This is a great and inspiring account written by my father, Jim Hartley, about challenges he faced pursuing higher education in his 40s. I remember I was in 5th grade when my dad earned his Master's degree. I had no idea one of the greatest challenges he faced was actually from within -- battling himself! My dad's experience has helped strengthen my personal resolve to "conquer the natural man." Below are my father's own words:
James E. Hartley: Dread Does Not Need to Be the Victor
|LDS Church Office Building|
Now there was a punch in the gut! I was astonished that 12 years of excellent annual performance appraisals would not mean much in the future. Worse, that advice came when I was 40 years old. I had a wife and six children to provide for. With a family of eight, a mortgage, and two car payments, our finances were already stretched thinner than pizza dough. I was working full-time and periodically needed to travel for two to three weeks at a time. Also, I was highly involved in my local church assignments. How could I find the means and the time for a master’s program?
But, truthfully, my greatest fear was that I didn’t believe in myself. Although I normally did well in school, I never felt like the academic type. I had never pictured myself going on for an advanced degree. In my mind, that was for people far smarter than I was. But, it was apparent that my future—and, frankly, my family’s future—depended on it. Where could I find the self-confidence to go back to school? The best word to describe my feelings at that time is “dread.”
Showdown with a Hooligan
Dread means to anticipate something with great anxiety or fear. On a smaller scale, dread is what I felt when I had a showdown with a burly 13-year old named Russ.
|Picture of Jim, 1977|
It was 1977. Our family had purchased a home in Spanish Fork, Utah. A short time after moving there, I was asked by our LDS ward bishopric to be the advisor to the deacons quorum and the chairman of their Boy Scout committee. So, I helped teach 12- and 13-year-old boys on Sundays and worked with them in scouting on Wednesdays and some weekends.
Among my boys was an overgrown hooligan named Russ. At age 13, he was as big as an adult man and stronger than most. Interestingly, it became Russ’s tool of intimidation to publicly humiliate all his male adult leaders by arm-wrestling them in front of the other boys and adults. I was told that no adult had beaten Russ, and I was counseled to avoid him or he’d make me look like a fool the same way he did his other victims. That explained why Russ swaggered around like a mob boss, frequently bullying other kids and acting belligerent to adults.
Watching Russ and observing how other adults tip-toed around him, I too began to fear him, and I dreaded the idea of ever arm-wrestling him. He challenged me a few times, but I was able to dodge each proposed faceoff. Then, one evening when all the young men and young women were having a combined activity in the meetinghouse, I walked into the kitchen to find it crowded with youth and adults. They surrounded a small table with two opposing chairs. It was the showdown, and this time I couldn’t weasel my way out! I’m certain my face didn’t hide the sudden dread that crawled down my back like a spider with icy feet. This match wasn’t an innocent sporting event either. Strangely, there was a lot at stake. This was to decide who was the top alpha male between Russ and me. And, for the other boys, my acceptance as their priesthood and scout leader was on the line. I tried my best to smile and hide it, but inwardly, I was filled with dread—pure and petrifying.
|The above is not Jim, but is an |
illustration of how he felt when
arm wrestling Russ
I sat down across from Russ. With feet firmly planted and elbows positioned on the table, we locked hands and eyes. I offered a light-speed prayer for help. The scoutmaster shouted “Go!” and the match began. Arm muscles bulged and strained. Teeth were gritted and nostrils flared. Faces turned red. Two sets of eyes exchanged daggers. All the youth cheered wildly for Russ, their undefeated titleholder. Then, after what felt like an eternity, it was over. The astonished crowd was suddenly stone silent. Their champion gladiator had been soundly defeated. Even I was astonished! I had succeeded when I fully expected an embarrassing failure. My brain launched a quick “thank you” heavenward. My dread evaporated, and I didn’t have problems with Russ or the other boys after that.
