Saturday, July 20, 2013


I caught myself saying it this week, and I was very disappointed in myself. A moment's indiscretion and it was out: "It is what it is." It's a phrase I dislike greatly. I was talking with a patient about a benign medical problem that couldn't be prevented or reversed and I said "IIWII". I don't want to make excuses for myself. I'll do my Hollywood mea culpa right now: I deeply regret the incident and take full responsibility for my actions. It just goes to show what happens when you let your guard down even for a minute. 

If we could cast a vote for our least favorite phrase of 2013, mine would be for IIWII.  I would've voted the same way in 2012 as well.*  I've thought about what makes the phrase so annoying.  Part of it may be the fact that people seem to stand around waiting to interject IIWII it into every conversation--whether it's relevant or not. Another reason may be summed up in one word: banality. But for me the real problem with the phrase is more subliminal.  

I will grant that IIWII works when when you just lost game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in overtime.  But in this context it is almost always followed by "we'll be back next year and win it all". It irritates me when IIWII is used with a sense of helplessness or apathy that equates to "I choose to surrender, because this is too hard." It  reminds me of the advice Homer gave Bart on an episode of The Simpsons, right after Bart decided to quit guitar lessons.
If something is to hard to do, then it's not worth doing. You just stick that guitar in the closet next to your shortwave radio, your karate outfit and your unicycle and we'll go inside and watch TV. --Homer Simpson
Kind of funny how much we have to learn from Homer.  By contrast, you didn't hear Mormon tell his son "This is not working! These Nephites will never repent. We gave it our best shot and IIWII. Let's call it a day."  Instead he said: 
And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God. (Moroni 9:6)
Mormon was not an "I choose to surrender" or "I'm over this" kind of guy. He was the original Winston Churchill: "Never, never, never give up." It's a big part of what makes this guy so heroic in my mind. His spirit inspires me to try to banish IIWII from my vocabulary. 

* Here for some very funny commentary on worst words of the year. Just be warned, you'll probably find that some of your favorites make the list.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The YOLO Spirit

8th Inkblot
Rorschach Inkblot Test
Hermann Rorschach - 1921
I came across an acronym the other day which I had to look up: YOLO. It means you only live once. Reading the definition was a veritable Rorschach Inkblot* which caused me to immediately associate YOLO with the stupidity of the generation to which my kids belong.* Invariably, it seems that YOLO is the final words uttered before someone throws caution the wind and does something very regrettable at best--or disastrous at worst.  It is the credo of the entire Jackass genre of videography.

But thankfully, it didn't take me too long to climb down off my high horse and admit that my kid's generation doesn't have the YOLO spirit cornered any more than the preceding 10 generations did.  The YOLO spirit has been around for a very long time. 

The 28th chapter of 2 Nephi is powerful doctrine that describes the operational tactics of Satan in his plan to deceive men and subvert the doctrine of Christ (which is a broader theme in the final chapters of 2 Nephi and the book of Jacob).  One of the fundamental tenets of Satan's doctrine is YOLO.
Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. 2 Nephi 28:7
It is positively false doctrine in that it confuses our 'one life' with the brief span of mortality. 

Our comprehension of this life is that it is eternal life—that we are living in eternity today as much as we ever will live in eternity … Eternal life is to us the sum of pre-existence, present existence, and the continuation of life in immortality. George Albert Smith [“Mormon View of Life’s Mission,” Deseret Evening News, June 27, 1908, Church section, 2]

 In reality our mortal life is like a still-frame image taken from a full-length movie. A still image can never hope to adequately convey the message of the entire film. Yet, to continue the metaphor, one poorly-focused snapshot is often all we see of this life. 

The Neal A. Maxwell talk that I recently cited taught that because of the veil that limits our perspective, "the tests we face [in life] are real" and mortality will be no cake-walk. Because of this limited perspective, the YOLO spirit it is incredibly useful to Satan. Satan uses YOLO to artfully persuade men that if they don't seize the moment, it will pass forever and leave them unfulfilled and somehow cheated. It's very effective, but remains untrue.There is nothing like the perspective that the gospel provides in illustrating the pointlessness of the YOLO spirt, and the futility of trying to experience eternal life by living in the moment.

* For the record, my kid's generation really isn't stupidI just like to carry on like it is

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Life Lessons from the TDF: Praying to Get Caught

Dan Martin of Ireland & Team Garmin Sharp
100th TDF - Stage 9
What a great stage win for Dan Martin today. Such a nice guy who had a big win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year as well. He attacked the peloton on the last of 4 big mountains today.  He was then joined by Jakob Fuglsang and, by working together, they stayed off the front on a harrowing 30 km descent down the mountain.  

