BYU is a special place. I go to a lot of universities, and there is nowhere else like this. I grew up here on this campus. My father was part of the BYU Marriott faculty for thirty years. There isn’t one part of the Tanner Building that doesn’t have a Smith mark on it somewhere.
And thirty years ago—on this very stage—my mother received her PhD. She was the only woman in her class, and she had five kids under the age of twelve at the time. We clearly didn’t slow her down.
Fast forward two decades, and on this same campus I met my amazing and extremely funny wife, Ashley. I have hundreds of stories from my experiences at BYU. This has always been a constant, safe place for me to come back to, and I hope the same feeling exists for you and that you come back to BYU often.
100 Percent Commitment
Today I would love to give you some sermon about the future, but I can’t because I can’t predict the future. Instead, I thought I’d share one of the most important lessons that I have learned: be all in.
Being all in is the lost art of really committing to something. Real commitment is hard. Technology and social media have raised our awareness, and we live in a constant state of FOMO, the fear of missing out.
We live in the ultimate on-demand world, where there’s always a backup plan, where there’s always an off-ramp, and where commitment feels binding to a lot of people. I am here to testify that the only way to feel successful in life is to make decisions wisely and then act on those decisions with 100 percent commitment.
The principle of being all in applies to every role we have in life. It applies to our marriages and our families, it applies to our faith, it applies to our careers. It is absolutely vital that we be all in because, in my experience, nothing great ever happens unless we are willing to fight through the friction.
President Henry B. Eyring’s mom used to say to him, “If you are on the right path, it will always be uphill” (“Raise the Bar,” BYU–Idaho devotional address, 25 January 2005). I haven’t always understood how crucial this principle is. But when I look back through my life, I can attribute every success in my life to being all in—especially when it was an uphill battle to get there.
No Ticket Home
For the first eighteen years of my life, I wasn’t exactly a model student. Truth be told, I wasn’t a model anything. My parents went through a disruptive divorce at a critical point in my life, and I dropped out of high school my sophomore year with no plans to go back. The only reason I eventually graduated was because I wanted to go to Seoul, South Korea, to teach English with a couple of friends, and my dad said he would only let me go if I finished high school.
In Korea, everything changed for me because that is where I first learned what it took to be all in.
My friends and I headed to Seoul with a great plan. We had jobs and housing lined up. We had high expectations about how this incredible adventure would unfold. But shortly after we arrived, everything started to unravel. Our jobs didn’t exist, our housing was no longer available, and our contact who had set everything up was nowhere to be found. On top of it all, we had no money.
Just a few days into the trip, we realized the gravity of our situation. We each called our parents to get help to get out of Seoul and return home. My two buddies phoned their parents, who rushed to the rescue. They were headed home on the next flight out. But when I called my father, he said, “I’m not buying you a ticket. I think you should stay.”
I will never forget the loneliness that I felt as a seventeen-year-old kid sitting in a restaurant, watching as my two friends grabbed their bags, hopped into a taxi, and headed off to the airport. I had never been away from home before and was alone in a foreign country. I couldn’t speak the language, and I had no money and no contacts.
On that very lonely first night without my friends, I was forced to be all in.
My first move was to find somewhere to sleep. My second move was to find a job—any job. Things were really rough.
I eventually found a job teaching English at a school, and I was able to convince school officials to let me sleep on a couch at night if I put away my bedding before the kids showed up.
I stowed all my belongings five miles away at the apartment of an acquaintance I had met on the street. Every morning I woke up and took the subway to his house, where I showered, changed, and then headed back to the school for work. I ate ramen noodles three meals a day because it’s all I could afford—and all I could order in Korean.
There was a lot of friction. Feeling alone, lost, and hopeless, it was virtually impossible to consistently maintain an attitude of being all in. But I tried, and somehow, someway, I continued day after day to push through the friction.
Miracle after Miracle
Finally, after a few months of barely getting by, the first of many miracles occurred. One day in the subway, I randomly ran into two missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I hadn’t seen Americans in a long time. I was not active in the Church at the time, and the missionaries gave me their quick spiel. I told them I was from Utah and I knew who they were, so they switched gears and invited me to play basketball. I joined them.
The next day I went to church for the first time in a long time. That evening I hung around and went to ward prayer, where I met a ton of other members. But that night I went back to my couch and my routine.
As I was getting my subway ticket that Monday morning, I was ready to quit. I was filled with despair and knew I wasn’t going to last another week. Then, as I was about to get on my train, I turned around and saw another member of the Church who I had met the night before standing right behind me. In a city of nearly ten million people, this never happens. To make it even more unlikely, we were forty-five minutes away from the church building where we had met the night before. This was no coincidence.
