The Value of Struggle

I want to talk to the rising generation. We live in a constantly changing world; one that can be difficult to keep up with. With change comes struggle and adaptation. This can be painful for those already set in their ways, but those who embrace change know how much better life can be when you become familiar with and take advantage of what is available.

A basic definition of struggle is to strive to achieve or attain something in the face of difficulty or resistance. We all struggle with something.

Struggle helps inspire change

I recently heard a story about a young man who was living away from home and working in sales. After doing this for a while, he began to feel unfulfilled and wasn’t sure that this was the right career path he should take. One hot summer day it all came crashing down. There had to be some way to release all of these negative feelings. He got in his older model car, which happened to have a superb heater in it, cranked it up and started driving home. He immediately started sweating profusely and his suit was drenched in no time. The negative feelings started to leave. He got home, cut his suit up into pieces and flushed them down the toilet. The next day, he applied for a job at a local radio station and was immediately turned away. Day after day for about a month, he kept coming back and asking about a job there. Finally, they offered him an entry level position. Shortly thereafter, the host of one of the shows was fired and the young man was immediately promoted. Several years later, he is now successfully hosting his own show with literally millions of listeners each day.

Think for a minute about how the young man in the story must feel today. Do you think he takes for granted where he is, considering where he’s been? Of course not. Real appreciation comes out of the struggle. He earned his way to the top. Sure, he had help along the way, but his success was not just handed to him.

I don’t know the heart of the young man or if he realizes the plan God has for him. It is my personal belief that God has a plan for all of us; generally and individually. He truly cares about our happiness and has allowed us to experience mortal life in order to learn through our struggles.

Part of the Plan

In the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the Prophet Lehi speaks about the necessity of learning by experience while speaking to his son Jacob:
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.” (2 Nephi 2:11)

I believe an important part of God’s great plan of happiness for us all is dealing with personal weakness and imperfections. I can honestly say at this point in my life that I am grateful for these things. I wouldn’t be where I am today without learning from my mistakes.

The Lord spoke to the Prophet Moroni in the Book of Mormon about this:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)

Lehi’s son Nephi taught:
“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” (2 Nephi 28:30)

I still struggle and I’m still young, so I know there’s a lot left to learn. However, I find comfort in knowing that as I try to follow God’s plan for me and allow him to shape me through my experiences, I will grow. I will appreciate more. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know!

How has struggle and opposition helped you to draw closer to God?

Wanting to “Be Right” or Trying to “Get it Right”?

Recently, while listening to a sports podcast, the host said something very profound. Before I share, let it be known that this particular sports podcast usually teaches me more about life than sports. I think that’s why I like it so much. Here’s what he said (paraphrasing):

“I get two types of callers on my show. Those who want to be right and those who are trying to get it right.”

In other words, the first type of caller who “wants to be right” is not calling to get the host’s opinion and is certainly not open to changing his or her mind. This caller has made their decision and is doing everything they can to find evidence supporting their viewpoint. If their opinion is contrary to that of the host and they are not willing to “get it right,” they are usually shut down pretty quickly, which I might add can be very entertaining. The second type of caller is “trying to get it right.” Either they have an opinion and are open to being corrected or they are calling to ask a question and get the host’s opinion.

Conflict is usually entertaining to most people, but that’s kind of where it stays–pure entertainment. Think of the media we all consume. There is almost always a conflict in the story. There’s nothing wrong with wholesome entertainment and it serves a purpose, but what about “trying to get it right?” What type of caller do you think you are? How do you approach conflict and life?

I think for a long time I was the first type of caller. I was not usually interested in others’ opinions or how they handled situations if it was different than how I did things. As I get older, I realize how valuable the feelings and opinions of others can be. It’s amazing how people can respond so differently to a similar situation. As I’ve tried to become that second type of caller, I have been blessed to learn how to better handle conflict in my own life.

