Thursday, April 23, 2009


There is a great exercise that acting classes do. In it you describe who you’re character is by stating….I AM! It’s designed to help you establish who you are as a character, so you gain dimension. This is my interpretation of said exercise. After hearing this done for a friend at his funeral, it has been rolling around in my brain. For months now I’ve thought a lot about this exercise and what I would say. I’ve thought about who I AM. One particular attribute of mine has been really percolating in there ever since I started this triathlon training. I have flaws, of course I do. I have MANY flaws, but this one particular flaw has been even more glaring to me. I’ve really realized this problem and it’s bothered me. Dixie gets angry with me when I say that I’m like this, and that I can’t say those things to myself because it’s not true and its self defeating. But, it IS true, and my point is…I’ve recognized, now I need to figure out how to fix it. I’ll talk more about it when I get to that part in my exercise below.

I am a daughter of God. I am daughter to Tony and Dian. I am a sister to Dana, Eric, Merlin, Jenny, Porter and Dixie. I am an Aunt to 22, a niece, and a cousin to too many to count. I am a wife to Jere. I am a Mother to Max and Maggie. I am LOVED. I am from Mesa, AZ. I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I am a returned missionary from the Indiana, Indianapolis mission. I am BLESSED. I am intelligent. I am a disciplinarian. I am a word-Smyth (whole post about that someday). I am a friend to many. I am a good listener. I am a teacher. I am a singer, an actress, a performer. I am a believer. I am one who loves to laugh. I am locked in a lifelong battle with fat. I am a former Mesa City Champion swimmer. I am a lover of exercise. I am sarcastic. I am dramatical. I am strong willed. I am in love beyond words with my children. I am a “fixer”. I am not good at change. I am one who likes everything clean and in place. I am tough. I am quick to jump to conclusions. I am a fan of reading. I am a closet (meaning, hidden) interior designer. I am a reality TV junkie. I am an adequate piano player. I am a procrastinator to a criminal degree. I am a really fast typist. I am very impatient. I am really loving cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. I am a great Boggle player. I am so lucky to have the family I have. I am witty. I am very tender hearted. I am GRATEFUL for all I have. I am intrigued by people and their lives. I am…….

Wait for it………….


And this is what I want to talk about today. I have some examples, and I will share.

I’ve always known I was a bit more “laid back”, less driven if you will, but doing this training, and going through this experience has just shown me once again that, well, for lack of a better phrase; I sorta suck. And by suck, I mean, I give up, give in, am afraid of putting in the full effort, or afraid of pain, or whatever. I grew up in a family of super over achievers, starting with my parents and going right on down the line. I only have one brother who is similar to me, and don’t be offended Porter. It’s just, he’s also more laid back, not seemingly as driven as the rest. My other brother has ALWAYS been DRIVEN to be the BEST, the top, number 1. If he didn’t succeed the first time, he tried, tried again. He’s done very well for himself in his career, etc. because of his drive and tenacity. My three sisters are all type A overachievers. In school they did the best projects, got the best grades, and followed all the rules. Each of them is driven in their own ways, and successful at their own things. I’m sure they all look at me and silently shake their head in wonderment at my “attitude” on things. Just as much as I look at them and think…..”Why get all crazy, it’ll all work out.” However, I realize that I just really need to get over this issue and work to get a little more drive, and stop being such an underachiever. Ok, you want examples; let me give you a couple.

High school: I graduated 80th in a class of 700. Now, I’m sure you’re saying, well that really isn’t anything to be ashamed of. I’m not ashamed, however, it’s really sad that I was 80th, when I could have clearly been MUCH higher. The ONLY reason I know I was 80th is because at the end of my senior year my counselor called me into his office (which I had NEVER been in before ever) and informed me that I had earned a Presidential Scholarship (full tuition) to MCC for academics. I looked at him completely clueless. Was he talking to ME? I got what for what? It was then that he informed me of my rank in the class. My first thought and response to this was….”Hmmm, that’s CRAZY”, and “I don’t even want to go to college.” I had somehow received a scholarship for my academics and I had not done one thing to earn it my entire high school career. I did ONLY what I had to do to get by. I never exerted myself in any way. I would barely glance at something just before tests, as my form of studying. I turned in papers at the last possible moment. I hardly remember doing homework, EVER. While I did have friends who did AP classes, I really didn’t grasp what those were, or what the point of them were. I took EARTH SCIENCE because chemistry seemed way too hard and scared me. I was that lame; never applying myself and STILL got a scholarship. STILL graduated at a fairly decent number in my high school. First of all, what does that say about the 620 below me, and secondly, WHAT COULD I HAVE achieved? Where could I have gone had I actually worked at it? Had I actually used my intelligence and applied myself? Who knows?
When I finally got around to going to college for real, I did the same thing. I did only what I had to do to get by. Well, in academic classes that is. In performance classes I kicked some serious booty, but that’s because I enjoyed that, AND it came easily to me. But, in the end, I had to take some classes over, make up classes in summer school and it took me a little longer, due to my laziness I’m sure.

