Be always ashamed to catch thyself idle.
I believe a basic test exists of our capacity to learn and the measure of our love of learning. Here is the test: When you and I do not know what to do or how to proceed to achieve a particular outcome—when we are confronted with a problem that has no clear answer and no prescribed pattern for resolution—how do we learn what to do?
This was precisely the situation in which Nephi found himself as he was commanded to build a ship. “And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters” (1 Nephi 17:8).
Nephi was not a sailor. He had been reared in Jerusalem, an inland city, rather than along the borders of the Mediterranean Sea. It seems unlikely that he knew much about or had experience with the tools and skills necessary to build a ship. He may not have ever previously seen an oceangoing vessel. In essence, then, Nephi was commanded and instructed to build something he had never built before in order to go someplace he had never been before.
Now I doubt any of us will be commanded to build a ship as was Nephi, but each of us will have our spiritual and learning capabilities tested over and over and over again. The ever-accelerating rate of change in our modern world will force us into uncharted territory and demanding circumstances.
For example, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today’s graduates will have between 10 and 14 different jobs—by the time they are 38 years old. And the necessary skills to perform successfully in each job assignment will constantly change and evolve.
For much of my career as a professor, there was no Internet, no Google, no Wikipedia, no YouTube, and no TelePresence. The Internet only began to be widely used by the general public in the mid-1990s. Prior to that time, no courses were taught about and no majors were offered in Internet-related subjects. I remember teaching myself HTML and experimenting with ways student learning could be enhanced through this new and emerging technology. In contrast, most of you have never known and cannot imagine a world without the Internet and its associated technologies. I know I am revealing my advanced age, but the change from my “no Internet world” to your “Internet only world” has occurred within the last 15 years. Can we even begin to imagine how much things will continue to change during the next 15 years?
Because vast amounts of information are so readily available and sophisticated technologies make possible widespread and even global collaboration, we may be prone to put our trust in “the arm of flesh” (2 Nephi 4:34; see also 28:31) as we grapple with complex challenges and problems. We perhaps might be inclined to rely primarily upon our individual and collective capacity to reason, to innovate, to plan, and to execute. Certainly we must use our God-given abilities to the fullest, employ our best efforts, and exercise appropriate judgment as we encounter the opportunities of life. But our mortal best is never enough.
President Brigham Young testified that we are never left alone or on our own:
My knowledge is, if you will follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, every man and woman will be put in possession of the Holy Ghost. . . . They will know things that are, that will be, and that have been. They will understand things in heaven, things on the earth, and things under the earth, things of time, and things of eternity, according to their several callings and capacities. [JD 1:243]
There will always be voices telling you that you are foolish to believe that you are swans, insisting you are but ugly ducklings and that you can’t expect to become anything else.
But you know better. Because of the revealed word of a merciful God, you have seen your true reflection in the water and you have felt the eternal glory of that divine spirit within you. You are no ordinary beings, my beloved young friends all around the world. You are glorious and eternal.
No matter your circumstances or trials in life, I urge you to remember who you are, where you came from, and where you are going—for the answers to those questions will truly provide confidence and direction for your life.
Your Heavenly Father lives. He knows you. He speaks to you in these latter days through prophets and apostles. President Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s prophet on earth in our day. This Church is directed by the Savior Jesus Christ. I know this. He is at the head of this Church.
Today I may speak to you with imperfection—and with a German accent—but I promise you that the words you feel in your heart and in your mind and in your soul come to you through the eloquence, purity, and power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost you can know the truth of all things.
Brothers and sisters—my dear friends—I love you. I love you with all my heart. I am grateful for you. I am grateful for your goodness. As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, I bless you individually and collectively that you may learn to know who you really are and what you must do and be to live a happy and fulfilling life.
It is my prayer and blessing that when you look at your reflection, you will be able to see beyond imperfections and self-doubts and recognize who you truly are: glorious sons and daughters of the Almighty God.
Can we turn such trends around? There is still a wealth of wisdom in the people of this good land, even though such wisdom is often mute and in search of leadership. People can often feel in their bones the wrongness of things, long before pollsters pick up such attitudes or before such attitudes are expressed in the ballot box. But it will take leadership and articulate assertion of basic values in all places and in personal behavior to back up such assertions.
Even then, time and the tides are against us, so that courage will be a key ingredient. It will take the same kind of spunk the Spartans displayed at Thermopylae when they tenaciously held a small mountain pass against overwhelming numbers of Persians. The Persians could not dislodge the Spartans and sent emissaries forward to threaten what would happen if the Spartans did not surrender. The Spartans were told that if they did not give up, the Persians had so many archers in their army that they would darken the skies with their arrows. The Spartans said simply: “So much the better, we will fight in the shade!”
The thing that all of us should strive for is to so live, keeping the commandments of the Lord, that He can answer our prayers. If we will live worthy, then the Lord will guide us—by a personal appearance, or by His actual voice, or by His voice coming into our mind, or by impressions upon our heart and our soul. And oh, how grateful we ought to be if the Lord sends us a dream in which is revealed to us the beauties of the eternity or a warning and direction for our special comfort. Yes, if we so live, the Lord will guide us for our salvation and for our benefit.
Our Father in Heaven has invited you to express your needs, hopes, and desires unto Him. That should not be done in a spirit of negotiation, but rather as a willingness to obey His will no matter what direction that takes. His invitation, “Ask, and ye shall receive” (3 Ne. 27:29) does not assure that you will get what you want. It does guarantee that, if worthy, you will get what you need, as judged by a Father that loves you perfectly, who wants your eternal happiness even more than do you.
"Change" is not a destination ... just as "hope" is not a strategy.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
You are the guy who'll decide where to go.