Set Worthy Goals
Good morning. It's wonderful to see you all. In Hawaii, we have a little tradition, and that is, when you start, you start by saying "Aloha." [Audience says "Aloha"] You are terrific.
I have looked forward to this very much. As President Richards mentioned, we have the opportunity to meet regularly at our board meetings and executive committee meetings here, and I've been fascinated to learn more about LDS Business College. What President Richards probably doesn't know is that one of our daughters attended here. Our second daughter, after graduating from BYU–Provo with a degree in economics, married a young man who was going to become a doctor, and she decided that she needed to have a backup way of earning some money for the family, so she came and got a certificate in medical transcription. I asked her what her thoughts were about that this morning. She mentioned two things that I thought might be helpful to just share with you. One, she said, that it was a great degree for her because, while she didn't do it for an extended period of time, it filled a gap that their family budget definitely needed to have filled. But then she said, even more importantly, the lasting impact was that she can now discuss with her husband, who is a practicing physician in Utah County, all of his medical practice issues and concerns, and the cases and everything else. So she is grateful for the education, as short as it was for her, that she received here. So I certainly would encourage all of you to think about such future opportunities in your own life.
I want to talk about a subject today that for most people is very much on their minds as they think about their studies and what they want to learn. That is the topic of setting worthy goals. When you get a little older, one of the things you'll discover is that there's an additional motivation for setting worthy goals. When you're younger, it's so that you know where you are going. It's so that you will feel you're making progress and accomplishing something. But as you get older, one of the things you'll discover is that while you think you're busy now, you're not. You will be much busier later on. And one of the primary reasons you will set goals later on is not only to make sure you are on the track you want to be on, and headed for the end goals that you would like to achieve, but also so that you will be able to find the right balance in your life.
This has been a challenge in our own lives, and I thought it might be best for you to hear one of the ways that my wife and I have dealt with that part of setting worthy goals. So I have asked Margaret to just share one of the things that we did, and then I will tie that into my remarks about worthy goals.
Sister Margaret Wheelwright:
It's nice to be with you this morning. Honestly, it makes me really remember my youth, growing up in Salt Lake and being cold in the winter. And it makes me appreciate Hawaii even more.
From the early years of our marriage, my husband's involvement in his work, and in the community, and in the Church, has placed large demands on his time and his energy. Our children and I soon learned that we often had to postpone our dinner hour a little bit because he wasn't home on time; we muddled through many math assignments and even science projects because he was out doing something in the community, whether it was a Pack meeting or a Court of Honor or something else. And eventually we even grew accustomed to not sitting with him during sacrament meeting, because he would either be on the stand or in one of the other buildings in our stake. But all of these sacrifices paled in comparison to his business travel that took him away from us.
From the beginning, his profession required frequent travel related to case writing, research, consulting, teaching, and speaking assignments. And at some periods of our married life, it was two and three days a week. He was a frequent flyer before most airlines had the mile program.
With these responsibilities, and especially his travel schedule, came hard decisions about how he was going to fulfill his goal of being a loving, committed, and involved husband and father. After much consideration, he decided that one way he could spend more meaningful time with each of our five children was to take them separately on a business trip with him each year. And so at the beginning of each school year, we would have a special family home evening, and he would lay out his travel plans for the year. And then each of the children would choose which trip they would like to go on with him—one of their memorable one-on-one adventures.
Let me just give you a couple of examples. One year our six-year-old son, Matt, went with his dad to Chicago. We had good friends there who could care for him in the morning when his dad was teaching in a program, and, then, in the afternoon, he and his dad were able to go to the fantastic Transportation Museum and some other exciting places in Chicago.
One of our daughters, Mindy, remembers joining her dad on a visit to Corning, New York, where they went on a fascinating tour of a glass plant. She still recalls the glass animals she saw being made there. On an extra special occasion, two of our teenage children agreed to share their travel with their dad, and they went to Hong Kong and to Tokyo with their dad. While he was busy teaching, they entertained each other in the hotel, but then the rest of the trip, they had a great time exploring the Orient and making some incredible memories together.
One of the best parts about this special family tradition, though, is that honestly they didn't care where they went with their dad. What was important was that they got to travel on an airplane with him, alone. They got to go to special restaurants together with each other, just alone. They got to explore big cities and small towns and even bustling factories together. Without exception, these annual trips were anxiously awaited and greatly cherished.
In the final years of his professional work, he had a little bit more freedom to pick and choose from his professional travel opportunities. It seems a little unfair that this luxury came just as our children began leaving home and starting families of their own. They were growing up too fast, and he felt more and more torn between accepting exciting assignments all over the world and being home with this shrinking family. And so one evening he came home and he told me about a note that he had taped to his telephone in his office. This is what it said: "Would I rather do this than spend time with my family?"
