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Just dropping by ... The captain of my soul

Yevet Tenney for Progressive Dairy Published on 18 October 2019

As I consider the next chapter of my life, I turn to my past heroes for advice. I first heard one of my heroes, Steven R. Covey, speak in 1972 when I was the ripe old age of 21.

At intervals in my life, I have read, re-read and tried to practice his principles. He was a brilliant man and influenced many individuals and businesses. Wikipedia gives a short synopsis of his accomplishments:

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Stephen Richards Covey (October 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012) was an American educator, author, businessman and keynote speaker. His most popular book is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His other books include First Things First, Principle-Centered Leadership, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, The 8th Habit and The Leader In Me – How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time. In 1996, Time named him one of the 25 most influential people. He was a professor at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University at the time of his death.

My life was forever changed as he spoke about changing and nurturing your relationship to God to reach your potential. Later, I read his book Spiritual Roots of Human Relations (sorrowfully, not mentioned in his epitaph) that starts with the seven days of creation as a backdrop for personal change. Behavioral change is a gradual building process. You can’t jump to day seven without mastering the principles of day one and two. Just as the Lord took the creation a step at a time – each step building on the next – He didn’t put animals on the earth before He planted the grass and provided for land and water.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People contains many of the same principles Covey taught in Spiritual Roots of Human Relations. As you can see by Covey’s legacy of work, he believed and lived what he taught.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was published in 1989. Each chapter discusses a success principle. I will share only three.

1. Be proactive

Many of us are reactive to life; we wait to see what the weather is going to be like before we plan our day. We watch the news to check out the political forecast before we decide how we will vote. We wait for the other person to initiate the conversation before we make a contact. We wait for the right moment to start building our dreams. That moment never comes.

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Years pass, and we find ourselves lamenting, as Rabindaranath Tagore said, “I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” Being proactive means taking responsibility for every decision in our lives, whether it be what to wear or where we will invest our time and resources. We rise to success or plummet to failure on the back of every small decision we make in life.

2. Begin with the end in mind

Beginning with the end in mind suggests we take time to make a mission statement. What do I want out of life? What do I want people to write on my tombstone or say in my epitaph? This was found on an English tombstone, “Gone away, Owin’ more than he could pay.” Or consider this one, “Ope’d my eyes, took a peep; Didn’t like it, went to sleep. It is so soon that I am done for I wonder what I was begun for (Wisconsin Tombstone –  Tombstone sayings and epitaphs).

Those tombstones were probably written as a joke, but they’re not so funny if they represent a person’s life. God has given each of us a mission to fulfill in this life. He doesn’t spell it out with our birth certificate. He expects us to find that purpose with His divine guidance. We must carefully plan and execute the plan. Nothing ever happens without effort. Without a plan, we are a ship adrift on the sea with no captain at the helm. William Ernest Henley said, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” When we make a mission statement, it will act as a guide to help us reach the destination we choose instead of ending up at the destination the world haphazardly gives us. It helps to have the Lord as our compass on that ship. He knows where He needs us and what will make us the happiest.

Mission statements don’t have to be static. They can be changed from time to time as we realize more about what the Lord wants from us. I have recently revised mine to read, “Live, Love, Learn and Leave a Legacy.” It encompasses all the attributes I want to develop and gives me direction for the next chapter of my life. It probably isn’t very original, but it works for me.

I want to really live the rest of my life. Many people my age want to sit down in the comfortable chair and rock away the rest of their lives, thinking, “I am powerless at this stage of my life. I am tired, and it is too late to start something new. I have accomplished everything I want in this life. Just let me rest.” In my case, I am not able to physically do everything I used to do in my younger days, but there are still people to bless out there. There are still needs to be met. I may not be able to do everything, but I can do something. I don’t want to go to my grave with the silent epitaph, “She lived to be 90, but the lights went out at 65.”

Love, in my mission statement, is my desire to develop the attribute of charity, or the pure love of Christ. I will never be able to love as He loves, but I can learn to see people as He sees them. I can look for needs and try to fill them. In my corner of the world, I can make a difference.

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Learning is a life-long pursuit. There will never come a time when I will know everything about everything. I met a 90-year-old lady who was taking piano lessons. She was full of life and a desire to challenge herself. Once, a lady sold a loom to my mother-in-law because she was just too old at 67 to do any more work. I thought it was interesting. My mother-in-law was in her 80s and still going strong, and she went strong until she passed away nine years later. I want to be like that.

With every day we live and every person we encounter, we are writing bits of our legacy. How we treat our family members, how we react to the salesman at the door, how we drive on the freeway are all woven into the tapestry of our legacy. People will remember how we treat them. Monetary gifts we give others will fade, be broken and finally trashed, but the gifts of love we leave and how we make people feel will come back every time our name is mentioned for years to come. That is a legacy.

My mission statement is not your mission but, in order to have purpose, it is good to make one of your own. Make it simple so it becomes the mantra you go to when things get tough. Life has built-in challenges, just like the sea must have raging storms and times of calm.

3. Put first things first

Putting first things first is simply setting priorities and spending the prime part of your day doing things that bless the people you value most. Most people, when asked what they value most, answer, “My family or loved ones.” Yet they spend most of their day doing mundane things that don’t have anything to do with family. Our time on this earth is limited. It is easy to squander away countless hours scrolling Facebook, watching movies or answering phone calls.

We want to pursue our dreams and make a difference, but sometimes we place higher priority on snuggling with our pillow and fighting with the snooze button than we do chasing our dreams. We must make conscious decisions to spend our time doing and pursuing the things that matter most.

As much as I love Covey’s seven habits, I love even more the wonderful blessing of a Savior who has outlined a path that really works. He has shown us through His example how His principles make life worth living. His mission statement should be our mission statement – to love and serve others just as He did.  end mark

Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.

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