"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
August 4, 2014
Unrealistic Expectations
by Kathryn H. Kidd

It is the end of another month as I write this, and my stomach is in a knot.

The reason for my anxiety centers on the Mormon tradition of home teaching and visiting teaching, a wonderful program that sends Latter-day Saints by pairs into the homes of other Latter-day Saints every month to check on their welfare. In the visiting teaching program, pairs of women visit women; in the home teaching program, it is usually pairs of men who visit entire families.

As I said, home teachers are usually pairs of men, but on rare occasions married couples serve as home teachers. Fluffy and I have been home teachers together for almost as long as we have been married, so I am both a home teacher and a visiting teacher.

Right now I home teach and visit teach a couple of the same women, which you might say is fudging things just a wee bit. But neither of these women would be likely to accept two different Mormons into their homes each month, so one of me is plenty.

Or rather, one of me used to be plenty. You see, I used to have feet. Currently, I do not have feet (or at least working feet). And one of these ladies lives in a third-floor walk-up. There is no elevator anywhere on the premises. Walking up three flights of stairs is the only way to visit her.

Ordinarily, the church would just change the assignment so that someone who does have feet would visit this person whom, for the purposes of this column, we will call “Mandy.” But Fluffy and I have been visiting Mandy since 1988. She would not accept a change, and we do not want a change. We love Mandy, and Mandy loves us.

Fortunately, Mandy is fine with emails and Facebook and phone calls. We keep in touch that way. (We would take her cookies, but Mandy is picky about her diet and cookies are not on the menu.) If Mandy had a problem, we would be the first people she called. We think of her more like a daughter or a sister or a best friend. She is a real sweetheart.

We have only been assigned to the other lady for fifteen years or so. She does not go to church. She does not know anybody else from church and would not like a change. She only accepts my phone calls about twice a year. She does not answer the doorbell, and in any case I could not get into her house without feet.

I do try to call her each month, leave a message and hope that she will call me back. Other than that, I am at a loss trying to figure out how to contact her.

But I am supposed to contact her, every single month. Ideally, I am supposed to visit her face-to-face. And as the end of the month approaches, I get more and more nervous.

The situation would be bad enough anyway, but the person who collects the statistics is somebody who does not understand why a little bitty thing like being paralyzed would keep me out of a third-floor walk-up condominium.

The last week of the month, she sends me a personal email, telling me it is time for me to start making plans to get out and do my visiting teaching. Then she follows up and asks me if I have done it. This is not a blanket email, mind you, to all the people on her route. This is a personal email to me, Kathy. You know, the Kathy who has no feet.

She always seems puzzled, and then disappointed, to learn that I have not been inside Mandy’s condo during the previous month and that I have not personally contacted “Kim,” even though Kim will not answer her phone or her door.

She has let me know, in the kindest possible way, that emails and phone calls are not enough, and that I need to be visiting these two ladies in their homes.

I would like to tell you that I have not yet hauled off and punched my supervisor in the nose. I hope that you are proud of me. I know she means well. She is just trying to do her job, and she is absolutely right.

In a perfect world, both Mandy and Kim would be visited every single month. And I used to do this, before I was no longer able to walk up to Mandy’s condo, and before Kim stopped answering her telephone or her door.

Nevertheless, as the end of the month approaches, the ends of my stomach start tying themselves in a knot, and they do not stop until square knothood is achieved.

Only after I have written my email to the lady in question, telling her that no, I have not sauntered up to Mandy’s third-floor condominium on my feet that do not walk two steps on their own or visited Kim, who will not be visited, does my stomach unknot itself again.

When it is not the end of the month, I can laugh at my supervisor’s unrealistic expectations. No human being except this lady would expect me to march up those long, cement flights of stairs to visit Mandy or to leave my home to pound on Kim’s door, even though she refuses to answer (and whose door is also at the top of a stair or two).

But at the end of the month, my stomach loses its sense of humor. And I have to admit, the rest of me follows where my stomach leads it. I do not like being reminded that I have failed, even when success is impossible to attain.

My story is an extreme one, but we all have instances in our lives where we impose unrealistic expectations on ourselves. We cheerfully tell ourselves that this is the year we will grow our hair down to our waist in six months, or find a husband, or learn to speak Portuguese, or do something else, and if we don’t achieve our goals, we are failures as human beings.