From that day forward, he turned down about 90 percent of those intriguing requests that would have taken him away from our family. Of course, the kids made sure that he kept enough business trips that they each got to go on one of them each year. Now that we're empty nesters, he always asks me to travel with him, and I know that I'm invited wherever and whenever he goes. Just as he convinced our children over all those years on their annual business trips, he has convinced me that there is no one in the world that he would rather travel with than me.
Please know that I didn't write that for her. Margaret is a great wife and eternal companion. I recommend this highly to all of you. This works.
As she introduced, I would like to talk about this topic of setting and pursuing worthy goals. This topic was brought into sharp focus for me some months ago when one of our former missionaries from the England London Mission wrote me a letter. This was a young man we had gotten to know well when I was his mission president, and he asked me two very specific questions. He said, "How did you come to know exactly what route to pursue in life?" Now, he's assuming I knew which route I was going to pursue in life. And the second question was, “What goals did you have for your career as you started it?”
I have thought a lot about those two questions, and I also thought about this young man before I responded with a fairly lengthy letter back to him. This was a young man who had been a great missionary. He had followed the counsel in Preach My Gospel about setting daily, weekly, and monthly goals as a missionary. He had learned how to do that and had done it well. Now, as he was nearing the end of his undergraduate studies—and he knew he was majoring in business and he was close to getting his degree—he and his wife were concerned with all of the options that were open; where should they turn next? That is, what path should they put their foot on as graduation happened and as they started that new life where they were earning money as opposed to spending money. And he and his wife had decided, after much fasting and prayer, that they would begin asking some trusted friends for advice. Thus, I got a letter from him asking how I had addressed those things.
Clearly, setting effective goals can have a great impact on your peace of mind, your confidence, and perhaps most importantly, on where you end up. So I wanted to talk today a little about that, and I wanted to do it by talking about what I consider three very central aspects of setting goals. The first one is understanding the blessings that come from worthy goals. I want to talk a little bit about some of those blessings, as outlined in the scriptures, and as talked about by our prophets.
The second has to do with the types of goals that you might consider setting. I want to talk about three types of goals.
And then, the third: What are the challenges in setting, and following and achieving, each of those types of goals? And I want to talk about that just briefly.
I'd like to start with the blessings that come from setting worthy goals. As Moses learned from the Lord Himself, the Savior and our Father in Heaven have a very specific goal for each of us, and that goal is our immortality and eternal life (See Moses 1:39). We also know that the Savior, as He related to his apostles, has a very specific goal in mind with regards to this life: life eternal is to "know ...the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent" (John 17:3).
So these are very specific goals, and they have great blessings attached. But even with those grand goals, the scriptures also make it clear, as Joseph Smith learned in the 58th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, that we need to be "anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will" and choice (27). That is, we need to decide what is the intermediate path that will lead us to the very long-term worthy goals. And the Lord expects us to make choices. That's why He has given us our agency. But obviously, some of those choices we make about our goals will inevitably impact our ability to reach the long-term goals that a loving Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, have for each of us.
I think that's where most of us start to get a little nervous: How are we going to set those intermediate goals? How are we actually going to decide what's between here and the end of our life, and will that get us to where we'll feel good about this life and be prepared for the eternities with the things a loving Father in Heaven would have us learn?
As I thought about this, it occurred to me that we also ought to be mindful of some of the very sound advice in the Sermon on the Mount. Most of you probably know that the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. But it's interesting: you probably have not thought about what is the message or the theme in each of these chapters. Let me suggest that when you think about goals that you think about Matthew chapter 6, because the Lord gives some very specific advice that, at least for me personally, has been invaluable as I have thought about my own goals.
Let me just refer to three of the passages in Matthew 6. In verse 19, He says, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal." This seems to be direct advice about choosing where our treasures will be, and what will happen if we focus on the wrong treasures. Goals can have great influence on “our treasures.”
The second passage is in verse 24: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." That’s the competition I think we all feel between temporal things we need to address and our longer-term spiritual development and spiritual goals.
And finally, the message in verse 33, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Certainly this is good advice in terms of priorities and how we set those priorities.
I'd like to mention one other scripture that has long been one of my favorites and that I think is directly related to how you think about your goals. That scripture is in Proverbs 3:5-6, where it says, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." If we try to set goals that are too specific, we may in fact be closing off the options that the Lord would have for us because we'll be leaning to our own understanding. I'll come back to that, because I think that's one of the major challenges that people have in setting goals—being so specific that they limit what the Lord can teach them and where He can direct them.