The internet is usually the first place people go to find answers to their questions. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad information on the internet. There is of course, good information on the internet too, but there is no truth filter to point the user in the right direction. I think people are often led in the wrong direction because they believe something they researched on the internet without considering the other side of things first.

Take for example, the presidential election. The debates, news reports and social media frenzy leading up to the election are filled with people on either side “wanting to be right.” They couldn’t care less about the opinions of those opposed to their views. The ironic thing is nobody on either end is being persuaded. It’s the people in the middle who are undecided that are the most important voters. Unfortunately, the fury with which each side argues makes them blind to see who the best candidates really are. That is something I recently learned from listening to my sports podcast. Go figure.

So how does this relate to you? The presidential election is definitely important, but are you reaching your own potential by trying to get things right in your life or are you stuck in the same gear by always wanting to be right? If you are the first type of caller, how do you make the switch so that you are trying to get things right and no longer care about building your own ego? It’s not easy but it’s necessary for personal growth. I recently shared a message with a couple of families I know about how our actions affect others. In the spirit of reaching our potential, I feel it’s important to realize the positive effect we can have on the lives of others as we are humble and learn and grow.

Since we all face conflict on almost a daily basis until the day we die, it’s either going to make us weak or build us up. How can we use conflict to our advantage? Although the word itself sounds negative, it’s actually the only way we experience growth if handled correctly.

Good and Bad
I know I use basketball examples a lot, but this one will fit well here. In an article I posted here last summer, I talked about a professional basketball player who is the recipient of a lot of opposition from fans–more so than any other player I know–and for no good reason, in my opinion. The only real reason I can figure is due to his rare talent and people wanting to see him fail. There have been others who can relate to him but not on the same level, especially with the integration of social media in sports. More than ever before, anybody in the public eye is easily scrutinized by the millions of people watching and commenting on their every move. There is however, a common thread in how each of them reacted. Rather than trying to prove to the world that what they were doing at the time was the best and could only get better, they worked on different aspects of their game. When criticized about their less than perfect defensive abilities or their lower than average assists compared to other players, they recognized their weaknesses and worked on making them strengths. Not only did this quiet the critics, it improved the players game overall and made them that much better! On the other hand, I have seen the exact opposite happen when a player is criticized but refuses to acknowledge their weakness. I have seen this in the past as well as the present day. Not only does it stunt their growth as a player and as a person, but it’s disappointing to those who recognize their potential, only to continue to watch them try to “be right” over and over again. The silver lining here is that we can learn from both the good and the bad examples.

Get it Right
Who are the good examples in your life of “trying to get it right”? Have you seen the negative effects of those who are just trying to “be right”? Who can you learn from if you would just have an open mind and be willing to change? How could trying to get things right improve your life as an employee, a spouse, a parent, etc? Who could you possibly inspire by being humble and teachable? I invite you to ponder these questions and find ways to improve your life and the lives of others. As you do this, there will no doubt be failures along the way but know that in the long run, you will get it right!

The Need for Human Connection

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quantity and quality of my use of technology. I’m asking myself how much time I’m spending online; what it’s doing for me and how it’s helping me serve others. I invite all who read this to ask themselves the same questions.

Consider for a second, the following: Timothy D. Wilson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, led a team that explored our capacity for solitude. People were asked to sit in a chair and think, without a device or a book. They were told that they would have from six to 15 minutes alone and that the only rules were that they had to stay seated and not fall asleep. In one experiment, many student subjects opted to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit alone with their thoughts.

A little about myself
I was born in 1982. I grew up in the 80’s, but the 90’s probably influenced me the most. High school years usually have the most impact on a person and is the era you can claim. The 90’s was an interesting decade. Prior decades all have their unique and specific fashion, music, movies, etc. The 90’s was the beginning of a lot of change. Rapid change. Technology has absolutely exploded since the 90’s. Things are constantly changing, unlike any other era in the past.

