How to Eat an Elephant—Or Plan Your Life (As the Case May Be)
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“How to Eat an Elephant—Or Plan Your Life (As the Case May Be)” New Era, Sept. 1979, 17

How to Eat an Elephant—
Or Plan Your Life (As the Case May Be)

“It’s just like eating an elephant, Jerry,” the bishop said.

“What do you mean? I don’t get it.” Jerry brushed some lint from the sleeve of his navy blue suit, which he had unwillingly but obediently donned for his annual interview. He was trying to look as dignified as he could, but here was the bishop talking about elephants!

Bishop Lambert leaned forward and pushed his wire-rimmed glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “Planning your life is like eating an elephant,” he repeated. “Play along with me for a minute and you’ll see. Assume you really like the taste of elephant meat. You don’t have to eat it all in one meal. It would be possible to eventually eat the whole elephant, wouldn’t it?”

“I guess so.”

“You probably wouldn’t walk up to the side of a live elephant and take a bite would you? How would you go about it?”

Jerry was starting to relax a bit. Maybe this interview was actually going to be fun. “Well,” he said, “I’d have to shoot it first. Right between the eyes with an elephant gun.”

“And then?”

“I’d have to skin it and quarter it, and then cut it into pieces small enough to roast in the oven. And I’d probably have to rent a freezer big enough to store the meat until I could eat it.”

“But over a period of time, you could actually eat it, right?”

“Right,” Jerry grinned. “But I’d have to develop a liking for elephantburgers.”

They both smiled. Jerry was curious as to what this was all about.

“That’s the same way you’re going to get to the celestial kingdom,” the bishop said. “Or at least the idea is similar.”

“Huh?” Jerry shook his head.

“Pull your chair over here by the desk, and I’ll show you what I mean. What’s the most important goal you have right now?”

Jerry straightened his six-foot-four-inch frame. “To win the game tomorrow night. It’s the championship!”

“That is important to you, isn’t it? I think we’ve got a good shot at it. But what I mean for right now is, what’s the most important thing you want out of life?”

Here comes the serious part, Jerry thought. “I want to get to heaven, I guess.”

“Will you be satisfied with just ‘heaven’?”

Jerry brushed his carrot-red hair back from its perpetual resting place across his right eyebrow. “Well, I really want to be in the celestial kingdom, in the highest degree of glory.”

The bishop handed him a triple combination. “Moses 1:39,” he said. “The Lord seems to have the same goal that you do.”

Jerry cleared his throat and read outloud, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

The bishop pointed at the scripture with his pen. “Is there anything you can think of that is more important than that?”

“You mean immortality and eternal life?”


“I guess not.”

“How close are you to it?”

“I’m pretty far away.”

“But you just told me it was your most important goal. Aren’t you working toward it? Didn’t you say that’s your real mission in life?”

“I never thought about it like that: It’s so far off.”

“Ah. You’re looking at it like you were looking at the elephant. As though it were just too big to eat.”

The bishop pulled a piece of paper from his desk and clicked his pen.

Gerald Allen Rogers
Mission in life:
to gain the celestial kingdom

He finished writing and looked sincerely at Jerry. “That’s the elephant,” he said. “It includes everything else you want to accomplish in life. It’s the most important of all.”

“I see the idea now,” Jerry said. “From here we’ve got to break it into smaller pieces, right?”

“You’ve got it,” the bishop said, his glasses slipping down again. “Now let’s look at it again for a minute. We said the celestial kingdom includes both immortality and eternal life. What’s the difference?”

Jerry was glad he knew that one. “Immortality is living without death as a resurrected being, and eternal life is, well, it’s life like Heavenly Father’s life, with the power of creation and all that.”

“Very good. Why don’t we have to worry about immortality?

Jerry knew that one, too. “It’s a free gift through Christ’s resurrection, free to all people, good or bad.”

“I see you’ve been paying attention to Brother Jensen’s seminary lessons,” the bishop said. He pushed his glasses back up again and shifted his place in his chair. “Now, think about your major objectives in life. What are the things that will help you achieve eternal life?”

Jerry thought for a second, then his blue eyes brightened. “Well, one would be a mission, wouldn’t it?”

“I think it would. Let me give you a good reason why. A very high percentage of returned missionaries are married in the temple. Why do you think that would be important?”

“Because you can’t become like Heavenly Father without a temple marriage.”

“Why not?”

“Well, no eternal wife, no eternal life!” He’d heard that somewhere and thought it was pretty clever. But he rephrased it seriously. “Without a wife sealed to you, how can you have spirit children?” Jerry was feeling pretty good about his ability to answer the questions.

“That’s a key objective in achieving your life’s mission, then, isn’t it? What’s another major objective?”

“Well, I want to graduate from seminary.”

