Setting goals: Advice from Elder John A. Widtsoe still relevant more than a century later

By Caresa Alexander

Deseret News

Published: Monday, Jan. 2 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

"16th. That I complete every task which I begin; also that I carefully consider my purpose and its results before taking upon me any duty.

"17th. That I always remember that the men and women I meet are my brothers and sisters and that I look to the beam in my own eye before attempting to remove the mote in my fellow's eye."

Widtsoe's duty to his mother was well deserved. Anna mortgaged her property and took out loans to send her son to Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. In three years, he finished the four-year curriculum and graduated summa cum laude. Widtsoe returned to Logan and accepted a job as a professor at Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University).

In 1898, Widtsoe married Leah Eudora Dunford. They moved to Germany, where Widtsoe earned a Ph.D. from the University of Goettingen. He again returned to Logan and built up the agriculture research department at the Agricultural College. His work on scientific dry farming and irrigation practices were used in arid regions throughout the world.

He served as president of the college from 1907 to 1916 and later as president of the University of Utah from 1916 to 1921. Elder John A. Widtsoe was ordained an apostle in 1921 and served in that capacity until his death in 1952.

"I hope it will be said of me I have tried to live unselfishly, to serve God and my fellow man, and use my time and talents industriously for the advancement of the human good," Elder Widtsoe expressed toward the end of his life.

His life served as an example to others, and his work has made an impact on people throughout the world. Elder Widtsoe's story is included in the institute manual "The Gospel and the Productive Life." The teacher manual states, "Many people struggle with setting goals and managing their time effectively." It then listed three principles to help improve lives and better serve others.

1. Setting worthwhile goals gives direction to our lives.

2. We should set goals in a number of different areas.

3. Managing our time gives us control over our lives so we can serve more effectively.

In his October 1974 general conference address, President Ezra Taft Benson, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve, said: "Every accountable child of God needs to set goals, short- and long-range goals. A man who is pressing forward to accomplish worthy goals can soon put despondency under his feet, and once a goal is accomplished, others can be set up. Some will be continuing goals. Each week when we partake of the sacrament we commit ourselves to the goals of taking upon ourselves the name of Christ, of always remembering him and keeping his commandments.

"Of Jesus' preparation for his mission, the scripture states that he 'increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.' (Luke 2:52.) This encompasses four main areas for goals: spiritual, mental, physical, and social. 'Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be?' asked the Master, and he answered, 'Verily I say unto you, even as I am.' (3 Ne. 27:27.) Now there is a lifetime goal — to walk in his steps, to perfect ourselves in every virtue as he has done, to seek his face, and to work to make our calling and election sure."

Elder Widtsoe wrote the words to the hymn "Lead Me Into Life Eternal." In it we can find his commitment to God and his resolution to let Christ and the gospel be his "chief concernment throughout life."

"Father, all my heart I give thee;

"All my service shall be thine."

As we begin 2012, it's important to remember that "a goal is an anticipated accomplishment."

With a list of goals and a determination to accomplish them, we, like Elder Widtsoe at age 19, plan to succeed.

EMAIL: calexander@desnews.com

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