Lessons From the Greatest Generation

As a TV news cameraman I get to meet a lot of different people. I encounter so many in a given month that it’s hard to remember them all, but every so often I meet someone who makes a lasting impact. Last Sunday I met a man that made me reevaluate certain aspects of my life.

Last sunday morning my station got a call from the daughter a WW2 veteran that was turning 95 that day. She had gotten a proclamation from their county executive and was going to present it to him in front of his entire extended family. Normally we don’t have the time or resources to cover stories like this, but as luck would have it my producer didn’t have anything else so my reporter and I went.

On the drive to this man my reporter and I expressed our main concern. This man is 95 and we have to talk to him. I’ve interviewed people in there 100’s and it can be a challenge. Almost every person over 100 that I have met was deaf. I don’t know what it is about human ears, but they tend to quit on you as you approach the century mark. Trying to talk to a deaf person is very frustrating particularly if they aren’t exactly all there. We arrived at the house with our fingers crossed.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.14.17 AMOnce we entered all of our concerns were erased. This man was pleasant, engaged, and he could hear pretty well. He answered all of our questions and his replies were very interesting. As I listened I could see that this man was happy and fulfilled. He had learned and lived some very simple rules that allowed him to be successful. Form his answers here is what I have deduced. 

  • Marry the right person. When we asked him about his family he began to tear up and replied “I married and angel, I couldn’t have done any better.” I realize that finding love isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle. You control who you allow into your life. This man, even after 60+ years of marriage still genuinely loved his wife. After the interview she took me aside to make sure that I was going to edit it so he would look good. She was looking out for him, she knew everyone would see it and she wanted to make sure he wasn’t embarrassed. That’s love. 
  • Work for a company that impresses you. This man worked for Pfizer, the worlds largest pharmaceutical company. He said that when I first got there he looked around at what they were doing and he was excited to be a part of it. He knew this was a good company with a bright future and he worked there until he retired. There have been times in my life when I worked for TV stations or production companies that I knew were mismanaged or performing poorly and I stayed because the money was good or because I didn’t want to switch jobs. You know what happened? The stations laid me off or closed. Now I work at a station that make a great product and is owned by a sound company and I am better off.
  • Be the decider in your life. One of the common themes of the interview was that this man made choices. When World War 2 started he enlisted, he didn’t wait to be drafted. He found a company he liked, he applied. When he came to Long Island he fell in love with the place and moved here. I believe that this also contributed to his happiness. He enjoyed his life because he choose it. How many of us work jobs we hate with long commutes, never spending time with our friends and family. It’s your life, you have to control your destiny. 
  • Invest. After only one week of working at Pfizer this man asked if he could buy stock. They told him that only executives could do so. He suggested that they change the policy arguing that employees who own stock will work harder. A week later they agreed and let him buy shares in the company. I have no idea how much he bought, but I suspect that he earned a vast sum of money as the value of those shares climbed decade after decade. Is he an extreme example? Perhaps, but he saw a valuable opportunity and he took it. This investment allowed him to elevate his standard of living and provide for his family.

In the end I got a rare opportunity to hear the story of a wonderful person. I enjoyed meeting him and his family and I will try an incorporate his life lessons into my own decisions. It impacted me so much that I decided to share them with you. I hope they help you in your own journey. 

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