Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Play to Your Strengths

Lindsey Smallwood

Happy Thanksgiving friends. I'm NOT making the turkey this year - and for that and so much else, I am thankful...

Sophomore year of college I decided to become a lifeguard.

The summer before I'd totally loved spending every spare moment swimming at the pool in the dorms where I worked as an RA. I figured not only would training to become a lifeguard fulfill the phys ed requirement for my undergraduate degree, it would also provide a guarantee of an awesome job for the following summer.

I registered for course number 85673 - Lifeguard Training and Certification in November, when the spring semester schedule opened. Over the Christmas holidays, I bought not one but two red one piece swim suits and a new gym bag to look the part. When the first day of class finally arrived in January, I had told everyone I know that I was becoming a lifeguard.

I walked across campus on a morning cold by Texas standards, so excited to start this next adventure, already imagining myself hanging out with my new cool lifeguard friends. After poolside instructions from the teacher, we got in the water.

And then I remembered something really important.

I don't like to swim.

I know.

There, in that Olympic sized pool, facing the roped off lanes and whistle blowing, I flashbacked to swimming lessons in elementary school where I learned that while I love the feel of the water, gliding through the pool using different strokes and taking breaks to float on my back and look at the ceiling, I hate the rigors of training, the competition, trying to race against the clock or against my friends.

I love the pool but I’m not lifeguard material.

I remembered this story this week because I kind of did it again. Thanksgiving’s on Thursday and my in-laws are coming in town. My mother-in-law called months ago and told me she’d prepare the meal but I told her, no, that of course I’d love her help, but that I enjoyed cooking and was looking forward to preparing the Thanksgiving feast.

Both of those things are true. I do enjoy cooking. I am looking forward to Thanksgiving. But as it has kept getting closer and closer on the calendar, I’ve been noticing that thinking about it makes my head hurt and my stomach turn. The truth is I’m dreading it. I love the day, time with family, everyone in one place watching the parade and eating great food. And most of the time, on days that are not national holidays, I like to cook, when it’s low stakes, when I’m boiling spaghetti for hungry kiddos or frying up taco meat for dinner with the neighbors.

But Thanksgiving is like cooking a symphony, trying to conduct 8 dishes at once, most of them squarely outside my repertoire, with one oven and a tiny microwave on a deadline enforced by (hungry) family members. I’ve done it a few times, for hungry college students when I was in ministry, for a group of Australians when we were traveling down under in November, for our neighbors, but it’s such a challenge for my skill set that thinking about doing it makes me clench my fists in anxiety.

I love to cook but I’m not Thanksgiving material.

So just like I got out of the pool that cold January day and walked, embarrassed, back to the locker room, realizing that there was no way I wanted to complete lifeguard training, new swimsuits or not, I’m walking out on Thanksgiving too. My husband and his mom are tasked with shopping lists and recipe gathering, chopping and sautéing and I’ll be building block towers with toddlers and popping in to sample their handiwork – both skill sets squarely in my wheelhouse.

We’ll all enjoy the day a little more for it.

There are a lot of things you can’t walk away from – parents of toddlers have to change a lot of diapers and do a lot of laundry. Children of ailing parents must tend to their needs and offer care as they can. But sometimes holidays (and life) can get filled up with things we do because we think we ought to or because we wished we liked them or we’ve just always done it that way.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Instead, maybe this year is a chance to play to your strengths, organizing the family card tournament or offering to do the dishes, rather than finding yourself staring down the neck of a turkey you’d rather not spend eight hours with. I have friends who realized that helping with a community Thanksgiving event for homeless people brings way more joy for them than laboring over a meal at home. So they do it, as a family, and look forward to it all year.

Make a boundary. Trade a chore. Try something new. Look for ways to play to your strengths so you can enjoy your people.

It’s what the holidays are all about.


This post originally appeared at Middle Places.