A Question You Can’t Answer

The following statement is true: The preceding statement is false.

Doubt will destroy you if you let it. Trouble is, we all doubt sometimes, and the harder we push against our doubt, the harder it pushes back. We’ve all experienced the truth of Lombardi’s words, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Believing can be hard work.     

Some people, it seems, never believe anything, while others always believe everything. If there’s a satisfying middle ground between cynicism and blind acceptance, I haven’t found it yet. I have, however, found that doubt and belief are two sides of a coin.

Mormon scripture tells us, “It must needs be that there is an opposition in all things.” And it’s probably just as well, for as Heraclitus points out, “Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony.”

I used to keep a giant jar of peanut M&M’s in my office at work. I was drawn to it, occasionally against my will. Sometimes I would eat a handful, then promise myself that I wouldn’t have another M&M that day. Less than an hour later I’d find myself standing by the jar, M&M’s in my mouth.

I could never understand how my words and actions could be so different. I mean, I meant the promise when I made it. But life is full of paradoxes, isn’t it?

One might say that life is nothing but paradoxes, and that human beings are merely walking contradictions. It stands to reason— after all, we are eternal spiritual beings inhabiting temporary physical bodies.

F. Scott Fitzgerald tells us, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” It’s the opposing ideas, beliefs and motives that we hold subconsciously that fascinates me. We live with innumerable contradictions that we’re not often aware of.

To see what I mean, ask someone, “Do you agree that ‘A leopard can’t change its spots?’” Then ask if it’s true that “People change.”

Some of life’s paradoxes are simply amusing, like the page that actually would be empty if it weren’t for the words, “This page intentionally left blank.” Or the statement, “All things in moderation.” I wonder if that includes moderation too.

Other paradoxes are profoundly significant, like capital punishment: We kill people who kill people because killing people is wrong.

Some paradoxes are worthy of a lifetime’s effort to reconcile. I once considered tattooing each of my forearms with opposing advice: Shakespeare’s, “To thine own self be true” and the Latin maxim, “We are not born for ourselves alone.” A life well lived, I figured, must surely balance between these two.  

Other paradoxical challenges include living in the present while preparing for the future, being “In the world but not of the world,” and harmonizing head and heart, intellect and emotion.

Some paradoxes even challenge our understanding of God. For example, “Can an omnipotent being create a rock too heavy to lift?”

Such unanswerable questions resemble Zen Buddhism’s koans, which are impossible questions— almost riddles— used to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.

I attribute my inability to answer such questions largely to the feebleness of my mind, but also to the slipperiness of language and the gaps inherent in it.

Take for example the ancient philosopher Plutarch’s enigma of the Ship of Theseus. Start with a ship. Now replace any component of that ship.

It’s still the same ship, right?

Now replace EVERY component on that ship, one at a time. Once you’re done, do you still have the same ship?

To take it further, now reassemble all the pieces that you took off the original ship to form another ship.

Is that the same ship as the original?

Questions like this reinforce for me the reality that life is not like algebra class— we can’t simply flip to the back of the book and find the correct answer.

My dad used to say, “Life is simple— it’s the good guys versus the bad guys.” I, on the other hand, tend to think that life is seldom so black and white. Good people do bad things. Bad things happen to good people. Etc, etc.

Walt Whitman apparently found peace with his contradictory nature. He writes, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.”

Another poet, Maria Rainer Rilke, offers the advice, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I’ve noticed that my life seems to work better when I stop worrying so much about the things I can’t understand, and especially about the things that I can’t change. Particularly when I stop I trying and start allowing.

That’s the challenge I leave you with: try less, allow more. Love what is, and accept yourself, contradictions and all.
 

 

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Introducing Happiness, Brought to You by Small and Simple Things

“Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory.” –Mahatma Gandhi

Ken Prince, one of my best friends, authored the following post:

Last Monday I had lunch with a friend who is both a mentor and a personal growth partner. We discussed our goals for the year, the general directions of our lives and the things we are (or are not) accomplishing.

