By Darryl Alder
Mar 06, 2017

Nothing Can Stop the Determined Soul

There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,
that can circumvent or hinder or control
the firm resolve of a determined soul.”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox (American poet and writer 18501919)

Those words spoken by Hyrum Smith, at the University of Scouting held last month at UVU, are words I have known for more that 30 years. 

The power of his message in 1984 was transformational in how I managed my life; hardly a day goes by I do not use what he taught me 33 years ago.  I wish I could tell you just how much Hyrum Smith’s training has shaped my productive life, but this post is about his message, not how it changed me. However, I am sure many of the hundreds of Scouters during his keynote were affected just like me.

He opened his remarks by talking about how, if his grandfather missed a train, he would just wait a day; how if his father missed a plane, he would just catch the next flight; and how if he misses the next section of a revolving door, he is quite put out. He said that’s the difference today between one hundred years ago—we are all in a big hurry, but surprisingly, the basic principles of human productivity have not changed in six-thousand years.

I believe the point he was making is that today we are in a big hurry, but still get important things done through grit and discipline. For example, he pointed out that the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are not new, each of them considered separately, have been long taught for productivity. But taught together a new magic happens that helps souls become determined to make changes.

Then he illustrated his point by telling a story I am quite found of. He began:  “When I came home from the military, my wife and I went to the university to finish our schooling. I also became involved in the community and was asked to be an adviser to an Explorer post (now Venturing) in the BSA. I was excited about this new opportunity and met with the boys one evening. I was thinking about all the great things were going to do and the goals we’re going to set. ” That’s when he  walked into the room and found five of the “coolest teenagers you can’t imagine. Their body language was speaking very loudly. It said: ‘I dare you to teach me something!'”

He introduced himself as their new advisor, but they non-plused. So he dig in deeper and told them that he had grown up in Hawaii and talked about the place. Then he asked, “How would you like to go to Hawaii next year?” He promised that they could earn their way through money earning projects and then spend a couple of weeks in paradise. He promised swimming in the ocean, a visit to Pearl Harbor and the Polynesian Cultural Center. “The whole nine yards” he said, but there was no reaction from these “cool” boys. Finally he asked, “Does that interest any of you at all? Would you like to go to Hawaii?”

Finally, one of the boys rocked forward on his chair and said: “Yeah! And the year after that we’ll go to the moon.” Then they all laughed. 

He was surprised and somewhat incredulous, after all he had just offered them a trip to paradise. He confided his disbelief to the ward Scoutmaster, who in turn set Hyrum straight. During the last six months those Explorers had had five different advisors, each of whom had offered them some great trip. He said, “Nothing as big as Hawaii, but still none of their trips had come off, so your offer just didn’t register with them.”

Hyrum said that for a whole week after that he thought about what to do. Then, when he came into the room where those same cool boys sat, as if they had not moved for seven days, he explained that he and his wife were going to Hawaii with or without any of them next summer. That, of course, got their attention. One said, “You’re really serious.” A second said, ” What do we have to do?” To which he replied, “First, you have to memorize a poem.” 

“Yeah, right? What?” they responded. “Yep your are going to commit it to memory. It will be your ticket to get on the plane next summer. That is when you will recite it perfectly to the stewardess.” Then he made them memorize: 

There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,
that can circumvent or hinder or control
the firm resolve of a determined soul.

The audience heard that poem several more times as he unfolded the story. Those boys recited it each week for eleven months every Wednesday. To keep his promise, he and those Explorers did twenty-nine big fund raisers. And, as it turned out that there were actually seventeen cool Explorers in this post. They came out of the wood work; each learning the poem and helping sell stuff. Things like “cuff links, Christmas wreaths, fire extinguishers, cookies and a cow.” He claimed they sold a boat and then told the owner the next day (that, of course, drew laughter from the audience). They even got an old bulldozer, cut it up and sold it for scrap metal. 

With each successive project, the boys began to believe the words of the poem. Then he sprung this on them two months before departure: “To get on the plane you have to have a full uniform and military haircut.”

“But that’s not cool” they protested. He stayed his course and they all did it.

When the big day came, they all had uniforms. They had raised $8,000 and they all knew the poem. So did the flight attendants and crew before they landed. 

During the two weeks there, they toured,  surfed and played. They even confronted another Post who had not earned their own way. Imagine the words between them. 

Hyrum explained that all happened 46 years ago, but that he had a 20-year reunion with them and their wives in Hawaii. Most made it; they had a dinner together where they once again recited the poem. They each reported on their accomplishments and Hyrum said, “They had learned a wonderful, simple, but powerful idea: once you have done your homework, then nothing needs to get int he way of achieving your goals.”  

He closed with this: “Character is the ability to carry out a worthy decision after the emotion of making that decision has passed.” It is doing what we say we are going to do with our youth and others.

Darryl Thumbnail
Author: Darryl Alder | Strategic Initiatives Director, Utah National Parks Council, BSA. He is a Franklin-Covey facilitator and had helped many people learn the Franklin time management system.

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3 thoughts on “Nothing Can Stop the Determined Soul

  1. Brad ScherckBrad Scherck

    Thank you for sharing this blog. There is power in memorizing inspiring words. I think these scouts mentioned above in Hyrum Smith’s story, had these inspiring words ingrained in their hearts and minds. Not only through memorization but through observing and following a determined soul. I am grateful for many Scout Leaders who continue to work and serve young men on dusty trails, and snowy campouts. Scout leaders who are determined to go the extra mile, even when it hurts. Determined souls make the difference on young boys lives. What kind of impact would memorizing this short poem have on your unit? Even more importantly, what kind of impact will a determined leader have on your scouts?

  2. AvatarLisa Bradley

    Thank you for posting notes from Hyrum’s talk. I don’t write that fast and couldn’t write everything down that I wanted. He truly is an inspiration to us all.

  3. AvatarJason Barker

    Is there a link to a video of this keynote speech? I would love to see it again. I’ve got a couple of holes from my notes that would be good to fill in.


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