At the end of the day, it's just a bike race and I don't want to make too much of it. But for me there were more than a few powerful life lessons from Dan Martin's post-race interview.

Life Lesson #1: "I don't think one guy would have survived alone."
  • cycling is no more an individual sport than is the race of life.  We won't survive if we try to race alone
Life Lesson #2: "We were both giving it everything we could."
  • anything less than a 100% effort will be insufficient to succeed in the race of life.
  • "Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength (D&C 4:2)
Life Lesson #3: "I was actually praying to get caught with 20 km to go. My legs were hurting so much."  
  • Neal A. Maxwell's provides amazing insights on this subject (here*): "We may at times, if we are not careful, try to pray away pain or what seems like an impending tragedy, but which is, in reality, an opportunity ... If we were allowed to bypass certain trials, everything that had gone on up to that moment in our lives would be wiped out." 
  • Though he longed to be caught and fail so his suffering would end, he would not quit. "I just had to finish it off for the guys in the end."
  • His perseverance paid off.
Dan's brilliant strategy in the last 1 km allowed him to sneak by Fuglsang for the win. He refused to go to the front, and instead stayed in the slipstream of the other rider. Then with 200 meters to go, he launched his sprint, just as they headed into a difficult left-hand turn.  It was obvious that Dan knew the course, having studied it beforehand. He was prepared. He knew when to make his move.

Life Lesson #4: "I knew what I was doing. I was very confident. That comes from the victory I've achieved this year ... It's a self-belief and a calmness that I enjoy now."  
  • Those that persevere in the faith have similar confidence and calmness with comes as as we study and prepare ourselves. It is doubly rewarded by the small victories we have along the way in overcoming sin, hardship and adversity.
  • "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds, through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

* I think these are some of the best teachings on adversity I have ever read.  This is a long talk, but so masterful and worth reading.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Persistence vs. Perseverance

"The Subway" in Zion National Park - 2006
Nothing exemplifies the power of persistence like the slot canyons of the Southwest.
"The Subway" is a very hard hike, but undoubtedly my favorite. This place makes you feel small and insignificant as you stand below 800 foot cliffs that rise up vertically on both sides. 

My last post (here) about beginner's luck has me thinking about persistence as useful remedy for life's challenges. In doing so I came across a fantastic talk by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin on perseverance.To make things potentially more confusing is the related word perseveration.** Perseverance is often considered to be synonym of persistence; perseveration is a derivative of it. But there are very important differences between these words, and they have me thinking about persistence vs. perseverance in particular.   

Since it's very easy to confuse the terminology, here are the formal definitions:

Persistence: the act of persisting; enduring tenaciously.
Perseverancesteady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
PerseverationUncontrollable repetition of a particular response, such as a word, phrase, or gesture, despite the absence or cessation of a stimulus, usually caused by brain injury or other organic disorder.
Since perseveration is a mental illness, it's differentiation from persistence and perseverance is less nuanced. Not so with the differences between persistence and perseverance.  Perseverance can be thought of as persistence in a noble or just cause in spite of hardship or opposition. Where perseverance has connotations of things noble and good, persistence has connotations which are more mechanical and less principled. While persistence isn't necessarily always bad, perseverance is almost always good. 

I've seen the following quote used to exemplify the fact that persistence is not always a good thing.
Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.
This quote is usually misattributed to Albert Einstein (or Benjamin Franklin, or Mark Twain). It actually comes from the 1981 Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous. In his Psychology Today article (here), Ryan Howe, PhD shows that although the aphorism is clever, it is a lousy definition for insanity. The idea does, however, illustrate that persistence in an of itself is not necessarily enough. Dr. Howe's article quotes another blogger who points out that sometimes wisdom dictates that we do exactly what would otherwise seem to be insane.
Sometimes doing the same thing a second time when it hasn’t worked the first is indeed just foolish. But sometimes it’s shrewd. Wisdom consists, in part, in knowing the difference. 
I do not believe that persistence alone will be enough to see us through the tempests of life and safely into the harbor--even when guided by wisdom. The counsel of God's prophets would argue that it will require perseverance. Perseverance requires faith and hope. Paul didn't actually use the word perservere when he was telling the Philippians to hold fast, but that's what he was talking about (Philippians 1:27-28).  Elder Wirthlin taught:
I bear testimony that perseverance is essential to us in learning and living the principles of the gospel and that it will determine our progress as we strive to reach exaltation. 
With all the innuendo and subtleties that differentiate perseveration, persistence and perseverance, here's what I've taken away:
  1. Mental illness or neurological disease drive us to repeatedly speak or act with nothing good coming of it. 
  2. Wisdom dictates when we should be persistent and receive it's many rewards. 
  3. Faith and hope enable us to persevere in remaining true to God and our covenants despite hardship, opposition or temptation. 
  4. Only perseverance brings eternal rewards.

