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The Mountains of My Life

No mountain is climbed in a straight line. Looking at my path between 1994, when I graduated from BYU, and where I stand today, it is certainly not a clean line.

There have been ups, downs, and curves. Sir Francis Bacon once said, “We rise to great heights by a winding staircase.” Change is the only constant.

Snowy mountain with a forest in front of it

Right after I graduated from BYU, I decided to climb and ski down Mt. Hood in Oregon. On the descent I was separated from my climbing partner, got lost in whiteout blizzard conditions, and skied into a glacier area filled with crevasses.

With temperatures below freezing and no apparent way out of my mountain trap, I prayed for help to get off that mountain. The answer back to me was quite simple: “Dig in!” So I dug a snow cave with a spoon, and, through divine providence, I was miraculously rescued after some time.

The lesson: sometimes we have to dig in and the results come later. I would like to share some of the other things I have learned on the mountains of my life that I hope may help you in your journey.

Be Persistent

My family lives by a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easy to do; not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do so has increased.”

Persistence matters—it will be a key ingredient if you want to accomplish anything in your personal or professional life. Anyone can get by, but if you want to stand out as the best in your industry, persistence is a prerequisite. A high school friend once said to me, “I have never worked forty hours in a week.” That statement is similar for me with two additional words: I have never worked less than forty hours in a week.

I have never worked nine to five. Over the last seven years, if I was not traveling, my schedule involved fifteen-hour days and eighty-hour weeks. While studying at BYU I worked sixty hours a week, clocking forty hours a week at the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center and an additional twenty as a teaching assistant in the economics department. This was in addition to my full-time school schedule. Through law school I worked a near full-time job. As an attorney I billed more than 3,000 hours a year. I have traveled internationally for business ninety-seven times and flown more than one million miles around the world.

I don’t state these facts as a badge of honor, and, quite frankly, I look at them with some regret. But this persistence was a requirement for me to succeed in my chosen career, and it became easier over time. I heard that in the early days of Microsoft, your commitment was measured by how close to the building you parked. Bill Gates’s car was the first in and the last out. If you want to stand out early in your career, be the first to arrive and the last to leave.

Professional muscle, like our bodies, will grow stronger and perform at increasingly higher levels only after persistent effort. The task won’t change, but your ability to endure will increase. You can do anything you set your mind to accomplish. I don’t know a person at the top of his or her career who has not persisted and logged incredible hours to climb the mountain of professional achievement. If that is the brass ring you seek, log the miles to get there—nothing will come without persistent effort.

Be Balanced

Work to live or live to work? I have tried to work to live. It is in living that I have learned so many skills that have translated directly into business. I have always had a sense that my work did not define me. It was what happened in life that helped me excel at work.

In mountain climbing I learned how to trust my partner. In crossing the Alps on skis I learned how to perceive, calculate, and mitigate risks. In running marathons I learned how to prepare over months to endure a few hours. In cycling the Pyrenees I learned that if you prepare thoroughly, you can accomplish nearly anything. As a father I have learned how to listen, lead by example, and be patient. As a husband I have learned that trust is a glass jar filled one marble at a time. As a member of the Church I have learned about eternal perspective and the source of our blessings, as well as how to lead with compassion and long-suffering.

Balance in life provides great perspective and a quiet calm to endure the storm. Have you ever tried balancing on a bongo board? If you have, you will know that balance is a process of learning to deal with imbalance; that instant when you are truly centered lasts momentarily before the need for adjustment. There are times when work receives a higher priority and times when family or church take precedent. Adjustments happen constantly.

Be Willing

When I graduated from BYU I had a job offer from a consulting firm in New York City. They flew me, all expenses paid, to the city to recruit me for the position. I ended up turning down the job because I could not comprehend being alone in the city with no network. When I was asked more than a decade later to relocate from California to New York with my wife and four kids to oversee a global business at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), we moved and were willing to take new risks. Being willing to place yourself in uncomfortable environments can create incredible opportunities.

Have you ever heard of the story of the anorexic hermit crab? It starves itself to avoid growing so that it won’t need to move to a bigger shell. Don’t be that crab. Challenge yourself to grow, and never be afraid to move to a new home. I know several very successful people who moved their families to London, Hong Kong, Singapore, and São Paulo for incredible work experiences. Those with proficiency in foreign languages may have unbelievable opportunities to add value abroad.

Be willing to blaze new trails and carve your steps wide and deep for those who follow. Last year seventy BYU grads were placed in jobs in New York City. This creates more pull for jobs than BYU can possibly push. Remember that you represent the future of BYU: if you quit your job early or burn an employer, the likelihood of that employer recruiting from BYU again goes down. Alternatively, blow them away and more firms will recruit from BYU.