As I've thought about goal setting, it has struck me that if you look at the Young Women's program and the Personal Progress award, and if you look at the Duty to God award—that these can be viewed as practice sessions for setting worthy goals. If you read those carefully, you'll see that they are about setting and achieving worthy goals. So our modern-day prophets are also very concerned with how we set goals, and what those goals address.
Given that background, I'd like to turn to one of my favorite Old Testament prophets, where we get a very clear picture of what goals he had. This is Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt. The last 14 chapters of Genesis are Joseph's story. Now, I'm sure we all know the essential elements of his story. He is one of 12 brothers; his brothers are jealous. They throw him into a pit, and, eventually, instead of killing him, sell him as a slave and he gets sold again in Egypt as a slave. He ends up in Potiphar’s household—Potiphar, who is head of the captain of the guard for Pharaoh.
He spends several years there, then he gets accused by Potiphar's wife of immorality, which he was not guilty of, and gets thrown in jail. And then he becomes the overseer of the jail. He had already been the overseer of Potiphar’s household. And then eventually, many years later, he interprets a dream for the butler and the baker, and then at that point, he mentions a temporal goal that is very specific. He asks the butler: "Will you remember me when you leave here and are back in Pharaoh's court, to tell him there's this innocent guy down here in prison?"
The butler forgets and Joseph spends two more years in jail. It's not until Pharaoh has his dream that Joseph gets recognized, and then we know he becomes overseer of Egypt. This is a very interesting story in lots of different dimensions, but I'd like to look at it from the point of view of Joseph's goals. Right from the very beginning, in Genesis 37, the first time we get introduced to Joseph, it's very clear in that very first chapter that he knows who he is. He knows that he is the son of a patriarch, and that he is the son of a loving Heavenly Father, and he talks about that. His identity, which is one type of goal, is that of being a worthy son, of being a faithful son, a righteous son. And that continues, and you see that when he is in Potiphar’s household, you see it when he is in the jail, and you see it when he is overseer of all Egypt. His first goal is to be a worthy son of a loving father—an earthly father, and a loving Father in Heaven.
His second goal has to do with how he will conduct himself, how he will treat other people, how he will deal with other people, what will characterize the way he behaves in terms of his work, his service and all he does. There are several words that come to mind when you read those chapters that describe the way he does his work—the key word is integrity. He is honest. He is always honest, whether it's telling the baker that "I have bad news about your dream" or whether it's telling Potiphar's wife, "No, I will not compromise my standards," or whether it's in dealing with all of Egypt when he is overseer of all that is Pharaoh's in terms of the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine. In everything Joseph is scrupulously honest, hard-working, industrious, and trustworthy. The reason he becomes the overseer of Potiphar's house, of the jail, and eventually of all of Egypt, is because he has integrity.
So that's a second type of goal. And I would describe that type of goal as what characterizes your behavior and the way you do things. And in Joseph's case, it's integrity.
So here are two types of goals that we see clearly in Joseph's life. The first one is this goal of who he is and how he identifies himself. For Joseph, he is still first and foremost a righteous son of a loving earthly father and a Father in Heaven. And, then, the second is, how he would characterize his work, his service, and everything he does—and, for Joseph, it is integrity.
Now, we don't know if he actually had temporal goals other than the one of getting out of prison, which he shared with the butler. But isn't it remarkable what temporal success he had by having the first two goals? His temporal success was a direct result of having set and then adhered to that goal of identity, of who he was, and that goal of integrity, of doing everything in a certain way and to a certain set of standards. Those two things are what caused him to be so successful temporally and allowed him to save the generations of Israel.
This highlights what is important in these first two types of goals. You might find it interesting to reread 1 Nephi 1:1, where Nephi identifies himself and his personal identity. He says, "Having been born of goodly parents ...having been taught." And he then describes how he thinks of his identity. Mormon does similarly when he's abridging the Book of Mormon. He identifies himself as a disciple of Christ. That's a statement about identity and about who he is. So one of the things you ought to think about as you think about setting worthy goals is, how do you identify yourself? How do you think of yourself? And would others think of you the same way?
Let me just share one little story that happened to me when we announced that we were going to London. We didn't know at the time which mission we would preside over. So you can imagine how it might sound to a group of Harvard Business School colleagues when I said, "We're going to be resigning,"—because I didn't have enough years of credit to retire. So I said, "We're resigning." And you could only be gone from Harvard for 18 months. So I said, "We’re resigning to take a three year assignment without pay, but we don’t know where they will send us.
That's about as different from how most people at Harvard think of themselves as you can imagine. And it was very interesting. I sent an e-mail out to my colleagues that I would be leaving, because I wanted them to know before they heard rumors. About three days later, one of them who had been out of town and hadn't checked his e-mails, calls me up. And the conversation goes as follows:
He said, "Is it true?"
