First Things First

Dear Will:

Ever find yourself going in so many directions at once that you can’t concentrate very long on any one thing? I don’t know about you, but when I get into that sort of synapse-firing frenzy, it’s almost paralyzing. My mind becomes a jumble. At best I’m inefficient with how I use my time; at worst I get nothing done whatsoever.

It wasn’t very many years ago that I was a devotee of the Franklin Planner, a system for organizing one’s day and getting stuff done. I first encountered the Franklin Planner in the mid-‘80s when I served a short, ill-fated stint as Stake Clerk  in the Los Angeles Stake. The men in that Stake Presidency were very accomplished and successful, and all three of them swore by the Franklin Planner. As an unaccomplished and unsuccessful 20-something wannabe, I was in no position to judge, but since I was a 20-something wannabe it didn’t stop me. I teased and taunted them about their devotion until, a few years later, I sheepishly got a Franklin Planner of my own.

In those days, when you bought your Franklin Planner starter kit they encouraged you to listen to a couple of cassette tapes designed to train you on how to use the planner and to motivate you to actually use it. Central to the approach was the “Prioritized Daily Task List” in which you were supposed to separate the important from the not-so-important so that you would be less likely to burn time and energy on low priority fluff and more likely to focus on the truly essential. It’s what Stephen R. Covey has referred to as “putting first things first.”

So which things should come first? The answer to that question will vary from day to day, but over the long arc of time, that which matters most will always have more to do with human relationships than with personal achievement or financial success. Our prophet, Thomas S. Monson has said:

I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. . . .

[And] what is most important almost always involves the people around us. Often we assume that they must know how much we love them. But we should never assume; we should let them know. Wrote William Shakespeare, “They do not love that do not show their love.” We will never regret the kind words spoken or the affection shown. Rather, our regrets will come if such things are omitted from our relationships with those who mean the most to us.

Send that note to the friend you’ve been neglecting; give your child a hug; give your parents a hug; say “I love you” more; always express your thanks. Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved. (“Finding Joy in the Journey,” General Conference, October 2008)

It’s an important reminder, especially as I consider the scribbled list before me: so many self-centered to-do’s that there’s hardly room for a person to get my attention. Perhaps it’s time for me to reprioritize.

It’s a speech I have given myself before—and certainly one I will give myself again—but for now, my mind is a little less jumbled. So before I post this letter, I think I’m going to go call my mom.


One of the Truly Lucky Ones

Dear Will:

My 50th birthday is fast approaching. Yuck. It’s not that 50 is old, per se, but the milestone has caused me to pause, consider, and recoil: What do I have to show for myself at this point?

My first thought is: Not much. I have a decent career in which I get paid more than most but not enough that anyone would consider me wealthy by any stretch. And I’ve bounced from job to job so much that anyone who really knows would likely smirk at the notion that such peregrinations could ever be considered a “career.” Even so, the kids are fed and clothed, the mortgage is current, and at least for now I’m still getting paid twice a month.

But still. . . .

I can’t exactly say that I’m as secure as I might have imagined when I set off on adulthood 30-some years ago. Isn’t this that point in life in which I’m supposed to be overpaid and playing a lot of golf? When the house is paid for and I’m taking annual trips to Bermuda or the British Isles? When the nest egg is building toward early retirement in just a few more years? Well, that isn’t exactly how it has worked out.

And this. . . .

My bald-headed body is starting to show significant wear-and-tear. I have the chronic lower back pain often associated with middle age. My eyesight isn’t what it once was. Last week I learned that I have a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder. I’ll spare you the results of the mid-century physical, but let’s just say that the results were inconclusive. And I don’t even want to think about what’s going on in my right knee.

But still. . . .

My heart is strong and I weigh only slightly more than I’m supposed to. I have an amazing wife (my first and only) and three terrific kids. We live in a nice house in a free land with all of the modern conveniences you could hope for. My wife and children all are interesting, engaging people full of talent and potential. We have all been blessed with excellent health (the bald head and rotator cuff notwithstanding). And we live near the people we love the most, surrounded by good friends and neighbors.

And this. . . .

We have, at the center of our lives, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which provides for us an anchor when times are rough and a guide as we face an uncertain future. And it is through an understanding of that gospel that I know of a surety that in that which matters most I am one of the truly lucky ones.

There is certainly no glamor in turning 50. But I take great solace in knowing that the purpose of my existence is in part fulfilled by my earthly challenges and successes. And Christ has given this assurance: That if I seek His kingdom first and foremost, all other needful things will be added unto me (see, for example, Matthew 6:24-34, or Jacob 2:18-19). That is not a promise of worldly goods or riches so much as it is the promise of perspective and eternal happiness. In that sense, I aspire to be like Paul, who said: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

Have I fallen short of the dreams of my youth? In several unimportant ways, perhaps. But have I been blessed far beyond measure or merit? No question. And I thank God for that.