First things first, this is not an anti-Mormon post. So, if you’re really in the mood for some heavy bashing, look elsewhere, you won’t be satisfied here.
I grew up in small-town Idaho where you were far more likely to come across cows in the street than you were to find somebody who wasn’t a Mormon or at least related to one. It was a tight-knit community that of course had small town hurdles, but I’d take those problems all over again to grow up in that amazing place with equally amazing people.
My hometown has a population of about 3,000 people. My sister and I were fortunate enough to grow up not too far from my grandma and grandpa’s farm. Just a few miles outside of town sits a place that is the backdrop for a large portion of my childhood memories. My grandpa was a former Marine and to this day one of the hardest workers I’ve had the privilege of meeting. He was tough, unapologetic, but absolutely succumbed to my grandma who was the sweetest lady I knew, until you pissed her off. He was tough, she was tougher. They made one hell of a couple.
They were strong in their faith and always encouraged us to do what was right. In elementary school I got caught stealing a small toy car from a local store. After getting reprimanded by my mom, the store owner, and a police officer, I thought I had heard the end of it…until grandma, of course. She didn’t yell at me, nor did she explicitly tell me what I did was wrong. She simply reminded me that as a boy scout, and a member of the LDS church, I had let her down. She said that she was “disappointed” in my decision. She didn’t skip a beat in treating me like her grandson, it was just a reminder that my actions did not fall in line with the expectations of either organization I was a part of.
The Mormon church is full of people like my grandma and grandpa: good, honest, hard-working, fair, genuine, and very loveable. I met many of these people attending church with my grandparents in the Garfield 3rd Ward outside the city limits of my hometown, Rigby. I met a lot of these people throughout my school years. I met even more of these people when I served a two-year church mission in the Hawaiian Islands. Some of the relationships I made via my church membership are people I would die for, kill for. Absolute blessings in my life. The relationships alone are one big reason somebody should appreciate the church. Luckily for me, submitting a formal resignation letter to have your name removed from church records does not sever any of those relationships that matter.
While on my church mission I had the opportunity to listen to and meet Elder Boyd K. Packer. He was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the highest governing body of the church. It is believed by those in the church that these men receive revelation directly from God as to what He wants done with the church on Earth. Needless to say, it was a great experience listening to him give instruction. He ended his time with us with a little Q&A. One of my fellow missionaries asked President Packer how we could decipher the difference between whether we were receiving revelation, or if it was just a “good idea” that popped into our heads. President Packer gave a simple, stern response: “What difference does it make?” He let that sink in for a moment before he continued, “Whether it is revelation or a good idea, if it works, it works.” He expounded on that thought for a bit longer, but the gist of it was that if something is effective, or works, then do it. If it is not working, don’t. I loved this direction.
Switching gears, if you know anything about me, you know that I am a fan of Jim Rohn. He was a major influence in the arena of personal development. His books and seminars had the purpose of enriching people’s lives, and helping them become better leaders. One of my favorite quotes from Jim Rohn is “make sure what you do is a product of your own conclusion.” He derives this thought from a story he told at a weekend seminar about coming across two books on diet and exercise. The first book gives very specific instructions on the best path to a healthy lifestyle. The second book says that if you do what the first book says, you’ll die. Jim Rohn continues, “Which book do you follow? The answer to that question, ladies and gentleman, is one of the great thoughts for this weekend. Neither one.” He continues to instruct, “You must read both books, and then decide.” This is a principle we must all work on. In each aspect of our lives you have to get as much information as possible, and then decide. I will die with his line in my head: make sure what you do is a product of your own conclusion. This seems so simple, but it is so uncommon.
On this idea of personal development, Steve Jobs gave arguably the greatest commencement speech to Stanford University’s 2005 class. Of course he is best known for his development of Apple, Inc., but I believe this address is more beneficial for humanity than any electronic device his company will ever produce. Here is the part I want to share:
“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Of his 15-minute delivery, the second sentence stuck with me the most. “Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking.” Dogma exists everywhere. Sports, education, religion, business, exercise, literally EVERYWHERE. In life, it is easy to stay between the parameters of dogma. And, for some, that will be their entire story. But for you, somebody who is smart, capable, and motivated, this can’t be what defines you. ‘Because’ can never be the answer to any question ever asked of you.
