When I started my final semester of college, I thought I’d finally know what I was doing with my life. I was a senior, about to graduate; surely I’d mastered being an adult. But trying to juggle classes and jobs and social life and health quickly turned into a nightmare. Going to school at Brigham Young University–Idaho should’ve made it easier, but being surrounded by so many members of the Church was overwhelming. I felt like I didn’t belong. I never doubted my testimony or the Lord, but I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my own abilities.
I’m a native Floridian who loves to be in the water, so to have a little taste of home, I decided to take a swimming course that semester. It was perfect. I already knew how to swim … or so I thought.
Trying … and Flailing
Swimming laps is very different than casually playing in the pool. And I learned that the hard way. During one of my first classes, only five seconds into a lap going back and forth down the swimming pool, I already couldn’t breathe. Pulling myself forward in the water took more energy than I thought it would. I knew how to swim, but I didn’t know the proper strokes or techniques, and all the other swimmers in my class were breezing past me in the water.
As soon as I finished a few laps, my instructor came over to me and said:
“You’re kind of flailing. Try to focus on how your body moves with the water, instead of trying to get to the other side of the pool as fast as possible.”
I left class soaking wet, exhausted, and humiliated.
Drowning in Imperfections
Later that day, I sat down with my scriptures and pushed swimming from my mind. Thinking about how that class went just made me feel stupid.
But the embarrassment was far from over.
As I prayed and reflected, I kept thinking about my imperfections. I compared myself to who I wanted to be and definitely did not measure up to the expectations I had for myself. Failing at swimming opened my eyes to all the ways I was failing or not progressing in every other aspect of my life. Not only did I fail to measure up as a swimmer, but I also felt like I wasn’t being the best disciple I could be. I was impatient, lazy, and easily annoyed. I’d been working on becoming a better person all my life, but I still could only see all my imperfections.
I began repenting and apologizing, telling Heavenly Father that I knew exactly what I was doing wrong and asking Him to show me what else I needed to change. I told Him I was so sorry, but I was going to work on becoming a better person as much as I could.
Before I even finished my prayer, I felt a clear impression from the Spirit saying that even though I was flailing, Heavenly Father was pleased that I was trying. This impression brought peace and a feeling of joy. I even laughed as I felt just a glimpse of Heavenly Father’s intimate awareness of me and how I was feeling.
I realized in that moment that He knew I was holding myself to an impossible standard. He didn’t expect me to suddenly be perfect, just like how my swimming instructor didn’t expect me to become an Olympic swimmer in a day.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently taught: “I believe the Savior Jesus Christ would want you to see, feel, and know that He is your strength. That with His help, there are no limits to what you can accomplish. That your potential is limitless. He would want you to see yourself the way He sees you.”1
That’s one thing the Savior can do for us—He can change how we see ourselves and our imperfect efforts.
Do What You Can
President Gordon B. Hinckley once said: “Please don’t nag yourself with thoughts of failure. Do not set goals far beyond your capacity to achieve. Simply do what you can do, in the best way you know, and the Lord will accept of your effort.”2
By the end of that semester, I wasn’t flailing anymore. I could glide through the water without any problems, and it wasn’t because I suddenly became an expert overnight. It’s because I showed up to class every week, knowing that whatever happened, I would just try to do my best.
As I struggled to get through my last semester, the Lord knew that I was trying. And instead of condemning me for my imperfections, He helped me find joy in my efforts—even if they were messy and uncoordinated. He could see that behind all my mistakes was a girl who just wanted, more than anything, to be a good disciple … and a good swimmer.