The True Measure of Success
My wife has done a remarkable job with our children. We have eleven children and she has done a wonderful thing in teaching all of them how to cook and so, as our sons have left home and gone away to college, at least two of the three that have left home of the boys know how to make bread. They would make bread but would be to busy studying so their roommates would take it to the girls and really impress them. They had a lot of girls just hanging out at their apartments. Guys, if you want to learn how to make bread, I'd suggest that that's a pretty good way to meet others.
President Woodhouse in the introduction mentioned our grand-snake. I probably should make a quick comment about that. Our second daughter, fourth child to get married, from the time she was just a little teeny girl always wanted to have a pet snake. Christine, my wife thought it was pretty safe in saying, "Look, we will not have a snake in this house. If you want to have a snake, you'll have to grow up and marry someone who will let you have a snake." It turns out that she met her soul mate, because our son-in-law is majoring in pre-veterinary medicine and wants to specialize in reptiles.
When they talked about having a snake, they actually came to see us before they went to the reptile fair to get one and said, "You know, we've been thinking a lot about it, and we are not sure we are going to be able to have children, so we decided to give you a snake instead." Our three other married children have given us a grandchild. From this couple, at this point, all we have is a snake.
As I gave some consideration of what I would share with you today on this occasion, I started thinking about an experience I had a number of years ago. I was traveling internationally with a good friend and colleague of mine and over the course of a number of days we spent a lot of time together. As we were in an airplane traveling from one place to another he turned to me and said, "What do you think are the keys to being or becoming successful?"
You can appreciate that this question stimulated quite an interesting conversation because success can be measured a number of different ways from a number of different vantage points. For example, what does success mean personally? What does it mean professionally? What does it mean socially? What does it mean intellectually? What does it mean financially? There are a lot of different ways you can consider success.
As we talked about it for a while, we came up with four points that I suggest might be important no matter which direction or course your life may take. First of all, make learning a life-long process. Second, be honest in all that you do. Third, do the very best you can at whatever you do. And fourth, make sure that your life is anchored in the Savior. These four items are interrelated and they're synergistic. You can probably write volumes on any one of those four things. I will just touch on them very briefly today and let you contemplate on how they apply to you individually.
First of all, make learning a life-long process. When I was in college I had an English teacher who told me that our college education is not complete until we have read the entire, unabridged works of Shakespeare. That is not the Cliff Notes version, that's the entire unabridged works. Even though I graduated from college a long time ago, I have continued to learn and to study and a lot of things have fascinated me. But I have to confess that my college education is still not complete at this point because I have not finished reading the entire works of Shakespeare yet. But sometime I will.
I believe that the purpose of a college education is to stimulate your interest in learning, and then help you learn how to learn. Many of the facts that you'll gain while you are here at the business college and in other educational pursuits will either be forgotten or outdated over time.
I would like to use an example, and this will probably be more meaningful for those of you who are studying accounting than anybody else, but at least it's illustrative. When I graduated in accounting over 25 years ago, FASB 13 was still a discussion draft. For those of you in accounting, you might understand what that means. But since then, there are now over a 150 professional accounting pronouncements.
Over the years, much of what I learned in college has either become obsolete or superseded. In the area of taxes, those of you who are studying accounting know that just a couple of weeks ago, President Bush signed new legislation changing the tax law. So what you've learned is already outdated unless you keep learning and growing. I think that if we learn how to learn, the things that we are learning help us keep expanding and growing and learning new things, and thinking about things in new ways. In this organization we teach the principle of eternal progression.
Another fun example is a slide rule. How many of you know what a slide rule is? I can see some grey hairs that know what one is. I guess if I would say how many of you have ever used one, probably the same hands would go up. I was actually going to bring a slide rule as a visual aid today but I have a son who is in graduate school and I think he might have my slide rule with him. I think he's fascinated with old things because he took my slide rule and he's currently studying Greek as well. He has this fascination with things that are out of date.