My sister and I had the same upbringing. Today she has a very active LDS family. Her incredible husband is the second counselor to their ward’s bishop, and she is the Relief Society President (The Relief Society is a part of the church’s organization specifically for women). Conversely, the church plays no part in the life of my wife and me. So what differed? Two kids, same family, same upbringing. The difference is simple. The church works for her, it makes sense to her, and her involvement is a product of her own conclusion. She is an inquisitive person who can look at things spiritually and empirically. Her husband is the same way. They are reasonable, logical thinkers. They have decided through years of study and critique that the church fits into and improves their lives. It has a message they not only hold on to, but enjoy so much that they share it with others. They do not attend because of an expectation, they attend because they believe. I also consider myself an inquisitive person who can look at things spiritually and empirically. My wife is the same way. We are reasonable, logical thinkers. We have reasonably concluded through years of study and critique that the church does not fit into our lives. It does not have a message we hold on to. Simply put, the church does not work for us. We can relate it to a diet. One diet does not work for all people. I would be absolutely insane to suggest that my diet is the diet everybody should follow since it works for me.
In any of your life decisions I encourage you to think of Elder Boyd K. Packer, Jim Rohn, and Steve Jobs and ask yourself these three questions: Is what I am doing working for me? Have I considered all the facts to make this decision? Am I doing this for myself, or somebody else? If you can answer those questions, you will be well on your way to live your life the way you want, the way it was meant to be lived. You only get one of these experiences, might as well make it your own. It is worth noting that when I told my loved ones the truth about my stance on the LDS church, I was 100% supported by anybody who mattered to me. If you know WHY you are doing what you doing, people are accepting. If you can answer WHY you want to go to church, study medicine, travel the world, or become a tattoo artist, even your toughest critics will respect your decision. So, honestly ponder those three questions, and whether you are on the fence about a church, or just trying to figure out something small, let the answers shed light on your decision-making process.
Finally, I find comfort in knowing that I am defined by what I do, how I treat people, and how I make those around me feel. That is who Ali Goljahmofrad is. I am not defined by my favorite sports teams, my political or religious affiliations, or even my career choice. Those are parts of my life that add to my equation, but by no means do they define me as a human being. We are not defined by our thoughts except for those that lead to action, because again, what we do does indeed define us. So, do what you conclude you should do. If it makes sense to you, do it. It is not popular to be a religious person in 2015, but if that’s what makes sense to you, be that, and be that proudly. Anybody who opposes you does not understand those three questions, and that’s okay. Les Brown shared an ultimate truth when he said, “Somebody’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.”
I would argue that collegiate athletics is one thing that plays a major role in the United States. For well over 100 years now we have been recording results and following certain programs. There is no question as to what the most popular collegiate sport is: football. College football is a piece of our country’s rich history. It’s a war of wills, a defense of tradition, and a display of unity in front of thousands (sometimes one hundred thousand+) at a time.
One of the most storied programs in college football history is covered in Scarlet & Gray and plays in Columbus, Ohio. The Ohio State University is highly decorated and is a flagship organization for academics and athletics.
I am not a self-proclaimed Big 10 fan (college football is split up into six major conferences, Ohio State plays in the Big 10 conference), but I am a fan of greatness, and Ohio State defines that. So I wanted to sit down with one of Ohio State’s coaches to ask some questions. You don’t have to love Ohio State Football to appreciate what they do individually and collectively to find success. Actually, you don’t even have to love sports. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about sports, business, cooking, or about a daycare, when top-performers in any industry are willing to talk, you better listen! Remember, you can learn from anybody and everybody, regardless of position.
I sat down with Coach Luke Fickell, the current Defensive Coordinator for Ohio State Football. He was named head coach for one year after Jim Tressel left, right before the university brought in Urban Meyer. Both Jim and Urban are Hall of Fame caliber coaches, and Coach Fickell coached with Jim and is currently coaching with Urban. Needless to say, Coach Fickell has seen the program being ran by two very successful men.
I knew we were meeting around 4pm, and I knew it was on campus, but I didn’t know where. So around 3pm I made my way to the stadium since I had never seen it before. Ohio Stadium is MA-JES-TIC. It is one of only 10 stadiums in the world that seats over 100,000 people (side note–eight of the top 10 largest stadiums are home to college football. Remember what I said about college athletics?). I am in awe whenever I think about the history of certain venues. The athletes, the games played, the upsets, the victories. The fact that for many, that stadium stands as an iconic landmark that reminds them of their childhood. Sports are a wonder, but it’s no wonder why.
