Discovering the Pioneer Spirit Within Ourselves

Pioneers-Handcarts
Pushing, Pulling and Praying, Bound for Zion, by E. Kimball Warren

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve added a post to my blog. I’m not sure why, but I know there were plenty of times I thought about things to write and allowed certain fears to overcome me. What a time-wasting emotion, right?

But today is Pioneer Day and I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it is a day to remember the early Mormon pioneers, those faithful members who, shortly after being baptized, accepted the call to move west. After years of persecution, the surviving Saints settled in the Salt Lake Valley. Many didn’t reach their destination because of disease, inclement weather, and lack of food. Most of them walked, pulling handcarts piled with their few possessions.

Whether you are Mormon or not, one cannot help but admire the determination of these people, motivated only by faith and their belief that God was leading them to where they needed to be.

The “pioneer spirit” is everything that today’s secular society is not. Traits like selfishness and greed only hindered progress and hurt the groups traveling together. That is not to say these things didn’t exist. We are talking about normal, flawed humans, after all, and idealizing them as anything else serves no one’s purpose.

But still, there is so much to be learned from these early pioneers and others like them who accomplished so much with none of the modern conveniences we enjoy today.

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I am one who truly believes that each of us was born at the time in history when we were supposed to be born. Each of us can make a positive mark, whether large and acknowledged by many, or small and known to a few. Being a modern pioneer isn’t the same as pulling a handcart for hundreds of miles, but there are other ways to forge a trail and create a legacy of our very own.

Looking around at people in my life, there are so many I admire. Many, although not famous, are pioneers in their own ways. Those ways have had positive effects that have branched out into the lives of others. I’m thinking of the young mother who is working to stop the cycle of addiction in her family. I’m thinking of the diligent dad who is fervently working to end the cycle of absent fathers in his family. I’m thinking of another young mother who, after several detours in life, is now her family’s pioneer of faith. I’m thinking of the single, senior citizen lady who refuses to be bitter and seeks only to serve and comfort others.

What do all of these people have in common? I see three main things. One, all of them have gone beyond their comfort zones. Two, all of them are moving forward. (Sometimes moving forward is accompanied by some backwards steps, but it’s still moving forward.) Three, all of them will freely admit that what they have done and what they are still doing is difficult, but worth it.

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As someone who has a tendency to overthink things and has a tough time getting out of my comfort zone, I will be the first to confess how easy it is to stay still, to compare our weaknesses to others’ strengths, and to become our own worst enemy when it comes to any kind of progress. We always talk about how important it is to be kind to others, but we often forget to be kind to ourselves. Sometimes we need to just give ourselves a break.

Thanks to the internet (she said, sarcastically,) we are bombarded with images carefully crafted to make us feel bad about ourselves. How often do we remember the makeup tricks and computer enhancements that go into creating these “perfect” images?  Even at age, ahem, 46, I look at some of these images and sigh discouragingly. We look at social media posts and forget that nearly everything…everything… is a filtered version of people’s lives, just like those Photoshopped images. Images, preying on our imagination and often, skewing our perception.

So how do we stay strong? How do we move forward? How do we forge trails of positivity and kindness to ourselves and others?

 

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It has taken me years to figure this out, and I still falter on certain days, but it is actually pretty simple. Remember who you are. And also, remember who you are not.

 

pioneer-girl-praying
photo courtesy of ldsclipart.com

Who am I? I’m a daughter of God created in His image. I am a beautiful spirit child who came to earth for a purpose. I have divine heritage. I am loved. I have choices. I have the power to make my life happy or unhappy. I have the strength to overcome obstacles. I can create. I have the power to add goodness to the world. I am so many things I haven’t even discovered about myself yet. I am unique because I am the only person just like me that has ever been and ever will be.

What is the best part of remembering these things? They have nothing to do with looks, wealth, possessions, marital status, age, popularity, and dress size.

What am I not? I am not the sum of others’ opinions of me. I am not my challenges. I am not my tax bracket. I am not the prestige level of my job. I am not the number I see on the scale. I am not my health issues (or, in my case, my skin issues.) I am not the way my hair turns out on a certain day.  I am not my mistakes. I am not my weaknesses. I am not all of the negative feelings that accompany guilt, fear, and inadequacy.

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What do any of these things have to do with the pioneers? Stay with me as I explain.

As soon as we start thinking positively about ourselves and who we really are, we think less about ourselves. Not less of ourselves, less about ourselves. See the difference?

What happens when we think less about ourselves? We can think more about others. We can brighten others’ days. We can lift others’ spirits. We can forge new trails of kindness and positivity, things the world is sadly lacking.

Forgetting yourself in service, forgetting yourself in kindness, does not mean forgetting yourself all together. It does not mean running yourself ragged, it does not mean never saying “no.” And it does not mean feeling guilty when you do.

People I admire most (not comparing, but admiring) are those who know how to balance taking care of themselves and brightening the lives of others. They know their limits and acknowledge–but don’t dwell on–their flaws. They’re not in a silent, mental competition with anyone. But, most importantly, they know their own self-worth and their own divine nature. This, in my opinion and experience, is the key.

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Yes, I am an observer of humans around me, always looking for examples of goodness where goodness is most important. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that I am surrounded by modern-day pioneers. Perhaps even the person who just finished reading this post.

Happy Pioneer Day, friends.

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