“Why?” The bishop wanted Jerry to put it in his own words.

“It’s a good way to learn about the gospel.”

The bishop nodded. “You’re planning on college, too, aren’t you? Do you want to graduate from the institute of religion?”

“What’s that?”

“It’s like seminary, only on a college level.”

“I guess so. I hadn’t thought about it.” Jerry felt a bit sheepish. He looked at the bishop in his well-pressed suit, white shirt, and tie, and wondered if he would ever feel as in control of his life as the bishop seemed to be.

“There’s another good reason for graduating from seminary and institute,” Bishop Lambert continued. “Besides learning the gospel, I mean. A very high percentage of people who graduate end up getting married in the temple—more than 90 percent. That would improve your chances of fulfilling that key objective quite a bit, if you ask me.”

The bishop was writing again, “Now you’ve got several major objectives listed. Any more?”

“You talked about college. I still want to go to dental school.”

“Excellent! Why don’t we write that your objective is to someday establish a successful dental practice.”

“Okay,” said Jerry, silently appreciating the bishop’s clarification.

“Now, you may have several additional major objectives, like raising a family or building a home. But let’s not worry about all of them right now. You can do that later. At this point you could say you’ve quartered the elephant. Now we’ve got to cut the quarters into elephant roasts.”

“How do I do that?”

“By setting specific, measurable goals that you can achieve by a certain date. That gives you control. Numbers and deadlines tell you precisely where you want to go on your way to achieving major objectives.

“Wait a minute,” Jerry said. “I’m getting lost again.”

“Okay, let’s take an example,” the bishop said, pulling out another sheet of paper. “Pick one of your major objectives.”

“How about my mission?” Jerry figured that was the one the bishop really wanted him to pick, since he talked about it all the time.

“Good. What’s a goal that will help you prepare for it?”

“To earn some money, I guess.” Jerry brushed his hair back again.

“That’s part of it. Let’s start a new list.”

Major objective: Mission


(1) Earn money

“Now, what else would help?”

“I could study my scriptures and learn the missionary discussions.”

“What else?”

“How about learning to cook?”

“Good. You’re good at this. You’ve got four already. You might want to get your patriarchal blessing, too, or work with the full-time missionaries here once in a while. All right. Let’s go back to the first goal and translate it into goal language. How much does it cost for a mission?”

“Brother Pederson told us in quorum meeting that right now the average cost is about $4,300, not counting pre-mission expenses. That’s a lot of money.”

“You’re right. Is it your goal to earn $4,300?”

“Well, dad said he’d help, but I’d sure like to do as much as I can.”

“Okay.” The bishop took off his glasses and laid them on the desk. “But do you remember what I said about goals being specific?”

“Yes, numbers and deadlines.”

“Why do you think a deadline is so important?”

“It kind of pushes you into doing it?”

The bishop looked pleased. “Jerry, you’re doing great. See how goal setting works? It’s just a matter of planning. And planning is simply careful choosing. It’s really just common sense, but very few people go to the trouble of doing it. Writing it down on a monthly or weekly or daily basis helps you reevaluate and stay committed. Can you put a deadline and an amount on your money-earning goal?”

“How about $3,600 by my 19th birthday?”

“Fine. When is it?” The pen was poised.

“November 13, 1982.”

“How much money have you already saved?”

Jerry tugged a bit nervously at his tie as he thought about all the money he’d been pumping into his car. “I think I have about $200 in the bank,” he finally said. “I’ve been spending some on my car, but it’s working good now.”

The bishop assumed a businesslike attitude. “That leaves you $3,400 to raise in about three years, or about $100 per month. What are you making now?”

“About $150,” Jerry said. He noticed that the bishop was pinning him down to exact figures.

“Now be practical and realistic. Can you honestly get by on the $50 a month you’d have left? Don’t forget tithing, school, and gas. Can you do it?”

“It would be hard, but I could do it.”

“Let’s write down that after your newspaper collection each month, you’ll put $100 in the bank. With the interest and with help from your dad, that should do it.”

The bishop put down his pen, then looked Jerry right in the eye. “I want you to know I think your goal is admirable. I know the Lord will help you accomplish it if you keep thinking about it and working on it. Pray about it, too.” He rose to his feet. “I hope you’ve learned something. Planning is a key to success in life.”

“Thanks, bishop. I think I’ll go write down some other goals. You’ve shown me some good ideas.”

“Just remember not to let the size of your mission scare you. I’ll have some more ideas for you next time we talk. Let me know how you like elephantburgers!”

Jerry shook hands, opened the office door, and waved good-bye. Halfway across the foyer he started talking to himself. “Let’s see, a goal has to have numbers and a deadline. … I wonder how many elephantburgers I can eat by Friday night?”

Illustrated by Calvin Grondahl of the Deseret News