Who You Are & Who You Wish To Be

Posted on June 18, 2011

The following is the video of Conan O’Brien delivering the 2011 Dartmouth College Commencement Address.  Watch it, if your time is short, skip to 19:40.

This is an incredibly insightful point that Conan makes: the difference between who you want to be and who you actually are is what truly makes you special and unique.

This profoundly resonates with me. I have many heros and I’m incredibly blessed to know many of them. I want to be that fine combination of dreamer and engineer that are Bryan Cantrill, Jeff Bonwick, and Carsten Haitzler. I want to be the operational manager that is John Allspaw. I want to have the contagious enthusiasm of Adam Jacob or the conviction and pragmatism of Theo Schlossnagle. I want the wisdom of Russel Ackoff, the eloquence and curiosity of James Burke, the theological intensity of Charles Haddon Spurgeon… I could go on and on. I have a great many role models.

But the thing is, I’m not any of those people and as hard as I try I never will be… and I have tried. Often our role models are in tension with one another. However, like our taste in music, which are similarly in conflict (I like Megadeth, and Stevie Wonder, and The Bird and the Bee, and Rachmaninoff, etc), those preference themselves say something unique about who we are.

I find great personal comfort in what Conan says because it matches up perfectly with what I’ve found in my lifes journey thus far but not been able to articulate. I share it with you because I know a great many other SysAdmin’s who similar have felt “If I can just be as good as that guy I will have made it!” Except, you never become that guy and when you at last reach that level your horizons have expanded and you realize that your course isn’t the same as his/hers.

What is profound is the point that it is the difference, not the similarity, that is truly important. That is what really makes you unique. That is the place from where you can truly contribute. Therefore, don’t ever hold yourself back or silence yourself until you reach some imaginary peak. Don’t be afraid to code just because you think your code is lousy, don’t be afraid to write just because you don’t think your as smart as someone else, etc, etc. One thing I’ve found about my heros that I’ve met, while I look at where they are as my destination, they themselves are on their own journey and can’t understand how anyone else would put so much value on their position because they themselves aren’t yet where they wish to be.

As Emerson put it: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Whatever you have now is what someone else is wishing to aspire to, so never despair and never hold yourself back.