A history lesson
A common question I hear is, “How did we survive without cell phones or computers?”. Well, how did we? Sure, everything moved a little bit slower back then and often required more patience to wait for a response without email and text messaging. For those who were born after landlines became ancient history, if you wanted to get a hold of somebody or give them a message you had a few options. Call them and hope they are home, if not, leave a voice message and wait for them to return your call, not knowing if they are home or when they will return. Then, once they get back to you, you may or may not be home, further delaying the connection. You could always go to their house or send them a letter via snail mail. Sounds fantastic, right?

Both sides of the coin
I don’t think society was fully prepared for the changes that took place during and after the 90’s. Although it was an incredible time to be young, we had no idea how much we would miss the power and necessity of face to face communication and connection. Honestly, I can’t blame anybody for not seeing that coming. No doubt, these advances in technology are in and of themselves a good thing. I don’t think anybody could argue with that. There is so much good that can be done using technology and the world relies on it heavily in so many ways. There’s nothing wrong with this. On the flip side, technology also provides a way to escape reality. Yes, we all need a break every once in awhile, but escaping isn’t the answer. As human beings, we will always have personal imperfections to deal with. Things don’t always work out as we plan and we are susceptible to injury, illness and death. These things are natural! We are given two options when faced with adversity – become bitter and angry, or try to deal with the problem the best we know how. If we choose the first option, the problem won’t just disappear. While the second option is easier said than done, it will ultimately bring peace, despite the fact that it will require a lot of work.

By nature, I am typically not one to strike up a conversation with a stranger. I usually keep to myself as long as I don’t need help from anybody else. I am very comfortable being alone and disconnected from the rest of the world. However, having been married for almost 12 years now and with 3 kids, most of my adult life has not been quiet! I don’t really have the opportunity to be on my own for very long. Before I go on any further here, I want to make it known that I am incredibly blessed. My wife and children are the reason I am the person I am today and I can’t imagine life without them. Okay, well I guess I can imagine it, but the price I would be paying for dealing with the challenges of life on my own might be too much for me to handle. They have literally saved my life, especially my wife. I feel very fortunate to have known her in high school and then to later be married and start a family. I didn’t have to experience the challenges young single adults face in today’s world. I didn’t have to wonder who I would spend the rest of my life with, or if I would even be able to find that person.

As an adult, I have experienced depression and anxiety. When I look back on my youth, I’m sure I had those feelings growing up but I definitely didn’t recognize them for what they were, nor did I know how to deal with them in a healthy way. I’m grateful that I surrounded myself with friends who uplifted and supported me. There’s no doubt that they helped carry me through those difficult times. Now that I have a family of my own, it is they who are my support. My wife loves me despite my many imperfections and my children love me because I try to be a good father. I have also been blessed by those outside of my family who have helped me to find positive outlets and have given me opportunities to connect with those who understand how I feel.

Dealing with adversity
We all deal with adversity, nobody is exempt. No matter where you live or how much money you have, there will be challenges. Sometimes these challenges come from our own choices we make and sometimes they are the result of somebody else’s choices, whether they intended to drag us into it or not. We can’t control the choices other people make, but we can certainly control our own choices.

How do you deal with your challenges? How often do you turn to something other than a friend or loved one for relief? I’ve admittedly been guilty of this many times. The alternatives are endless and the options ever growing. Whatever your problem is, there’s an app for it! Think about it. More than ever before, connecting with another person face to face has almost become obsolete. Most communication is done over social media, text or email. Most of our “friends” are online. While this is an incredible convenience, if we don’t take the time to talk in person, openly and honestly to somebody who cares about us, we are missing out! Although technology is powerful, it is nothing compared to the power of real person to person conversation.

From the hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth:

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild,

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

Never forget
As life becomes more automated and distractions become more readily available, don’t lose sight of what’s most important. When the Savior Jesus Christ walked the earth, he spent his time with other people. He listened to, served and taught them. His last and final sacrifice was for us all. His perfect example of love shows us all the way to live.