Back in the olden days, we used a slide rule instead of a calculator. When I first started college I was a chemistry major and I decided when I got to college, instead of using a cheap old plastic slide rule like I used in high school, I would invest in a really nice slide rule. So I went down to the bookstore, got a really nice metal slide rule, used it for a year and then went on a mission. When I came back two years later, slide rules were obsolete. A new technology had come into being and it was called a hand-held calculator. The calculators in those days could just do the basic math functions and cost about $400 a piece.
Over the years technology has changed and become much cheaper. Today you can buy the same kind of calculator with basically the same math functions for fewer than $20 dollars, probably fewer than $10 even.
Technology has changed so much over the years that it's really quite amazing. If you think about just an average automobile, today there is more computing power in a new car than there was in the Apollo 11 space module that landed on the moon in 1969. If you think about it, the guys that figured out how to get the space capsule from the earth to the moon and back again did all of their calculations on good old slide rules.
If you value learning and make it an integral part of your being, you will keep growing. Elder Maxwell stated, "For the disciple of Jesus Christ, academic scholarship is … actually another dimension of consecration. Hence one who seeks to be a disciple-scholar will take both scholarship and discipleship seriously; and likewise, gospel covenants. For the disciple-scholar, the first and second great commandments frame and prioritize life. How else could one worship God with all of one's heart, might, mind and strength?" (Luke 10:27).
The Lord said, "Seek learning even by study and also by faith." (D&C 88:118). I think that means that you cannot successfully get through your finals with faith alone. You do have to prepare by studying. And the more you learn, you will continually marvel at the knowledge and majesty of God and His creations. When you think that we are going to have to create worlds, we have a lot we have to learn. Yet in the process you'll prepare to be of greater service to our Father in His Kingdom. So paraphrasing Dory from the movie, "Finding Nemo," I would suggest you keep on learning.
Second, be honest in all that you do so that those around you will have confidence in you and be able to trust what you say. My wife and I had a very interesting experience recently. We were attending parent-teacher conference and met with one of our daughter's teachers. She has had this teacher each year for the past three years. Through his experience with her, he has come to realize that he can trust whatever she says.
One day at the beginning of the week he announced that the students were going to have a test that week. When they got to mid-week, he'd forgotten which day he had told them it was going to be. He got up at the beginning of the class and said, "Okay, kids we are going to have the test today," and a lot of the students said, "Wait a minute, today's not the day, it's tomorrow." I'm sure none of you would try to postpone taking a test, right? He knew from his experience with our daughter he could turn to her and say, "Is today the day we are suppose to have a test?" Without embarrassing him or isolating herself from some of her friends, she said, "Boy, I hope not." He knew just because of her answer that was not the day, because he knew he could count on her to say yes if it was and to have been prepared if that was the day of the test.
We happen to live in a world where socially acceptable behavior in many circles has engendered a mindset of situational ethics. I'd like to use just a couple of examples if I may. I'm sure that all of you are too busy to know what's happening on Saturday Night Live. A short time ago, there was a pop singer by the name of Ashley Simpson who was asked to perform on Saturday Night Live. She got up and started singing and then on her second song, the band started playing but the words came on for the song she had just finished singing and they discovered that she was lip-synching. She had been hired to perform and yet was doing something that was perhaps a little bit on the edge. She has taken a lot of flack from the press since then.
Let's assume in the future you get a job and you are working for a company and you're getting paid less than you're really worth (because you are of infinite worth nobody can pay you what you are really worth.) But you are getting paid less than you should be and you are filling out an expense report. You turn it in to be reimbursed and you have a couple of receipts, one is a credit card receipt and one is another receipt and you have so much going on that you turn in your expense report and then the next week you come across a bunch of other receipts and say, well I will just attach these two and get reimbursed more than what you actually spent. These are things that happen out there in the world.
Lets assume that you are a contractor and you bid a house, and when you go to buy your materials you think that if you put two by four studs in the wall, nobody is really going to see them and so if you just get the cheapest stuff you can get, nobody will really know and it will help reduce your cost and therefore increase your profit on this job.
