Our son, Steven, is a senior at Pinnacle High School. His career desire is to be a fireman. Firefighting is a very competitive field. It is common for candidates to be placed on a three year waiting list before landing a job. Steven has always felt a strong allegiance to his country. The United States Marie Corps offers a program where one can become certified as a firefighter and serve his country in the process. At the end of a four-year commitment, a Marine firefighter can often join a city firefighting company without the three year wait.
For Christmas we stayed at my wife Sheryl's parents in Houston. All of my wife's sisters and their families joined us. There were 24 of us all told. Naturally there was much discussion about Steven's decision to join the Marines given the real possibility that he may serve some time in Iraq. With regard to combat, the Marine infantry is the first line of defense. The infantry is supported air cover. The Marine firefighters put out the fires resulting from the air support.
Our daughter, Stephanie, gave me The Last Lecture for Christmas. I read it on the plane as we traveled to and from Houston. For those unfamiliar with the book, the story chronicles a Carnegie Mellon computer science professor, Dr. Randy Pausch, who gives his last lecture after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Randy imparted life's lessons to his students:
- Dream big. Try to achieve your childhood dreams.
- Confront adversity - acknowledge the elephant in the room.
- Parenthood is the most important responsibility in the world.
- Teach people things they don't realize they are learning until well into process.
- Leadership is the ability to delegate with the passion to inspire.
- Obstacles are there to stop people who don't want something badly enough.
- Time must be explicitly managed, like money.
- You can change your plan, but only if you have one.
- Enabling the dreams of others is more fun even than fulfilling your own childhood dreams.
- When people exceed your expectations, let them set their next goal instead of setting a higher one for them.
- To work effectively in teams:
- Meet people properly.
- Find things you have in common.
- Try for optimal meeting conditions.
- Let everyone talk.
- Check egos at the door.
- Praise each other.
- Phrase alternatives as questions.
- Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you want.
- Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other. Hand written thank-you notes really set one apart from others.
- Always keep enough cash in your wallet to handle any emergency. Often all you have is what you bring with you.
- A bad apology is worse than no apology. Proper apologies contain:
- What I did was wrong.
- I feel badly that I hurt you.
- How do I make this better?
- Tell the truth all the time.
- There is more than one way to measure profits and losses. On every level, institutions can and should also have a heart.
- Individual rights come from a community. In return, individuals have a responsibility to the community.
- To get what you want, sometimes all you have to do is ask.
- Optimism is a mental state that can enable you to do things to improve you physical state.
Near the end of the lecture, Randy brought his wife to the front of the class to thank her for her selflessness in taking care of him while raising their three children. Moved by his lecture, they kissed, and she whispered in his ear "Please don't die."
As we exchanged best wishes and families left Houston to return to Galveston, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Nashville, Sheryl's 8-year-old nephew, Brock, said good-bye to Steven with "Please don't die." He also mentioned "You need to practice." Steven goes to basic training in San Diego on September 16, 2009. Basic training lasts 3 months. This is followed by 10 days off and then 26 days of combat training. After combat training, he will then be stationed somewhere where he can learn firefighting. I am sure there will be lots of practice.