Embrace Life Outside Your Comfort Zone
President Richards, thank you for the kind invitation allowing me to come down and speak today. I love to come down here to feel the energy, if for nothing else. But I love LDS Business College.
President Richards mentioned that I work for the Church in the Media Department, and I had a first yesterday. The phone rang and a newspaper reporter asked me what the Church’s position was on Bigfoot. That was a first. I’ve worked for the Church for 14 years, and apparently he has been spotted in Provo Canyon, if anybody is wondering. For the record, we don’t have a position on Bigfoot.
Thank you for being here today. Thank you for being examples of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I stand up here and look at you in awe. I understand that LDS Business students are about 2,200 strong now, that you’re from all 50 states, 60 different countries—that’s really impressive. It reminds me of Joseph Smith’s prophecy back in 1834, when he was meeting in a small log cabin just outside of Kirtland. He had a small group of men where he said, “Brethren, you only see a small group of priesthood here tonight, but the Church is going to fill both North and South America.” Then he said, “It will fill the whole world.” And all of you sitting here today are the beginning of the fulfillment of that prophecy, and it’s nice to be here to see that and be a part of it.
As President Richards said, I’m very grateful to LDS Business College. My wife, my sons, my daughter-in-law all graduated from here. In fact, my daughter-in-law used to manage the bookstore. And I remember walking in here numerous times to come in and pick her up. But I’ve come to love the College through their experiences, and I really feel like you have made a wise decision to be here, to come to school here, and if I had to do it over again, I would choose LDS Business College.
I’m sure you are all aware today that today is Election Day, right? If you didn’t know that, I’d like to know what planet you were living on. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has unleashed a tidal wave of media inquiries into our office. And they’ve come in from all over the world—from Russia, from Germany, Japan Australia, France. And I was even intrigued—Al Jazeera has been here five or six times, and of course, all of the media here in Utah have had the same kind of questions. But believe it or not, when they say, “We want to get to know the Mormons and do a story about the Mormons,” the first thing they ask is, “Can we attend a Family Home Evening?”
We are like, “Absolutely.” So we have a list of families who have been pre-approved that, we call them up and this poor family up in Farmington we have used so many times that it’s almost like, “Welcome to our Family Home Evening. Johnny, will you say the prayer.” And so we’ve done a ton of those. And they’ve toured Temple Square, they’ve interviewed missionaries, they’ve been out to the Bishop’s Storehouse, and, yes, we’ve even brought them down to LDS Business College. You probably didn’t know it, but they have been down here.
I have to tell you that I’m exhausted. So please go vote tonight and let’s get this thing over with, so we can get back to normal.
Today I want to share two messages with you, and if you take anything away from my talk today, I want you to remember these two messages. Message number one is, in His wisdom, His mercy and understanding, the Lord pushes people outside their comfort zones for two reasons. One, to accomplish His purposes; and two, to help us grow and reach our potential.
Let me read that to you again. In His wisdom, in His mercy and understanding, the Lord pushes people outside their comfort zones for two reasons—to accomplish His purposes and to help us grow and reach our potential. Sometimes that push isn’t very fun, and it causes us to wonder why certain things happen to us.
Message number two: Most miracles happen when you are outside your comfort zone.
To illustrate these points, if you will go with me, if you will, back to the year 1769 to Vermont and New Hampshire. And that’s where Joseph Smith Junior’s parents, Joseph Smith Senior and Lucy Mack Smith, met and dated and courted and eventually got married. And they were just a normal couple trying to make their way. And back then it was tough, but they began their marriage under very favorable circumstances. They received part ownership in Joseph’s father’s farm. They called it “a very handsome farm.” And Lucy’s brother Stephen Mack and his business partner gave Lucy a thousand dollars as a wedding present.
Now a thousand dollars now would be a great wedding present, right? Back then, a thousand dollars was a lot of money. And Lucy set it aside for a rainy day. They didn’t spend it. They build their house and furnished it with other means, and full of optimism, these two started forward. And they began working their farm in a very promising year. Wheat prices were up by a third, and the New England economy was bustling. And six years after their marriage, for whatever reason, they decided to leave the farm and open a store. They did that by borrowing money from a bank in Boston. So they put all the items in the store. They sold very quickly, but it wasn’t for cash. It was on the promise that, when the fall harvest came in, that people would come back and pay them. And that apparently was a normal way to do business back then.
