Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Life Lessons

Sometime during my LDS mission in McAllen Texas, I started collecting catch phrases which represented philosophies and ideals I held. I kept them on a 3x5 card (I kept everything on 3x5 cards during my mission) and eventually created a nice laminated version of the catch phrases. It served as a great reminder for myself, but couldn't really help anybody else.

I tried writing down explanations for a friend while he was on his mission, but the process was tedious and slow. I sent him one that was only about a third of the way done. Since that time I have added even more phrases, but I decided to try and expound on them again for my little brother. He is now serving a mission, and even though I missed passing it on for both my other brother and my sister, I wanted to get this done for my third sibling. My goal was to get it to him by his hump day. I missed that by a couple weeks, but still got pretty close.

I have copied the list down into this post (below the break). I don't live all of these ideas all of the time, but I think they sum up what motivates me and how I try to act. The list is open ended, with the latest one just being added a few weeks ago:

Nathan Cooprider's life-lesson catch phrases:


CTR – This slogan is fairly self explanatory on one level, and very profound on another. While it gets beaten into our head starting in nursery, it is often taught as black and white theory instead of the appearance of grey we see in practice. Then the grey becomes polarized as we diligently seek the Lord’s guidance.

Suck it up – It seems to me like a large number of people’s problems comes from worrying about their own problems. I have found that I feel better about my issues when I stop worrying about them and worry about helping other people. When you have a problem suck it up and move on.

Hakuna Matata – It means “no worries” for the rest of your days. I do not advocate this to the extreme, but we more often find ourselves in the other extreme. This saying helps me remember to let things go.

Carpe Diem – Many people know this Latin phrase thanks to Dead Poets Society: “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” In terms of LDS theology, this also implies that “now is the time to prepare” and we should not procrastinate. Don’t put off for tomorrow what could be done today.

Guy Smiley – One of my youth leaders had this nickname. He advocated the principle of choosing our reactions and emotions. He always chose happiness and therefore he smiled like the Sesame Street character. We cannot always choose our circumstances, but we can always choose how we react to them.

Fuego, Ganas, + Huevos – I admit it is a little crude. I don’t remember where I picked this up. Based on where it comes in the list, I imagine it comes from my time at the MTC. Realizing that not every missionary had these was a huge disappointment. We can’t bring our A game all the time, but it’s lame to choose to never rise to that level.

Courage – This relates to the previous saying. Some people have legitimate phobias (like fear of spiders), but most people just fear failure. A later motto revisits that thought. Courage enables action. I would claim that faith is not just an analogue to courage, but that the two are opposite sides of the same coin.

Remember – In the Lion King, Rafiki reminds Simba of his royal heritage. Part of that reminder includes a visit from Mufasa, in which the voice of James Earl Jones booms out “Remember.” This call to remember his heritage turns Simba’s life around, restores the circle of life, and let’s everybody live happily ever after (except for Scar and maybe the hyenas). Like Simba, we all need to remember who we are.

Smell the flowers – My mission president took some time during an interview at the beginning of my mission to tell me I needed to smell the flowers. “Joy in the Journey” could be another way of saying this. The destination is important, but there are things along the way worth noticing and enjoying.

The Twinkie Speech – My junior varsity soccer coach had a speech he gave before tough home games called “The Twinkie Speech.” Although he said it better, it basically went like this: “You don’t let somebody come into your house, mess around with your sister, and eat your twinkies. Nobody craps in our house.” His version was better and probably more colorful.

Goals – There are many Sunday school lessons and self-help books about the importance of setting goals. The saying goes that you aim for the stars to at least hit the moon. Another saying goes that if you don’t know where you are going, you are going nowhere.

Grades mean Jack - Metrics and analytics have important functions. Performance improves when measured, and it accelerates when reported (President Monson). Unfortunately, the performance we want to improve or accelerate does not directly translate to something that tracks easily. Do not overvalue metrics over the actual performance.

Tree – This comes from the Michael McLean song “I cry the day I take the tree down.” That song and this saying refers specifically to Christmas traditions, but I want it to bring to mind the importance of traditions in creating settings. There’s a lot to say about commercialism in holidays, but there is also a lot to say about all things being spiritual.

Packaging - I think a lot of learning to be an effective and lifelong student in any discipline (including religion) comes as learning to separate lessons from the way they are packaged. That means both disregarding falsehoods in a shiny box and recognizing truth even when delivered in dry monotone.

Feast upon the word - I took Religion 122 at BYU from Vern Sommerfeldt. I did not like the class for a variety of reasons (mostly my own fault), but I did get some crucial nuggets out of it. One of those nuggets was the importance of scripture literacy: learning to study the scripture in the Lord’s way. Read the scriptures just as a novel or a textbook does not suffice.

Count your blessings - It can also be called an attitude of gratitude. It has been scientifically shown to combat depression. It keeps us humble, thus staving off pride. A lot of problems in life come from not realizing how good we really have it.

Ender - The hero of my favorite book by Orson Scott Card. He exemplifies many desirable qualities. Most prominent from the first book is total victory: defeating your enemy so completely that he or she will not counter. Second is utilizing empathy to crush your enemy or (in the later books) turn them into friends.

Do it! Now! - My high school friends were big Arnold Schwarzenegger fans, and this quote comes from him. It may be apparent that I don’t know much of the context, but to me it signifies the importance of acting immediately and not procrastinating. The hardest part of any task is getting started.

