How My Mission Taught Me It’s Possible to Be too Obedient

I grew up the son of a professional football player father and a mother who was a model. And while I, unfortunately, inherited my dad’s looks and mother’s athletic ability—I did learn that I can accomplish a lot by working hard and doing the right thing.


Because of this, when I went on my mission, it was going to be easy.


All I needed to do was be obedient. There was the white handbook, the mission president’s guidelines, and everything I needed to do to be perfect 100 percent of the time.




Plus, “obedience is the first law of heaven” (Preach My Gospel p.122). It was all about obedience first, before anything else. But for some reason, once I actually got out into the mission field, my plan of obedience didn’t seem to be working and I wasn’t getting along with my companions.


I didn’t understand why they got frustrated when I was kneeling at the door one minute before we were supposed to leave as they were still rushing around getting ready. After all, we were supposed to be obedient and leave on time.


I didn’t understand why they got frustrated when I would cut a lesson short because we had been there for an hour exactly. After all, we were supposed to be obedient and leave on time.


I didn’t understand why they got frustrated when I wouldn’t respond to them in English when they asked about my life and family while we were walking on the streets. After all, we were supposed to be obedient and only speak Russian on the street.


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How I Overcame My Fear of a Boring Marriage

Happy couple


I wasn’t afraid of marriage when I was single; I was thrilled for it.


I was, however, absolutely petrified of getting bored in my marriage and watching it fall off of one of the four “cliffs” on the path of matrimony:


1. The Cliff of Regret (6 months)


I was afraid of six months into marriage, after the novelty of being a newlywed wears off, the bills start mounting, and the realization that you are “stuck” forever sets in like quicksand.


2. The Cliff of Boredom (1 year)


I was afraid to hit a year, when I begin to be totally bored with the monotony of seeing and living with the same person every day.


3. The Cliff of Exhaustion (kids)


I was afraid of having kids, when my spouse gets so stressed with kids that she stops being fun, and I start to look for ways and reasons to get out of the house.


4. The Cliff of Growing Apart (empty nesters)


I was afraid that after the kids all started going to school I would be left with a total stranger to call my spouse.



While I was single (check out Dating Never Works . . . Until It Does: 100 Lessons from 1,000 Dates for more on that topic), married people would often encourage me to get married the same way they might have tried to persuade me to eat caviar: they would tell me it was an expensive, acquired taste and hint that they didn’t want to be the only suckers who had tried it.


There was always a smack of, “Oh man, I miss the chocolate cake of being single. Live it up while you can…”


Conversations like these always left me unsure what to expect of marriage.


Should I choose to stay single and avoid the regret and bitterness or should I choose to get married and join the band of married men stealing from their rich past to give memories to their poor present?


Then I met my soon-to-be wife and the choice seemed obvious—neither.


After I met Annie, I started noticing a different perspective on marriage that I had missed before. You see, aside from the many who freely offered up dating advice emphasizing the nightmares of marriage, there are those who quietly lived out happy lives.


They have adventures with each other, they plan fun activities with their kids, they still laugh at each other’s jokes, they truly enjoy spending time together, they disagree with respect…they have what I realized is real love.


So I decided to move forward and ask my wife to marry me.


When I hit my 13-month mark in my own marriage, I rolled over in bed one morning and it hit me: I was still happy.


I looked at my wife and I suddenly realized that just as we had a choice to avoid the first two cliffs, we could avoid the last two cliffs by continuing to make the choice to stay in love.


Just as we have the choice to be positive about dating, we also have the choice to be positive about marriage and starting a family.


It is a choice to be boring.

It is a choice to think kids ruin adventure.

It is a choice to pray together every day and pray for each other out loud.

It is a choice to have family night.

It is a choice to read the scriptures together.

It is a choice to do the dishes when you’re tired from work.

It is a choice to not say that critical comment.

It is a choice to find the positive in marriage and not let the fears leave our relationship on the cliffhanger of a bright future.


And while we don’t always make the right choices–the key is always knowing that it is our choice.


Our adopted grandma and dear friend gave us marriage advice when we got engaged, “You make a choice to marry someone and then choose every day to make it the right choice.”


I’m grateful for the choice we have to avoid the “cliffs” of marriage and I hope and pray that we can each make those choices daily to stay positive about finding a spouse and/or stay grateful for having one.


This article was originally published with some minor edits on


This Weekly 30-Min Conversation Could Change Your Relationship Forever- Single or Married

Relationship Conversation


I’ve been married for 10,000 hours, which makes me an expert.




Ten thousand hours is a little over a year.


That’s about how long it takes to get good at Angry Birds—not marriage.


But while I might not know much about marriage, over the last 10 years I have asked hundreds of people the same question:


What is your advice about marriage?