Joseph Senior was always an entrepreneur, so in addition to his store, he decided to collect and process ginseng, which is a root that grows wild in Vermont, and it’s—it was at the time, I don’t know if it still is—but it was prized in China as a way to prolong your life. So business was good in the store. Joseph Senior went out to start collecting the ginseng. He went to farmers to collect it, and I’m sure that he went out on his own in the woods. I can only imagine that they had ginseng hunting trips where they went out and brought ginseng in. And when he brought it all back in, they dried it out and then they crystallized it.
He had one wholesaler come in, and he offered him $3,000 for the whole batch of it—again, which was a lot of money back then. But he was confident that he could make at least $4,500 or more if he sold it on consignment. So he took the shipment into New York City where he hired a shipping company and they transported it to China to sell it there. And everything was looking very good. In fact, the ginseng sold almost immediately when they unloaded it. However, when the merchant came back to New York he said that the venture had failed, and only offered him a chestful of tea for reimbursement. And Joseph Senior obviously smelled a rat; his business partner smelled a rat, and they tried to track this guy down. But he took off with the money, and they pursued him all the way up into Canada but couldn’t catch him. So in short, Joseph Senior lost that whole investment.
Meanwhile, back at the store, the loan payment had come due. And all of those people who had promised to pay conveniently forgot their promises. He tried to collect but to no avail. He didn’t have the money to pay it back. So, doing what honorable people do, Joseph Senior and Lucy made the difficult decision to do what was right. They sold their farm for $800 and Lucy added her $1,000 wedding gift to pay the bank back. That one agonizingly correct decision ruined them financially for the next 14 years, as they moved from one rented farm to another. They first moved to Connecticut, then to New Hampshire, back to Vermont, and finally they left the area and went to western New York, where land was cheap.
Now at first glance, you might go, “Wow, they had a really bad run of luck.” Talk about being pushed outside your comfort zone, right? That couldn’t have been very comfortable. Why would the Lord allow that to happen to good people? They worked hard, they tried to do everything that they could. In fact, that’s what I thought when I first read this account, was, “Wow, they had a run of bad luck.” But after I started to think about it, I could see the Lord’s hand in it.
The Smiths needed to live in upstate New York so that Joseph Junior could be led to the plates. Could the Lord have sent an angel to Joseph Senior and Lucy and said, “Pack your bags. You need to move to western New York”? Yes, He could do that. But what I’ve learned in my life is that the Lord doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you will see an immediate miracle; you’ll get an immediate answer to your prayer. But sometimes you hit a brick wall, and you just have to go with it until you see the Lord’s hand in it, even when everything seems like it’s going wrong.
So my question to you today is, the Smiths were led to New York for a purpose; where is the Lord leading you? Or, how is the Lord shaping your life to reach your potential? And do you feel like you are outside your comfort zone?
People often ask me how I became a media spokesman for the Church, and it all happened because of what I call a series of divinely appointed, uncomfortable pushes that literally shoved me outside my comfort zone. And the first series of these pushes came when I was trying to select a major in college. And I’m sure all of you have thought about your major once or twice, right? I had no clue. And my patriarchal blessing told me that through prayer, I would be guided into a vocation where I could do much good and where my studies would help me. It also said that during this process, I would be given blessings that I couldn’t even comprehend.
But when I was in the middle of it, it didn’t seem like Heavenly Father was answering my prayers. Looking back, I can see how He was guiding me. At the time—and this was way back before computers, I’m going to really date myself—when we had to manually register with cards, communications and public relations was just barely being thought about as a major. In fact, it didn’t really even exist at that point, it was combined with journalism and some other things.
Another question I have for you today is, how many of you will work in a career that doesn’t exist yet? When I was going through this, I thought, “Wow, there could be a whole bunch of people that work at something that we don’t even know about.” So as a freshman at Ricks College, I picked psychology as my major because it sounded good and I wanted to help people. All it took was one psychology class and I decided it wasn’t for me. I mean no disrespect for psychology majors; in fact, my wife up here is a psychology major up at the University of Utah right now. I just knew it wasn’t for me.