In church callings, I have always done just what I needed to. Nothing less, nothing more. I’m the world’s worst visiting teacher. And I know that by not giving it my all, I’m the one not learning and growing as I should.

In this triathlon training, what finally made me realize my loserishness is….if something starts to hurt, hurt at all, my immediate reaction is to quit. I don’t want to experience the pain. Except that you HAVE to experience the pain in order to improve and move forward. If I’m told to do something, and I don’t deem it something I want to do, I just dismiss it, even if it’s totally gonna help me out in the end. I’m totally that person in a class that when they’re doing stretches at the end and the teacher is holding a stretch…I just move on to the other side, ‘cause I’m done waiting for them. If I feel like moving on, quitting, whatever, I do it. So, when Dixie says one day, we’re gonna ride 20 miles, I immediately say, I’m NOT. We haven’t ridden over 12, what makes you think I can just add 8 more? Jenny and Dana were all ready to do it. They’re obedient little overachievers. Jenny has taken this whole situation and pushed herself to crazy new limits. She joined a running club, and she has a crazy trainer that makes her do things I’m sure aren’t humanly possible. Except, they are. Dana has pushed herself further than she EVER thought possible. She’s lost nearly 40 lbs. in the process, all because she committed in her heart and mind and wasn’t gonna quit. Don’t’ worry, that day we rode 14 miles, ‘cause we didn’t know how to find the right place to go 20. And, truth be told, I would have gone the 20, but shame on me for immediately being lame-o quitter girl.

I am not saying that I haven’t endured and broken new barriers and improved immensely through this all. I have. I have ridden further, swam farther, run faster (or run at all for that matter), sweated more than I EVER knew I could, or ever did before. I ran for ALMOST an entire ½ mile without stopping today. That is HUGE for me, HUGE! I have ridden a bike through intense pain, I’ve walked 5 miles, I’ve lost weight, strengthened muscles, forced myself out of bed with only 4 hours of sleep, etc. I know that I HAVE achieved. All I’m saying is, I’ve also NOT achieved all I COULD have. I have cheated myself not only in this process, but in life.

The triathlon is 2 short weeks away. I’ve trained; I’m ready as I’ll ever be. I know I can do it, and I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m scared, I’m nervous, but I know it is possible. I AM ready. And when I cross that finish line, whether it be first(snort!), last or somewhere in the middle, I’ll know that ANYTHING is possible. I’ll know that I CAN do it, I DID do it! And then it’s time to think about the next challenge, the next mountain for me to climb.

I don’t want to be the underachiever anymore. There is so much MORE I need to give to my children/family and to my students. They all deserve my best. What ultimately am I afraid of? How do I change a LIFETIME of mindset and bad habits? Where do I even begin?

Because someday I want to be able to say:

I AM EVERYTHING I can be. I AM an achiever of her goals.


jen said...

Just wanted to post realquick and sayI've read the post, and it's made me think and I'll post more after I've processed.

Jason and Kate said...

You are wonderful! Great post!BTW..are you using a wetsuit for the tri? I"ll be there too...probably drowing in the lake but I'll be there. :)

LanaBanana said...

Are you asking "theoretically" or "for reals"? :) Cause, heck if I know!!! I related to some of the same examples you described (except that I hated you for never really having to study and you just tootled your way to a scholarship because I felt like I had to work my BUTT off to get a decent grade!!). Anyway, I loved the post. It was very well written (especially all your "I AM's"). I think this is just an AHA moment for you where you can reevaluate yourself from now on when you say, "I'm gonna stop." Now there will be this nagging post in your head making you bugged and guilty until you push a little further. :) You're a rock star!!!

LadyCarma said...

In life, one can only improve if one realizes where improvement is needed. You realize your weaknesses. Now your challenge is to turn them into your strengths! You can do it. As I have said to several women in the past few years: you are a strong formidable women. You can achieve anything you desire.

azandersens said...

