Every month, when I sit down to write one of these I’m struck with the same increasingly-clear realization that I don’t actually have anything to contribute to this organization–I mean, last month I wrote about how happy chocolate makes me. I’m nineteen and, as you might imagine, lack any of the valid experience professionally, socially, religiously, or even compositionally that might qualify me for this job. I don’t know what it’s like to be a mom managing steep professional expectations or a professional managing judgmental social expectations. I don’t know what it’s like to be married, or even somewhat educated. I’m young enough to have dodged any real measure of expectations by anybody, really; I’m not yet to any stage in my life where I’m definitely supposed to have checked off one box or another from society’s big list of to-dos. So reasonably, I face a monthly crisis that forces me to ask: “Why am I relevant to an institution like Aspiring Mormon Women?”
Or perhaps I should be asking: “Why is Aspiring Mormon Women relevant to me?”
For starters, an organization like this one has the potential to provide an invaluable network. As Mark Zuckerberg figured out as an undergrad at Harvard back in 2004, social connections act as currency in today’s world. I’ve seen that concept work in my personal life, given the tight alliance my industry keeps with “who knows whom.” I work as a dancer right now, and while I haven’t sat in on any of the conversations that took place prior to my employment with this or the last company I worked for, I’d be willing to bet some hard money that my hiring was largely contingent on the names in the network I had developed before my name ever arrived on my employers’ desks. Compound basic networking with the value of shared experience, and suddenly you have a real platform for growth. Acquaintances become mentors, and friends become consultants. Rad.
But that just touches on another reason AMW can have such power in my life. Shared experience, in this space, can extend even beyond professional mentorship. A real sisterhood shares stories and strength, and generously lends fortitude against the harsh battles that individuals may find hard to fight alone. Expressed experience affords wisdom or caution or encouragement for those who (cough) may not have had any firsthand experience of their own; in turn I imagine those finding the space to express their stories gain safety and catharsis in having a community within which to do so. A perfect win-win. I like the way Chieko Okazaki (one of my mom’s all-time favorites) framed this in a talk she gave in October, 1995. She said, “[The] gospel brings us together in an environment where we experience some of the cherishing, the kindness, the love, the service, the instruction, and the watching over each other that give us glimpses of what heaven can be like. In fact, we are the fish, we are the net, and we are the fisher simultaneously.”
This community creates a context for really chewing on relevant issues we face as Latter-day Saint women living in 2014. I often pontificate that asking questions is the most crucial element to growth. I fear my brain would die a little bit if I ever went to bed without once having paused to inspect or question a single corner of my day! We need to be thinking and talking about everything–we must. Particular to this context, we need to be examining the evolution of women’s roles both inside and outside the church. Our church is growing and our times are changing; the image of a woman is not one-size-fits-all. We need to be noticing and discussing today’s new leaders as much as we need to be finding those leaders in each other. We need to be questioning each other and ourselves; we need to be pushing for better. We need to be Rosie-the-Rivetering our way through frustrations and trials, and we need to be doing it all openly and articulately, because that’s how adult human-types act. And within this organization, we do.
I suppose what I’m saying is, “Why would Aspiring Mormon Women not be relevant to me?” The tools available to my mind and to my heart are absolutely unmistakable and indispensable.
Granted, I’m still as unclear as you are why they have me doing this job. Fortunately, I figure if I make it through I’ll be able to mentor someone about it later.