Left Fork of North Creek, Zion National Park - 2005
Persistence: a small stream within a stream cuts a channel into the bedrock.

It's neither good nor bad--just amazing.
* This topic has also been addressed by others including the Apostle Paul (see Ephesians 6:18), Joseph Smith Jr.James E. Faust and David A. Bednar.
** Read this article from Psychology Today for a great comparison of perseverance with perseveration. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Finding Gold: Beginner's Luck

The St. Albans coin hoard
I've had a soft spot for stories about Roman coin hoards for a long time (here and here for my old posts; links to this story here and here).  I often thought about how awesome it would be to uncover a two thousand year-old coin. I can't fathom the thrill of finding the life's savings of a Roman Legionary carefully stashed away before he suited up to battle hoards of barbarians that simply weren't buying into the Pax Romana.  The story behind the St Albans coin hoard has to be one of the most amazing.

In October 2012, a would-be treasure hunter from St. Albans, UK took the plunge and bought a beginner's metal detector.  After watching a couple of videos on You Tube, Wesley Carrington headed for the woods near his home about 20 miles north of central London.  His first 20 minutes of treasure hunting rewarded him with a spoon and half-penny.  When his metal-detector went off a third time, he dug down 7 inches to find a gold coin with a roman figure. By the time darkness fell, he had found 55 gold solidi dating back to the late 4th century AD (Emperors Gratian, Valentinian, Theodosius, Arcadius and Honorius). He had no idea what he'd found, so paid a visit to a local coin shop.  The owner was absolutely 'gobsmacked' and thought it a joke.  Real experts, on returning to the site of his find, found 104 additional coins in what is one of the largest coin hoards ever found in the UK.  The coins are estimated to be worth $156,000.

This story is the sine qua non of beginners luck. Such stories always strike a cord with commoners as we realize 'that could be me!'  Even as I write this, I have to suppress the overwhelming urge to look on Ebay for metal detectors.

Alas, reality demonstrates that most great things only come at the end of great effort and dogged persistence.
"Thou, O God, dost sell us all good things at the price of labor." Leonardo da Vinci
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."" Calvin Coolidge
"In the sweat of thy face shalt though eat bread, till though return to the ground." Genesis 3:19 
Though Wesley Carrington has joined a local metal detecting club, he hasn't found anything else since October. With his beginner's luck having run dry, it looks like he will have to rely on hard work and persistence for his next find. Apparently it's not supposed to be easy. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

First Win = Yellow

fighting off the charging peloton

Is this really happening?

Woo Hoo!

I hate that I still love watching the Tour de France given the last year of doping scandals.  I just can't help it.  It is such a great sport.  Stage 2 of the Tour was set in Corsica, and had some of the most beautiful scenery I've seen in a long time. It's finish was the stuff that fairy tales are made of. 

Jan Bakelants is a 26-year old Belgian that rides for RadioShack. I'd never even heard of him before. He had never won a professional bike race.  On stage 2 he broke away from the peloton with 7 or 8 other riders with about 8 km to go.They had a small lead of up to 30 seconds but were slowly being reeled back  in.  When the peloton came charging up and swallowed up the others he refused to quit.  Somehow he hung on stayed ahead of the raging peloton to win by 1 second.  Not only did he win the stage, but he took the yellow jersey.  The look of disbelief as he crossed the line is priceless. His yellow jersey picture is pure jubilation.

After the stage win, he was thronged by reporters wanting to capture his reaction.  I found it fascinating that he said when he looked back with 500 meters to go, he knew he would win. As I watched I was certain he would somehow be caught by Peter Sagan at the line and lose.  Thankfully he was right and I was wrong. 

Another relative nobody on the tour has his unbelievable moment of glory and reward for such a great effort. It reminds me of another racer that was also confident of victory.
As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. NLT 2 Timothy 4:6-8
Sometimes one big win is all you'll ever get in life. These big wins don't just happen. They happen to people that are willing to go for it in spite of all the adversity and negative odds against them.  

Once TDF starts, I find myself having weird dreams of me riding the Tour and occasionally winning a stage.  It's great stuff but just dreams.  I need to somehow focus more intently on the real race that Paul was racing and won.  He knew he would win before he reached he finish line. It's a race I can win, and the prize will be far more glorious.  Somehow, I think I'll probably keep dreaming about stage wins at the TDF.