Five Lessons I’ve Learned from Church Service

A little context before I jump in.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many unique things about it, but a notable one is that there is no paid clergy. The local congregations, which we call wards, are run entirely on a volunteer basis. The leader of the ward is called “bishop” and members of the ward are asked to serve in callings, which are assignments to serve in a specific area. These callings range from teaching Sunday School to counting attendance at worship services.

Last Sunday I was released from my calling to serve as a counselor to our bishop, a calling I held for almost three and a half years. The leader who made the release invited me to share a few words with the congregation. I decided to share five lessons that I learned from serving in the church.

1) Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about

While serving, I spent a lot of time with people I had previously admired from a distance. They had good jobs, good marriages, a beautiful family, etc. I looked at these individuals and their families and assumed everything in their life was perfect.

As I spent time with these individuals, sometimes serving alongside them, sometimes serving them directly, I learned that no one is invincible. Everyone has challenges. Those challenges may not be apparent on the surface, but they are there, they are real, and quite often they are severe.

It’s been said that everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. I’ve found through experience that this is spot on.

2) Assume good intentions

It’s easy to look at imperfect people and fixate on what they’re doing wrong and how they can do better. While correction has a place, so does kindness and support. In our church, service is 100% voluntary. No one gets paid to serve. Everyone is trying their best. Replacing criticism with a helping hand can go a long way. Assuming good intentions should apply to all, not just those serving.

3) Talents are magnified when serving others

Somehow, someway, when we use our talents to help others, those talents are enlarged.

4) Service is not always convenient

The first Sunday of May 2016 will always be a memorable one. I took our two older kids to church while my wife stayed home with our newborn daughter, who was three weeks old at the time. After the first hour of church (we met for three hours then but have since moved to two), one of the leaders pulled me into a room. He asked me if I would serve as a counselor to our bishop, a calling that would require a substantial commitment of time and energy.

With three young children and a busy job, I thought of several reasons why the timing wasn’t right. However, I felt strongly that accepting the invitation to serve was the right thing to do and my wife was fully supportive. Sundays were no longer a day to sleep in. I had 6:30 AM meetings and didn’t get home until after lunch. Every Sunday my wife got the kids ready and took them to church on her own.

Six months later I accepted an offer to join DoorDash. It would prove to be an even more demanding job than my prior one and required a commute to San Francisco. Once again, I questioned whether we’d be able to make it all work. And life certainly didn’t get any simpler when we welcomed our fourth child earlier this year.

Over the last 3+ years there were a lot of balls to juggle and I thought church service may need to be the one I let drop. My wife, on more than one occasion, helped me see things from a long-term perspective and we were able to keep moving forward.

5) Serving others may bless your life more than those you’re serving

I won’t detail them here, but I’m in awe of how many blessings our family has had over the last 3+ years. While I hope that I’ve been able to help others, my life has likely been blessed even moreso.

In Matthew 16:25 Jesus said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

This has to be the most counterintuitive advice out there, but it’s true. Are you overwhelmed by all that’s going on in your life? Pause what you’re doing and go help someone. Doing so will both bless your life and put things into perspective.

I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to serve. While these lessons have come from serving in a formal capacity, I’ve learned that you don’t need to wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder. The opportunities are endless and the blessings of service come to all who are willing to extend a helping hand.

LinkedIn, Microsoft, and the Never-Ending Need to Adapt

Two months ago I was invited to speak at a career conference in Provo, Utah. I was excited to return to my alma mater and teach career advisors how to help college students thrive in today’s workplace. I concluded my remarks with a quote that one of my undergraduate professors kept posted outside his door:

It is not the strongest that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

I remember walking by his office, reading the quote, and wondering why he put it there. But a few months after graduation, when the company I joined declared bankruptcy and I was struggling to find work, I realized why my professor felt so strongly about the need to adapt.

Like many people in their career, I planned on one thing, but events outside of my control forced me to pivot. I think Mike Tyson said it best: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

On Monday I woke up to the announcement that LinkedIn had been acquired by Microsoft. Like many of my west coast colleagues, I heard the news through a flurry of text messages and emails. Experiencing a range of emotions, I couldn’t help but think back to the presentation I had recently given on the need to continually adapt. Now I had to practice what I preached.

Having had a few days to process what this all means for LinkedIn and our future, I am genuinely excited for the acquisition. Of course, having worked in M&A, I know that acquisitions are never easy—the devil is always in the details. But I’m optimistic about how this new partnership can help LinkedIn realize its vision of creating economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.

Shortly after the deal announcement, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner addressed the company. After discussing the opportunities that lie ahead, he shared a story about Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) of the Duke Blue Devils. In Jeff’s words:

“Every time (Duke) goes up and down the court and they complete a sequence, offense or defense, Coach K yells out the exact same thing, every time. He yells out “next play,” because he doesn’t want the team lingering too long on what just took place. He doesn’t want them celebrating that incredible alley-oop dunk, and he doesn’t want them lamenting the fact that the opposing team just stole the ball and had a fast break that led to an easy layup. You can take a moment to reflect on what just happened, and you probably should, but you shouldn’t linger too long on it…”

When change happens, we must be willing to adapt. We can’t dwell obsessively on what once was or what might have been. We must look forward.

