Go Forward with Confidence
My young brothers and sisters, how fun to be with you this morning. I appreciate that very generous introduction by your president. I remember some years ago I was giving a talk in a professional setting in Salt Lake, and the same kind of generous introduction was given, and then I gave what I thought was a pretty good talk. At the end, a woman came up—kind of an elderly lady, and she looked up at me and she squinted her eyes and said, “You married Margaret Dyreng, didn’t you?”
I said yes, and she said, “Now I know who you are.” And the implication was that it didn’t matter what I had done or what I had said, but the fact that I had married Margaret was pretty important in her eyes. That gave me “street cred,” as you would say. And that’s been the greatest blessing of my life, to be a companion to Margaret. I hope that would happen to you—not to be companions to Margaret, but that you’ll find someone that’s wonderful.
How many of you are from outside the United States? Quite a few. That’s wonderful. I hope you’ll get really excited about this holiday that’s coming up the day after tomorrow, the Thanksgiving holiday. I know it’s been referenced. Your young woman who spoke talked about counting your blessings, which I certainly suggest that you do. In our family, we were always excited about Thanksgiving, because we would go “over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house.” Do you know that song? “Over the river and through the wood”—sing it with me—“to grandmother’s house we go. The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow. Over the river and through the woods . . . ” Okay, you’re like me, you run out of words. But the “over the river and through the woods” part I always remember, because it was our tradition for many years to head to Idaho, and literally we would have to put the turkey and the trimmings and all the little kids on the snowmobiles and a big sleigh we pulled behind, and we would—we couldn’t drive to the cabin, we’d go over the river, and through the woods, and end up at grandmother’s house, where she would welcome us with open arms and bless our lives with her wisdom and her generosity and her expression of thanksgiving.
I hope that you will all be in some setting where you can be grateful in this holiday season, this Thanksgiving season, and I hope that you will truly count your blessings. I can’t imagine a more wonderful time of life. I look back on my experiences as a young person and as a college student. In fact, I wanted to say something about that—I can remember being where you are.
For how many of you is this the first time you’ve been at college, or the first time you’ve been away from home? I think that looks like more than half of you. I can remember my first semester as a freshman, and then first semester at another school after a mission—you could hear from that introduction that I did attend several different schools—then a first semester at a graduate business program, and finally a fourth first semester at the University of California at Berkeley. And all the first semesters were similar, but the beginning of the MBA program first semester was especially interesting. I was far away on the East Coast, as many of you are far away. I didn’t have any roommates that I knew; they were brand new to me. I was surrounded by people who were a lot smarter than I was. At least that was my perception. Does that sound familiar, being away from home, starting and feeling like everyone around you could be smarter than you were? And I don’t know what’s been happening to you, but I can remember that I came home from class every day for two months with a big headache. And part of it was getting used to a new subject matter, a new vocabulary. I had been a chemistry major, and I didn’t know anything about marketing or finance, or especially the weird and wacky world of accounting. I don’t know if that’s the way you react to accounting.
Another problem was the pedagogy. The case method was the way that we studied at Harvard Business School, and that was a new concept. So I had to prepare three cases every night, try to come up with an analysis of what the problem was and what the solutions might be, and it gave me that two-month-long headache. I felt like a student in a physics class.
Maybe you’ve heard the story of the student in the physics class, where the professor gave an exam and there was only one question on the exam. The one question was to explain how you could use a barometer to measure the height of a building. And most of the students explained that you would use a barometer and measure the barometric pressure at the bottom of the building and then again at the top of the building, and knowing how you convert inches of mercury in a barometer to atmospheric height, then you could measure the height of the building. And that would have been my answer. But one of the students answered that he would take the barometer to the top of the building, and, using a stopwatch, he would drop the barometer over the side and measure how long it took for the barometer to hit the ground, and knowing the speed of falling objects, he could measure the height of the building. Or, he said, if you didn’t like that approach, you could tie a string on the barometer and lower it over the top of the building until the barometer touches the ground, and then you can measure the length of the string. He said if those two approaches don’t suit you, then you could take the barometer and you could stand it up on a sunny day and you could measure the height of the barometer and measure the shadow that it cast, then you could pace off the shadow of the building and using the law of similar triangles, you could tell how high the building was. And he said if you don’t like any of those approaches, you can take the barometer and you can go to the janitor of the building, and you can say, “Mr. Janitor, if you’ll tell me how high this building is, I will give you this perfectly good barometer.”
