Monday, April 26, 2010

Revelations on life, learning, missionary work

Wow. Another crazy week has passed.

Projects at the MTC are moving forward at full speed; we’re moving this week (again); I didn’t make the final round for the job I applied for at the Church Office Building; graduation day at BYU made me nostalgic for school; and my human resources training seems like it will help me at work and in life. But the most interesting thing that happened this week was that I think I am a bit closer to understanding the type of work I love and what I really want to do in life.

When I was younger (from the beginning of conscious thought through college) I envied people and storybook characters who had their lives all planned out. They loved math and were good at it, so they became statisticians or mathematicians. Or they excelled and loved writing and became writers. They had the key ingredients of passion and ability to shape their lives and help them find fulfillment in their work, and they fulfilled the commandment to share their talents with the world. I, on the other hand, somehow ended up with a grab bag of assorted gifts and talents – from writing to swimming to teaching to singing to physics – without the accompanying passion to pursue all of them. I’m definitely grateful for the talents I’ve been given, but I didn’t even have the passion to pursue one of them – I’ve never been able to imagine myself happily situated in a career doing any of things I’m good at. I would have gladly traded most of my talents (example: Debate. Who really wants a talent for debate? I got nominated as the best debater in my class in high school. That would be fine in itself, but many of my friends claim I am constantly in ‘debate mode’ – even in casual conversations. Since I don’t know how to turn the over-assertive ‘debate mode’ off, life would be simpler if I lacked the talent) for direction in life. I actually asked the Lord, sincerely, if He would do the exchange – like when, for Nephi, He took war and replaced it with famine – but He explained that my situation was different. I had been given my talents for a good reason, and part of the reason was that I needed to figure it out. My patriarchal blessing is conspicuously vague on the subject; it says that as I choose my vocation in life, I’ll receive blessings from the Lord. And so I’ve tried a lot of different vocations with the hope that one would turn out right. I’ve written books, worked on video games, performed in plays and movies, and done educational research. I’ve been a teacher and a curriculum designer, studied half a dozen languages, started a business, and taken courses in everything from plant propagation to computer science. And nothing felt right. But, somehow, through it all I’ve felt like I’ve been guided. It’s like each job or training is a piece of some massive, intricate puzzle that I really can’t understand. But, along with the years of dance or the jobs that I’ve held, are accompanying miraculous stories. The thing I’ve been searching for is trying to understand what I really want to do in life – something that makes me love life – that makes me get up in the morning and give thanks to God. And, as much as I love learning, it definitely isn’t physics research, or aromatherapy or even music or teaching classes on food science. But I think I’m closer to knowing what it is.

It all seemed to fall together this week. I was nostalgic for school when BYU was full of new graduates with their caps and gowns, and I wondered what I had learned in the last year. Not just knowledge, but what I had learned about myself. And, looking back on the things that made me happy, I saw a pattern. I’m happiest when I’m helping other people make changes in their lives, and when I’ve helped change organizations to better meet the needs of people. It’s that simple. I used to think that my passion in life was teaching. Then I realized that I couldn’t teach the same subject year after year without going crazy. Then I thought my passion was learning, and realized that there were plenty of things I didn’t want to learn. And so now I think I’m closer – and the passion of my life is enabling and motivating change – bringing people and organizations closer to Christ. At least, I think so. That could explain my love of learning – because it enables me to change my own views and beliefs about the world – and to improve my actions to become a better person. It could also explain my love of teaching people, because I love to help them gain and apply knowledge in their lives. And it’s why I’m passionate in changing organizations – because through change we can work with greater efficiency, with better results and happier customers and employees. When I thought my passion was teaching or learning, I said that I wanted to change the world of education. In reality, I just want to change the world. Changing education is just a part of it. So there’s my talent and passion – learning, applying, and teaching others principles that apply in their lives.

Wow. That’s exactly what I do in this letter each week. I look at my life, synthesize the things that the Lord has taught me, share how I am applying them, and then try to create an invitation that others can follow. And, proof that I am at least closer this time to finding what makes me tick, for the last 5 years writing this letter each week has been a major element that has kept me going and given me purpose in life.

So when I was rejected from the job offer at the Church Office Building, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. Two of my bosses and the Lord had mentioned some aspects of the job that hinted that it probably wouldn’t be right for me, and I realize now that I was just grasping at straws, trying to make sense out of what I couldn’t yet make sense.

And so I’m still at the MTC. I had an amazing revelation this last week while on my way to the temple. I was trying to identify the vital behaviors of missionary work – what makes a missionary who is successful in implementing the rest of the missionary behaviors different from a missionary who does everything right, but rote. The realization came as the Lord taught me that the Spirit is the most important element in the work. “If ye receive not the Spirit, ye shall not teach.” It’s not, “If ye receive not the Spirit, then your lesson won’t go well,” or “If ye receive not the Spirit, do your best anyway.” The message is clear, and the impact is far-reaching. In missionary work, having the Spirit is the most important aspect. If you have the Spirit, the work will go forward. If you don’t, “ye shall not teach.” My interpretation: the vital behaviors in missionary work are: 1: Be exactly obedient (to be worthy of the companionship of the Spirit). 2: Schedule time to ask for guidance and listen to the Spirit each day (prayer, planning, and study time). 3: Always be in an environment where you can hear the promptings of the Spirit, and keep a prayer in your heart. 4: Act on every prompting from the Spirit, immediately. 5: If the Spirit leaves, get out of bad situations immediately. Then stop, repent, pray, and don’t move until it returns.

Sometimes life can seem to be a massive puzzle… where you only see the back side of individual pieces. I know it has been that way for me. But I also know that God loves us and wants us to be happy. And, if we will look to Him for guidance, He will help us to become the people He sees in us. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we have the ability to change, to grow, and to be happy. And, if we will follow the guidance that we receive at the hand of the Lord, someday we will be made perfect. My invitation this week is simple: try to identify one of the things you love in life – not just the things that are fun, but the things that hold so much value that they contain part of the purpose of your life. Look at your past, the things with which the Lord has blessed you, and your dreams for the future… and then find a way to do more of the things you love most. I’m going to figure out this week if there is a graduate program that will help me learn to help people change their lives (hopefully something other than psychology). Then, when you have found it and applied it, go out and be missionaries! Share your love of life with others… and they will come closer to Christ.

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