While inside the stadium, I received a text from Coach Fickell, “I’ll be there at 3:30. Front of the Woody Hayes Center.” I arrived at the Woody Hayes Center to be greeted by a security guard. “How’s it going,” I asked. He doesn’t answer but says, “It’s closed for the day.” I told him I was instructed to meet there at 3:30. He didn’t believe me because he then said, “I don’t think anybody is in there.” I politely informed him that Coach Fickell was, and I continued to make my way to the front. “You can check,” the security guard invited. I just smiled and thought, thanks, I was going to. I texted Coach Fickell that I was out front but that the door was locked. While I waited for a response, a gentleman with his son asked from a parked truck if they could go inside and check out the trophies. I raised my eyebrows, shook my head, and said, “I have no idea.” Suddenly taking a page out of the security guard’s book, I said, “I’m pretty sure it’s closed.” The thing is, I didn’t want Coach Fickell thinking I was bringing a couple fanboys along with me. I guess seeing the situation as an opportunity to meet an Ohio State coach, the man and his son (maybe 10 years old) jumped out of truck and came and stood by me. I thought, “You kidding me? This is awkward.” Coach Fickell appeared out from behind some Ohio State vinyl wrapped doors, made his way toward us, and as soon as he opened the glass double-door, I threw the man and son under the bus: “I don’t know who he is, but he had a question.” Coach Fickell, looking at me shifted his glance towards the man and his son. An awkward two or three seconds passed before the guy asked if he could get a picture with Coach Fickell and the National Championship trophy. Coach Fickell was very polite, agreed, and the father-son combo left. I don’t know why, but I felt like an idiot. Like, don’t get invited to a party then bring a couple of uninvited friends.
He led me through the vinyl wrapped doors that opened up into a long, wide, scarlet and gray painted hallway with a lot of decoration. Helmets, trophies, decals, life sized statues displaying all the latest uniforms, and furniture with Ohio State logos and name embroidered on it was everywhere. Historic victories, players, and legendary coaches were remembered on the walls. It was kind of a sensory overload. I’m going to skip all the details, but just trust me when I say that it wouldn’t completely suck to be an Ohio State football player.
We walked past a number of offices until we got to Coach Fickell’s. More Ohio State memorabilia was all over the place, but on his desk, surrounding his computer area was all about family. I dug that. Very cool.
First, I thanked him for his time. With recruits currently on campus, and freshman obligations starting in two days, I knew his schedule was slammed. How appreciative I am for the time he took can’t be overstated. I got right into the questions I had prepared.
I ask him who he looked up to and why. He mentioned that of course his own coaches in high school had a major impact on him, but more recently, it was Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer who he was able to really learn from. He said that the two men were complete opposites in terms of leadership style, but that they both found success. He said Jim Tressel is very mild-mannered, very nurturing, very positive, and hardly, if ever, raises his voice. On the flip side, Coach Fickell said that Urban Meyer is the intense, in your face, keeps you uncomfortable to force you to grow type of leader. I feel like these two pictures sum up what was being said.
He said the two men could not be more different, and that he looked up to them for different reasons. He mentioned that they are both incredible leaders, just in different ways. This stuck with me from what he said:
“A leader is somebody who makes others around them better, and that’s what Jim and Urban do, they make those around them better. So who is the better leader? It’s hard to say. They are just different.”
I love that he said that because too often we see what we think leadership is and try to mimic it. Teachers try to use the practices of another teacher, a manager might try a management style of a successful peer, or teenagers act a certain way because of a perceived acceptance by others. But the truth is, the best teachers, most effective managers, and happiest people are the ones who are willing to be themselves. This is the lesson I took away from Coach Fickell’s answer: be the best version of you that you can be. Don’t be a cheap imitation of somebody you think others would accept more. By doing so, you’re cheating yourself and you’re cheating them because you have something incredibly unique to offer. Both Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer have won a National Championship at Ohio State, and Coach Fickell says the reason they are great is because they are who they are. Pretty simple.
Next, I asked Coach Fickell what it was he told recruits who are being pursued by other top-tier programs throughout the country. I asked why somebody would choose Ohio State over a program like Alabama, Florida State, USC, Notre Dame, etc. He said that he is very transparent with recruits. He mentioned that he communicates the idea that “they are going to try to sell you a dream. We’re going to show you the dream.” He leaned forward and said to me, “Now, it’s still hard to recruit these kids, but recently winning a National Championship helps. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it makes it a hell of a lot easier to sell Ohio State.” This is the lesson I took away from Coach Fickell’s answer: You can use past successes in future endeavors. When you’re having a bad day, things seem to be stacked against you, or doubt starts to creep into your mind, remember the things you’ve already accomplished. Every person alive has done something of value. Use those things to sell yourself on the idea of keeping your head up!
I asked Coach Fickell why a walk-on can become a first round NFL draft pick and a 5-star recruit is never heard of after his freshman year. Hardly letting me finish, he said, “Intangibles.” He said that the discrepancy between a 5-star athlete and a walk-on isn’t as big as one would think. He explained, “The biggest difference is the walk-on has been competing his entire life. He has been conditioned to fight for his spot. The 5-star has never really had to compete in the same way. So when he gets to Ohio State, some of these 5-stars who don’t have the intangibles, i.e., the heart, the drive, the will to not be beat, get beat out.” He said that they tell their players that they better “get comfortable being uncomfortable,” because discomfort is where we grow the most. This is the lesson I took away from Coach Fickell’s answer: Sometimes in life it’s not just about what’s on paper. Don’t get me wrong, credentials matter, your resume matters, “tangibles” matter. But what separates the “first-rounders” from the “undrafted” is hardly about what is written down. Jerry Rice, Emmett Smith, Tom Brady, and a long list of many other legendary performers all had less-than-average measurables.