So I was there at Harvard Business School in the case method, and I was asking myself how could I survive, when other students seem to have two or three ways to analyze a problem, and I was struggling to come up with one. And I realized that I had a confidence problem. Do you ever feel that you have a lack of confidence, or certainly less confidence than you would like, or you think that it would be well for you to have? Now, it turns out that I’d like to talk to you today about confidence. And I’d like to begin by pointing out that confidence is not just a micro-problem for individuals—but if you have been reading the newspapers, which I hope you have for the last few years, you realize that confidence has been a global, macro-problem. The news media have reported extensively on the declining economic activity experienced by most nations of the world. Explanations for the cause have centered on improper mortgage lending practices and the equally inappropriate derivative instruments that originated in the United States and ultimately affected the highly interconnected worldwide economy. As the specter of a global depression has loomed, the focus of discussion has shifted to the role that confidence plays in business affairs.
I was in a classroom this morning, I took a little tour of your facility—I wanted to see what a college looked like that went up instead of out. Ours at Dixie goes out; yours here goes up. We’re going to join you with some “up” buildings, because our footprint is getting smaller and smaller compared to the number of students. But I noticed you have an economics classroom, and many economics classes taught there. So you would know that, for financial markets to work, lenders must have confidence in borrowers—that they will be paid back; producers must have confidence that consumers will buy the goods that they borrow the money to produce. To make purchases, consumers must have confidence that their jobs and their incomes are secure. Without confidence, business activity decreases dramatically, and the result is widespread economic distress. As jobs are lost and income declines, the malaise spreads from business to families, and ultimately we are gripped in what the news media have appropriately described as a “crisis of confidence.”
Now, you can ask yourself, “What is this notion of confidence, and is there anything that can be done to restore it?” I’d like you to consider the definition of confidence that’s found in the Merriam-
Webster online dictionary: Confidence is defined as the “faith or belief that one will act in a right or proper way.” And thus, confidence is increased when we believe individuals and institutions are conducting business in a correct or proper manner. When individual’s or institutional conduct is questioned as to its propriety, confidence declines. And once confidence is shaken or lost, it can only be restored gradually. It requires that evidence be presented that behavior has changed, that correct principles are being followed, and that honesty and integrity are being practiced. And these evidences must accumulate over time. And so for confidence to return to our markets and our Main Streets, it’s crucial that there is a return to correct principles and practices, as well as individual behavior.
Smoke and mirrors and perception won’t do it. It has to be real, and it has to be widespread, and so individual responsibility, ethical standards, and personal integrity have to be taught and modeled in our homes and in our classrooms and in our boardrooms. And I understand and know that those kinds of principles are at the foundation of what you are being taught.
You also are being taught from the scriptures. Let me reference a situation about confidence—the notion that it can be gained by acting properly or lost by acting improperly is illustrated in two verses from the book of Jacob in the Book of Mormon. Jacob was speaking in the temple to his people after the death of Nephi. Nephi was his wonderful brother who had been their prophet and their leader. Jacob characterized his people as having grown “hard in their hearts, and [having begun to] indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices.” (Jacob 1:15) And after bringing to the attention of the people in greater detail what he meant by hardened hearts and wicked practices, he observes in verses 34 and 35 of Jacob 2, “Now behold, my brethren, ye know that these commandments were given to our father, Lehi; wherefore, ye have known them before.” I’ll come back to that in a minute. “And ye have come under great condemnation; for ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done. Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren”—and listen to this—“Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them.”
Jacob clearly understood that confidence is generated by proper conduct, whether it’s individual conduct or business conduct or government conduct. He pointed out that his brethren knew the commandments and had been taught right from wrong. Nevertheless, they were doing things that they ought not to have done. The result was that they lost the confidence of their children because of the bad examples they were setting.
