Twenty-four years might be considered a long time for a mentor-ship, but this one was unique, and started way back in 1981.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the principles and rules I had gleaned over those 24 years would continue to mature and gain new relevance during the years to follow.
Learning / Technology
I can trace my career path back to a single day, July 12, 1986 when my mentor presented me with a hunk of metal, silicone, and glass that would keep me busy for the next 30 years and counting. That Commodore 64 is still in my closet, and the last time I fired it up, it booted up just like it did all those years ago. He somehow knew that putting me in front of this strange new machine would alter the arc of my life and career in so many interesting ways. I’ve always had a stubbornly inquisitive mind, and this was the perfect way to channel it.
He taught me to be loyal, fiercely loyal, to family – which can mean your blood relatives or close friends who you consider family. Their safety is your responsibility, and it’s your job to do whatever it takes to protect them from any harm that might come their way. On multiple occasions, he would tell me, “Take care of your brother. Long after I’m gone, you two will have each other and I expect you to look out for each other.” As an infantryman in Vietnam for two tours and as a Policeman in my home town for 33 years, he was a walking example of making sacrifices of self to protect others.
Do the right thing, even when no one is watching
So many times I’ve kept myself out of trouble by remembering his words to behave “as if people are always watching what you do, and they have a camera to take pictures as evidence.” Simple as this is, this perspective has kept me on the right track many times.
Reach for the Summit, but…
When I was very young, he gave me a pewter Ram with a motto that he subtly encouraged me to follow. The meaning of “Reach for the Summit,” has changed for me over the years as I have learned it applies not only to “Charge the hill,” but also to “Charge the right hill,” and “Don’t charge the hill if it is a volcano.” Several years ago I was leading a hike on Mt. St. Helens in Washington with a couple of colleagues from Microsoft. As we neared the top, I took a hard look at the situation and realized that “Reach for the Summit,” also included re-assessing the situation during the ascent and altering the plan if necessary – even if this includes not actually reaching the summit. I had under-budgeted on water for the team, and we got a late start on the mountain due to unforeseen circumstances. When I saw that reaching the summit was indeed possible, but only at the expense of the safety of my team, I made the call to turn back. In the end, we all made it safely home, and that’s more important than reaching any summit.
Others may be more skilled, but don’t let them outwork you. Once you’ve set your mind to accomplishing a goal, you keep chipping away at it. Whether you’re slow or fast, as long as you’re moving toward your goal, you’re on the right track and every day you get closer to achieving what you set out to do. Getting discouraged is fine, but push past it. Oddly, he passes this along to me as a lesson he learned from the opposing force in the Vietnam War. While his side was under orders to fight the Viet-Cong, he respected the way they leveraged their persistence as a strength and were able to evade a more powerful army. “Know your enemy,” as Sun Tzu might say. There is much you can learn from them.
They say that time heals, but this is patently false. If someone truly made a mark on your life, there’s an indelible scar left when they’re gone and you’re never quite the same again. What time does do, is to help those scars feel less painful, and to make the voids feel less empty. Scars remind us of where we came from, and that makes them pretty important. Seldom a day has gone by in the past ten years when I haven’t thought of my Dad and how he somehow prepared me for challenges I would face, even years after he was gone.
In 2006, he checked 10-42* far too soon, but left me with a lifetime of advice that I’m constantly reminded of.
* (10-42 is a law enforcement term for end of watch)