During our discussion I realized that often I get hung up on trying to achieve an “end goal” instead of simply enjoying the process. But it also became clear to me that I’m never happier than when I slow down enough to enjoy life’s “small and simple” things.

Case in point: My past Valentine’s Day / President’s Day weekend won’t be recorded in the world’s history books and taught to succeeding generations, but for me it was a great weekend.

Friday I surprised my girlfriend at work with flowers and chocolate covered strawberries.

I spent time with my kids enjoying the Lego movie. Afterward we stumbled upon some amazing gelato popsicles at the RV show.

Monday we caught the last day of the Ice Castle exhibit in Midway, then star-gazed with the Star Walk app on our phones.

I’ve resolved to live a more meaningful life by consciously creating traditions, memories, moments, and making connections, and by having tangible experiences.

And I appreciate that I can do that every day— that I don’t have to take a trip around the world to do it.

Something that’s been helpful in doing this is a simple but powerful process I found in a discovery journal called “Building the Best You.” As part of my daily routine, each day I fill in the following blanks:

What did I do today?

What did I feel today?

What am I grateful for today?

What challenged me today?

How can I overcome that challenge?

What did I savor today?

When I focus on today, on enjoying the process, the “end goal” seems easy and more enjoyable. It’s then that I realize that life’s small things are often its most significant.

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What I Learned from Larry about How to Win at Life

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”      –Steve Prefontaine

My dad, Larry H. Miller, was a world-class fast pitch softball pitcher. In this sport, pitchers throw the ball with an underhanded motion at speeds of up to 85 mph from a distance of 40 feet.  

In baseball, the distance from the pitcher to the batter is 60 feet.

Softball’s reduced pitching distance means that batters experience softballs pitched at 85 mph as equivalent to baseballs pitched at 125 mph.

In other words, there’s a good reason it’s called “fast pitch.”

In case you were wondering, there is such thing as a Softball Hall of Fame, and yes, my dad’s in it.  

But he had to learn a few lessons before he got there.

He used to talk about one lesson he learned on the pitcher’s mound early in his softball career. Pitching is strenuous, he would explain, physically demanding. Especially in tournament play, where it was sometimes required to play multiple games per day, it was important to conserve energy.

One way he attempted to save his strength was to estimate the ability of each batter he faced, and then to pitch only as hard as necessary to strike each batter out. So he used this strategy, and for a while it worked okay.

Then one night in an important game, my dad underestimated a batter. He threw a pitch that was less than his best, and this batter got on base. I don’t know the ultimate result of that game, but I do know that my dad was so upset with himself that he committed from that moment to throw every pitch as hard and as well as he possibly could.

Besides, he reasoned, every batter you face deserves the very best pitch you can give him. If you’ve thrown your best pitch and a batter manages to hit it, more power to him.

My dad carried his best-pitch determination into everything he did, both on the softball diamond and off it. Every transaction. Every meeting. Every negotiation. Every lesson. Every act of service. 

This explains the thinking behind something he said in his autobiography about the Jazz: “I’ve always said to our guys, ‘I’ll never ask you to win, but I will ask you to give us everything you’ve got.’” This quote now hangs inside the entrance to the locker room.

Sometimes we need to be reminded.

Life is our softball diamond, and our days are our batters. Each one deserves our very best pitch.

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The Truth about Who We Are and Where We Go

The first girl that broke my heart was a barista at Starbucks. She worked at the café inside a Barnes & Noble where I was a bookseller. The Barnes & Noble was next door to a Super Target that also had a Starbucks, which I thought was crazy, but that’s not the point of this story.

That my heart was broken is not actually the point of this story either, even though that’s a good story. I mean, the breakup precipitated a mental breakdown and I ended up spending a few weeks in a psychiatric ward, but I’ll save that for another day.

