My dear brothers and sisters, it is so wonderful to be with you whether in person, or remotely. We live in a wonderful time where technology allows us to stay connected and be uplifted in a variety of ways. I think you would laugh had you seen my first cell phone. It was like carrying around a brick, but everyone in that day thought these new inventions were incredible! And they were.
I know I look old to you, but to me it seems like only yesterday that I was where you are, in college, trying to further my education. Getting a college degree was a pivotal time in my life, but it didn’t come easily. I felt very alone in my efforts, because where I came from, getting a higher education was not a high priority.
I imagine that some of you here might have a story much like my own. For some of you, you are the first members of your family to attend college. Some of you are far from home. For some of you, English might not even be your first language.
But even if English is your first language, and you have received encouragement from others to further your education, and you had always planned on attending college, you’ve probably discovered that the reality of getting a higher education is not an easy task. First and foremost, I commend you for your efforts. You will never be sorry that you are making your life better by being here in school. Prophets of God have encouraged us to get as much education as we can, and you are heeding that counsel. So, pat yourselves on the back. You are all wonderful!
I have found through the course of my life, that valuable things rarely come easily. Whether it is gaining a testimony, serving a mission, starting a new job, accepting a new church calling or applying yourself to earn a higher education, these things take great effort, patience and perseverance. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and under-qualified.
I would like to talk to you this morning about remaining optimistic when at times it is so easy to feel discouraged and defeated. At times you may hear the demons of inadequacy whispering in your ears that you cannot do this. But do not listen to them. Listen instead to the angels of hope and to the source of all hope, that being, Jesus Christ—the only true source of hope.
We all know the meaning of FOMO—the “fear of missing out”— but I have a new acronym for you this morning, it was invented by my wife, Nancy.
It is the acronym “FOBFO” which means the “fear of being FOUND out,” otherwise known as “the imposter syndrome.” If you are not familiar with what the imposter syndrome means, simply put, it is a condition where successful people see themselves as a fraud. Even though they have proven themselves and achieved success, they might see their accomplishments as just good fortune, or a lucky break. They don’t really believe they are as good as they really are. They fear that ultimately others will discover that they really aren’t as good as they appear.
If you suffer from FOBFO or the Imposter Syndrome, know that you are not alone. It is estimated that 70% of people will fit into this category at some point in their life. They fear that they really don’t deserve that job, the promotion, the recognition, or other success that they have achieved and that ultimately others will discover that they are really just a great big fraud.
Feelings of inadequacy are common, and they are further fueled by the false veneer of social media perfection. Just five minutes on Instagram finds you surrounded by ultra-achievers—successful peers who appear to sail through school and work and home and restaurants and vacations and life with ease, while the rest of us struggle just to keep up. Trust me, for every bright moment you see on social media, there is also a proportionate struggle that you do not see. As we know, “There must needs be opposition in all things…” It’s a law of mortal life. Longfellow was right when he said, “…into each life, some rain must fall.” So, let’s all commit, right now, to never allow ourselves to fall into the pit of “despairing by comparing.”
It might be comforting to know that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland had fears and doubts when he was a young student at BYU in Provo, with his new bride, Sister Patricia Holland. Elder Holland described feeling overwhelmed and under-qualified as a new student.
He later said, “I know of nothing that Satan uses quite so cunningly or cleverly in his work on a young man or woman. I speak of doubt—especially self-doubt—of discouragement, and of despair.”
The young Jeff Holland doubted his own abilities. He discussed with Sister Holland the possibility of quitting school and returning to their home in St. George, Utah. He said she took him by the shoulders and said, “Of course we are not returning home! We are here and we will do this!” Now, aren’t we all so glad that Elder Holland didn’t go home, but he stayed in school? Can you imagine how differently his life would have turned out if he had not stayed? Here was a young man, a student, terrified of what lay before him, only to one day become the president of that very university. What a remarkable example! We can all take heart from this beautiful outcome. And think what it has meant for you and me that Elder Holland did stay in school. His education and experiences molded him and shaped him into the beloved apostle that he is today. Yes—Elder Holland, and by extension, all of us, would be very different if Elder Holland had decided to call it quits.
The scriptures are also full of true accounts of people who felt under-qualified. But when things seemed most difficult, they trusted in God. If you have ever doubted yourself, know that you are in good company.
Consider the following examples:
In describing her feelings about being the mother of the Son of God, Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden… and exalted them of low degree.”
When God commanded Moses to deliver the Israelites out of bondage, Moses replied, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” The Lord replied, “I will be with thee.”
Joseph Smith was only an unlearned boy when the Father and the Son appeared to him. Yet because of his faith in God, he became a trusted instrument and servant in God’s hands. Joseph knew of his personal inabilities, yet he submitted to God’s will because, like Nephi of old, he knew God would prepare a way.
And speaking of Nephi, he too understood his dependence upon the Lord. Because of that trust, Nephi was able to accomplish incredible, seemingly impossible things. Yet Nephi’s own experience, he had his own moments of self-doubt, even though he passed through these miracles, he chastised himself at times for his weak and human nature.
Enoch was another prophet who experienced self-doubt. Enoch initially questioned the Lord’s invitation to serve by asking, “Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, for I am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?”
And the Lord replied, “Behold my Spirit is upon you…thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore, walk with me.”
And even among our modern-day prophets and apostles, we have those who have come from inactive parents, one who endured the ravages of war and who was displaced from his homeland, those who have witnessed disease and death amongst their loved ones and those who have felt inadequate. Yet God has called and sustained each one.
