Today I ran into greatness. It wasn't the first time, but it might have been the most significant.
I met Derek Jeter once, but I never had any illusions about being a professional athlete. Sports were taken away from me at such a young age I never really had a chance to explore whatever potential I posessed. I classify him as great because his high level of achievement cool professional demeanor are always present, even when the lights are the brightest.
I met the man that pioneered my industry once. Despite his Ivy league education and undeniable intellect he was missing something. He lacked gravitas and that is probably why despite being brilliant he never gained the household name status that many giants of industry do. I classify him as great because he invented an industry. My job and thousands, if not tens of thousands of others exist because of this man and that is something to honor, even if his prosperity is not what it might have been.
The man I met today is a genius. He graduated from one of the top technical colleges in this nation when he was 21. He is a patent holder, an economic theorist, and a brilliant engineering mind. He is from a third world country and has written extensively about how to alleviate much of their socio-economic strife by changing the entire economic makeup of their markets. He is working in a consulting role with my company and I was able to spend a little time talking with him this afternoon. It turns out a design idea I am working on is something he worked on as part of his senior thesis. How we approached the problem was very different but in the short time we spoke I realized I was playing on his field, in a sort of unrefined, very raw way.
The conversation left me energized and a little depressed at the same time. One one hand I was charged up that I held my own with someone who is probably in the top 2% of all minds on planet Earth. On the other it left me to wonder what my achievements could have been had I pursued math or science in my youth. I don't know why, but my younger years were spent with a healthy fear of these particular topics and it wasn't until I was an adult that I began to dabble with things like math and engineering. It wasn't until very recently I realized I have some aptitude with them.
I have always tried to do things that bordered on the impossible. Mostly I have failed while trying to do them. My mind extrapolates things out onto a global stage, seeing through to a successfull conclusion. In practice my experiences with entrepreneurship have left me with nothing but some interesting stories and an endless sea of debt. I am not a wealthy internet mogul. I am not a powerful retail magnate. I am not a best-selling author. I am not running a large insurance consultancy. I am not in the pacific northwest living out the fantasy of every rotissirie sports participant in the world. My biggest failing may be I have no ability whatsoever to think small and don't mind being laughed at, even when it is friends and family laughing at me. Sometimes I think that if I scale back my ideas, theories and expectations I might be better off, somehow more content. After meeting with the man I met with today I know I don't want to. My life may end without the kind of success I strive for, but I never want to be known as someone who stayed on the sidelines and played it safe.
There is this great Teddy Roosevelt quote I love from a speech he gave in Paris just after the turn of the century. He said this:
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat ."
- Theodore Roosevelt
My conversation today reaffirmed that I want to be known as a man who is in the game, playing on the highest levels with the biggest minds. Maybe I deserve to be there, maybe I don't, but one way or another, I am going to find out.
No 1 of Consequence