This post is about the places we go emotionally.

We accept it as a matter of fact that we are physical beings who live in a physical world and travel through time and space. It’s somewhat less obvious that we are also spiritual beings who exist and travel through emotional and spiritual space.   

The words we use sometimes point to the reality of our emotional journeys, however. We see it when we say things like, “I know where you’re coming from,” “Don’t go there,” or “I don’t like where this relationship is going.”

Sometimes things “Bring us down” or “Lift our spirits.” 

I read something beautiful recently about the way the very wise view death— as a changing of garments or as a transition from one room to another.  

But in life sometimes we have a hard time making transitions. Sometimes we get stuck in emotional locations, and some of them can be very difficult to get out of. Being stuck often comes in the form of a relationship, a career or a depression.

But there’s always a way out. And that way always involves honesty with ourselves about who we are and what we want, and acceptance of those same things with absolutely zero judgment.     

Author Pema Chodron tells us, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” A similar logic reveals that we can’t escape an emotional location until we learn whatever it is we need to learn from it. We wouldn’t be there if we didn’t have something to learn.    

Navigating to where we want to be in life is often a challenge because for many of those journeys we don’t use our eyes— we use our hearts. The good news is that our inner voice will always help us navigate to exactly where we ought to be. All we have to do is listen and trust.

Moving in the direction of our dreams and deepest desires isn’t always easy, but it’s always possible. Sometimes growth is painful.

We’ve all been there.

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Humility, Astonishment and an Invitation to Grow

I am humbled and astonished at the overwhelmingly positive response to my last post, Be My Guest to Experience 14 Things I Love about Utah Jazz Games.

I must admit, the idea to include a contest where the winner will be my guest at an upcoming game was my wife’s idea, so if it happens to be you, be sure to thank her.

In an earlier post I shared that publicly sharing my thoughts and feelings online is new and somewhat uncomfortable for me. But many of the comments readers of my last post made helped me to remember just how special the Jazz is, what a unifying force the team is for Utah, and how blessed I am.

I was particularly pleased to read about how many family relationships have been strengthened by watching the Jazz play— grandmothers and grandchildren, parents and children, and brothers and sisters. My favorite stories are those of couples who found romantic love grow out of a shared love of the Jazz. It’s great to hear from people who got engaged at a game or whose game-night dates blossomed into happy marriages.

My dad had incredible vision. I think that before he bought the Jazz he could see all this good that would come from keeping the team in Utah. He must have seen something, because in the eleven seasons before he bought the team the Jazz had never made a profit. And this was before the era of global superstars, when the NBA Finals were still broadcast on tape delay. It was a very different world.

I have a theory that he did know all the good that would come by keeping the team in Utah, and I think that’s what motivated him to take the risks that made it possible. And not just one risk, or even two, but three of them.

The first risk was buying the first half of the team, the second one was buying the second half, and the third risk was building the arena. Any one of these risks could have had a tremendously different outcome and jeopardized his other businesses. If you’ve read his autobiography, Driven, you’ve heard all this before.

I myself learned a lot about my dad’s life by reading Driven. I had no idea that prior to buying the second half of the Jazz, my dad had the opportunity to sell the first, and that if he had, he would have walked away with $6M profit in just fourteen months. And that was in 1986— adjusted for inflation that’s like nearly $13M today. Was he crazy? Who wouldn’t do that?

I’ll tell you: Someone who had a sincere desire to serve the community. Someone who saw money simply as “Numbers on paper and a tool for doing good.” Someone who understood that the things he had been blessed with were gifts from God, and that he did not own them but was merely a steward over them. Someone who had the words, “Go about doing good until there’s too much good in the world” inscribed on his headstone.

One of the ways my dad went about doing good was by teaching. In fact, he believed in the power of teaching so strongly that he established as the second responsibility for every employee of the Larry H. Miller Group: “Be a Teacher.” (The first responsibility is to “Protect the legal, financial and moral well-being of the company.”)