From those in the twilight of their lives to empty nesters, newlyweds, divorced, and single people (*gasp* yes…they do have great advice about marriage), I’ve taken their answers and adapted them into one simple conversation you can have on a weekly basis.


My wife and I have done this every Sunday since we’ve been engaged, and it is the only piece of marriage advice I feel qualified to give because much of the happiness in my marriage so far I attribute to this one weekly 30-min conversation.



The Relationship Inventory is a 5-step 30-min weekly conversation includes the following topics: finances, plans, appreciation, improvement, and goals.


1. FINANCES—5 minutes


Take a few minutes to talk about where you are at with money, debt, savings, net worth, vacation fund, etc.


If you have a budget, review how you are doing in the month as far as staying under or on par with what you’ve decided together.


My wife and I like to use the Mint budgeting app, but there are lots of other tools you can use together—even just opening bank statements is a step in the right direction.



One of the hardest things for me when I got married was sharing my calendar with someone.


I spent so many years being single, only trying to coordinate my time with a list of first dates, that I frequently forgot to let my wife know when I had places I needed to be or deadlines that I needed to meet.


Taking a few moments to share what the week holds for each of you, reviewing who has the plans for family night, scheduling date night, and, in the case of my wife and me, scheduling when we’re going to work on our side-businesses is critical to setting expectations for that week.


It also makes sure that you have time for the most important things and helps avert feelings of neglect or frustration.


3. APPRECIATION—5 minutes


It is easy to assume that your spouse feels your love and appreciation, especially as life gets chaotic.


But don’t.


As Thomas S Monson has said, “We should not let [the stresses of life] get in the way of what is most important—and what is most important almost always involves the people around us. Often we assume that they must know how much we love them. But we should never assume; we should let them know. Wrote William Shakespeare, ‘They do not love that do not show their love.’ We will never regret the kind words spoken or the affection shown” (“Finding Joy in the Journey,” general conference, Oct 2008; William Shakespeare, Two Gentleman of Verona, act 1, scene 2, line 31).


Start this part of the conversation with something like, “One thing I appreciated about you this week was…” and get specific.


For example, tell your wife that you appreciated the way she kept the house clean that week or tell your husband you were grateful he did the dishes.


4. IMPROVEMENT—10 minutes


Ask, “What can I do to improve?”


That’s right; it must be a question. We must ask for ways to improve…and be willing to hear an honest response.


The wonderful days are when you are able to hear the response, ‘I think you’re doing great! Just keep it up.’



Take their observations in stride, apologize for any misunderstandings, and don’t get defensive. Don’t fire back with things that they need to improve on, but instead, wait until they have completed their thought and you’ve recognized their pain or frustration before responding. Make plans to rectify the situation.


Then, when they ask what they can do to improve, never say “never” or “always,” because you’ll always be sure to be wrong. Instead, make sure you phrase your answer kindly and constructively: “When you do ABC, I feel XYZ.”


“When you don’t do the dishes, it makes me feel like you don’t appreciate me” instead of, “You never do the dishes!”


If you remember to ask sincerely, listen, apologize, and respond to their asking with kindness and a genuine desire to help you both improve, this can be the most productive moments for your marriage each week.



You and your partner can be a great team. Support each other and ask for support.


By sharing sincere goals and asking for accountability, this simple topic can make you feel more open to suggestions throughout the week and keeps you both focused on a common purpose and gives you one more opportunity to support each other.


FINAL THOUGHT: More than Marriage


Please keep in mind that while this conversation is tailored for a relationship, I’ve used it with roommates and friends at times when it was needed. It is for any type of relationship and probably sounds familiar to any returned missionary who has participated in companionship inventory.


There is no silver bullet for a great marriage (at least none that I’ve learned in the last 10,000 hours), but by taking just 30 minutes each week to go over these topics, it will be like a breath of fresh air that will strengthen your relationship and dispel unrealistic expectations.


At the very least, it’s better than playing Angry Birds by yourself.



A different version of this article originally published on


You Don’t HAVE to do Anything

I was at the barber one day in Utah when it came up that I had lived in New York City.


The young lady cutting my hair gasped, “Wow! I’ve always wanted to visit! It has seriously been a life-long dream of mine. I wish I could go…”


Then her face fell, “but I can’t.”


A bit confused, I asked why.


“Oh, I couldn’t go. I mean, I have to work,” she said.


“They don’t give you time off?”


“They do, but I have never been somewhere nice. I couldn’t afford it.”


“Do you have cable?” I asked.


“Yes…?” she responded, wondering where I was going.


“Cancel it, save the money and you can go in three months. You can even stay at my friend’s place to make it cheaper for you,” I offered.