The past is to be learned from, but not lived in.

Next play.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

 

My two most frightening moments as a father

Just a few days ago, my wife and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family. Everything went well. Both the doctor and nurses were great, and our two older kids are thrilled to have a baby sister. We feel very blessed.

During a quiet moment at the hospital, while my wife and newborn were resting, I reflected on many of the experiences I’ve had as a father. Some memories were of joyous occasions, while others were alarming. Two of the more frightening experiences came to mind.

Locked in the car

The first moment happened almost five years ago. One Saturday morning I was babysitting watching my daughter while my wife attended a women’s event. After making breakfast and getting dressed, we headed to a children’s park near our house. I found an open spot and parked the car. Still in our seats, I leaned back and handed the keys to my daughter. She loved playing with car keys, and I wanted her to have a moment of fun as I got her out. I opened my door, and walked to the other side of the car. As I reached for the door handle, I heard a sharp clicking sound. I shuddered, knowing exactly what had happened.

Somehow she had pressed the door lock button. She was inside the car, holding the keys, and the doors were locked. I was standing outside the car, with no keys, looking inside. Not knowing what just happened, she was smiling at me, jangling the keys in her hand. I smiled back at her, but I was filled with terror. I immediately called my wife but she didn’t pick up. I looked back in the car and saw my daughter drop the keys. Any chance of her magically unlocking the doors was gone.

I quickly ran through a few options in my head. I could wait patiently for my wife to call me back and hope she was carrying an extra car key. Or I could call roadside assistance and have them open the door. Both options would take time.

I started running. Our apartment was only a quarter-mile from the park. I thought I knew where we kept a spare key, and I was pretty sure I left the door unlocked. I ran as fast as I could, leaving my one-year-old by herself. I couldn’t get inside the car, and I prayed that no one else would either.

I reached my apartment, threw the door open, quickly found the spare key, and ran back to the park. On my return, I opened the car door just as my daughter started crying. Completely out of breath, I took her in my arms and repeatedly apologized. We were both crying. We walked over to the swings and as I pushed her, the tears quickly turned to smiles. Gratitude and relief overcame me.

Wake up, it’s time to go

The second moment came a few years later. My wife woke me around 4:00 AM and told me we needed to go to the hospital. Nine months pregnant, she had started having steady contractions after I had gone to bed. After laboring most of the night, she was ready to have the baby.

I quickly got dressed, pulled our sleeping daughter from her bedroom, and jumped in the car. Our friends lived around the corner, and they had agreed to watch our girl while we went to the hospital. In less than a minute I was on their doorstep, pounding for them to open up. No response. “This is not going well,” I muttered under my breath. “This is not going well,” my daughter repeated in her cute two-year-old voice, almost parrot-like.

Filled with panic, I knew if I didn’t hurry, my wife would be having the baby in our apartment. We got back in the car and drove to another friend’s house. When he opened the door, I gave him a quick update and asked if he could watch our daughter. He agreed, so I gently nudged her inside, handed him the car seat, and bolted back to the car.

I found my wife kneeling on the floor, moaning in pain. “My water broke,” she said. “We better hurry.” Moments later I was back in the car, this time headed to the hospital. It was still dark outside and there were few cars on the road. I treated the stop lights like stop signs, only pausing to look both ways before proceeding. It felt like a movie scene, and I was running on pure adrenaline.

We headed to Stanford Hospital, just a few minutes from our place, but in my panic, I made a wrong turn. After flipping a u-turn, I was back on track, or so I thought. We pulled up to the front of a hospital building. My wife cried, “No! This isn’t it! This isn’t it!”

At this point, I really was lost. Needing directions, I ran inside and yelled, “My wife is about to have a baby, where is labor and delivery!? But the building was completely empty. Back in the car, with my wife in even more pain, I saw another building in the distance. I prayed it was the right one.

As I pulled up, I read the words, Labor & Delivery. Hallelujah. I grabbed a wheelchair, helped my wife into it, and wheeled her inside. “She’s having the baby right now, where should we go!?” I screamed. A nurse directed us to a delivery room where my wife was quickly surrounded by medical staff. I collapsed into the bedside chair. We had made it.

There was no time for any pain medication, and less than 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital, we were holding our second child. The feeling of panic had been replaced by an overwhelming rush of pure joy.

These experiences pale in comparison to what many parents endure, but I’m thankful for these moments and the perspective they provide. They’ve given me an added sense of gratitude for all the times things went right. I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful I’m a father. And I’m grateful for the softening filter of experience that allows me to look back on these moments and laugh.

