Imagine this: You’re sitting at home, discouraged, with your phone in one hand and a consoling carton of ice cream in the other when a video headline on your newsfeed catches your attention. It says, “Watch This: Amputee Defeats All Odds and Rock Climbs Again!” Fascinated, you press play, and a story of strength, loss, and victory flashes before your eyes as this person overcomes all odds to reach his goal.
Suddenly, your problems are put into perspective. You set down your phone and put the carton of ice cream back in the freezer—spoon and all. Today is your day. If this amputee can climb a mountain, then you can get the house clean! You can reach your dreams! You can do anything you put your mind to.
But can you?
A Downward Spiral
Growing up, I really believed the saying “You can do anything you put your mind to.” I wanted to make a difference in the world, and I knew that it was possible if I worked just a little bit harder than everyone else.
Throughout high school, I dedicated myself to this goal. I took college-level classes, swam six days a week, and spent hours on the piano. I isolated myself from friends and family, convinced that my future was located somewhere between my excellent report card and those ivory keys.
Then, at the end of my junior year, it all fell apart. I wasn’t getting any faster at swimming, so I quit. I decided I would focus on school and the piano instead. Shortly after that, I started forgetting things: English assignments, lunch boxes, pencils. Classes that were once simple now took all my energy to focus on. I could hardly follow a conversation anymore, let alone a difficult math problem!
By the beginning of my senior year, my health was spiraling out of control. Standing or even sitting up for short periods of time was enough to make my head spin and put me at risk of passing out. I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, which meant that every time I stood up my heart would race like crazy, going from 60 beats per minute to well over 120 beats per minute in a matter of seconds. It felt like running a marathon all day every day. I only had the energy to apply to a handful of colleges and scholarships, and it took everything that I had just to graduate on time.
In spite of this, I still believed that I could be exceptional. These problems were only temporary and, like that rock climber who had overcome his missing leg, I could overcome this.
Finding True Greatness
If it had been just one health issue that I faced, maybe this would’ve been true. Maybe I could have overcome it. Slowly, however, the number of health problems I had to deal with grew and eroded away at my goals. Between severe asthma, allergies, joint pain, and chronic fatigue, goals as simple as going to college full-time or holding a job started to feel like distant dreams.
I was angry. I was angry at myself for not trying harder, and I was angry at God for allowing this to happen. How could He have taken so much away from me? I felt lied to by all those inspirational videos and stories of hope and endurance. It didn’t seem like I could do anything that I put my mind to at all—even things as simple as cleaning my room or going out to see my friends.
Then one day a talk by Howard W. Hunter titled “True Greatness” caught my eye.
In this talk, President Hunter describes how we live in a world that “seems to worship its own greatness” and surrounds us with images of record-breakers, exceptional musicians, and over-achievers. But just because the world celebrates something doesn’t mean that it’s important to God or that it should be important to us! God has a very different view of what true greatness is. President Hunter went on to quote Joseph Fielding Smith, who said,
“Those things which we call extraordinary, remarkable, or unusual may make history, but they do not make real life. After all, to do well those things which God ordained to be the common lot of all mankind, is the truest greatness. To be a successful father or a successful mother is greater than to be a successful general or a successful statesman.”
That’s when it hit me. My whole life, I had been focused on gaining success and popularity in the eyes of the world—but that’s not what God wanted for me. True greatness, in God’s eyes, isn’t about setting records or making history. It isn’t about some mind-over-matter, stick-to-it-until-the-bitter-end sort of attitude. It’s about becoming like Jesus Christ. It’s about being a good mother and a good friend and loving others as the Savior would. It’s about the very things that I had been neglecting as I plucked away at my ivory keys, dreaming of some marvelous future.
All this time I thought that my challenges were keeping me from reaching true greatness, when in reality, they were propelling me towards it. The things I have learned from living with chronic illnesses have improved my relationships with both God and those around me and have helped me become a more compassionate, patient, and affectionate person.
So, maybe you can’t do everything—or anything—that you put your mind to. Maybe you won’t get that job that you wanted so badly. Maybe you won’t be able to lose that weight or get into the college of your dreams. And let’s face it, you probably never will be the president of the United States. But does that mean you’re a failure, or that you haven’t tried hard enough? Absolutely not!
Next time you fail to reach your goals or some challenge throws them way off course, don’t see it as an obstacle to overcome. See it as an opportunity—an opportunity to become more Christlike, to be a better parent or brother or sister or friend, and to become the person the Savior wants you to be. You may not be known by everyone for doing this, but to the people who matter most, you will become truly great.
Lead image of the author and her younger sister at the Portland Oregon Temple. Provided by Ashely Babcock.
Ashley is a BYU Pathway student from Eugene, Oregon. She likes to call herself a “professional patient,” as she spends a great deal of her time juggling the challenges caused by Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and its many comorbidities. She is working to raise awareness about these disorders and give a voice to anyone who is struggling with a chronic illness while sharing how she has found joy through Jesus Christ along the way. You can learn more about Ashley through her website or her Instagram account.