So after my mission, I transferred to BYU-Provo, where once again I was faced with the challenge of selecting a major. At that point, I think I wanted to go into business, which a lot of you are doing here. So I chose business management. Things were going swimmingly well, and I was taking some business classes, and I applied for a six-month internship through BYU with an insurance company in Atlanta. And if I got this internship, it would pay for my travel and housing and pay me for the work that I did, and needless to say I was excited. I applied, and I was even more excited when I got a letter in the mail—this was before e-mail—telling me I was one of two finalists being considered for the internship. So in my mind, I had already begun my business career. I was deciding what kind of house I was going to have, what kind of car I was going to drive. And they flew a company representative to Provo to interview me, and I can still remember the interview very vividly. The man that came out, he was kind of portly and his suit didn’t quite fit him, and his tie was tied a little bit too short so he had that white shirt between his belt and his tie. And after the introductions, he said, “Why don’t we go to the Student Union and get a cup of coffee.”
And I remember thinking, “Uh oh. He doesn’t know that we don’t drink coffee.” So after a short explanation of the Word of Wisdom, we ended up having orange juice. The interview went great. I was feeling great about it. Again, I was planning my career. I thought everything was in place. He said he would get back to me. I was on Cloud Nine. One week went by and I thought, okay, that’s okay. It takes some time. Two weeks went by. I still hadn’t heard anything.
However, at the start of the third week, I went to my mailbox, and there it was—the letter of my dreams, the letter that would launch my business career. I grabbed it, I tore it open, and it read, “Dear Mr. Trotter, Thank you for your application, but we’ve decided to award the internship to the other guy.” Well, it didn’t quite say it that way, but that’s the way I took it. So needless to say, I was devastated.
I moped around campus for a few weeks when another brilliant idea dawned on me. I would major in economics, because you only needed 96 credit hours to graduate, right? So I could get through fast, get an MBA and get started. So the next semester, I signed up for the first two required economic classes, macro and micro. Right. And get this, each class was taught by identical twins—I mean, they looked the exact same, and they had grey hair, and it was in a large auditorium with about 300 people. So I forced myself to sit on the front row so I wouldn’t miss anything, and here’s how it went.
It was eight o’clock in the morning. I’d sit down, I’d be going, “Must stay awake. Must stay awake.” Then I’d start to drool a little bit and my head would bob up and down, similar to what some of you are doing right here, right now. But those were the toughest two C+s that I ever earned. It was during this time that Michelle and I got married. During that semester, a friend from high school also talked me into taking a computer programming class that was in a language that doesn’t even exist anymore. Remember, this was in 1982, okay? The professor was from Switzerland and he had a really strong accent. I had a hard time understanding him. And I was lost from day one when I went in there.
I remember the first day when I went into the computer lab, the assistant came out and I’m like, “How do you turn on the computer?” And there was just that look on his face, like, “Oh.” I thought if I worked really hard I could pull it off. Well, I ended up getting a big fat “F” in the class and I was put on academic probation. Needless to say I was devastated and I was way outside my comfort zone. I’d always done really well in high school. I’d never—things just hadn’t been a challenge for me. And I kept praying and thinking, “Heavenly Father, I am trying so hard. Why is this not working? Why are all these bad things happening to me?”
I even started questioning at one point whether I was cut out for college, but my wife believed in me, even though I was struggling with that belief. I continued to pray.
Out of the blue, my father-in-law introduced me to a professor who was teaching classes in a new major in the communications department. It was called public relations. And I was hooked from the first day that I went, and I knew that the Lord had directed me there. It just felt right.
Now, could the Lord have told me, “Hey, knucklehead. Head on over to the communications department?” Yes. In fact, He probably did. But because of my pride and lack of listening, I probably missed the answer. But sometimes he has to gently lead us outside of our comfort zone to get us where we need to be. Sometimes we have to wait because the position we want hasn’t been invented yet.
While studying at BYU, I heard some of my classmates say—this is once I was in the communications major—that when they graduated, they wanted to work for the Church’s Public Affairs Department. And I remember thinking, “Oh, I’m never going to do that. That’s not for me.” In fact, the thought of wearing a white shirt to work every day just about killed me. So I want you to see what color of shirt I have on—it’s white. My intent was, I was going to study communications marketing, go out and make lots of money.
So now if you will jump with me 22 years ahead in my life, after my BYU graduation. It was 1998; I was living in South Jordan. I don’t know if we have any people from South Jordan here. I had my own training company. We had an angel investor who was pumping money into it, and I had about ten employees. And despite working lots of long hours, the business started to fail. And I won’t bore you with all the gory details of how that happened, but it felt like my world was collapsing around me again. I remember sitting in my basement being depressed, just wanting to sleep all the time. Obviously I needed a job so I could make the house payment, so I started to network with people. I had gotten to know the managing director of the Public Affairs Department here in Salt Lake, at the Church. So I thought, “Well, I’ll just pop in and see him, see if he knows of any jobs around, not for the Church but just in Utah in general.”