I don’t believe we are supposed to shun technology or entertainment, but use it when it is needed and when you disconnect from electronics, or whatever is distracting you, take the time to connect with a human being. Spouses, parents and children, siblings, coworkers, even strangers need to see and hear our true selves. You never know what somebody else is going through. You could be just the thing they need to get through a difficult time. God often answers our prayers through another person. Be that person that somebody is praying for. Look for opportunities to serve and uplift. You will find those opportunities if you look for them and it will do so much more for you than you can imagine.

The Power of Music

Perhaps one of the most powerful expressions of the gospel of Jesus Christ is found in Handel’s Messiah. Written in the 18th century, this musical masterpiece continues to touch hearts each year during the Christmas season. Much of its lyrics are taken from the book of Isaiah; probably the least understood book in the scriptures. Music is POWERFUL.

Early impressions
In 1945, David O. McKay said, “Music is truly the universal language, and when it is excellently expressed how deeply it moves our souls.” Music has always been a part of my life. I remember listening to music at home with my family and by myself in my bedroom. Good music made me happy and it still does. Growing up, I associated with friends who appreciated good music. We formed a garage band and wrote dozens of original songs. We carefully wrote the lyrics to each of these songs because it was important to us to share our feelings and beliefs. I wish I still had the email my childhood friend and I received from one of the bands we listened to regularly in high school. Their music was motivational and clean and they didn’t use explicit lyrics like some other groups did. It was always incredibly frustrating to discover an up and coming artist, only to find that some of their songs included strong language. Back in the days before digital music, we would have to either skip the explicit songs or just not listen to the album altogether. We sent an email asking why this band didn’t use language in any of their music. They replied and simply told us that swearing doesn’t make the music better. It’s unnecessary and this confirmed our belief that clean lyrics can be powerful. Sometimes I feel like artists use strong language only to boost album sales. Just because it’s popular, doesn’t always make it right.

Boyd K. Packer said in 1976: “We are able to feel and learn very quickly through music, through art, through poetry some spiritual things that we would otherwise learn very slowly.” A few months prior to beginning a proselyting mission in Oakland, CA, I remember listening to a lot of uplifting music. Most of my friends had already left on their two year, volunteer missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and good music became my constant companion. Just like it’s impossible to be fully prepared for marriage or raising children, the same is true for a mission. I felt like I had done everything in my power to prepare, but there is always room for improvement. We can always be better prepared – there is always something more we could have done, but as imperfect beings, we can never be perfectly prepared. All we can do is our very best, having faith in God that He will make up the deficit. The music I listened to had such a powerful effect on me. I had listened to music all of my life up to that point, but never had it affected me so deeply. I specifically remember singing along in the car by myself and just crying. It felt so good! I knew that what I was doing was right and I looked forward to what was in store. I knew there wasn’t anything I couldn’t accomplish without God’s help. These experiences blessed my life and helped build the foundation for not only my mission, but for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, there is in today’s world, an endless amount of profane and pornographic music available at our fingertips. Modern lyrics preach an “eat, drink and be merry” lifestyle but never mention the consequences. Instead of talking about becoming something or doing hard things to reach our potential, they tell us to succumb to the natural man. This is obviously counterfeit. The one thing we all have in common is that we are searching for happiness. For almost every good thing in this life, there is also a counterfeit offered. For me, the most obvious example of this is the internet. There are so many good things we can do online and at the same time, there is an infinite amount of evil offered there. The same is true with music. It can be used for good or for evil. Consider for a moment the music you listen to. How does it make you feel? Is it helping you become something better?

I recently attended a funeral service where there was plenty of music shared. The songs performed were of course requested previously by the deceased because it defined who they were. The lyrics told the story of their life, although the songs were written by various artists. They loved this music because they could relate to it and helped them to become a better person. I was touched as the performers could hardly sing at times because they were so emotional. Of course they were mourning the loss of a loved one, but the music and lyrics were so powerful. I felt God’s love and noticed those around me felt the same way. There was an undeniable presence that filled the room with peace and comfort.