Some people — people who are not me — can achieve crazy goals. Well, that’s not completely right. Sometimes even I can achieve a crazy goal. I’m learning to walk again. I’ve done amazing things in the past eighteen months or so, and I’m going to continue to achieve great things in that regard.

But most of the time, well, I’m just like a lot of us. I make extravagant goals, and then when I fail to achieve them, I beat myself up. I think of myself as a loser because I can’t reach the goals I have failed to reach. Never mind that it wasn’t important that I learn do macramé or sing alto or fit into that bathing suit. If I can’t reach my goal, I am a failure as a human being, no matter what other qualities I possess.

It’s bad enough when we can’t reach goals we set for ourselves, but some of us (and those people usually have names that rhyme with “Mother” or “Dad”), quite often set goals for others. They will decide, willy-nilly, that this is the year that Charlotte will find a husband, or that Jenny will lose fifty pounds, or that Tom will be a concert pianist, or that Jason will go on a mission.

Never mind what Charlotte or Jenny or Tom or Jason feel about the matter. Finding a husband may be Charlotte’s greatest dream, and she may have been searching for a husband for fifteen years — or she may be completely happy with her life as it is. Jenny may have struggled without success to lose those pounds, or she may finally have given up and learned to love herself the way she is today.

Tom may have no interest in the piano. Tom may just want to play baseball.

And Jason? There’s a fine line between encouraging your son to go on a mission and nagging him to do so. A lot of unworthy or uninterested young men have been pushed to go on missions and then have come home in embarrassment, after finally having found the courage to admit to their mission presidents that they were not there for the right reasons or that they were unworthy to have served.

To a degree, we’re supposed to challenge ourselves. We’re supposed to set goals for ourselves that are just a little bit harder than we think we can achieve. If we don’t push ourselves, we never get anywhere. And it’s only those people who push themselves hard who ever achieve great success in anything.

But when we set unrealistic expectations, we only set ourselves up for failure. No matter how hard I may wish to be a ballerina, or to be Miss America, or to be the first astronaut to fly to Mars, it isn’t going to happen. Sometimes, we need to adjust our goals.

And sometimes, we need to realize that we need to just step back and let other people make their own goals. It’s one thing to hope your son goes on a mission, and quite another to promise God that he’ll serve as a missionary. Some promises are not yours to make.

My stomach is just going to have to live with the fact that my feet are not going to trot up all those flights of stairs to Mandy’s condominium this month, or next month, or the month after that. Mandy understands.

Back off, gut-o’-mine! Give me a break! Maybe this month I’ll send Mandy and Kim a personal letter. It won’t help my stomach, but it may help my guilt. I can only do my personal best. Let the rest take care of itself.

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About Kathryn H. Kidd

Kathryn H. Kidd has been writing fiction, nonfiction, and "anything for money" longer than most of her readers have even been alive. She has something to say on every topic, and the possibility that her opinions may be dead wrong has never stopped her from expressing them at every opportunity.

A native of New Orleans, Kathy grew up in Mandeville, Louisiana. She attended Brigham Young University as a generic Protestant, having left the Episcopal Church when she was eight because that church didn't believe what she did. She joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a BYU junior, finally overcoming her natural stubbornness because she wanted a patriarchal blessing and couldn't get one unless she was a member of the Church. She was baptized on a Saturday and received her patriarchal blessing two days later.

She married Clark L. Kidd, who appears in her columns as "Fluffy," more than thirty-five years ago. They are the authors of numerous LDS-related books, the most popular of which is A Convert's Guide to Mormon Life.

A former managing editor for Meridian Magazine, Kathy moderated a weekly column ("Circle of Sisters") for Meridian until she was derailed by illness in December of 2012. However, her biggest claim to fame is that she co-authored Lovelock with Orson Scott Card. Lovelock has been translated into Spanish and Polish, which would be a little more gratifying than it actually is if Kathy had been referred to by her real name and not "Kathryn Kerr" on the cover of the Polish version.

Kathy has her own website, www.planetkathy.com, where she hopes to get back to writing a weekday blog once she recovers from being dysfunctional. Her entries recount her adventures and misadventures with Fluffy, who heroically allows himself to be used as fodder for her columns at every possible opportunity.

Kathy spent seven years as a teacher of the Young Women in her ward, until she was recently released. She has not yet gotten used to interacting with the adults, and suspects it may take another seven years. A long-time home teacher with her husband, Clark, they have home taught the same family since 1988. The two of them have been temple workers since 1995, serving in the Washington D.C. Temple.

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