They are great because they possess solid intangibles. What intangibles do you have that set you apart? What could you work on to give you an edge? Answering these two questions can add value to not only your work life, but to your personal life as well.
Before I got to my last question I asked Coach Fickell if they give new players any advice about not getting caught up in all the hype about Ohio State. I said that it’s not hard to imagine how an 18-22 year old could get distracted. He shared that he warns the athletes about praise and criticism. He said, “It’s harder to handle praise than it is to handle criticism. Praise kills you from the inside out. Criticism strengthens you from the outside in.” He expounded by saying that as soon as we hear praise, our guard drops just a bit or our work ethic might lighten up a hair. “Criticism,” he said, “if done constructively, can give you that desire to work harder. A good athlete takes criticism and uses it as fuel.” This is the lesson I took away from Coach Fickell’s answer: It’s okay to take praise, it feels nice, but don’t dwell on it. It doesn’t do much for us in terms of self-improvement. As for criticism, we also can’t dwell on that either, but we can take it and use it to our advantage. As we have all heard before, if somebody criticizes you, don’t get bitter, get better.
Finally, I ended the interview with my favorite question: If you had just 20 seconds to give me your best advice, what would you tell me?
He said, “Do what you love. You have to find your passion.” He explained that his career takes him away from his family for 60-80 hours per week. But his family loves what he does and he loves what he does, so it works. He mentioned that he mixes his football family with his wife and kids. He said he will have get-togethers at his house with players because he genuinely wants them to be a part of the family. This is coaching.
He said that being a college football coach isn’t for everybody, and that is not hard to understand. He clarified that it’s not just Ohio State that he loves. Though he played there (he actually holds the record for most games ever played as a Buckeye), his love for the game is what makes him happy. He shared, “I’m no happier now than when I was making less money at Akron because I love what I do. I am a better husband and father because I love what I do.” Fun fact: his salary while coaching at Akron was less than what a teacher makes in the worst paying state in the nation.
Sitting down with Coach Fickell was a privilege. I don’t call it a privilege because I got to sit one-on-one with an Ohio State Football coach. I call it a privilege because I got to sit one-on-one with a man who is a husband, father, brother, and son who seems to be fulfilling those respective roles while providing for his family, helping gifted teenagers grow into men, and following his passion.
If you haven’t found your passion, your calling, your purpose, whatever you want to call it…pay attention: KEEP LOOKING. How many times do we have to be told that we have one life to live, and that’s it, before we realize it’s true? Stop spending your days doing what you don’t love, or what you can simply tolerate. Life wasn’t meant to be tolerated, it was meant to be filled with daily experiences that you love.
Yesterday 6/3/2016 was our last day of school for teachers at Theodore Roosevelt High School (TR). All that had to be done was logistical stuff (grades, turning in books, getting signed out, etc.). I got to the school early to get some stuff lined up to make my “checkout” quick and easy. At 10:30 we had a staff meeting to review the year, cover some business items, recognize a few teachers who were transferring, and celebrate three teachers who were retiring after quality careers in education. One specific teacher who is retiring stuck out to me. Heather Farmer is a graduate of TR c/o 1982. Beginning in 1986, she then spent her entire teaching career at her Alma Mater.
As our principal wrapped up speaking about the three retirees, he gave them a chance to say something. The first two gave short and sweet messages that mainly said “keep up the good work” and “thank you.” When the microphone was given to Heather, she tried to speak but only managed to work out “I don’t know what to say, this is all I’ve ever known” before emotion cut her off, taking over the second half of her sentence. Nothing beats passion, nothing.
I caught up with Heather after the meeting to ask her a few questions. I wasn’t about to not ask my favorite questions of somebody with, not the only the experience, but with the mind she has. So I asked:
Are you kidding me? I’ll let you peel away the layers on your own. But her answer was not about her, it was about the “others” in other people’s lives. Basically, your success is helping others help others. She compared it to dropping a pebble in water and watching the ripple effect. No further explanation needed. Next question:
It’s clear to me why she is so respected as a teacher and a human being. I told her that I found it fitting she didn’t say much when holding the microphone. What could she possibly say that spoke louder than the way she approached her craft as a teacher? She is focused, driven, fun, and authentic. Heather Farmer embodies what “actions speak louder than words” is.
This is what I want you to take away from reading this: Don’t live quietly. Live as loudly as possible. Speak so much by your actions that no words will ever match your output. If you’re a teacher, teach loudly. If you’re a construction worker, build loudly. Cook loudly, bank loudly, be a freaking librarian loudly!
After three decades of teaching, Heather has taken roll for the last time, but her own personal ripple effect will never stop.