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Success and Personal Peace

Five Keys to Success

Several years ago I read a scripture that articulated a philosophy of life that I've always believed. This scripture not only has become my favorite passage but also my personal formula for success and peace. It is found in Doctrine and Covenants 90:24.

"Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things will work out for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenants wherewith ye have covenanted one with another."

Although this was given in religious context, I think it applies broadly to all areas of our lives. I want to focus today on five ways we can apply this formula for success and personal peace. These five applications are 1) be diligent, 2) pray always, 3) have faith, 4) walk uprightly, and 5) remember your covenants.

1. BE DILIGENT. Diligence is making our best effort, working hard, and doing all we can. The dictionary defines diligence as "earnest and persistent application to an undertaking; steady effort."

President Calvin Coolidge said, "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men and women 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 æpress onÆ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

This should be encouraging to all of us because it suggests that if we have not been born with natural beauty or talents, if we're not geniuses, or if we do not have degrees from Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton, we can still succeed with hard work, determination, persistence, and diligence. In business after business I have seen survivors rise to positions of responsibility and opportunity because they've been persistent in their effort and reliable in their performance over an extended period of time.

In the early 1980s, I met one of the country's greatest businessmen and leaders. His name is Sam Walton; his company is Wal-Mart. He was a dynamic leader who characterizes persistence and determination.

I recently read Forbes magazine featuring the richest four hundred people in America. Bill Gates was number one with $63 billion. Larry Ellison of Oracle was number two at $58 billion. Before Sam Walton died in 1992, he divided his estate equally among his wife and four children. Each one of them was noted in Forbes with $17 billion. If you multiply $17 billion times five, that's $85 billion dollars, meaning he created more wealth than the other two.

Let me share with you a couple of facts about his life that identify some of the characteristics that made him successful. He graduated from the University of Missouri and went to work for JCPenney in the early 1940s. He worked eighteen months and then joined the army. Once he was out of the army at age twenty-seven, he scraped together enough money to buy a small Ben Franklin variety store in Newport, Arkansas. His goal was to have the most profitable variety store in Arkansas within five years. At the end of five years, it not only was the most profitable store in Arkansas but also the most profitable variety store in the six-state region. He made a mistake, though. He didn't realize that he had signed a five-year lease that could not be renewed. He became a merchant without a store.

Determined to succeed in retailing, Walton took the fifty thousand dollars that he had saved and went looking for another store. Walton found Bettonville, Arkansas—a sleepy little country town of three thousand people—and opened Walton's Five and Dime. For the next twenty years, he opened and operated several five-and-dime stores. I think he got up to about nine stores by 1962 when he mortgaged everything he had to open the first Wal-Mart store.

Wal-Mart today has one million employees and is the largest retailer in the world. By the way, if you had invested two hundred dollars when he went public in 1970, the stock would have been worth 2.6 million when Walton died in 1992.

Did Sam Walton have earnest and persistent application to an undertaking? In his autobiography, he wrote:

"As I look back, I realize that ours is a story about the kinds of traditional principles that made America great. It's a story about believing in your idea, even when others don't, and sticking to your guns. I think more than anything else it proves that there's absolutely no limit to what plain, ordinary working people can accomplish if they're given the opportunity, encouragement, and set up to do their best. That is how Wal-Mart became Wal-Mart. Ordinary people joined together to accomplish extraordinary things."

Young people often have difficulty looking ahead to see how they will reach their goals. Will I make it to college? Can I get the grades I need to be competitive? Will I get the job I want? Will I ever get out of debt? Sometimes it's hard to imagine how we will get from where we are to where we want to be.

The realization of our goals often comes as a result of compounding. "The miracle of compounding" is a familiar phrase in finance; it's when you take an investment return of principle and interest and let it build on itself. Simple interest is payment on principle only; compounding is interest paid on accumulated principle and interest.

A dramatic example of compounding is the 1626 Indian sale of Manhattan Island in New York to a group of immigrants for $24 dollars in beads and trinkets. For more than 350 years it's been held up as the craziest sale in history. But let me tell you something about this $24. If the Indians had invested that $24 at 6 percent, it would be worth more than $35 billion today.

This is a result of compounding over a long period of time and doing small things consistently. What if they had invested their $24 at 8 percent instead of 6? The investment would be worth $30 trillion. It's amazing what rewards a little more effort produces over time.

What does compounding have to do with diligence and success? I believe that the miracle of compounding applies to all areas of our lives. Consistent and persistent effort in doing small things brings big results over time. Building upon results and then building upon what has accumulated is a powerful process. Compounding produces more than simple isolated returns in everything we do.

2. PRAY ALWAYS. The week after the Battle of Gettysburg, General Daniel Sickles, who had been in the campaign, asked President Lincoln if he was anxious during the Gettysburg Campaign. President Lincoln replied, "I had no fear." "How could that be?" asked the general.