I have taken my dad’s instruction literally. After spending nearly eight years working to make one of his most ambitious dreams— Miller Motorsports Park— a reality, I have started a company within the LHM Group called Miller Inspiration.

Miller Inspiration is dedicated to collecting and sharing the principles, philosophies and practices that Larry and Gail used to grow the Group into what it is today— a company that produces billions of dollars of revenue annually, employs more than 10,000 people, does business in nearly all 50 states and which is committed to enriching the lives of its employees and giving back to the communities where it does business.

Miller Inspiration incorporated on the LHM Group’s 34th anniversary, and it just so happens that I’m the same age now that my dad was when he started his own company. In addition to providing inspiration to the employees of the LHM Group, Miller Inspiration will serve business leaders and entrepreneurs outside the Group through speeches, seminars, coaching, consulting and a book.

I invite you to grow with me as Miller Inspiration grows. One of the best ways to do this is to sign up to receive my blog via email. I also invite you to connect with me on Facebook.

Most of my blog posts won’t be about the Jazz, and they won’t include cool contests or giveaways (though the response to this last one was so awesome that I’ll almost certainly do it again next year).

But I will write about some of the things I’ve learned as part of a phenomenally successful family business— insights gleaned from Larry and Gail, my brothers who also work in the business, and from the many other great mentors and teachers that I’ve been fortunate to have had. I will write about my experience and the wonderful privilege that being alive is.

I’ll share things that I’ve learned in my global travels— I’ve been to 52 countries including North Korea, I’ve slept on a banana leaf under a full moon in the Amazon rainforest and I’ve soared over the Serengeti in a hot air balloon. Like so many of us, I’ve searched for meaning and purpose in scriptures, textbooks, classrooms, conferences and countless conversations. And I’ve devoted my life to learning, teaching, connecting, and sharing my experiences, and as fully as I can, my blessings.

I hope you’ll accept my invitation to grow with me and Miller Inspiration as it grows. I truly appreciate you reading, and your friendship.

Much love,

-b

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A Skeptic Begins to Believe

Our deepest beliefs run our lives, and often we’re not even aware of it or even what those beliefs are.

What’s more, we believe the things we believe because we choose to believe them. We often make our decisions to believe what we believe unconsciously, or at a young age.

And once we form beliefs about ourselves, other people, or the world around us, we often hold onto those beliefs for the rest of our lives. The problem with this is that these beliefs are often wrong.

I participated in a workshop last year in which the instructor said that each of us has three separate, powerful experiences between early childhood and young adulthood that profoundly influence our identity. This is true, the instructor said, regardless of upbringing, sex, class, culture, or any other factor, and there is absolutely no way to prevent it.

In other words, each of us has experiences early in our lives that we respond to by deciding to be a certain way from then on in order to protect ourselves or to prevent that sort of thing from happening again. We form our identities from singular experiences and we often don’t recognize that we’ve even done it.

The first experience, the instructor said, occurs roughly between the ages of four and six, and it’s a situation where we have the awareness that “something’s wrong.” The second experience usually occurs around the ages of 10 and 13, and it’s one where we have the feeling “I don’t belong.” The third experience occurs sometime in our late teens and it comes as a powerful sense that “I’m on my own.”

The instructor asked the participants to look for these experiences from their own lives, and invited a few of us to share at a microphone.

A lady in her late forties volunteered to share her “I don’t belong” experience. It occurred when she was just barely a teenager, on the first day she transferred to a new middle school. Her class was having an assembly that day. The class stood up to leave for the assembly and she stood up to go with them. The teacher said, “You stay here. This assembly is only for the smart kids.” All of the other students then left the room with the teacher.

The lady shared her sadness at having to spend the entire class period sitting alone with her head down at her desk in a darkened classroom, sobbing.