Allyson, you make me cry. Who IS all they can be, and who doesn't say they could have done more? I guess we all have some of that in us . . . except some super nerds. j/k That was insightful. It made me wonder what AM I?

Jere is Cool said...

I love that you took a super cool Uta Hagen excercise to base your post on. Kudos to you! Now, a few of my thoughts:

1. You are an AMAZING woman, wife, mother, sister, et. al.

2. I am the luckiest son of a b on the planet for having you in my life. The fact that you agreed to marry me with all my baggage and STILL, after 10 years love me. . .

3. You are everything to me and I cannot imagine my life without you.

4. You are the BEST mom to our kids and they are going to be such great kids because of you! I'll be there to teach them how to swear and how to look hot, but you'll be there to help guide them and teach them all the important stuff.

I love you Allyson Shumway Van Patten! I thank God for you every single day, and I look forward to another 50 years together!

The Fischbeck's said...

I was already tearing up, and then I had to go and read Jere's comment. I am not even married to you, and yet you make ME want to be a better woman! Ü

Oh and you forgot, "I AM a better blogger than 98% of the rest of you yahoos out there."

Melia said...

Wow! You have always been the person I wanted to be. I have been in awe of you for more years than I can count. You are totally amazing--and soon to become better. I won't even be able to stand in your presence.

Mom, Dian said...

Ah!!! Loved this post! You ARE an amazing daughter with a heart bigger than the world!!! HOW INCREDIBLY BLESSED are your dad and I!!! LOVE and SUCCESS to your new self! :) Does this mean you'll be going for your masters degree sometime in the near (or maybe a little later than near) future? YOU CAN DO IT! :)
Love ya,

Dana said...

Awesome post..Loved it!! Way to take your blogging skills and inspire all those who read them. In the past 4 months my favorite saying has now changed from "the hard is what makes it great" to "the hard is what makes it possible!!" Adversity (stress/difficulty/sacrifice)is what provides the opportunity for growth, inspiration, and change. It doesn't exist just to help us appreciate the good things..... it's really the necessary vehicle to all that is good. Love you.

✩Molly✩ said...

Well, my sweet cousin, I cannot say that I have ever MORE RELATED to anything ever written by another human being :) Of course, I did not quite make it into the top 100 in my class, and am a bit less intelligent and far less talented, but I am a PRO UNDERACHIEVER!

My problem was that by about 9th grade, I realized that there were a whole lot of people out there less smart than me, and that I could still get by, and graduate, without ANY effort on my part, so why should I work my butt off for no extra reward.

I completely related to the lack of desire for pain. I forget which philosopher coined the phrase, "seek pleasure, and avoid pain" but it has pretty much been me to a T in life.

But you are also very right, that one day you look back and realize that perhaps a different work ethic would have served me better, made all those "dreams" I should have had come true.

I have been proud of you from day one for starting that triathalon, because I again lack your bravery in that endeavor. But the fact that it this drive for further greatness has ensued, makes me tempted to sign up for one, myself. Though I am far away and without the nearby support system (again seeking a cop out... sighs)

Thank you for your post, for your candid and open remarks on your character, sometimes it is nice to find that other people carry those similar traits, but better yet, that they are able to overcome them because they WANT TO... virtually unfathomable to me.


Dixiechick said...

Okay, I'm gonna say it....I agree with Lady Carma. :) You can't change anything you don't recognize in yourself. You've done the hardest part. You've recognized it! Now you can change it. How do you change a lifetime of mindset and bad habits? One day, one habit, one little step at a time. If you just work on changing "little" things and trying to be a "little" better every day you will always be shocked to look back and see how far you have come. Just so you know, I have the exact same thoughts and desires as you expressed in here. I have often done "just what I needed to get by" in school and other things. It's a hard thing to fight against...but that is what you have to do. Fight against it. It's the natural man. The best way to fight against it is to set goals. It sounds so simple and lame...but it is truly the key.

This was such a great post. Inspiring. Thx.

Dana said...

Dixie is so totally right. And, I have felt exactly the same way....maybe Jenny and others have too! The key is to make different choices each single day after that.
WOOHOO for good change and the DAILY opportunity to make it reality.

Mel said...

Love this post. I"m right there with you girl. I just might have to do this exercise myself.

The Maxsons said...

I don't know if I have ever been as inspired to try harder or be better than I have after reading this. I will NOT be training for any crazy triathalons any time soon, but wow girl! thanks for the inspiration! Love you!

The Atomic Mom said...