And I said, "If you're talking about our leaving, yes, that's true."
And he said, "That's crazy." Then he said, "That's the craziest thing I've ever heard. I know lots of Mormons. They're always conservative and rational, but this is crazy."
His name was Joe, so I said, "Joe, why do you think that?"
He said, "It's not important why I think it, but I know it's crazy." He then said, "We need to get together, and I need to talk to you."
I'm sure he thought he was going to come and convince me that I had made a big mistake. I said, "How about lunch?" We had lunch, and then we had the most fascinating discussion, and he described his life. He laid out how everything he had ever done was aimed at getting tenure at Harvard, becoming an endowed professor, and the job he most wanted was the job I had, which he didn't have.
Finally he said, "That's why it's crazy."
I said, "Joe, you know a little bit about the Church. Let me lay out my life—mission, worthy father, married in the temple." I went right down the list, and I said, "I can think of nothing better than being a mission president, if I think about the trajectory of my life. It’s part of my identity; who I am."
It was very interesting, because his identity was tied up in the university and in his title, in his power, in his pay, and in all those temporal things. Joe is a wonderful guy. He's a Christian and is active in his church. But that's not his identity. His identity is over with the institution and his career. And I said, "I love this institution. We've been very blessed. But I think of my identity as eternal. I think of it as all these other things."
Well, that obviously has made a huge difference in my life over the years, but that's why identity is so important. How do you introduce yourself? How do you describe yourself? When you're talking to your best friend, what is your identity?
The second area of goals is then about setting standards. When I was getting out of undergraduate school, I didn't have any idea what I wanted to do. That was in the 60s. The economy had been going up for almost a decade, and it continued to go up for a while longer. Everybody got a job. You could get as many job offers as you wanted. I only interviewed with two companies. Both gave me job offers but I still didn't know what I wanted to do. So I did what our former missionary did; I turned to a trusted adviser.
In this case it was my mom who loved to read.
She said, "I've been reading about a degree. It's called an MBA." I was a math major. She said, "It's what you ought to do."
I said, "Me? You're crazy." And we talked about it, and then Margaret and I talked about it. We were married at the time, and we talked about it.
I'd always wanted to go to Stanford. In fact, my mom was very specific. She said, "You need to get an MBA from the Stanford Business School."
I said, "Let me think about it. We'll pray about it." And, eventually, that is what we decided we should do. We applied; we were blessed to get in. And then after a year, we decided that we liked it so much that we ought to get a PhD while we were there, so I switched programs, still finishing the MBA a couple of years later but also getting a PhD. Very unusual. But for me, I never lost sight of the identity, and my PhD taught me a set of standards—if you do your best, if you work hard, if you're honest, the same things that Joseph had learned, for me that made all the difference.
The third type of goal is temporal. This is what I think my former missionary was asking me about. And I think it's fine to have some temporal goals. For example, I did want a job that would pay enough that I could support my family. And I wanted to feel good about my job—that I loved it, that it would be rewarding, fascinating, and a good learning experience. And all of that fit very naturally. But what I didn't have was a goal about where I would have a job, which university, what rank, what title, or anything else. That doesn't make me any different than anybody else, but everybody has to decide which temporal goals.
I want to just close by summarizing my thoughts about these three types of goals and how you might best think about them. The first point is, I really think, that there isn't a lot of choice if you're going to be faithful to what the Lord would have you do and what your identity should be. Your identity needs to be as a beloved son or daughter of God. That needs to be fundamental. And you need to have righteous obedience to that loving Father in Heaven right up there at the top of your identity goals, because the Lord has told us himself that that is where the greatest blessings will come.
Second is you need to set standards for your efforts and endeavors that are consistent with the integrity exemplified by the life of the Savior. The Savior showed us what it means to have integrity. We need to model our lives after His. Obviously that's a constant struggle, but we need to model our lives after that set of standards, the standards He set for how you treat people, how you act, what you do, the excellence of what you do and the blessings that it brings to others.
And then, third, regarding temporal goals, you need to decide to always seek the Lord's counsel. Don't decide or select temporal goals without His counsel. If you will seek His counsel, He will lead you down a path that will give you far more opportunity than you ever would imagine for yourself. I know that's been true in our life. We had never imagined the great blessings that would be ours, but those things happened because of the first two goals and always asking the Lord to help us to make temporal choices about where we live, the job, and so forth.
I leave my testimony with you that if you will do those three things, goal-setting will not only become manageable, but it will become rewarding and fulfilling, and it will be everything the Lord has promised it can be. And I leave that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.