Lincoln replied, "In the pinch of your campaign up there, everyone seemed panic-stricken and nobody could tell what was going to happen. I went up to my room one day and locked the door and got down on my knees before almighty God and prayed to him mightily for a victory at Gettysburg. I told God that if we were to win the battle he must do it, for I had done all that I could do. I told him this was his work and that our cause was his cause and that we could not stand another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville. Then and there I made a solemn vow to almighty God that if he would stand by our boys at Gettysburg, I would stand by him. And, he did and I will. After that I don't know how or what it was. I just can't explain it; a sweet comfort crept into my soul that things would go all right at Gettysburg. And that's why I had no fear about you."

What a great example of how we should pray. Lincoln said his cause was just, he had done all that he could do, he needed the Lord's help, and he made a covenant with God to stand by him and to follow him. As a mutual fund manager, I prayed every day for discernment, for good judgment, and for the ability to make wise decisions. Prayer can help us in every aspect of our lives and truly brings peace to the soul.

3. HAVE FAITH. The First Presidency said in the proclamation to the world, "All human beings, male and female, are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents and as such each has a divine nature and destiny." And that destiny includes being an heir to all that God has.

We need to have faith that we are children of God with divine nature and individual worth. Knowing who we are and what we may become motivates us to self improvement. It's this faith and hope that helps us through the challenges of life. The dictionary defines hope as "a wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment; to have confidence, trust; a theological virtue defined as a desire and search for a future good, difficult but not impossible to attain with God's help." I believe that developing this principle of faith in our lives is the single most important thing we can do for success, because it provides the foundation from which we can do all things.

4. WALK UPRIGHTLY. The dictionary defines uprightly as "adhering strictly to moral principles; righteous integrity." In 1999, the Marriott School honored John Pepper, retired CEO of Procter & Gamble, as the International Executive of the Year. I heard him talk on the subject of personal leadership and character. He said, "The most defining characteristic of the most effective leaders he has known is personal character. What is character? I don't know if there is a definitive answer, but for me character begins with integrity. Be faithful in action to your most important core values, to your promises, and to your words."

Pepper quoted Ronald Reagan from a 1993 speech when he said, "The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier at seemingly unimportant moments. It's been determined by all the seemingly little choices of years past by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation, whispering aloud or internally, it really doesn't matter."

George Washington said, "I hope that I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles; the character of an honest man." You may think that integrity is a quality that everyone has. Unfortunately, that's not true. It's a valued characteristic in the business world, widely admired and sought after in employees. It's one of those traits within the reach of all of us to develop in ourselves.

5. REMEMBER YOUR COVENANTS. I think covenants are a bigger part of our lives than we realize. One of the best books I've ever read on leadership is The Winner Within, by Pat Riley, the legendary coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and now coach of the Miami Heat. In his book, he describes how covenants were an important part of the Lakers' success.

The 1979–80 Lakers won the NBA championship in Magic Johnson's first year. Riley was the assistant coach. The next season the "disease of me" crept into that team, as Riley called it. Players complained about differences in salary and had personal agendas. They started complaining to the media and the team began to unravel. And although the team was just as talented as the year before, they lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Early the following season the head coach was fired and replaced by Riley. The first thing he did was establish a core covenant with the players. Covenants can be written out in great detail or not written at all, but they are always clearly understood and supported, creating unity of purpose. He said every team member must decide consciously to uphold covenant terms that represent the best values: voluntary cooperation, love, hard work, and total concentration for the good of the team. The core covenant must spring from its natural leaders and spread throughout the team. The top producers have to be a source of that covenant. They have to monitor the others and apply peer pressure.

Riley described what makes a constructive covenant. He said it binds people together, creates an equal footing, helps people shoulder their own responsibility, prescribes terms for help and support of others, and creates a foundation for teamwork. With the core covenant established, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship in 1982 and went on to become the team of the decade, winning the NBA championship four times and coming in second three times.

In his classic book, Leadership is an Art, Max Dupre said the best management process for today is participatory management based on covenant relationships. The term describes a condition in which management and employees have clear agreement and understanding of the rights of the employees and the goals and objectives of management, and they work together for both.

Whether stated or unstated, we all work in an environment where upholding the covenants of work, family, school, team, or church organizations will bring greater success and satisfaction to the organization and to us. Most importantly, many of us have made covenants with God that are essential to our happiness and ultimate goals in life.

I BELIEVE that if we are diligent, if we work hard and do everything we can, if we invite the Lord's help, if we understand who we are and believe in our eternal destiny with faith in the application of the atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives, if we develop integrity and walk uprightly, if we do the best we can to keep the covenants we've made, then everything will work out for our good.

Faith is required to believe that. But if we follow the success formula, have faith, and do our best, we will feel inner peace, because we know that we've done everything we can. I've had many challenges in my life that appeared at the time to be roadblocks. With hindsight I can see that they were blessings. I've developed faith that things work out for our good, and there's a profound peace that comes with this understanding.

I will conclude as I began. "Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things will work out for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenants wherewith ye have covenanted one with another." I hope that we will all have the patience to let the compounding of daily diligent actions work magic in our lives.


by Alan Folkman

Alan J. Folkman is retired senior vice president and chief investment officer of Columbia Management. He earned his BS in business management from BYU in 1967. He gave this address 19 October 2000 as the Marriott School's Honored Alumnus of the Year.

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