“Oh, I can’t do that.”


“Then watching TV is a bigger dream than going to NYC?”


“No, but I mean, I can’t just leave and go to New York. I mean what if I get mugged there? I have to stay here and work. I have to.”


The conversation ended with me leaving her a tip to start her NYC fund.


I kept in touch with her.


She never went.



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You’re Far From Perfect…Right Where God Needs You


So you’ve set some goals to be better and, like every other year, at least a few will be dragged through the winter months before becoming fertilizer to the spring flowers of forgetfulness. And yet, goals are one of the things in life that we need to stay spiritually alive, whether we accomplish all of them or just a few.


A very wise man—the director of the BYU MBA program, Professor Grant McQueen—gave a final lecture to the graduating class of 2015. He said something that changed the way I look at others and myself.


“When we feel that we are not enough, we must remember one thing: it’s true.


“And that’s okay. In fact, that’s perfect.”


By not being enough, and by realizing that we aren’t, we have the ability to move beyond where we are to where we can be. If we are always doing what we did yesterday, we will never have a chance to accomplish what we could have tomorrow.


As John A. Shedd said, “a ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”


God feels the same way.


We weren’t sent here to simply repeat our rudimentary, metaphorical multiplication tables of what we know, but to divide our effort between practicing the basics and striving to master the advanced calculations of what we have yet to find out.


Basically, if you are doing your part and still think that you are far away from where you should be, or if you feel you have too many goals to ever achieve them all, know that where you are is just fine for the Lord.


When God needed an ark, He didn’t go to a ship builder. He went to the man of faith who was willing to listen and learn.


When God needed a new land settled across a great ocean, He didn’t go to a great explorer. He went to Nephi and the brother of Jared, who were willing to work hard and ask for the Lord’s help.


When God needed His church restored, He certainly didn’t go to a famous pastor. He went to the boy who humbly prayed in the woods behind His home.


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Don’t forget to pick up a copy of the book!

Zack Oates Book Dating


A Message to Those Tired of Being Single

all alone


It was the week before I met my fiancée—but for all I knew, I was going to be waiting another 10 years.


I felt discouraged, disheartened, and just plain tired.


“The day will come when you feel you have met your eternal mate.”


It was right there in my patriarchal blessing.


I read those four words over and over and over, “The day will come.”


I knew that my patriarchal blessing said that I would be married. I felt that the blessings which I had received were real when I was promised a spouse. I believed that if I was obedient, then everything would work out— at least in some kind of a the-Lord-knows-better-than-me type way.


But knowing about those blessings didn’t change the fact that loneliness had become my constant companion. I distracted myself with dates, and instead of isolation, I chose business as my solace.


I attempted to weary the Lord. I tried to play the dating game exactly right, I prayed, I fasted, I went to the temple. But despite going on over 1,000 dates, my attempts felt completely fruitless.


I felt like Sheri Dew when she said, “Believe me, if fasting and prayer and temple attendance automatically resulted in a [spouse], I’d have one” (“You Were Born to Lead, You Were Born for Glory,” BYU Speeches, Dec. 9, 2003).



To read the rest of this post, go to this link at



In the Friend Zone? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Panic

Young couple enjoying in night music festival

“I thought it was over,” he exhaled. “I mean, she said that I was her friend…her friend!”


It had been a rough road for my buddy, Jack. He had been married for 25 years until a recent divorce. Then he had met a lovely woman online. She was living in a domestic violence shelter at the time; they both had a few kids and a lot of baggage. But in time they connected and started chatting, then texting, then calling. Jack felt things were going well until she dropped a bomb.


She called him her “friend.”


“How did you deal with getting friend-zoned?” I probed.


“Well, I took it hard,” he said. “At first, I cried, then I came to terms with the fact that it was over. That is when I went to see my therapist.”


Then, Jack got a serious look on his face and told me what his therapist said—a message of wisdom that will stick with me for the rest of my life.


“When I told my therapist, he laughed! I was offended and then a little hurt until he patted my knee and said, ‘You know that, to her, the word ‘friend’ is the highest compliment she can give?’


It suddenly dawned on Jack that this woman, who had spent her whole life trying and failing to trust another man, simply wanted—and needed—a friend. And so by saying that he was her friend, it was actually more like saying, “I trust you.”


With that vote of confidence, their relationship kept growing and growing.


A year later, he married his best friend.


I have long believed God gives us friends so that we might choose family, but only once in a lifetime or so, do we get to actually make that best friend family.


In life and in love, there are the crushes, the dates, and the games—but in the end, the thing that makes life sweet are the friends we can enjoy it with. When you have a best friend to share the joys and the sorrows of life, then truly, the best place you can ever be is the friend zone.


