I was not a good student in elementary school. My mother’s long-term illness haunted me through my grade school years. I was a distracted, somewhat neglected kid. There is something about a mother’s attention that helps a child adjust to life around him. I did not have that, and I did not mature at the same rate as most of the kids around me.
I was a constant frustration to my teachers and to myself. I had the ability to learn, but I didn’t do it very fast or very well in those days. No one really understood what was going on or not going on in my life, not even me. Most of the time, I felt lonely, isolated and stupid. I knew I wasn’t dumb, but I was so distracted that I did not concentrate well at school.
One of my weak areas was reading. I loved books. I had always been fascinated by them. My parents even had a library, a room lined with bookshelves from floor to ceiling. I had no excuse due to lack of opportunity. I just couldn’t concentrate when I read, and that undermined my learning in a big way.
By the time I reached high school, I doubt I had read, from cover to cover, more than 10 books in my life, though I had sauntered through hundreds of them. I was still curious and inquisitive, but without reading well, I was just another forgettable, less-than-average student.
Or so I thought.
A miracle happened at the beginning of my senior year in high school. I was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was baptized on my 18th birthday, November 14, 1975. After that, with the help of the Holy Ghost, my grades just shot up. I was getting mostly As and Bs. I had to work harder than most to get there, but a little extra work never hurt anyone. I was understanding things much better when I read and was a more successful reader, but the best was yet to come.
The turning point for me came the following spring. An article in the New Era magazine changed my life. I had gotten a subscription to the New Era from a darling girl named Cristi and her friend Cindy. (Cristi is now my wife of 31 years.) When I read the article called “I Want to Be a Book of Mormon Missionary” in the April 1976 edition of the magazine, I took fire. It taught me how to take a different approach to reading the Book of Mormon and to reading books in general. The author of the article, Rodney Jay Vessels, developed a way to read the Book of Mormon in 30 days by reading a certain number of pages each day. This is exactly what I needed.
There was something about Brother Vessels’ approach that turned me around. It gave me hope, a new way of focusing on reading, a method that worked for me. It gave me a framework, a way to set reading goals, and a way to feel like I could be a success. Using this approach, within the next eight months, I had read the Book of Mormon seven times.
I was astonished at myself. I found a way to concentrate on reading and comprehend what I was reading, and it worked for me. It wasn’t a technique that works for everyone, but one that I am certain that the Spirit led me to. One of the gifts I discovered during that time was that, if I read in a certain way, in my own way, I could retain a lot more details than ever before, and this helped me a great deal on my mission. I went on to college and graduated from BYU with a B.A. in English, with an above average GPA.
Now, over 30 years later, though I am a much stronger reader than I was when I was a boy, I still struggle. Everyone in my family can outread me like nobody’s business, but if I take my own approach (and don’t compare myself to others), I do quite well.
I have a lifetime goal of reading the Book of Mormon 100 times. I am not half way there yet, but I am getting close. I am sure when I am in my 80s, my children will hear me say, “The Lord can’t take me yet. I haven’t read the Book of Mormon 100 times.”
Some of the things that help me read is to read early in the morning, have reading goals, and to read in shorter spurts several times a day. I also sometimes listen to the audio of the book that I am reading while I read. Sometimes I go through the audio of the book first, and then go back and mark the best quotes I found when listening. I also read and comprehend better when I am eating right and getting enough sleep.
Everyone is different. Find your own way to approach life and its perplexities. There is no need to compare yourself to others. There is no one else like you. Not even close. Don’t be afraid of your weaknesses—run towards them. They will fade over time when challenged.
“Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending.” —Shakespeare
You have talents and abilities that you not have even discovered yet. If you are unhappy most of the time, you either have not discovered your true self yet or you are in some form of denial of who you really are. Discovering and accepting who you really are, and embracing your strengths and weaknesses—your weaknesses so you can turn them into strengths—is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and those who live closest to you.