He didn’t know of any, but he said, “We need somebody to go back and run our office in New York City.”
I thought, “Yeah, right. Like that will ever happen.”
He told me to fill out an application and sign up for an interview, and I thought, “Well, I don’t have anything else to do; might as well do that.” So I turned it in. They called me in for an interview, and that was it. I didn’t hear another word. So I just thought, “Well, that was good practice. It will get me back into the interviewing mode.”
That was in January 1999. Moving forward seven months to July of that year, we had been surviving on income from a few of my clients from my former business, and I was serving as the ward Scoutmaster. Anybody who does that should get a gold medal. And we had just returned from a week camp up in the mountains, and I was tired and dirty. I walked in the front door and Michelle told me there was a message on the answering machine from the Church. So I called, and they said they wanted to hire me to run the New York City office, and that they needed an answer in two days.
Again, I just smiled and thought, “There is no way.” We couldn’t do it financially; I didn’t want to uproot the kids out of their school. And after a series of what I call mini-miracles and being guided and pushed, we were on our way to New York City. And I to admit to you, I was totally intimidated and way outside my comfort zone. In fact, I had experiences there that really pushed me, and some of them even scared me.
For example, we first moved to New Jersey, and we went to register our kids for high school. And as we pulled into the parking lot, there were a group of about thirty kids of mixed diversity, out in the parking lot fighting with each other. And the police had just shown up to break it up. And I remember thinking to myself, “Don’t show fear. Kids can smell fear.” And in review, it turned out great, but that first experience was kind of a shock.
And another one that we have that I still laugh about—Michelle will probably get mad for [me] telling this, but the roads back there—I don’t know if anyone grew up back East, but I grew up in the West, and the roads go everywhere out there. And I would ride the train and she would come pick me up. Well, I got to the train station for her to pick me up and she wasn’t there. About an hour later, she pulled in. I can’t remember why we couldn’t get our cell phones to work that day. The car pulled up, the door opened up, she said, “Get in, sit down, and shut up.” She said, “I’ve been lost for an hour, driving in circles, trying to find the train station.” She was outside of her comfort zone.
But one of my favorite stories is—people used to say, “That must be great, working for the Church.” In fact, one of my assignments was, when President Hinckley would come to New York, I was the assigned driver. And he came back, I don’t know, six or seven times. And again, a little intimidated to drive in the traffic back there, so I would drive to the airport and practice driving so that I wouldn’t make a mistake. And again, people would say, “That’s pretty cool, to have that job.” And the whole time I am driving down the road thinking, “Please, Heavenly Father, don’t let me wreck. I don’t want to be the guy that goes down in Church history as the one that killed the prophet.”
But luckily we made it through. There is a purpose to all of these stories, okay? All of these and many other experiences pushed me way outside my comfort zone. One the outside I was calm, cool, and collected, but on the inside my brain was going, “Are you crazy?” There were many times I felt inadequate and afraid, but I continued to move forward and put my faith in the Lord.
My point to you today is that the Lord is patient. He leads you, even when you don’t think you are being led. He loves you, and He wants you to reach your potential. And again, sometimes you will see an immediate miracle when you pray or get an answer to a prayer. But other times you have to wait. Sometimes you just have to go with it, and when you look back, you will see the hand of the Lord.
I was led to the communications major. Where is the Lord leading you? Or how is the Lord shaping you with these experiences, to reach your potential? I’m not recommending that you all run out and change your majors to communications. What I’m saying is that each one of you is unique. You have your own life story, and the Lord has a unique plan for you. Look for His hand, and He will guide you.
In Proverbs 3:12, it says: “For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” In Hebrews 12:6, it says: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” That word “chasten” kind of bugged me; I mean, that sounds pretty intense, and when you look it up in the dictionary it means “to correct by punishment.” But it also means to purify and to prune and to refine and to cause one to be more humble and restrained. And that’s the way I look at it, and the way I have experienced in my life when the Lord is leading you.