Worry about yourself - The parable in the scriptures talks about seeing the mote in another eye while ignoring the beam in one’s own eye. Many lessons and talks continually revisit this topic. I continually tell this to my daughters. It’s hard to practice, but still important.

Just do it - Nike’s slogan addresses our inadequacies and hesitancy to realize our goals. A lot of learning to be a good citizen is respecting boundaries and rules, but we cannot let that limit our vision. The great inventors and leaders of our time did what they did because they thought it up and in spite of everyone telling them it couldn’t be done.

Thumper - This friend of Bambi gets reprimanded by his mother and says “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Very good counsel indeed.

Called to serve - The hymn indicates that our calling is not to lead, train, teach, discipline, administrate, learn, or anything else, but to serve. The implication here is that if we are not serving then we must not be doing our calling. Of course, there are many ways to serve, but there are also many ways to not.

Another level - Elder Nobmann shared this saying with my district in Harlingen, Texas. The idea here is to look where we are at, and take our performance to the next level. We often get in grooves and plateau, and it is good to evaluate and make the evolutionary jump.

Work hard, play hard - This one is also from Elder Nobmann. In life, we have times allocated for work and other times allocated for leisure. I subscribe to the idea that one should bring intensity to both aspects. That keeps the balance and enables constancy of pace. I will admit that my dedication to this has waned a bit as I’ve gotten older.

It’s gonna be me – Yes, I’m referring to the NSync song. I actually don’t know what the song is supposed to be about, but the title implies personal accountability. Our society likes to blame our environment, our genes, our ancestors, our kids, our neighbors, or just about anybody or anything else. It’s not them, it’s you. Accept responsibility and move on.

Do it poorly - The father of my favorite mission companion, Elder West, organized and ran motivational conferences. Consequently, he had some of their material in our apartment. One piece talked about the importance of doing something poorly. We hear about “anything worth doing is worth doing right.” The problem with that is then we don’t want to do it if we can’t do it right yet. It’s better to do it poorly until you can do it right than not do it at all (in most cases).

You are special - I first heard Max Lucado’s picture book story my freshman year of college. It’s an excellent parable about individual worth, labeling, and God’s love for his us. When we understand our value and children of God, we treat ourselves and others differently.

Be nice - Just a simple reminder. It’s easy to see the faults of others and poke at them. It’s better to see their strengths and raise them up.

The best within us – Be a producer, not a moocher or a looter. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged does not represent an infallible philosophy, but it does present some crucial lost ideas that many today (even some who claim her ideals) have lost. The world, in general, has relinquished the power of rational thought or discourse. That and many other problems highlighted by Rand set us up for a long and hard fall.

Exercise - It’s important. It affects our mood, our health, our lifestyle, and just about everything else. It is worth the investment. I think a telling sign of its importance is its incorporation into the current LDS missionary schedule (it wasn’t in our schedule when I served my mission).

The Lord’s wind – This comes from my favorite scene from The Other Side of Heaven. The wind has died, stranding the sailboat in the ocean. One of the islanders lowers a rowboat and proclaims that the answer that question their prayers is for him to row to the next appointment. Sometimes, we have to be the Lord's wind.

Bean - The other side of the coin for Ender. This protagonist of Orson Scott Card’s Shadow series weighs every choice on the scales of survival. Two conclusions follow: many things we “normal” people get caught up in simply do not matter, and always look for ways to get an edge (even if you may not need it or don’t ever plan to use it).

One - The Lord offers the great Intercessory Prayer in John 17. He prays that his apostles (and disciples) will be one, even as the Father and he are one. The converse of that is contention, and we should all know where that comes from and where it leads. When working with other people, unity and teamwork can go a long way.

Communication is the hardest thing we do – I worked with a manager at General Atomics often repeats this mantra when leading team meetings. It says a lot, considering his teams put together unmanned aerial vehicles for the military. In my limited professional experience, it has so far held true. Take the time to make it work, because communication is hard

Not just how we do it, but what we do - I once worked for a company that repeated a slogan of “not just what we do, but how we do it.” I eventually got fed up with doing stupid things very well, and reversed the slogan. This essentially boils down to Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy, and the importance of doing all we can to avoid it.

Now we suck less - I had a coworker who worked with me to do an incredibly hard task. Progress came slowly, and sometimes not at all. It could have been very easy to get weighed down by the lack of results, but we savored the small victories. After even small improvements, we would proudly proclaim that “now we suck less.”

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent – I am ashamed to admit I have not (yet) read the Foundation series, but I have listened to the BBC Radio dramatization. The character of Salvor Hardin provides a wealth of profound quotes, but I think this one is his best. From parenting to nation-ruling, violence of any sort indicates a lack of competence.

Stop it - The two-word sermon from President Uchtdorf’s April 2012 LDS General Conference talk, The Merciful Obtain Mercy. It may seem like the opposite of Nike’s slogan (mentioned earlier), but in fact they compliment each other. There are things we should not do, but if we do find ourselves doing them then now is the time to stop.

Perfection: enemy of good - Steve Jobs said “Real artists ship.” In their IPO, Facebook said “Done is better than perfect.” I like the quote “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” We can picture how we want something to be and can often see a route there, but sometimes we have to just let it be good enough and move on.