Another example: I'm sure that some of you may have heard about Enron a couple of years ago. Let's assume that you are an accountant and that you work for a company and your boss comes to you and says, "We've got to keep the stockholders happy and so our profits have got to go up every quarter. You do whatever it takes to make sure that our profits look better this quarter than they did last quarter." What are you going to do?
Let's assume that you are in nursing and you're caring for a patient who is terminally ill and is suffering and every time you go in to take care of him, the patient says, "Why don't you just help me die so that I don't have to keep going through this," and you know that you have enough knowledge and capability to allow that to happen. What kind of choice do you make?
Another example: I know that probably none of you would do this but it is an interesting phenomenon along the Wasatch Front. Sometimes we talk about temple marriage as something that is socially acceptable and important to do in this culture. So some young people plan to go to the temple but don't prepare to go to the temple and when they go into an interview with their bishop or stake president, they may not necessarily be worthy to enter into the House of the Lord. But they know that if they don't go, their parents or friends or family will think less of them and so they go and answer the questions incorrectly, inappropriately, dishonestly just so they can get a temple recommend.
James pointed out, "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways." (James 1:8). In contrast, Mormon, while abridging the Book of Mormon record, makes an editorial comment about the people of Ammon by stating, "They were distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men, for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things and they were firm in the faith of Christ even unto the end." (Alma 27:27). I encourage you young people to make a personal goal to distinguish yourselves in being honest at all times and in all things and in all places.
Third, do the very best you can wherever you are and opportunities will present themselves to you. Some of you may have heard about Rex Lee, the former president of Brigham Young University. At one point in his career, Rex Lee was the Solicitor General of the United States. The Solicitor General is the second highest legal office in the country, after the Attorney General. The Solicitor General is the attorney who represents the United States, arguing cases before the Supreme Court. When Rex Lee was the Solicitor General, he had argued more cases in front of the Supreme Court than any other person alive at that time.
A reporter from the alumni magazine from BYU went to Washington to interview him and the student asked a very interesting question. He said, "Brother Lee, what kind of career goals have you set in order to get from law school to become the second most powerful attorney in the United States?"
Rex Lee was a masterful teacher, and I think he wanted to take advantage of a teaching moment and so he paused for just a moment, looked the student in the eye and said, "Well basically I have found that setting career goals is a waste of time. I think what really matters is that you do the very best you can in whatever you do. Opportunities will come to you and then you have a choice to make. You choose whether you continue on the same path or whether you take a different path. If you take a different path, then you just do the very best you can at whatever it is you're doing. And if you do, then more opportunities will come your way and when that opportunity comes, then you make another choice."
Rex Lee, after being the Solicitor General of the United States, became a partner with a law firm in Washington D.C. He was then called by the Brethren and asked if he would be the president of Brigham Young University.
Another example I share with you is someone you will get to know a lot more about in the near future-Elder David Bednar. Elder Bednar was the youngest son in a family growing up in the Bay Area in California. He is very athletic. In fact, as the president of BYU-Idaho he would run up and down the bleachers about twelve times every day just to stay in shape. He had a lot of students who tried to challenge him and none of them could keep up with him.
When he was in high school, he was very athletic. He was quarterback on his football team. In preparation to be a good quarterback, his father who was about 60 at the time was his receiver. He would take his dad out to the football field and have his dad run pass patterns so he could practice with him. He also was an excellent golfer. He was rated number ten in northern California as a senior in high school. He had a lot of offers for scholarships in different places but he chose to go to BYU. They didn't offer him a scholarship so he had to walk on as a football player at BYU. That is what he wanted to do. If you look in the record books, you won't find anything on David Bednar as a quarterback at BYU.
As a student he was good, but probably not top of his class. But he just kept working and doing the very best that he could, went to Purdue and got a PhD. He ended up as a professor of business at the University of Arkansas. If there are any of you from Arkansas, I hope I don't say anything offensive. An Arkansas business professor is not in the main stream of being noticed as someone who would be selected to be a college or university president. But Elder Bednar just kept doing the very best that he could in serving his family, serving the Lord, and growing professionally.