In an environment of uncertainty, which we almost always operate in, whether it’s economic or moral, it’s critical that you have the anchor of correct principles to give you confidence. It’s difficult enough for you to navigate through the challenges of life as students and young adults, given all the new ideas and alternative behaviors that you may encounter. The journey is made even more difficult if you do not have confidence that there are time-tested correct principles that can safely be followed. We cannot have confidence in ourselves or in a course of action when we know that our conduct is improper. It just doesn’t work that way. And as previously noted, Jacob pointed out to his people that the commandments of which he spoke were “given to our father, Lehi; wherefore, ye have known them before.” In other words, you have been taught correct principles, and now if you don’t follow them, you really struggle with confidence.
When we have a foreknowledge of these principles, we are aware either consciously or subconsciously of discordance in our lives if we are not following them. And there is a feeling of angst or uneasiness that’s difficult to identify and equally difficult to lose.
Now, let me share with you some principles that you as students can use to generate confidence. These are directed specifically at you, for your age group and the situation, the setting in which you are.
The principle of work; that’s the first one. I submit that as a student, you can’t feel confident unless you are hard at work studying for each class. Maybe you have joked with each other that you can’t let your studies interfere with your education. I used to say that often, and there’s definitely some truth to the notion that college is a place to learn both inside and outside the classroom. But I’d like to share with you a very practical recommendation that honors the correct principle of work, and also allows you to do the other learning that seems more fun than studying. It includes several steps.
· Step number one: Go to bed Friday night at a reasonable hour—now this is a very specific recipe for you—say, before midnight.
· Step two: Get up at six o’clock on Saturday morning. Yes, eyes getting big here.
· Step three is to study from six a.m. to 11 a.m. or even until noon.
Now, the positive outcomes of this approach are multiple. First, you are able to concentrate without being interrupted by sirens, because—why? Your friends and your roommates are all still asleep. And you’ll find that you’re studying will be extremely efficient. It turns out that you can learn twice as much in the morning hours as you can in the afternoon or late at night. And here’s the best part—you have all of the rest of Saturday to play, play, play all day. Twelve straight hours to date—important—hike, ski, play games, go to games, earn money, or do anything else you want to do, and all of the rest of those twelve house you have a happy heart. Why? Because your schoolwork is totally under control. You have done your work, and now you can go about the rest of your activities with confidence, and you can really enjoy yourself.
As part of this work principle, enjoy your Sabbath day. Go to church, fulfill your callings, go with some interesting person to a fireside (or even some uninteresting person that might someday become more interesting).
And then there is the last part.
· The fourth step is to go to bed by 10 or 11 Sunday night, because the final thing you are going to do is get up at 5 or 6 Monday morning and study for another three hours before your first class.
Now, it’s Monday morning and you’re ready for school, and you’ve studied eight or 10 hours and you haven’t missed a single thing that was fun or important to do. And because you have honored the principle of work, organized yourself and worked at your studies, how are you going to feel? Confident. You’re going to feel confident.
Let me suggest a second principle for you. It just brings enormous confidence, and it’s the principle of integrity. For you, that means being true to the principles of personal conduct that you have been taught by your parents and priesthood and sister leaders. You know this. It turns out you can’t be “sort of” honest, or “sort of” alcohol- and drug-free, or “sort of” morally clean and expect to feel confident. You won’t feel that way. Now, I can’t imagine a time in your life before now or after now that will be any more important a period than this period is to take confidence from the integrity of your personal comportment. This is not the time when you want to feel lost and confused. You have important decisions to make, about your career, about who you will marry, how and where you will live, and what you will make of yourselves. And these decisions are best made from a position of confidence. You need to feel confident that you can approach your Heavenly Father and receive inspiration as you sort through the myriad choices that confront you. As you kneel to pray, as you ponder, as you analyze, as you consider—that sense of settledness, that sense of solid foundation, that sense of confidence that comes from the integrity of your behavior, the integrity of your keeping the principles that you know to be true—that feeling of confidence is so important at this time in your life—more than almost any other.
Confidence in your current adherence to correct principles will allow you to have faith in the future in general and in your future in specific. You must not allow yourself—you just must not allow yourself to make decisions from a position of fear or apprehension. Fear is the opposite of faith. President Hinckley was fond of reminding us of that throughout his life.
