Carl Sagan in his book “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space”
I had a very short and bizarre dream the other morning. My parents told me that our family was going out to have dinner with Wendy Kopp, the founder and President of Teach for America. This made zero sense. I asked, “Are you sure? Do you even know who Wendy Kopp is?” Well, turns out, they weren’t sure. The Wendy Kopp my mother knew was an old acquaintance who she hadn’t seen in years. She remembered Wendy being a journalist of some sort who focused on international development. (This is not true in real life, of course. TfA was born from Wendy’s undergraduate thesis at Princeton and she’s been at it ever since. This year, they’re celebrating their 20th anniversary with a network of nearly 30,000 corps members (20,000 alumni) and having reached more than 3 million students!)
So, that evening (in the dream), we were making our way through the halls of some school where Wendy’s office was supposedly located, and we came across this public art mosaic in one of the stairwells. It was a recreation of an article that Wendy had written for the New York Times 25 years ago about an innovative water purification and treatment facility somewhere in India (of course this article was a pure fabrication of my dream). I guess my parents were right after all about her getting her start as a journalist covering development issues.
Well, as if this weren’t strange enough, beneath the article on the right were three words:
Artist, Illustrator, Imagineer
And to the left was a painting of Mickey Mouse with a quote that read:
If all three I am truly, then indeed I am one. -Walt Disney.
I stared at the quote, and those three words for what seemed like an eternity. It was a real Cameron Frye-The Smiths-inspired-George Seraut moment.
Then I woke up.
In my re-post from Holiday Matinee back in February, there was this quote from Kevin Arnold of The Wonder Years (perhaps my favorite television show of all time): “When you’re a little kid you’re a bit of everything: scientist, philosopher, artist. Sometimes it seems like growing up is giving these things up one at a time.”
When I was a kid, I loved writing stories. I loved art. I loved coming up with characters and plot lines and bringing it all to life visually. All my stories read like fables. They were often anthropomorphic. They always had a moral. But, as much as I loved retreating into my own little imaginary world with ever-wise Koala Bears named Einstein and righteous talking platypuses, I also loved my REAL friends, making new ones, and — in a very self-centered youngest sibling kind of way — being the center of attention. In retrospect, I’d like to think that I also cared immensely for the happiness of my friends, spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone and writing notes. Often to woo the girls I had crushes on, but more regularly to offer advice, a pep talk, and to make sure people knew how much they meant to me.
Fast forward some 25 odd years (give or take), and I find myself one of the luckiest people I know. Because in my “day job,” I get to use my daily inspirations from art, technology, entertainment, science, and design, to create and tell stories that (hopefully) make people better stewards of this world and of each other. I get to work with (and often discover) the brightest, most committed, and passionate individuals in the world who inspire me daily with their humility and generosity. In exchange, I try my best — though I’m sure I don’t always succeed — to let those around me know how much they fill me with an endless feeling of gratitude, and do what I can to pay it forward every chance I get.
Although it took a while to get here, I somehow haven’t had to give up all the things that were dear to me as a little kid, one by one. I’m still very much the same 8 year-old doing all the things that make me happiest. And the great irony is that as selfish as that may sound, I choose to be this way so I can be as selfless as possible.
If all three I am truly, then indeed I am one.
While this Disney quote is entirely imaginary, made-up in a strange random dream, I believe in its words wholeheartedly: that in order to be the best version of ourselves, we cannot compromise or sacrifice the things which are core to our being. Sure, life is filled with endless compromises and sacrifices. That is why this is an ideal and will always be the challenge of getting older, raising a family, and living in a world in a constant state of uncertainty, fear, and flux. But, the better we can get at identifying these core elements, the better prepared we will be to meet these challenges when they arise.
I also just believe in the power of threes — whether you’re pitching and presenting, trying to memorize something, or looking for inspiration. Paring things down to just three is a great mechanism to drive focus and clarity.
So, here are my three:
Creator, Connector, Caretaker
When I am at my best and happiest, I find that I’m not just giving equal energy to each, but that each is in sync with the other. It’s possible that these three may change. I’m still much too young, inexperienced, and untested to know. But, based on 8 year-old me and current me, I think this is a pretty solid start.
So…what are your three?