Be Relevant

In the early nineties Al Gore hadn’t yet “invented” the internet. Mobility, social networks, and instant messaging were not even part of the lexicon. A cloud was something that held rain, not data or web services. My first résumé included proficiency in Word, Excel, and Lotus.

The world is changing quickly, and the jobs of the global marketplace will be filled by individuals with relevant experience. Competition for the top jobs with leading companies is increasingly fierce. In the last few years I have been fortunate to meet with leaders from Brazil, China, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom. They all wanted perspective on how their countries could be relevant and create jobs for their people. You are competing not only against the best that the nation’s top schools can produce, but you are competing against a global talent pool from Europe and Asia. The world’s countries and industries are competing for finite resources, jobs, talent, and capital. You must be relevant.

Many employers require on-the-job training. Who wants to hire a pilot with no hours in the air? If you can be relevant out of the box for an employer, you have a much greater chance to succeed. Seek to understand the needs of the employer and make sure you have the skill set to compete with the best applicants. Some of you may be so relevant that you create your own company, execute your own idea, and stand out as an entrepreneur.

Your ability to be relevant tomorrow may also come from your excellence today. I survived the internet bubble because my legal training gave me the skills to execute a transaction beyond the spreadsheets and PowerPoints presentations. Those 3,000 hours a year as a young attorney paid off. I got my job at the NYSE because I had perspective from my days as a tech investment banker. I was able to help navigate the global financial crisis because of my background in law and corporate finance and my understanding of financial markets. I became a member of the board of the Mental Health Association of New York City because I had worked at a mental hospital through college. Do your best today to be relevant tomorrow.

Snowy mountain

Be Personal

In a world where business moves at the speed of light and we tweet, text, and message in real time, nothing can compete with true personal connection and face-to-face contact. You can’t download virtue, morals, and leadership. You cannot develop lasting and trusting professional relationships without personal interaction.

While working at the NYSE, I have been amazed to see how technology has transformed the global marketplace. Over $2.5 trillion is traded each day at speeds 200 times the blink of an eye. These systems are incredibly advanced, but in the absence of people, technology can fail. At NYSE we grew our market share in technology IPOs from less than 5 percent to more than 70 percent through the development of personal relationships. We successfully worked on Alibaba, the largest IPO of all time, because we had a team that was accountable, trusted, and transparent. We put personal relationship management at the top of our team’s objectives.

Being personal will require developing relationships with customers, partners, and people you work for, with, or lead. The best leaders connect with and inspire their people because they care personally. Without great people, any business will eventually fail.

Be Happy

During my second and third years of law school, I had a summer internship at a prestigious law firm in Silicon Valley. I sat down the hall from the office of one of the managing partners of the firm. One day a loud scream erupted from his office. “I hate this place! I have the worst life imaginable,” he shrieked, and then a phone flew out of the office and exploded against a desk. I didn’t know what to think. I thought being managing partner was the top of the happiness world. I have learned there is no Shangri-La.

I have spent many years trying to achieve, and achievement can keep one very busy. But being busy can be the equivalent of taking professional Valium—it’s tough to feel your feelings when you’re so busy. Until we understand that happiness is here and now, we won’t be happy. One author wrote, “Until you change the belief that happiness is somewhere else, you’ll only experience a life in which you’re always getting there but are never quite there. . . . You’ll always be looking but never seeing. You’ll always be busy, and you’ll never be at rest.”

Being present and focused on today has allowed me to realize happiness. When I am at home, I try to be home. When I am with my kids, I try to be with my kids. When I am with my wife, I try to be with my wife—the phone down and the Blackberry put away. You will only connect in the present moment.

In conclusion, I leave you with a quote from my favorite book, titled Annapurna, which chronicles the experiences of the first climbers to summit the great Himalayan peak. After succeeding at incredible personal cost and toil, the author writes, “Annapurna, to which we had gone emptyhanded, was a treasure on which we should live the rest of our days. With this realization we turn the page: a new life begins. There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.”

I wish you great success in climbing the mountains of life.


Address by Scott R. Cutler
Photo Credit: Mountain photos from the Photochrom Co., courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC.

About the Speaker
Scott Cutler is the president of StubHub, an online marketplace for buying and selling tickets to sports, concerts, the theater, and other live events. Previously he was the head of global listings for the New York Stock Exchange. Cutler earned a BS in economics from BYU and a JD from University of California, Hastings. This text is taken from remarks he gave at the Marriott School’s closing banquet on 20 March 2015.

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