Choose Carefully
Young minds are easily influenced. I hope that my words might reach a young person. When I was in grade school, it wasn’t too difficult to find good music. These options are becoming less and less compared to the amount of counterfeit that is available to us today. To make matters worse, it’s more easily accessible and mostly free. The choice to follow God requires more effort than ever before. Uplifting music is still available and should be discovered. Do not be causal in your choice of entertainment. What you listen to will shape the foundation for the rest of your life. It will either fulfill you or deceive you. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t listen to it. Pay attention to your feelings and ask yourself if what you are experiencing is helping you become better. Don’t underestimate the power of music in your life.

Overcoming Failure

I love the game of basketball. I grew up playing it and idolized the greats of the 80’s and 90’s. For years, my dream was to someday play professional basketball. I knew I couldn’t be happier doing what I loved the most. Right around junior high school, it was obvious that I wasn’t as talented as my peers and I realized that my dream wasn’t as real as I thought. I guess I don’t remember the exact moment I knew this or how I handled it, but I belonged to a solid group of friends and was raised in a stable family situation. In other words, it didn’t really have a negative effect on my life.

Looking back, I wonder what would have happened if I would have not let go of my dream. Talent is important, but what is it worth without hard work? Every sports fan knows there are professional athletes who are extremely talented but lazy. It’s disappointing, especially when you consider the hard workers whose careers are negatively altered by an injury. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this, it’s that the combination of talent and hard work makes the most effective player.

Consider some of the greatest athletes of all time. What do they all have in common? They are dedicated to their sport and they work hard at it. Even though they have separated themselves above and beyond their colleagues, they are still putting in the most hours. They’re the first ones to practice and the last ones to leave. More recently, they adhere to strict diets and specialized workouts to ensure their bodies are in the best condition possible.

Considered the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”. One of the most exciting periods of the season is the playoffs. The best players will always rise to the occasion. I recently watched one player struggle through years of post-season failures until he finally made it to the top. There was no shortage of doubters and critics and even those who wanted him to fail because of his potential. As a fan, it was satisfying for me to see him succeed and I know that for him it was satisfying to quiet the doubters.

I believe that without exception, we are all born with special talents and abilities that help us to reach our potential and bless the lives of others. These talents probably won’t draw the attention of a global audience or be discussed in the media, but just like with a great athlete, there will always be adversity. No matter how big or small our influence may be, there will always be that voice telling you to take the path of least resistance.

As far as I know, successful people don’t just waltz their way to the top.  Decca Records rejected the Beatles in 1962, saying “guitar groups are on the way out” and “The Beatles have no future in show business”. Abraham Lincoln failed in business at age 21. Was defeated in a legislative race at age 22. Failed again in business at age 24. Overcame the death of his sweetheart at age 26. Had a nervous breakdown at age 27. Lost a congressional race at age 34. Lost a congressional race at age 36. Lost a senatorial race at age 45. Failed in an effort to become vice-president at age 47. Lost a senatorial race at age 47. Was elected President of the United States at age 52.

The reality is that nobody is destined to end up a failure. Something that has helped me to cope with the challenges of life and keep going is my perspective. A few years ago, Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Sometimes in life we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey.” I believe in the eternal nature of the soul. I believe that this life is a gift and it is our opportunity to learn and improve ourselves as individuals and as a society. I believe that we can all uplift and inspire others to do good. Something else I have learned from the game of basketball is that you can’t do it alone. Teams have won when each player shared an equal responsibility and worked hard to fulfill their role. Other teams have won with one or more great players and a supporting cast of basic role players. I don’t belong to a professional basketball team, but I am a husband and a father. This is my calling in life. I can’t count the number of times I have failed in my journey to have a successful and happy family, but I know that it is a process. This is by design. You can’t grow unless your experiences stretch you. It’s been said that life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it. You can’t succeed unless you fail. Attitude is everything. Find your calling and dedicate your life to it. In the end, you will succeed.