Tuesday, February 21, 2012
The Good Die Young...
I stumbled upon this specific picture by accident. I initially searched James Dean because he is one of the more famous examples of my title, but I didn't realize, as evidence of the quote, he lived the message I intend to deliver.
I am part of a committee at my job that is trying to put together an event for graduating high school seniors to be recognized for their accomplishments and also send them off to their next steps with some pride in hand. Part of the event is going to be a meet and greet, where various professionals will be there to meet the students and talk to them about their journeys, share their advice, hopefully even inspire them. I came up with the idea to invite Mark Walker, a man that came to my high school back in September. And before I continue with the present issue, let me tell you about how I met him.
Mark Walker walked into the office and immediately made an impression. He was about 6'5", 250 lbs, had a deep and aggressive voice and a firm handshake. He asked where we were going, I told him the art room, and he led the way. The man made a fast impression. He knew what he wanted to do and didn't really need help doing it. I was curious as to what could make a man this way. He would soon tell me.
We got into the art room and around 30 kids were in there, juniors and seniors, all loud and disorderly deficient of attention, and he started setting up his presentation, not bothering with getting their attention until he was ready for it. Once he had everything ready, he clapped his hands and if that didn't get everyone's attention, his voice sure did.
"What is it that you love to do?" He asked to nobody in particular. A few people raised their hands. "Design cars," one boy said. "Make dresses," said another girl. "Produce music," came a third voice.
"Great," he said. "And what do you plan on doing after college," he followed, to the three people that responded.
"Be a doctor," said the first boy. "Be a nurse," said the girl. "Work in business," said the last boy. He had them right where we wanted them.
"Why in the hell would you do something other than you love?" he demanded. People's eyes got big, not at the use of "hell," but at his forwardness. The guy just started, and already he was grilling them. But before the discomfort kicked in, he explained.
"If you love to do something, you're probably good at it right?" Heads nodded. "And if you're good at it, you can probably get better at it, right?" Heads nodded again. "And if you can get better at it, you can eventually be the best at it, right?" Still, heads nodded, not sure where he was going. "Okay, then if you are the best at something, you can get paid however much you want to do that. So my advice, do what you love." The kids stared in shock at the simple logic of a claim they had before never given any credence to. Hell, I was even questioning my path, and it was five minutes in.
He proceeded with his story. He started as a job recruiter, hired by companies to hire their employees. He was good at it, damn good he assured us, and he got paid good. In fact, he was so good, that his boss let him name his own salary. So yeah, I guess "damn good" sounds about right. He did this for years, started a family from the profits, and in the height of his career, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer(lymphoma I believe). The doctor gave him a few months but as the time started ticking away, he started fighting, and eventually he fought through it, and the cancer went into remission.
After that, he started doing what he loved, combined with what he knew. He became a chef instructor at The Art Institute of Cincinnati, and also was a recruiter, which is what brought him to our school. His old boss told him he could pick up right where he left off, but as he was laying in his hospital bed he swore to himself that when he made it through this, he would no longer waste his time doing something he didn't love. And that's exactly what he did. He started a new, far less paying, job at The Art Institute, and he loved it. He made that part clear, not through discourse, but through nonverbal communication. His passion was so clear that you were invested in what he was doing, not what he was saying. You wanted to feel like he did as he spoke to us. It was incredible.
At the end he made crepes with strawberry rhubarb preserves in the middle. Sure enough, he was a pro. As the kids left, my work partner and I approached him and started telling him how much better of a speaker he was than every other school's representative. He laughed and said "Well those other recruiters must not love what they're doing." And it was that simple. He continued to talk and we tried to organize a future return trip for him. He gave us his card as he left, wishing us his best, and we fully intended on bringing him back to a bigger audience.
I never got around to doing so, because of getting busy here and there, until the idea struck me during the last meeting with the Senior Salute committee. This would be perfect for him. To present the idea, I decided to research him so I could give my committee members an idea of who he was. The first link on Google was, to my shock, his obituary. He died in November, less than two months after I had seen him passionately making crepes and talking to growing children. It almost brought me to tears.
I'm not going to rant about how unfair it is that someone so beneficial to this world could be taken so young(he was only 48) or how someone's second chance was taken from them before they even got to start it. Instead, I'm going to think about how he would feel if he were here to convey it.
In my mind, he wouldn't be mad. He got to do something so few of us do. When he died, he was doing what he loved. It may have only been for a couple years, but he found it, and he was doing it, and he would never replace those five years with anything. Sure, I don't doubt he would love to come back and continue his work, but that simply wasn't in the cards for him. Instead, he was taken young, like James Dean, but he lived as he would die tomorrow because he knew that was entirely possible. I don't know if that's how he would feel, death may change you in the afterlife(if one exists) but I know he would never regret his decision to start working at The Art Institute. It was what he loved.
So to all of you, make sure to do what you love. Not just because it's what makes you happy, but because it also covers all of those other factors like money that we foolishly worry about. Our journey here is not long, but it can be eventful if you let it. Live today like you'll die tomorrow, and if you don't die tomorrow, treat it the same as you did today.
Attn Grandma: This is not the topic I promised you. This caught me off guard and I had to write about it. I'll write about the one I promised you tomorrow.