By MaggieI recently had a job interview with a department head in the corporate office of a large company. I had been really nervous for my interview, but once it began I found myself breathing easy and speaking comfortably with the higher-up. I’m still waiting to find out if I got the job, but this experience taught me a few things about myself and my upbringing. I realized that I could be more confident than I thought. I realized that I tend to view all people as just people, even if they are wearing and impressive suit, have an impressive title and make an impressive amount of money. I have a firm handshake and I laugh easily when someone makes a joke to break the ice. I find it easy to evaluate myself in front of someone sitting behind a desk asking me questions, something that might intimidate a lot of people. Why did I nail my interview? Because of how I was raised.
When I was a little girl in Primary, I was assigned to give a talk in front of my peers. I think it was probably a minute or two long. My Dad helped me write it. My parents came and sat in the back to see me have my first public speaking experience. I was nervous. I stood on a footstool to reach the podium and began to speak. But no one could hear me. The Primary President moved the microphone up to my mouth and I started again. I spoke and my voice boomed through the room. It took a second to get the balance right and before I knew it, it was over. That wasn’t so bad at all. In fact, public speaking quickly became one of my favorite experiences at Church. I ended up giving a lot of talks, and bearing my testimony in front of the congregation frequently.
As a kid I also remember participating in the Primary Presentation in sacrament meeting. For two weeks, I memorized and practiced reciting Matthew 5:16. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” I stood in front of an entire congregation- of grown-ups! -and recited this memorized verse.
When I turned 12 I began going to Girls’ Camp in the summer. This was where I developed my first real love for being in nature. This was where I first learned that I could be tough. I felt an intense sense of pride and strength that I could take long hikes, and live outside for a week and be perfectly happy. I learned knots, first aid, and other survival skills, many of which I still remember to this day. Yes I can still build a fire and tie a bowline, thank you very much!
In the young women’s program I was called as laurel class president. At first I kind of believed this was some sort of formality rather than an important calling with responsibilities. But my leaders told me otherwise and tried to prepare me to understand leadership. My adviser taught me how to organize myself and the information that I needed to plan events and help individuals. I remember one Bishop’s Youth Council meeting in particular when I was in charge of planning an activity for all the young women and young men combined. In the meeting, the bishop asked me to lead the discussion on the upcoming activity and to ensure that everyone was on the same page. I was a little taken aback. I had assumed that since I was a teenager, I was mainly a leader in name only, and that my adult adviser was really the one running the show. But the bishop gave me an encouraging look and I swallowed and began to lead for the first time. I began to explain my ideas for the activity and began delegating various responsibilities to other class leaders, including my male peers, and asking opinions about a few logistics. Once everything was done, I turned the time back over to the bishop. Afterwards when I was on my way out of the building, the second counselor in the bishopric shook my hand and said, “Wow, you were a stud in there!...in the most feminine way possible of course. Way to take charge!” I laughed at his choice of words, but I felt an immense sense of accomplishment. I suddenly felt that my contributions in the ward really mattered. I had been terrified of leading anything, but I found that if I just dove in, I was more capable than I had realized.
When I was in college, I was part of a great single’s ward. One week the bishop asked me to speak. When I arrived at church, he was telling me the order of the speakers. “First, Sister so-and-so, then Brother so-and-so, and I’d like for you to speak last.” I didn’t fully understand at the time that many in the Church have only ever seen men as concluding speakers. I guess it’s somewhat of....an honor? My bishop smiled at me and said, “I felt this was the right way to do it.” I thanked him, shook his hand and took my seat. It wasn’t until later when I heard people debating whether women are allowed to be concluding speakers in Church that I appreciated what this bishop did for me and my ward.
One of the greatest and most formative opportunities came to me in Institute. I had been on the institute council for a year or so and was so excited for its growth and the direction it was going. Of course the institute council president had been a man. So needless to say, I was surprised when I received the calling to be the new Institute Council President for the following year. My little 20-year-old self was totally overwhelmed at first. This was the largest Institute east of the Mississippi, with more than 600 students at the time. I would be leading a council of roughly 15 male and female committee chairs. I conducted the Institute firesides and introduced speakers. I met with the University President to discuss scheduling and important events on campus. The Institute Director made sure that I understood that he was a support and that it was my responsibility to lead the Institute program and its students. Nothing shaped my confidence or my abilities quite like this experience did.
I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to lead and serve in the Church. I don’t point these things out to toot my horn or say that I am better than anybody. My purpose in sharing these experiences is to say that for me personally, as a woman, I felt more empowered as a result of growing up Mormon than I believe I would have been without the Church. One thing the Church does struggle with at times is finding ways to empower women and people who do not have exactly the kind of personality they are looking for in leaders. Everyone has vital contributions to make, and it is important to make use of and give credit to those contributors and recognize that every gift is important, and not just in name only. We shouldn’t shame people for wanting to feel important in their community. I was very lucky to have people pushing me forward and saying that I can be a powerful woman. I can delegate to men and no one is hurt by that. I can conduct a meeting and nothing is being threatened. While the Church has a long way to go, know that these things do happen, and that in many ways the Church does empower women. It empowered me, and I am eternally grateful for it.