Nine years, three states, and one Ben and Jerry’s gift card

In Spring 2007 I coached a youth baseball team in Provo, Utah. My wife Whitney and I had just started dating and she helped me out. When the season came to a close, the City of Provo expressed gratitude by giving me a $10 gift card to Ben and Jerry’s.   

The following year Whitney and I, now married, found the gift card and decided to go out for ice cream. We jumped in the car and headed to Ben and Jerry’s, only to learn that it was no longer in business. Unfortunately, there were no other shops open in Utah.

Time passed and we forgot about our gift card. We moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, got jobs, had kids, and continued on with our lives.

In 2014, after completing my first year of business school at BYU, we headed to Scottsdale, Arizona to visit my parents. Completely out of the blue, Whitney did a quick Google search and found a Ben and Jerry’s nearby. Almost by fate, there was a shop just a few miles from where we were staying.

We jumped in the car and started the short drive, joking that almost seven years later we were finally going to use the gift card.

But it wasn’t to be. We walked around the entire strip mall and found no sign of Ben and Jerry’s. After asking around, we learned that it had also gone out of business.

A few months later we were in Valencia, California, visiting Whitney’s parents. We tracked down a Ben and Jerry’s shop nearby and planned to stop by after a movie. Having been fooled twice already, we called in advance, just to make sure it was still operating.

Whitney and I ordered our ice cream and handed the gift card to the store owner. He inspected the card for a few seconds, then told us that our card wasn’t valid at his store. “You’re kidding me,” I said. “What do you mean it isn’t valid?”

We were told, in a rather rude voice, that this particular card could only be used at the store where it had been purchased. “You don’t understand,” I tried to explain. “That Ben and Jerry’s is in Utah. And it went out of business years ago.”

“Not my problem,” he said. “Now please, I have other customers to help. Do you want to pay with cash or card?”

As I pleaded our case, Whitney noticed a stack of gift cards, identical to the one we had tried to use, on a shelf behind the owner. She pointed this out to him, and he only grew more obstinate.  

Frustrated by how poorly he had treated us, we handed him back our ice creams and walked out. Once again, our goal of redeeming a simple gift card had been unsuccessful.

I figured it was time to throw in the towel, but Whitney wasn’t ready to give up. She decided to write a letter to Ben and Jerry’s Corporate office.


Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc.
30 Community Drive
South Burlington, VT 05403-6828

Whitney Tanner
Santa Clara, CA 95050

To whom it may concern:

I love ice cream.  So, having a gift card to Ben and Jerry’s was very exciting for me. After moving a couple of times, we finally found a shop that was in business. Unfortunately, the owner turned us away. He said that they ‘do not use those kinds of cards anymore’, and only the new cards were valid.  

We were very bothered at this treatment, as the gift card does not have an expiration date. and the owner confirmed that they once used these kinds, and there were still a stack of these on his shelf. In short, my husband and I were treated poorly.

We promised never to go back to Ben and Jerry’s because of this treatment and policy, as we had an honest gift card with no expiration date and were unable to use it.  

So, we are left with a genuine $10 gift card which was given to us and we were excited to use, but are now unable for no logical reason.  Enclosed is the gift card which I have carried in my wallet for years.  I would appreciate an updated gift card in the amount of $10 to replace this ‘outdated’ card.

Thank you.

Regards,
Whitney Tanner


To Ben and Jerry’s credit, within a few weeks we received a new gift card valued at $10. With that card was a letter apologizing for the hassle this may have caused.

Last Saturday, Whitney and I decided it was time to give it another try. We found a babysitter for our two kids and with great anticipation headed to the Ben and Jerry’s in downtown San Jose.

We walked into the shop and were immediately greeted by a friendly, energetic young man. There were no other customers in the store, so we had plenty of time to make a decision. Whitney got Chocolate Fudge Brownie and I ordered The Tonight Dough (starring Jimmy Fallon). Everything was going smoothly.

The moment of truth came. Whitney handed him our gift card, and after a few seconds he apologized. The card wasn’t processing and he would need to call his manager. He invited us to start eating while he figured out what was wrong.

We found a table and started enjoying the ice cream. After a few minutes I glanced up and saw the young man still on the phone. Several customers had since walked into the store and were waiting in line. 

After finishing our ice cream, we noticed he had ended the call and walked to the counter. He told us that he was unable to process the card, but his manager had told him not to worry about it. We thanked him for his kindness and walked out the door. 

So, what’s the purpose of this story? That if at first you don’t succeed, you should try, try again? That shortsighted store policies can drive frustrated customers to share their poor experiences with others? Or is the lesson that if you write an articulate, level-headed letter to a company, they’ll seek to right what’s been wronged?

I’m not quite sure. But after carrying that gift card around for years, I’m grateful we could finally enjoy a scoop of ice cream and a laugh. Almost a decade later, the journey was complete.

Like what you read? Click here to subscribe to my monthly newsletter.