Fear was a primary tool of Satan in the premortal existence. For example, he argued, undoubtedly, that exercising agency on earth would be risky. He argued that we would make mistakes, and that consequently we would be punished by a just God, that the plan of redemption would not work, because Christ would be unwilling to leave His exalted station and be born in a stable and suffer excruciating pain for all our sins. He could not be counted on. Those were the arguments of Satan, and many succumbed to the picture of fear and dread painted by this adversary of ours.
You didn’t. You did not. You exercised faith. You believed in the principles of mercy, and vicarious sacrifice and atonement, and you had confidence in the plan and in the willingness and ability of the Son of God to become the Savior, and fill the most important role in the plan of redemption. And that knowledge that you chose correctly to get you here should give you confidence that you can do it again. You can make the correct choices in this important time in your life that will lead you where the Lord would want you to be, and where you would want to be. But you must have the integrity to adhere to correct principles, for you to have that confidence, and to have that sense that you can be on the right track.
I have a friend who is a professor at Harvard Business School. His name is Clayton Christensen. You might do well to write that name down. And at Harvard Business School, he has become an icon for integrity. The last day of each of his classes, he asks one question to each of his students: “How will you measure your life?” And they talk about it. And he asks them for just this one class session to focus on what they are doing in their lives, and not what’s happening in some business case. And he says, “Find answers to three questions: How can I be sure to be happy in my career? How can I be sure my relationships with spouse and family will be an enduring source of happiness?” And number three is “How can I stay out of jail?” That’s Harvard Business School.
The reason I reference Clayton Christensen is that I would hope that you would go Google him and look at his essay on “How Will You Measure Your Life?” That’s the title, and it’s on the internet—because he says in that something that I want you to write down. He says, “It’s easier to maintain your integrity 100 percent of the time than 98 percent of the time. It’s easier to adhere to correct principles 100 percent of the time than 98 percent of the time.”
Now, a third principle—and I believe that you have integrity. I believe that you are trying really hard, and that’s what is really special about this place. It’s a place where you can do that and not be ashamed that somehow it’s inappropriate for you to be good and to be right and to be true. But I want to talk to you about a third principle. Do you have the ability to focus? And I suggest to you that it will be increasingly difficult to feel confident unless you understand and exercise the principle of focus. Focus requires concentration. The scriptures speak of “keeping an eye single to” and that’s another way of describing this notion of focus.
We live in an era, and you live in an era of severe sensory overload. Every one of our senses is bombarded with massive amounts of input. In a given time period, we see a hundredfold more visual images than did our most recent ancestors. We are deluged with movies, television, laptop, video game, and cell-phone images. Our ears are assaulted with sounds from every conceivable electronic device. Does this describe your world? We taste and smell the cuisine from every corner of the world, and we can touch and feel a thousand textures and fabrics unknown to our progenitors.
Likewise, our spiritual senses are attacked with concepts, ideas, definitions, urges, lures, and feelings that challenge our equilibrium and our confidence. I think you are doing a remarkable job of surviving in this never-before experienced world of sensory overload. You may be surviving, but my question to you is, are you thriving? Thriving is different than surviving. Are you managing it, or is this sensory overload managing you? How much time are you spending on Facebook or some other similar social networking site? How many texts do you send and receive each day? How often do you put off important tasks to search the ‘Net or play video games? Do you have to be constantly hooked up to the ear buds in your IPod, as though you were on intravenous life support to get through your day? Inner-ear life support.
All of these devices have some usefulness. But I worry for you, that without careful management, they will rob you of your ability to concentrate and focus your attention on the things that matter most. A great way for you to be mediocre is to constantly be “in the thick of thin things.” How many of you got up this morning and said, “Today is a great day to be mediocre. I am so excited. I will just spend this whole day being mediocre. I can hardly wait to get started.”
Is that what you said this morning? That’s what I fear will happen to you if you allow yourself to be distracted by this constant sensory overload. Mediocrity is what happens when you don’t focus, when you don’t concentrate. You just muddle right in to mediocrity. You have to really concentrate to master some subjects, like math and science. You have to work hard at learning how to write well and to think well. You can’t be outstanding if your attention is disrupted and your focus is always fuzzy. Focus leads to achievement. Focus builds confidence, and you won’t feel confident without focusing on achievement. So learn to focus. Put aside the distractions. Manage them; don’t let them manage you.
