photosmall.jpg (3328 bytes)

annual reportsarticlesbooklets/brochures
testimonials and awards
further information


A. B. Wilson Communications

Three Joys You Can Count On

Given by Scott E. Carson, Senior Vice President, The Boeing Company, President, Connexion by Boeing, Senior Vice President, The Boeing Company, 2001 Commencement, College of Business and Economics & College of Education, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, May 12, 2001.

When President Rawlins invited me to give this address, I was highly flattered, or at least I was until he explained the reasons for my selection. 

"Scott," he told me, "you are a loyal alum and you have sent three daughters to WSU.  After reviewing all of your transcripts, I can tell that each of these daughters is smarter than you are. So I think I can trust you to be modest."

"More than that," the President continued, "I couldn’t help but notice that you were able to complete a four-year program here at WSU in less than two years. Seeing as how you are the kind of maniac who goes through college in half the normal time, you should be capable of cutting a 20-minute commencement speech down to ten. Make that part of your flight plan, as you people at Boeing might say."

Roger, Mr. President!  Ladies and gentlemen, members of the faculty, and this year’s graduates at the College of Business and Economics and the College of Education, I promise to speak not just with cougar [1] pride . . . but with cougar speed.

I only hope that I can emulate a few of the other attributes of that noble creature.  I think of the curiosity, courage, intelligence, and adaptability of this great cat. The cougar ranges over mountains, forests and deserts. It stalks prey from moose to mice.  During the big earthquake in Seattle a few weeks ago, I was given an unexpected reminder of the power of the cougar. 

Pictures fell off the walls in my office; model airplanes crashed to the ground; chairs and tables were knocked over. But there was one undisturbed element or creature in the room. That was my wooden cougar. He remained poised upon his pedestal, surefooted as ever, looking calm and imperturbable, alert and resourceful, proud and undaunted.  How’s that for being true to your school!

This morning, I want to talk two kinds of fear and three kinds of joy.  There is one kind of fear that acts as a powerful shock and another kind of fear that is much more insidious and debilitating.  I know both of these fears very well. Let’s look at them first.

At one point during World War II, General George Patton lamented, "Too late, too late, always too late."  That’s exactly how I felt when I was the same age as most of you who are graduating today. It seemed to me that opportunity had been there for the taking, and I had somehow missed it.

Being an indifferent student, I had gone into the Air Force straight from high school.  This was during the Vietnam War, and I saw plenty of action as an air commando. My wartime experiences filled me with a profound sense of regret.  I could not believe the waste of life, the waste of talent, the waste of all precious resources of all kinds.

After four years in the Air Force, I spent a couple years at Boeing as a technician. I had already turned 24 when I joined the freshman class at Washington State University. I realized:  If I go through at the normal pace, I will be almost 30 years old when I graduate.  That scared the hell out me.  It was the shock of my life. 

Though my adviser told me I was crazy, I decided to cram four years into one and half, mainly by carrying twice the usual number of courses. I had two great assets in my favor.  The first was my wife Linda who – being perfect in every way – is also a cougar. Without her wholehearted support, I could not have coped with the insane urgency of the schedule I had set for myself. The second was this school . . . this wonderful school in the Palouse.  I don’t know another school where you would find teachers and advisers who are prepared to do so much for you. 

In case you are wondering, I graduated with a B average. That is, indeed, below the standard for Linda’s and my children, but it represented my first real success in school.

Upon entering the business world, I began to learn something about the other kind of fear.  I am talking now about fear of the unknown, fear of the unfamiliar and fear of change.  These fears are the grown-up version of the child’s fear of the dark.  Nevertheless, they can have a crippling effect upon a person’s development.  I’ve seen it happen to many bright and talented people.

The fact is, you must be willing to stretch, to take chances, to move beyond your comfort zone, or you will be continually disappointed with what life has to offer.

What is the opposite of fear of the unknown, or fear of change?

You wouldn’t be wrong if you said "courage." But I am going to say "joy." Why joy?  It matches up with fear of the unknown in the following ways: Where one denies, the other affirms; where one inhibits, the other inspires; where one contains, the other overflows.