One day he got a call from the President of the Church who said, "Brother Bednar, we'd like you to be the president of Ricks College. Ricks College is a two-year junior college, it has always been a two-year college, it will always be a junior college, so don't try to change it." Brother Bednar's expertise was organizational behavior and change by the way. He was instructed very firmly not to try to mess with a good thing that was happening at Ricks College, but when the Lord inspired the Prophet to make a change and make it BYU-Idaho, he was the perfect individual to be in place at that time, to help that happen.
These are just two examples of people that are very visible. However, you don't need to be famous in order to be great. Elder Robert L. Simpson who was a General Authority from my era spoke of the importance of spear carriers. He said that as in a stage play, there are always a few who have leading roles and are always standing in the spotlight. Those who make the scene complete, however, are the rest of us who fill the stage by standing in the background holding the spears. He stated, "Every great Church leader of today was a spear carrier yesterday…. But most importantly, thousands who perhaps at one point spent time in the spotlight have stepped back from the front ranks to pick up a spear."
Elder Maxwell noted, "An important part of discipleship is to become high yield and low maintenance members of the Church." He also stated, "Whether one is a neurosurgeon, a forest ranger, a mechanic, a farmer or a teacher is a matter of preference not principle. Although career choices are clearly important, these do not mark your real career path… you have been invited to take the path that leads home…. But the capacity to work and work wisely will never become obsolete. And neither will the ability to learn."
Most people will change careers, not just jobs, from four to seven times throughout their lives. So what you are thinking you want to do right now might be different than where you are five years from now or ten years from now or twenty years from now. Just remember this: cream always rises to the top. If you put in the effort, your efforts will be rewarded whether it's academically, professionally, spiritually or in your personal relationships.
Fourth and most importantly is anchoring your life in the Savior. President Hunter stated, "If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and His restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and His teachings, no other success could ever be permanently right." If you want to know the mind and will of the Lord, you have to come to understand what they are.
Sterling W. Sill, who was another General Authority, taught that if we want to understand someone else's thoughts, we need to learn to think the way they do. For example, thinking about my son studying Greek, if you want to understand Plato as a Greek philosopher, you have to read the words of Plato, ponder them and let Plato's words flow through your mind. Then you will start to understand the way that Plato thought. Similarly, if you want to understand how Shakespeare thought, you have to read Shakespeare's words and let his words flow through your mind and ponder them and think about them and you will then start to understand how Shakespeare thought.
If we want to understand the thoughts of Christ, we need to read His words and let His thoughts flow through our minds. The Savior is a perfect example of charity. Moroni admonished us to "pray with full energy of heart that we may be filled with this love, that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." (Moroni 7:48). Elder Maxwell again said, "If we don't choose Christ and the kingdom of God first, in the end it doesn't really matter what we choose."
President Woodhouse didn't mention that when I was released as a stake president, they let me be the Primary pianist for a year. That's a great calling. I love being in the Primary and being able to play the piano.
Perhaps in the way of anchoring our lives in the Savior, there is a Primary song that has some very wise and firm counsel that I'd like to share with you. I have a pianist here and I told her to be on call just in case we happen to have time and I felt impressed to do this. I will just sing one verse so that no one is late for class.
"I feel my Savior's love in all the world around me.
His spirit warms my soul through everything I see.
He knows I will follow Him, give all my life to Him.
I feel my Saviors love, the love He freely gives me."
Brothers and sisters, you may have goals and a direction for your life. However, He who sees the end from the beginning may cause you to make some course corrections in order to accomplish His plan for you. Change, if required, is not always comfortable. But if you are firmly anchored in Christ, you will always be on safe ground. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding," (Proverbs 3:5) and "the Lord thy God shall lead thee by hand." (D&C 112:10).
Success, like beauty, is probably in the eye of the beholder. However, "the Lord seeth not as a man seeth, for man looketh on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7). If you continue to learn and make learning a life-long endeavor, if you are honest, if you do the very best you can, if your life is anchored in the Savior and "if you keep His commandments and endure to the end, ye shall have eternal life which is the greatest of all the gifts of God." (D&C 14:7). That is the true measure of success.
May the Lord bless you as you seek His success in your life, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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