The EMPA and the GMAT
For me, earning a master’s degree was far more difficult than confronting Russ, but it was still an issue of deep dread with a lot at stake. I counseled with my wife, Linda, and she was very supportive and reassuring. So, despite my anxiety and fear of failure, I decided to try. I investigated several available executive programs—programs that offered evening and weekend classes for working adults. I chose the Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) program at Brigham Young University’s Salt Lake Center.
|BYU’s Salt Lake Center, 1992|
BYU’s EMPA program was nationally recognized. To be admitted, I had to complete the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) with a very high score. I knew meeting that standard would be difficult, especially for someone who been at school recess for nearly two decades. So, I borrowed a 2”-thick GMAT preparation book from the public library. I studied, analyzed, and crammed all of its sections, and took nine of its practice exams. But, the results were always discouraging. With each exam, I got a lower and lower score. Even my best practice score was not high enough for admission to BYU’s program. So, when it came time for the real thing, I figured I was a goose ready for the oven. Before the exam, I pleaded for divine help. I had done everything I knew how to do. My future, and my family’s future depended on me scoring well.
After taking the GMAT, I left the examination center confident that I deserved a dunce cap. I was extremely discouraged. However, a few weeks later when I received my scores, I was stunned and dumbfounded. My composite GMAT score was high enough to qualify me, not only for BYU, but for any MPA program in the nation! I honestly wondered if the testing organization had made a scoring mistake. That experience taught me an invaluable lesson: do your very best, seek God’s help, and, if it’s his will, everything will work out okay.
With acceptance into BYU’s program came the need to pay for it. My employer was willing to reimburse up to 50% of the costs. But, the program was expensive, and I didn’t know how we could find the money for our portion. Linda and I discussed it, pondered numerous options, and prayed earnestly about it. Our prayers were mercifully answered in the form of an initial loan from my mother and the successful refinancing of our home’s mortgage, which provided enough extra money to pay off my mother’s loan and fund my entire EMPA program.
Learning by Study and Faith
The GMAT and financing aside, I still doubted my academic abilities. On my first evening at BYU’s Salt Lake Center, I felt like I was back at the arm wrestling table with Russ the Intimidator. I looked around at my classmates and realized I was probably the oldest one in the group. How could I keep up with those brilliant, younger students, many of whom had only been out of college for about two years? Even more dreadful to me was my first class: economics, with its brain-bruising jargon, formulas, and graphs. Economics had been my least favorite and worst class in my undergraduate program some 20 years earlier! I knew I was doomed.
Sometime during the following weeks while wallowing in self-doubt, I read a scripture passage in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 88, verse 118. A portion of it struck deep into my soul: “…Seek , even by study and also by ” After pondering that passage, I decided to follow the Lord’s counsel and add faith to my efforts. I promised to make every course and every class a matter of prayer, pleading for God’s help.
BYU’s EMPA program required 33 months to complete 16 prescribed courses. I was true to my promise for 14 of those 16 classes. In the first 14 classes, I did far better than I had ever expected. I had done so well, in fact, that I felt like I could handle my last two classes on my own, and I neglected to seek divine help. At the end of the semester, I was stunned when I got the worst grades of my program. The grades weren’t horrible, but the lesson to me was obvious. I can learn adequately with diligent study and faith in myself. But, add faith in God, and I learn far better.
|Jim on graduation day, 1995|
In the end, I surprisingly graduated summa cum laude and fourth in my class. I remained in a management-level position with my employer for another 19 years. Anchored by my master’s degree, I survived three major department reorganizations and two corporate downsizings.
I and my family will be forever grateful for the advice and encouragement from my managing director, Ronald L. Knighton, when he counseled me to earn a master’s degree.
I am particularly grateful for the Lord’s scriptural advice to “seek learning, even by study and also by ” By following that counsel, I mustered the needed academic courage, and it taught me an important principle of intelligence: when study is combined with faith, together they become very powerful educators, far more powerful than diligent study alone.
Written by James E. Hartley, September 2017