If you are married, keep the love alive by treating your spouse as your best friend. You might be surprised by how much joy it brings.


And if you aren’t married, don’t be discouraged if you simply seem to be acquiring a lot of friends. Continue to cultivate those friendships, and one day you might just find one that turns into something eternal.


But even if you don’t, remember—the reason we have life and joy at all is because of friends. After all, didn’t Christ lay down His life for friends? (John 15:13)



This post was originally posted on this link at


You’re looking for Happiness in the Wrong Places

father and son piggybacking


My wife and I recently went to Austin, Texas, to go to a concert with another couple. We got to the venue and saw a line wrapped around the block. After going into an underground lot and practically signing away our first child for permission to park there, we found the venue again and proceeded to walk three blocks to the end of line. After waiting for a while, the women had to use the restroom. Thirty minutes later, they came back with new shoes they had bought (I was confused, but my buddy who has been married a few years longer than me didn’t look surprised at all).


After what seemed like hours of waiting, we finally made it up to the front of the line, went through security, and at last reached the ticket counter.


The Austin dude (I don’t know how else to describe him) at the counter took one look at our tickets, and said, “Whoa, man. This is the wrong venue.”


Turns out, our venue was on the other side of the line. We just assumed that we needed to be in the line we had waited in because that’s where everyone else was. And yeah…our venue had no line.


This experience has come to my mind again and again. The thought of waiting in the wrong line just because other people were waiting there brought to my heart the realization of how many other lines I wait in—just because everyone else is.


Especially the long line of happiness.



**** To read the rest of this article and see what the 5 most dangerous words in the world are, go to!

The 3 Simple Words My Grandma Brought Me from the Spirit World

Jesus Christ Beyond the grave


My grandma was in a coma for nearly 10 days. She had flatlined a few times and doctors said that things were not looking good.


It’s interesting how when someone is so close to death, memories of their life begin to flood your mind. I remembered her teaching me to let my little sister win at Go Fish, or her waking up an hour early to grind fresh wheat for her famous homemade pancakes after a cousin sleepover, or her gathering the family and making everyone say something nice about each person on their birthday (during family reunions these “Nice Talk” sessions could last a few hours).


But it wasn’t just what she did when everyone was around; it was the countless personal letters of encouragement, or the call right when I needed it, or simply pulling me aside to let me know that she thought I was special.


She just had a way of making everyone feel loved and helping us keep perspective. Everything she did was to bless others. Let’s put it this way—if she doesn’t make it into heaven, I’m quitting now because no one will!


She was the glue of my family and truly a best friend to me. So upon hearing the news that she wouldn’t live much longer, my heart broke. As I had done the previous 10 days, I made the hour-long drive to the hospital to be there—maybe for her, maybe for my family members, or maybe just for me, I’m not sure. But there I was, in her hospital room when all of a sudden—she woke up!


She was weak and her mouth was very dry from the ventilator, but she could whisper just enough to talk; only a few belabored words per breath.


She asked me about my wife. At the time, I was single—super single.


Upon hearing that I wasn’t married, she informed me that she knew my wife and that the woman I would marry was very beautiful and kind and that I was going to be very lucky. I tried in vain to get a name or address, but now, almost eight years later, I wonder if she knew just how right she would be.


After talking about other things for a few minutes, though, I asked her, “Grandma, where have you been these last 10 days?”


“Oh,” she responded, “I haven’t been alone.”


She proceeded to tell me about the life after death so casually and candidly that I found myself in near shock. She told me about her mother and mother-in-law and how other members of the family were doing who had long since passed. She had everything in her travelogue except pictures. Then came the part that changed my life forever.


“Zack, I was sent back with a very important message.”



To read what the message was, continue reading at




A 3-Step Spiritual Guide to Successful Dating & Marriage

A loving young couple spending time together at home


I had just received the news through some not-so-subtle hints.

She wasn’t interested.


(Insert disappointed sigh here.)


Not that I was counting on it working out, per se, it’s just that . . . well, I was really hoping it might have. Yeah, it was just a crush; yeah, we might have only gone on a couple of dates; yeah, I wasn’t super emotionally invested . . . but I was at that point in life where it seemed that nothing was working out. (You know what I mean.) I was frustrated because whenever I liked a great girl, they weren’t interested; and when a great girl liked me, it didn’t seem right.


I was standing on a packed train when I had a prompting to open up to Doctrine & Covenants Section 90. I was not sure exactly what was there, but when I came across verse 24, I realized that God had put in a formula so that my relationships—in my dating life and in my future marriage—would really work! He packaged it up in three simple steps that could help me keep perspective. It filled my heart with hope—and it can fill your heart too.



To read those 3 steps, continue to