Allyson does not suck. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I liff hugh more than words can say. Thanks for being my almost BYU roommate, and the best ever porch dancer partner a girl could ask for.

ZippityDoDaw said...

You will have a difficult time convincing me that you're an underacheiver, in any regard.

I know this feeling. We can see many areas where we have not fully invested ourselves. On glass half empty days, we think wow I am such a slacker.

Fact is, You have invested significant amounts of time and talent into all performing arts, and you are dang good at them.

Now you are 100% vested in 2 small children. Obviously reaping dividends in this special market!

The joys of prioritization. I think the hugest challenge is increasing the quantity of activities in which we are pleased with our success. Investing just the right amount of time in each task so that our level of successs on all fronts is acceptable to US!

Your dedication to our triathlon process has been inspirational. Thanks for motivating me to do even more.

Sarah S. Foote said...

Thank your for your post.
I am inspired by all that you are and want to be.
It's a good thing we have this life to work on our less shiny parts.
Love you!

The Driggs said...

You have just inspired me. I remember when I was in the 8th grade that I won the Social Studies award over all the other 8th graders at Kino Jr. High. I was so shocked because I HATED history, and I personally didn't feel that I was very good at it. A few days later we took our History final, and I got a D on it! To this day I am SURE that my name was put down by mistake!

And I LOVED earth science! Probably my most favorite class at MCC. I don't do any other science either. I remember that class was full of the dorky football players who needed a science credit but didn't have the brains to get it unless they took Earth Science. Seriously one of my easiest A's!

And I am so proud of you for doing a triathlon. It's a hard thing to train for but you will feel so proud of yourself when you're done. Cory and I used to do them (I'm just now beginning to train again) and Cory used to always say, "Compete to Complete." And that's really what it's all about. Compete to Complete. Not to sound cheesy, but that's good advice for life in general. You are awesome for laying it out on the table like this. I am realizing how often I don't always finish everything either. So thank you so much for this post!

Harry Porter said...

Allyson, first off, I'm offended that I'm the lazy brother. :) Truth hurts I guess. Thanks for the post, and the reminder that I AM better than I allow myself to be.

Admittedly, it is a bitter pill to swallow when you realize that you willingly underachieve. I hate to admit it. It makes me sad. "The natural man is an enemy to God and has been and ever will be..."

I think it is really cool that the "Shumway Family" is all health conscious at the same time. I have friends telling me, "I'm traveling, I just don't have the time, etc." and I'm the one saying, "There's always time". I just find that odd that I'm so pumped. Anyway, great post, and great reminder to us all that we can always push a little harder.

"Don't give up, don't ever give up."

Much love.

Untypically Jia said...

I too am an underachiever. In High School and college I over achieved constantly, but then in everything else I totally slack. I don't even do minimum effort in my Church callings. Something I really need to work on.

NeverADullMoment said...

I like this idea very much and if I weren't an underachiever, I would probably do this excercise on my blog. lol Congrats on the day!

Erin said...

Dang it, or dang you I should say! Stopping by from Sits but now I've got to go figure out who I am so I might not get around to commenting on your other posts! J/K! I've been struggling with this question a lot lately and I think you did a great job writing this.

LBDDiaries said...

Oh my, this was very eye-opening and good. I too was more 'bleh" with the academics and "whoo hoo" with art, acting, and singing. I learned I was a major underachiever when they did a IQ exam and my own mom was shocked (which means she thought I was a lot dumber than indicated because it was high, ho). Yep, this was very thought-provoking.

Shell said...

That's an absolutely beautiful goal to have! Though, you don't really sound like an underachiever to me...or maybe I'm just incredibly laid-back.

Hope you enjoy your SITS day!

TanishaRenee said...

Well this is one refreshingly honest post! Reading this sparked a few chords with me because I have been feeling the same way about myself in some aspects. I think I need to write a "Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever" post soon!

Happy SITS day!!

Katie Lane said...

WE sound very similar you and I. It's nice to meet you! And thanks for reminding me to do VT - a day late but still :)

Eve said...

Hmmm... I often feel exactly the same. I have achieved several things that I'm proud of, but I feel as though I could have done so much more - and can continue by doing much better. The potential is there, I've proven that to myself many times, so why do I continue down a so-so path?

I think maybe you're not really an underachiever though. I think it has more to do with recognizing that there is so much out there yet to achieve and strive for, while having a softer, gentler personality than say a workaholic or someone who puts everything they have into achieving larger goals. It's definitely not a bad thing, it's just part of what makes you the likable, easy going person that you obviously are. ;)