Today’s Assignment: Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?
I was sitting in the lobby of a car dealership waiting for my car to be serviced. I had my laptop and was updating a website for a friend. There was Wi-Fi, TV, free coffee, and a vending machine for snacks. It was the epitome of Silicon Valley comfort. I was oblivious to others sitting around me. With his back to me at another table was a young man who also had a laptop. I was suddenly aware of him when he came to my table, motioned to me, and asked me to watch his things while he used the restroom.
When he returned he inquired about what I was doing. Unlike the others in the lounge I seemed intent on a task. I told him, and he was astonished. We fell into an easy conversation. He told me he was a graduate student at a nearby University and eventually told me he was not sure what he wanted to do with his life. We talked about life and what was important. Obviously he had multiple opportunities. I shared with him that I had had several careers (at least three major ones). And finally he asked me how old I was. (75). He was 25.
Originally from China, he had already done many things. He had been invited to the White House as part of a group of achievers in his undergraduate days. He had worked for a couple of non-profits who helped students in under-served countries. (He was very proud of these connections and showed me the websites on my computer.) Currently he is working on a graduate degree but his heart isn’t into it, and he is uncertain what kind of future he envisions for himself. We talked about the difference between being specialist in one field or of being a generalist in many fields. I confessed my preference and impossible dream to know everything about everything. He understood completely and gestured in the air that this was like a tree: you could be like the trunk of the tree with deep well-grounded roots or like the canopy of the tree with leaves that flutter in the wind but not both. I could see myself in him fifty years ago.
Tentatively he asked me if I was on FaceBook. When I told him I was, he sat down at his computer and invited me to be his friend. I did not hesitate to respond. And then his car was ready.
This fleeting contact has once again brought me in touch with realities we all face. Who are we? What should we do? The lucky ones know. The rest of us still wonder–whether we are 25 or 75.