post written by: Marc Chernoff
That Advice Saved My Life
Six years ago he walked into my dorm room on the verge of tears.
“I can’t take it anymore!” he groaned. “I’m just running in place! I aim. I sprint. I leap. I fall. I get nowhere. Nowhere!”
His desperate eyes stared into mine, hoping… searching for an answer.
He has dreamed of pursuing a career in software engineering since he was a kid. “Businesses worldwide will rely on my code someday,” he used to tell his computer programming teacher in high school. Now, as a junior enrolled in computer science at a reputable university, he finally has a clear shot at making his dream a reality.
He wakes up every morning filled with excitement and positive intentions. Studying is actually the first thing that crosses his mind. “I’ve got to get that chapter read,” he tells himself. But first he needs to grab some Starbucks and a muffin. “Okay, now I’m ready.”
He sits down at his desk and cracks open the book Agile Software Development. The phone rings. It’s Jen, a good friend he met in his sophomore English class. “Lunch today? Yeah, I could do that. How’s noon sound? Perfect. See you then.” Before he sits back down to read, he remembers that he skipped his workout yesterday. “A quick workout will only take forty-five minutes and it will energize my mind for a few hours of diligent studying,” he thinks to himself. He puts his sneakers on, grabs his iPod and heads over to the campus gym.
When he returns from the gym, he takes a shower and is once again ready to read. “Chapter 1: Welcome to the power of agile software development. This book is divided into…” “Ah, crap! I forgot to email my mother those photos I promised her. Heck, it will only take a second.” He quickly fires-up his laptop and logs into Gmail. Before he has time to send the email, he gets an IM from an old high school buddy, Danny, whom he hasn’t spoken to in six months. After a forty minute chat session, he sends the email to his mother and returns to the book.
He glances up at the wall clock and realizes he has to leave in thirty minutes to meet Jen for lunch. “Gosh, it’s pointless to get into the groove of a focused study session for just thirty measly minutes,” he says aloud. He convinces himself that it’s in his best interest to save the reading for after lunch. So he logs into Facebook, replies to a few messages from his friends and then heads off to meet Jen. Once he returns from lunch an hour and a half later, he feels exhausted. The post-meal grogginess is kicking in hard. “All I need is another round of Starbucks and I’ll be ready.” He hustles out to grab it.
As he sits down at his desk with a fresh cup of coffee he repeats the word “focus” over and over as a mantra in his mind. He cracks the book back open. “Chapter 1: Welcome to the power of agile software development. This book is divided into…” But then his neighbor knocks on his door. “Turn on the Local 6 news channel! The college apartment complex down the street is on fire!” his neighbor chants. He thinks about it for a second, puts the book down and clicks on the television. “This should only take a second…”
And another day comes closer to an end.
She gets up early every morning, grabs her soccer ball, and heads outside before she even washes her face, or eats, or pees. She juggles the ball between her feet nonstop until she achieves a continuous count of fifty. An old high school coach once told her that Mia Hamm (the greatest female soccer player ever) used to do this. When she’s done, she gears-up for the day, grabs a glass of milk and a protein bar, and heads off to soccer practice.
Sometimes she catches up with me after practice, just before our 9 A.M. Economics class. I love it when she does, because her positive attitude is contagious. Her eyes always radiate with contentment and verve. In the few minutes before class we usually philosophize about our lives, our ambitions, and our relationships. For instance, today she said, “It’s all about balance. We’ve got to somehow mesh our long-term goals with our momentary pleasures.” She always explains herself clearly until she’s confident that I understand her point of view.
Once class starts, she’s silent, entirely focused on the professor’s lecture. Her notes are more diligent than most. And although she rarely raises her hand, when she does, her question or comment usually brings a respectful smile to the professor’s face.
Outside of class, I seldom see her during the day. She locks herself away in her dorm room, or in the library, or on the soccer field. She reads, writes, learns, and practices. She conditions her mind and her body with perpetual vigor.
Once or twice a week, when she actually takes a break, she’ll call me at lunchtime. She usually goes off on a short tangent about something she’s recently learned or experienced that excites her. And she always finishes by saying, “I’ll fill you in on the details later.” Because she knows I’m interested in hearing them. Because she mindfully extracts interesting details from data sources… details that most of us miss.
After a little nourishment, she gets back to work. Pages turn. Notes are taken. Keys on her laptop click repeatedly. And she carries forth until her vision blurs. When it does, she gets up, juggles her soccer ball to a count of twenty, and refocuses herself on her work. Again she forges ahead for another couple of hours until her brain has trouble focusing and her belly aches with hunger. Then she swings by my dorm room.
It’s pretty late now, and both of us are done with whatever we’ve been working on. So we head out for a bite to eat. She fills me in on her day and speaks enthusiastically about the things that move her. Sometimes it’s something new she learned. Sometimes it’s an entrepreneurial idea. Sometimes it’s soccer. Or someone she met on campus. Or a song she heard on the radio that inspires her.
When we finish eating, she walks back to her dorm room. She thinks, or reads poetry, or listens to music, or works on the novel she’s been leisurely writing for the last few months. When her eyes finally get heavy, she snuggles into her bed and falls blissfully asleep in an instant.
Satisfied with today. Eager for tomorrow.
When he walked into my dorm room that day, I told him about her, and how she lives her life.
And although we don’t talk as much as we used to, I received an email from him last night. It was a cheerful email about the software company he started last year. As it turns out, he just landed his first six-figure contract.
In the P.S. section of the email, he wrote: “Do you remember that story you told me in college about the girl who played soccer? Thank you. That advice saved my life.”
Photo by: Kuzeytac