He recognized me and invited me to hang out with him and his friends that night. Miracle after miracle followed, and things began to change. A short time later, I moved in with three returned missionaries, and for the first time in months, I didn’t feel alone. These guys inspired me. They were living clean lives and enjoying every second of it. They were happy, good people. And they were experiencing success. I wanted to be like them. They inspired me to go on a mission, which I eventually did, serving in Mexico City.
A Seventeen-Year Overnight Success
My family likes to say that I found God in Korea. And in some ways, that’s true. But more accurately, I discovered what happens when you’re all in. When we fight through doubts or loneliness or despair, we push ourselves to the greatness found on the other side. If I had quit during my time in Korea, if I had let that friction stop me, there would be no chance that I would be standing here today. There would be no chance that I would have the family I have or any of the success I’ve experienced.
We must constantly make the decision to fight through friction in order to create something great. A great marriage, a great family, a solid testimony, a successful career are only possible when we decide to be all in.
Since attending BYU two decades ago, I’ve built a tech company called Qualtrics. I started that company here at the BYU Marriott School. It’s taken Qualtrics a long time to take flight. We joke that it’s a seventeen-year overnight success. Throughout this entire journey, we have faced massive friction. And guess what? We still do today. The entire journey has been uphill. It’s been all push and very little pull.
Had we walked away at year three or year five or year eleven or year fifteen, we would have missed out on experiences and success stories that have changed not only our lives but the lives of thousands of people.
Over the past seventeen years, every time that we’ve had a “bet-the-company-decision” to make—and we’ve had many—we pulled the team together and decided we weren’t moving forward unless everyone was all in.
On This Earth to Win
For those who know me, I have been all in on Qualtrics from the beginning. It’s been so important to me. But being all in on one area of your life isn’t enough. I have seen many people who are all in on their careers, but the rest of their lives are complete disasters. That’s not success. It is not success for them, it’s not success for me, and it’s not going to be success for you.
My call to action for you is to be all in on three areas of your life: your career, your family, and your faith.
Be all in on your career. We are on this earth to win. Trajectory is important, and it’s even more important early on in your career. If you’re switching jobs every twelve to eighteen months—like what’s going on in Silicon Valley right now—you will never be anywhere long enough to make a real impact.
Find a company that is willing to bet on you for who you are, and be willing to bet on yourself. Be all in and don’t look back. You are young and enthusiastic. Now is the time to set yourself up for the future. Be all in on your career.
Second, be all in on your family. Every week I sit down and try to define what success looks like that week for me when it comes to my family. When it comes to being a good father, a good husband, a good brother, or a good son—whatever roles I play—I plan and schedule activities to help me be successful in those areas. Nobody’s perfect, and some weeks I fail miserably. But you’ve got to try. Don’t let this part of your life get away from you.
Be intentional about your family. Work hard at being a good parent, a good spouse, a good sibling, a good child. Be all in on your family.
Third, and most important, be all in on your faith. We live in a world where it’s popular to be on the fence, where doubt and cynicism are fashionable. It’s not cool to be all in. But I promise you this: nothing will bring you more happiness than to be all in on your faith.
Your faith is way too important to outsource to popular trends or to what other people say or believe. Faith is a daily choice, and it needs to be worked on like everything else that’s good in your life. Be all in on your faith.
Choose to Believe
When I was in South Korea, I faced some extremely difficult times. But I never gave up. I powered through, and every single thing I have in my life now is better because of that. Your faith will hit friction. It will. That is no different than any other area of your life. When that happens, don’t freak out. Don’t jump ship. Make the decision now to power through the friction and hold fast to what you do know. Make the decision to be all in.
I’ve lived my life without the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I’ve lived with it. In every way, life is better with it. We’ve had a lot of success in the eyes of the world, but all the success in the world can’t compare to the happiness that your faith will bring you. When you’re going through friction—which we all do—you’re going to need your faith. When we are truly all in, our faith is the only compass that should drive us.
Choose to believe. If you have one foot in and one foot out the door, you will never experience true happiness and fulfillment. Be all in on your faith.
We are on this earth to succeed and be happy. Be all in on your careers. Be all in on your family. Be all in on your faith because that will guide you on how to be all in on the other two. As you do this, I know you will have an amazing and fulfilling life.
Speech by Ryan Smith
About the Speaker
In 2002 Ryan Smith cofounded Qualtrics, an experience-management software company, with his brother, Jared; his father, Scott; and his friend, Stuart Orgill. Enterprise software giant SAP purchased Qualtrics in 2018 in the largest private enterprise software acquisition of all time. Smith continues in his position as CEO of the company. This text is adapted from Smith’s remarks given at BYU Marriott’s convocation on 26 April 2019. Smith graduated from BYU Marriott with a bachelor’s degree in marketing management.