When the lady was done sharing her experience, the instructor asked, “Did you make a decision in that moment?” The lady said that she did indeed— that right then and there she decided that she was going to be smart. She then shared her subsequent stellar academic performance, the fact that she graduated from college with honors, then quickly ascended the corporate ladder while participating in a variety of charitable activities and raising a family.

I searched for the identity-forming experiences from my own life and was able to find them (though I’ll save those for a later blog post). I came away from that workshop believing that we do in fact forge entire aspects of our identities from what we might later look back on as small and simple occurrences.

Faith seems to be another area where we believe what we believe because we choose to believe it. I once heard a religious leader describe faith as “a choice, not a feeling.” I have thought on that for a long time, and I think it’s pretty remarkable. I also think it’s true.

The implications of this are huge. Huge because once you understand that you are the one who has chosen your identity, you understand that you can change it to be any way you wish. You are free to create your future from your future.

It’s also significant because what flows from our self-decided, core-level beliefs are 1) our THOUGHTS, which then give rise to 2) our EMOTIONS, which then lead to 3) our ACTIONS, which then yield 4) the RESULTS in our lives.

T. Harv Eker tells us, “If you want to change the fruits, you first have to change the roots. To change the visible, first you have to change the invisible.”

Now if only someone would only tell us how. Sounds like a topic for another blog post, doesn’t it?

What do you think about the idea that we form our identities from single events early in our lives? Do you agree? Can you find these areas in your own life?

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Success: Is It Worth It? (Part 3)

I had always kind of figured that my dad would die of a heart attack at his desk.

It seemed logical given his incredibly long hours, heavy workload, high stress, poor diet, minimal exercise and little sleep. It’s an understatement to say that he pushed himself hard. His autobiography was appropriately named— he was driven. 

Eventually he did have a heart attack. He wasn’t at work, as it turns out, but it was only one of a host of significant health issues that eventually caught up to him.

Our family was fortunate to spend my dad’s last couple of weeks by his side. One of my life’s greatest blessings is to have seen that at the end of his life he was at peace with himself and the life he’d lived.

I knew absolutely that I wanted that same peace when my time on Earth was up. I also knew that Euripides was right— No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow. I felt an urgency to start living the life I wanted, in a way that made me feel peace, now.

Observing my dad’s life and death caused me to think that one of life’s major aims must surely be to learn to die well.

In the final analysis, I don’t think there’s much my dad would have changed about his life even if he could have. I think of Patton’s words, “If a man has done his best, what else is there?” 

When I debate with myself whether or not the high cost he paid for his success was worth it, I reflect on the jobs he created, which today number about 10,500. I think about the families supported by the income from those jobs, and the healthcare benefits provided.

I think about the scholarships awarded, and the innumerable opportunities for personal and professional growth. I think about the existence of a company that employees can be proud to work for— a company that does meaningful work that enriches lives.

I think about all the taxes collected that help keep the government running strong and ultimately enhance the quality of life for so many.   

I think about the speeches my dad gave, the mentorship he provided and the lessons he taught formally in classrooms and informally everywhere. 

I think about all the customers served, and all the goods, services and experiences transacted in safe and clean facilities by excellent employees.  

I think about the philanthropy that he and my mom provided so quietly that I often didn’t know about it.

I reflect on Albert Schweitzer’s words, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

When we serve others we are happy. My dad found many ways to use his time, talents and energies to serve others. He served until he was literally unable to do so any longer. 

It is impossible to say whether or not the price my dad paid for his success was worth it. I often think that he could have achieved 90% of the success he did by putting in only 60% of the time and effort.

But he was at peace at the end of his life. He genuinely enjoyed the work he did and he loved serving others. He wouldn’t have changed much about his life.

For all these reasons I tend to think that the price my dad paid was worth the results he produced. Ultimately, I know, whatever results we achieve come at a cost— we’re always trading our time and energy for something.

Whether that something is worth the price we pay for it is a question we should ask ourselves from time to time.

 

 

 

 

 

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