Here are the three joys that you can count on to bring you success in your future endeavors. They will never fail you or let you down in any way.

The first is joy in work.  Whenever I read about some multimillionaire retiring at the age of 35, I shake my head in disbelief. Why would anyone in his right mind want to quit working? Work is, or ought to be, a superior form of play – not only useful, but altogether stimulating and fun.  I applaud the attitude of Isaac Asimov, the great science fiction writer, who had more than 500 books to his credit.  "If the doctor told me I had only six minutes to live," Asimov said, "I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster."

Next is joy in learning.  Regardless of age, learning is always the key to improvement . . . the key to self-improvement and to the improvement of everything you touch. As the anthropologist Jacob Bronowski has written, "The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill.  He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better." 

Third is joy in others, and this is absolutely essential to the other two.  For instance, to experience the joy of learning, you must be open to and strongly interested in the ideas and thoughts of others. In much the same way, you will find no joy in work if you cannot communicate and cooperate with others. Nothing is worse than knowing engineering and only being able to talk with other engineers, or knowing accounting and only being able to talk with other accountants.  To cause things to happen, you must learn to think and talk in the language of disciplines and professions other than your own.

In the words of a popular song, ‘Every new beginning is some other beginning’s end.’   You have spent most of your life preparing for "the rest of your life," and now, after 16 years or more in school, the rest of your life is truly beginning!   That makes this a momentous occasion. 

There may not be another time in your life when you have so many options open to you . . . or so many important choices to make . . . as you do right now.  Perhaps you already know what you want to do with your life.  If so, you are one of the lucky ones.  If not, here is some advice from someone who has spent some time searching in his own life.

Look for the "thing" or things for which you have a passion, and in which you find joy.  Look for the kind of work you could happily do 10, 12 or even 14 hours a day, if that were needed.  

Look for the most demanding job you can find because that’s the one that will be most fulfilling.  Never accept a job . . . or stay for too long in one . . . that doesn’t excite you.  You should always feel that there is a strong connection between your ability to learn and your ability to contribute. If that isn’t there, you are in a dead-end job, regardless of how much money you may be making.

Look for work among people you like.  If you find the politics or the human factor at XYZ Corporation oppressive, get out and go somewhere else. 

Most of what I have said can be summed up by the admonition written on the sides of temples in ancient Greece:  Be true to yourself!  To be authentic is, literally, to be the author of your own life.

But I do have one final piece of advice: While being true to yourself, you should act with a sense of urgency.  Don’t think that time is on your side just because you are young.  Time is never on anyone’s side who does not regard it as one of the most precious of all of God’s gifts.

There will be times that you are called upon to lead and times that you are called upon to follow.  The two activities are not opposites to my way of thinking.  Good leaders subordinate themselves to their subordinates.  And the best followers practice what I call courageous followership.  The leader and the follower are united by a common sense of purpose and direction.  Their opposite number is the drifter – who has neither purpose nor direction.

To drift is to submit to chaos. As a matter of physics, no one – not even the best informed scientist – can predict what will happen to a piece of driftwood as it floats downstream. That is what chaos theory is about.

I read recently that most of this year’s graduates will work for half a dozen or more employers by the time they are 32.  That’s amazing to anyone of my generation. We grew up in a much more structured and rigid world.

But your life does not have to be chaotic even if you do live in an era of rapid change. Not at all! The challenge here is similar to the one of running a rapids in a canoe. To master the rapids, you must move faster than the current. That means: You paddle like crazy, you learn as you go and you willingly embrace change. While that sounds daunting, it becomes a whole lot easier when you learn to substitute joy for fear as the real driver in your mental outlook. Aim for joy in work, joy in learning and joy in others.

Good luck, Godspeed and congratulations.

[1] WSU mascot


virgil.gif (2994 bytes)

Andrew B. Wilson

26 Taylor Place Drive
St. Louis, MO 63108
Phone: (314) 361-1195

created by DesignSight