As I was preparing this talk, I came upon numerous examples in the Scriptures where the Lord pushed people outside their comfort zones to achieve His purposes. And then I had another epiphany at that point, and that is, most miracles don’t happen until you’re outside your comfort zone, once you have been tested and tried.
Take, for example, Lehi leaving Jerusalem. It says in the Book of Mormon, “And it came to pass that the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness.” (1 Nephi 2:2) Talk about going outside your comfort zone. I mean, really, it would have been very easy for Lehi to stay in Jerusalem and just live his life and be quiet. I mean, there were no 7-11s on the way, and it was a long trip. And because he was willing to put his faith in the Lord and feel that uncomfortable feeling and go outside his comfort zone, he was blessed and ended up discovering a new country and building the church up in that land.
Look at Nephi and the Brass Plates, and Jonah and the whale. Now there’s a guy that wanted to stay in his comfort zone; the Lord wouldn’t let him. The list goes on and on.
One last scriptural example of the Lord pushing people out of their comfort zone. It’s found in Elder Holland’s talk in 2010 titled “The Best Is Yet to Be.” I don’t know if you’ve read that talk, but if you haven’t, get ahold of it, because it’s awesome. Elder Holland starts off with Lot and his family living in Sodom and Gomorrah. So you all know the story, right? The Lord told Lot and his family to flee, because those cities were about to be destroyed. And then He gave them a key piece of advice, and that was, “Look not behind thee.” (Genesis 19:17)
So the Scriptures tell us what happened at daybreak. They were leaving; the Lord rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah from out of heaven. I looked up brimstone because I wasn’t sure what it was; it’s the stuff that comes out of volcanoes—so volcano rocks and fire. And Elder Holland said that “with the Lord’s counsel—‘look not behind thee’—ringing clearly in her ears,” what did Lot’s wife do? She looked back, and she was turned into a pillar of salt.
I’ve often wondered, had I been there with Lot and his wife and his family, what would I have thought or done? I probably would have quoted Tommy Boy, where he said, “I have seen a lot of things in my life, but that was awesome.” I mean really—a pillar of salt, fire coming down?
So just what did Lot’s wife do that was so wrong? Apparently, it wasn’t just that she was looking back; “in her heart she wanted to go back. It would appear that even before she was past the city limits, she was already missing what Sodom and Gomorrah had” to offer her. She wanted to go back into her comfort zone. (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Best Is Yet to Be,” Ensign, Jan. 2010)
Elder Maxwell once said that “such people know [that] they should have their primary residence in Zion, but they still hope to keep a summer cottage in Babylon.” (Neal A. Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light (1990), 47. Quoted in Elder Holland’s article previously cited.)
To recap, in His wisdom and understanding, the Lord is going to push you outside your comfort zone, to accomplish His purposes and to make you stronger. He expects us to do this to build up Zion and sometimes life will be hard, and you will wonder, “Why is this happening?” At times you will think life is unfair and it doesn’t make sense. There will be sickness, unemployment, strife in family relations. School will be stressful. I know how stressful school is. There will be tests to take and papers to write. In the Church, you will be extended a calling that pushes you way outside your comfort zone, or you’ll be released from a calling that you just love. As in all things, you have your agency, and you will be able to choose how you will react.
Lehi could have stayed in Jerusalem, but he accepted the challenge and look what happened. I pray that when you go home today, that you’ll look for the ways that the Lord has accomplished His purposes by pushing you outside your comfort zone. I pray that when change happens in your life, especially if it’s difficult change, that you’ll search for the Lord’s hand in it and find ways to let it make you stronger.
In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with my testimony. In 4 Nephi 1:36, it says, “There arose a people who were called…Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ.” Brothers and sisters, I’m a true believer. I believe in Jesus Christ and in His power, and in the power of the Atonement, and I have personally felt His influence in my life. I know that God hears and answers our prayers and that He guides us even when we don’t think that He is guiding us. I believe in miracles. I’ve seen them in my own life; I’ve seen them in other people’s lives. I believe in spiritual gifts. I’ve experienced some of those and I’ve seen them in other people’s lives. And I believe in the overall goodness of people, and that we’re here as brothers and sisters, especially us in this room. We are here as brothers and sisters to build up the gospel and to prepare the way for our Savior when He returns. I believe that God is in charge, despite all the negativity that is being heaped upon us in the media and at different times. And I know that, as we stay faithful and as we listen to the Lord as He guides us, that the Church will come out strong and we will come out stronger. And I leave these things with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.