Brothers and sisters, do you notice a common theme among these stories? Though we are weak and human, God assures us that he will be with us, that he will walk with us. What a comfort! What great hope! We are strong because of Him. Whether it be to secure brass plates, build a ship, confront Pharaoh, earn an education, get married or raise a family, He will increase our capacities and make weak things become strong. He will be with us!
We are reminded in the scriptures that:
“… if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
It is God that will make you strong, despite your weaknesses. Weaknesses are necessary for humility. Humility is crucial to our spiritual advancement. Humility is knowing that we ultimately depend upon God for everything, and humility is choosing to put ourselves in partnership with him to grow and progress unto eventual perfection and exaltation.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this talk, getting an education was not easy for me. Let me tell you a little more of that story. I had attended college, but then received what I thought was a good job opportunity, so I decided to quit school and go to work. I was a young married father when one day the unthinkable happened. My wife of less than two years was killed as a result of an automobile accident.
I was left to care for our seven-month-old baby girl by myself. I determined that the best course of action I could take would be to return to school and finish my education. I enrolled at BYU and began a very long, hard journey. During that time, I had to work, take care of my child, try to date and attend classes and do homework. It was rigorous and discouraging. One time my young daughter Aubrey caught pneumonia and had to be hospitalized, right during finals. My spirits fell even further. I plead God, “What more will you require of me?”
If you have it tough, I know very well what you are going through. But take heart. As God promised Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, He also promises us, “All of these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good.” I finally completed my education and best of all, during that time, I found and married my sweetheart Nancy.
Now, I can’t stand here and tell you that everything was perfect after I graduated. Life still had a lot of lessons to teach me. I started a business that failed. But I stuck with it. After a few failures and many challenges, things eventually improved, and many blessings followed. All of those years of study and sacrifice finally paid off.
So, if you experience a failure or two during your life, take heart and know that things will get better. But the most important lesson that I learned and that I hope you will learn is to know in whom you can trust.
Let me share more of Elder Holland’s story. Elder Holland graduated from BYU and then chose to go to graduate school at Yale University. As a young father he packed his small family and their belongings into an old car and headed off to his new adventures. Listen to Elder Holland’s own words about his experience:
(Video of Elder Holland)
My dear and precious brothers and sisters, take it from Elder Holland. Take it from me. There is help and happiness ahead. Trust God and believe in good things to come. And for Heaven’s sake, do not quit!
Let me end with one final thought. Before this life we all signed up for God’s Plan of Happiness, for His Plan of Salvation.
We speak about the Plan of Salvation and we instinctively think of its many different components, but the prophet Joseph Smith offered a simple yet profound definition for “salvation." He said: "Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet. The principle of salvation is given us through the knowledge of Jesus Christ.”
Simply put, salvation means to triumph over all of our enemies and Jesus Christ has provided the way and shows us how.
We all have enemies. We live in a world where we are surrounded by enemies of many kinds. We have the enemies of abuse and addiction, abandonment and betrayal, poverty and hunger, depression and loneliness, selfishness and greed, lust and immorality, disease and death, and the list goes on and on.
We ALL need help to confront and combat all of the enemies in our lives. And we have that help in Jesus Christ. He is called our Savior because he knows every principle of salvation. He knows how to help us triumph over all of our enemies. He said, “Fear … not; … I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; … I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
Like we are reminded in the beautiful hymn by Orson Pratt Huish:
Come unto Jesus, ye heavy laden,
Careworn and fainting, by sin oppressed,
He’ll safely guide you unto that haven
Where all who trust him may rest.
Come unto Jesus; He’ll ever heed you,
Though in the darkness you’ve gone astray.
His love will find you and gently lead you
From darkest night into day.
If you have enemies, and we all do, then come to the Savior. Pray to the Father. Tell Him what you are facing. The prophet Joseph Smith said, “Be plain and simple and ask [God] for what you want…and…if you will thank the Lord with all your heart every night for all the blessings of that day, you will eventually find yourself exalted in the kingdom of God.”
My friends, it is not weak to plead with God for help. In fact, the more you plead to hear Him, the more peace and strength will come to you in your hour of need. Pray in the name of Christ, there is power in His name. In moments of darkness, just say His name.
The Savior is the great physician. He can heal you. He will walk with you. He will provide a way. With persistence and endurance, you will one day find that through His help, you will have triumphed over all of your enemies. You will be saved, freed, exalted and ultimately you will become like the Savior and our Father.
Each one of you is a choice son or daughter of God, and you were created in his image. You are not a failure. You are not a fraud. You were created to succeed and with the help of the Savior, I promise that you will succeed. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Elder Kevin R. Duncan was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 3, 2010. At the time of his call, he had been serving as a member of the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy in the Utah South Area. He previously served as President of the Central America Area. He is currently serving at Church headquarters as Executive Director in the Temple Department.
Elder Duncan received a bachelor’s degree in accounting, a master’s degree in taxation, and a juris doctor from Brigham Young University in 1991. He began his career as a tax attorney in Seattle, Washington. In 1996 he founded CaseData Corporation, from which he retired in 2005.
Elder Duncan has served in a number of Church callings, including full-time missionary in Chile, temple ordinance worker, Church-service missionary as the associate international legal counsel in South America, president of the Chile Santiago North Mission, and Area Seventy.
Kevin Read Duncan was born in Ogden, Utah, on October 6, 1960. He married Nancy Elizabeth Smart in June 1986. They are the parents of five children.