Now, I want to say one more thing, and it’s about social skills. I have come to be a big believer in your ability to cultivate social graces. I have seen it in so many young people as they interview for jobs, that they have been playing games and been on the internet, and been really good at all of that, but they’re not very good at social interaction. I’m reminded of the boy who was an assistant manager at a grocery store. The story is told about a little old lady that came into the grocery store and asked to buy a half a head of lettuce. And the boy said, “You know, we don’t sell half heads of lettuce.”
The lady said, “Well, go and ask your manager.” So he went into the back room to ask the manager, and the little lady had followed him. He didn’t realize that.
He said to the manager, “There’s this crazy old lady out there who would like to buy half a head of lettuce.” Then as he realized that the little lady had followed him there, he said, “And this lovely young lady would like to buy the other half of that head of lettuce.”
And the manager said, “You know, I notice that you have great social skills. You’re really good at interacting with people. I think we have an opening for a store manager in Minnesota.”
The boy said, “Minnesota? The only thing I know about Minnesota is that they have hockey teams and ugly women.”
The manager said, “Oh, yeah? Well, my wife is from Minnesota.”
The boy said, “Really? What team did she play for?”
Now, you need social skills, and you won’t develop them if you walk past each other texting and with your ear buds in and with everything else distracting you. You need to practice greeting people and smiling at them, and being gracious, and being interesting in your conversation. When I was a younger man, we lived in a ward in Provo. One of our friends was a man named Rolf, and Rolf had the most wonderful way of going about, entering into a room and shaking hands, being with people and enjoying their presence and their company, and he was such an example. He was almost as good as Margaret is at that. But I’ve lived with Margaret all the time, and sort of just taken that for granted. When I saw Rolf do this, I thought, that’s something that I’d like to be like. Well, it wasn’t more than just a few months later that I was appointed to be the president of Weber State University. And I got up the very first day, and I had a press conference, and I had to meet the faculty, and I had to meet the folks in the town, and all through the day, I kept saying to myself, “Be like Rolf. Be like Rolf, and shake hands and smile and be pleasant and be outgoing.” And you know, I did that every day for six months, I said, “Be like Rolf.” And one day I woke up and I went to work, and I didn’t say that any longer because what had happened? I was like Rolf, sort of. I don’t know that I ever got to be as good as he was, but I had acted as if, for a while, until I adopted that trait—those social skills that make it possible for you to interview well, to interact well, to make an impression on others. This is the time in your life when you need to develop those skills.
My dear young brothers and sisters, I’ve spoken to you today about confidence and about how it’s founded on a belief that one is acting in a right or proper way. And I’ve told you that adherence to certain correct principles is the key to confidence. And we’ve spoken about at least four of them: the principle of work—how important it is for you to work hard for you to be confident; the principle of integrity—to be true to the principles, that it’s easier for you to have integrity 100 percent of the time than 98 percent of the time; to learn how to focus, to put aside the distractions that are so common in your environment; and to develop social skills, those graces that will make it fun for people to be around you, fun and enjoyable.
Two final quick thoughts: first, did you know that confidence is attractive? And I suspect that is something that you worry about from time to time. Will someone go out with me if I ask them on a date? Will they find me attractive? Will someone ask me out? Am I attractive enough to be asked out? Not all of us can be tall, dark, and handsome like I am, and not all of us can have perfect shape and high cheekbones and lustrous Clairol hair, like most of you young ladies. But each one of you—each one of you—can have confidence. You can have that confidence that’s attractive, that comes from hard work that leads to achievement, that comes from the integrity that you have, and keeping the principles that you know to be true. The ability to focus your energy is attractive, and we’re naturally attracted to those who have good social skills, who are cheerful and genuine. And then we can look beyond the superficial and find the things that really matter, and find much to love about those people who have confidence and therefore are attractive.
Brothers and sisters, as Latter-day Saints, we have been taught many correct principles. I have focused on a few that I think are really important for you at your time and your station. Your actions, your adherence to these principles, can give you confidence, can give you the ability to go forward with a sure step, with a steady stride, and with a love of others that comes from confidence in yourself. I pray that you will experience the great blessing of confidence, and I do it in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.