Production Lines

We all know the saying that we are each greater than the sum of our parts, but I like to expand this by saying I am greater than the product of the factors in my life. It’s funny because of the mathematical parallelism between sums and products, but it also changes the focus from the internal to the external.

When I think of the parts that make me up, I think of the roles I fill and the things I am. I’m a writer, a brother, a friend, a leader. I was homeschooled, graduated from a community college, and now I’m attending an awesome university. But when taken together, I am greater than any one of these things.

When I think of the factors that have brought me here, I think of the outside forces that have shaped me: My parents are divorced, I’ve grown up depending on government assistance, and I’ve only been able to make it through school because of the challenges I’ve overcome. Yet I am greater than each of these things, and I am greater than merely taking them all together.

It’s hard to say which came first–the outside challenges or the changes inside–but all of these elements have brought me here and made me who I am, and because of the extraordinary opportunities I’ve been given, I’ve finally realized where I want to go in life.

I said yesterday I’m naturally unsure and inactive. These are not inherently bad things, but they can become problematic when I don’t recognize them and fail to commit myself when I need to. Committing ourselves was a big aspect of LeaderShape; we were placed in a safe space where we could take a step back and change our minds if we needed to, and I’m certain some of us did, but what I needed most was the assurance that I could make a decision and that it could be a good decision–and once I’d decided, I felt complete and in control.

One night I was having dinner with one of the most awesome guys I met during the week. He laughed and said something like, “I don’t think I’ve really asked what you want to do with your life.” And I probably laughed, too, because I hate this question–because I never have a good answer. He’s a great guy, a good listener, an incredible friend, and knowing I was in a such a safe environment and knowing he would judge nothing I said, for the first time I was able to put my life plans into words–and then confidently share them.

I want to finish my degree and pursue a master’s or doctorate; I’ll decide after I’ve tasted mathematical research, but it doesn’t matter right now. Either way I want to teach math at the collegiate level, to inspire a new generation of lifelong learners and to equip the teachers and scientists of tomorrow with the skills they need to succeed. I want to cure cancer, end HIV, figure out the secret of endlessly renewable energy, sustainable farming, and long-life, but let’s be honest, I don’t have the talent or skill to do any of those things–but I can empower those who do, and that’s what I want to do.

Now, normally, that’s where I stop. In fact, normally I don’t even go that far when I answer this dreaded question. “I want to teach,” I tell people, but I don’t tell them why. I might say I’m passionate about learning because I’ve grown up in an environment where knowledge and wisdom are prized. If I’m with really good friends I might add that I love learning, I love understanding the world around me, that becoming intimately aware of the laws of nature–both mother nature and human nature–makes me feel closer to God. And if you’re in my LeaderShape family, you’ll already know that I value learning because it leads to personal growth and discovery.

I never go deeper than that. But with this friend, I did.

After I’ve taught a few years, I want to leave the classroom and head to the capital. I want to be a role model in the political arena, because we desperately need them. Maybe I’ll start locally, perhaps venturing from a General Assembly to Governor someday, or maybe I’ll go straight to Washington. Either way, our country is in dire need of good leadership, and given the experience I’ll have by that point, I’ll be the right man to get it done–or at least to get it started.

I’ve had a number of friends tell me I should be president, and maybe someday I will be, but the true power of our country rests–at least in theory–in the hands of Congress. I firmly believe if we’re going to see our country survive another hundred or two hundred years, we need to fix Congress. I could elaborate why, but that’s a separate story and not the news for today–but someday, I’ll share that story, too.

I didn’t stop there. No, my dreams aren’t so one-dimensional, because after I retire from the public sector, I want to dedicate the rest of my life to writing and sharing all the stories I’ve ever wanted to tell. My hope is to do this in every stage of my life, publishing stories here or there, maintaining an active and well-read blog (imagine what the Secret Service would say about that!), but once my duty unto others is done, I want to serve myself. I want to share my stories and inspire others in the many ways stories have inspired me.

I have grown up feeling sometimes that my only friends are those bound within the pages of Tolkien and Rowling, Snicket and Duane, Pierce and probably a dozen others, and I want to give that gift to others for the rest of my life. I would never have come to stand where I am today if long ago I hadn’t first fallen in love with reading.

I want to be remembered as someone who was passionate and inspiring. I’ve always been told I can do only one thing–I can teach or I can go into politics or I can write. No one has ever told me I can do everything (generally the word on the streets is that you can’t do everything), but if I’m going to live a life dedicated to passion, I must pursue each of my passions–teaching, leading, and storytelling.

Hopefully, through one of them and through all of them, my work will inspire others. After all, that is the thread of virtue that unites each of these: Through teaching, I want to inspire tomorrow’s teachers and scientists. Through politics, I want to inspire tomorrow’s leaders. And through writing, I want to inspire everyone–and especially I want to inspire children, because if we can inspire our children, the world will always be in good hands.

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