster both times.” Last night I drove to Park City to prepare for a team-building event. As I got closer and closer to the hotel at the ski resort I noticed chair lifts dangling above me. They were empty and solitary save for the slightest sway back and forth in the cold night wind. The sight of the lifts gave me chills that resulted from my longstanding fear of skiing. I wondered if I would ever again have the courage to board a chair lift or a gondola and head up the slope knowing the only way down was on two parallel plastic planks. This morning when I woke up and looked out the window of my hotel room I had a clear view of the slopes and gondolas snaking up the mountainside. I couldn’t help but watch for someone to come down. I only spotted one snowboarder and he was going so fast that the mere thought of facing the mountain myself forced me to look away.

A few minutes later it was time to head downstairs to the conference room. I walked out of my room and headed toward the elevators. A few doors down the hall a little boy popped out of the doorway wearing red ski clothes and a spiky red beanie. He must’ve been about 5. When he saw me his face lit up and he exclaimed, “I’m going skiing today!” I wanted to be excited for him. I said, “That is so great!” In truth, I was worried for the little tike. The last time I tried skiing was 17 years ago and I have been letting my fear of skiing brew ever since. I was 10 years old and I repeated ski school at Donner Ski Ranch in the morning just to make sure I had a handle on things. At the end of the course the teacher took all of the students up the mountain for a practice run but I stayed down below. I didn’t want to tell him about my first experience with ski school. A little while later my mom accompanied me to the top of the lift. We got off and my mom reviewed things with me. I gripped my ski poles nervously as a grandma and young granddaughter got off the lift. The girl must have been about six. The kid went zooming down the hill before I could look twice. I was filled with envy and decided to take my shot. As a result I lost control and tumbled down the slope in true head-over-heels fashion and landed several feet from my scattered ski and poles. It took me a while to spot all the equipment and gather it. I couldn’t figure out how to put the ski back on so I half walked, half glided the rest of the way down the hill. It was probably the most embarrassing experience of my life. Thinking back on the tumble it is a wonder I didn’t hurt myself. I refused to try again and spent the rest of the day playing in the snow outside the lodge. I swore I would never ski again.

This morning as I rode the elevator down to the conference room and walked through the lobby I caught a glimpse of more excited skiers waiting for shuttles. The kids really looked happy. I tried to shake my most recent memory of skiing. I started thinking about my mom instead. Today is her birthday and suddenly my mind was filled with the often repressed memory of my first skiing experience. When I was eight my parents announced my first ski trip. My hometown is about four hours away from ski resorts. I clearly remember watching commercials for some of those resorts and thinking skiing looked like a cinch. They showed children skiing and one girl had long blond hair kept at bay by a teal ear warmer headband. I was sure I would be a master of skiing as soon as I tried it. I just needed the right gear and I’d be set.

In preparation we made a trip to Big 5. We picked up waterproof gloves and other odds and ends we were missing. Most importantly, I got a teal ear warmer headband. I was definitely going to be a pro the next day. As you can imagine, things didn’t quite turn out how I had expected. We headed to Boreal and I was promptly enrolled in ski school. The morning went swimmingly although I must admit I was scared to go up the mountain and try out what we had learned. Regardless, it was soon time for our final exam and we headed up. Somehow we all grouped together before heading down the mountain. We were told to stay off to the side and stick together as a group. Everything went fine for the first few seconds but soon we lost control and started grabbing onto each other the way kids do when they don’t want to fall down in an ice rink. The domino effect not only spread panic like wildfire, it also dragged us down the mountain in a direction that cut across the paths of the other skiers. Finally someone sat down and we all hit the ground. We laughed and crawled our way down the mountain. We’d had a blast. However, our instructor felt differently. Once she got us out of the way of the skiers, she let us know it.

This was the first time I’d ever been really yelled at by someone I didn’t know. The instructor laid into us and said that if her supervisor had seen us she would have been fired on the spot. She was furious that we hadn’t been listening to her on the mountain and she told us several people had nearly run into us. In X years of teaching she’d never once had an injured student, yadda yadda yadda. Unfortunately this experience quickly turned from light-hearted to guilt-ridden. Instead of turning around and jumping on the next chair lift, I hovered nervously at the lodge waiting for my mom to pick me up. She asked how things had gone and I told her. She asked me if I wanted to try again and I hesitated. I thought of all the equipment we’d rented, the ski school fee (which must’ve been expensive since they’d fed us personal pepperoni pizzas for lunch) and the headband that was supposed to empower me with super-ski ability. I looked down at the lift ticket pinned to my jacket and I knew that my parents had paid money for a full day of skiing and I was too young to be left alone. I didn’t want to disappoint her so I agreed to go up.

The excitement that had previously lifted me even higher than the chair lift was quickly replaced by fear and dread. The chair lift moved too fast for my liking and I wondered why there wasn’t a seat belt included in the contraption. I watched the snow zoom pass under my dangling skis and I read all of the “DANGER!” signs surrounding the chair lift supports below. “What am I doing?” I thought. I asked my mom if I could change my mind and ride the chair lift back down. She said there was no way I could do that. When we got off the lift she had me show her what I had learned. I pointed my feet and formed a "pizza slice" with my skis. I only made it about 15 or 20 feet before falling over. My body was so tense I could hardly stand. I could feel my heart sinking deep into the snow. I was ruining this day she had planned and paid for. I asked her if I should take my skis off and walk down, but she was still thinking of a solution. Then it came to her.

With a little practice and a few adjustments here and there, we worked out a system in which I stood behind her with my hands on her waist and my skis close together. She kept her skis far enough from mine that they wouldn’t touch. We penguin-walked in synch until we could get some momentum and then gravity did the rest. My mom navigated us down the hill and I simply held on for the ride. The morning that had truly taken a turn for the worst ended with a breathlessly delightful afternoon with my mom. I learned to trust her movements and ever-accelerating speed. She didn’t let us crash and she didn’t yell at me for holding her back. Sometimes I wonder if there was a happier child on the bunny slopes that day.

When this memory hit me today I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I’d thought about it. I have tried so long to associate skiing with crashing and burning in order to talk myself out of ever considering it again. I’ll be honest – there is still some major fear that creeps up when I think about it – but seeing happy skiers today may have been one of the first steps toward a chair lift. I can’t promise it will be tomorrow but I can tell you that my mom’s patient encouragement would have something major to do with it.

Mom, if you’re reading this, happy birthday! I wonder if you remember that day at Boreal as well as I do. Thank you for being there for me – especially when I needed an extra pair of legs and a steadying force as I slipped down life’s great mountain. I love you and I hope you had a great day!