I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review titled "Why Inspiration Matters," by Scott Kaufman. In this business-oriented article he writes: "Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations. Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility, and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities."
Last week I had the opportunity to reflect on Kaufman's words while driving to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Over the course of my drive, it occurred to me that the inspiration he spoke of was the very reason for my journey that day. After all, I was headed to BWI airport to send off a fellow airman in my squadron who was deploying.
This young airman was headed to Afghanistan.
It had been difficult week for this airman. Preparing for service in a combat zone is not a trivial task. Her pre-deployment training lasted months, and included preparations on everything from weapons training to regional cultural courses. Even the mundane tasks of updating wills and establishing a child-care plan (she was also a single parent) takes an emotional toll.
That's when, on the night before her departure, the unthinkable happened. Amidst all the preparation and angst, she learned that her father was in the emergency room and had suffered a stroke. Thankfully, the stroke was not catastrophic, and her father is slowly recovering after a concerning period of time in the emergency room. After delaying her departure for a week, she took some time to visit her father and mother at the hospital.
Given all she had been through, nobody would have faulted her for slowing down for a few more weeks, or even a month. Yet one week later she immediately reported back to her chain-of-command, and stated, "Sir, I'm ready to go."
I stand inspired.
With her actions she set the example not just for service members, but for all of America...and reminiscent of our nation's greatest generation. You see, in her world, "service-before-self" rules the day. She knows that in times of crisis, her nation looks to her for excellence, and it is a responsibility she does not take lightly. Her sense of duty as an airman in the United States Air Force, love for her country, and determination to do her job -- is an example to all Americans in these uncertain economic times.
The reason I state this is because, after spending a few minutes with her, many come to understand that she needs no inspiration, she is an inspiration -- and through her actions she sets the American standard for hard work and ingenuity that will carry our nation into the future. This young Airman is working on her Bachelor's degree in economics, and scoring an impressive 3.6 grade point average. And as if that wasn't enough, she volunteers in the community by devoting her spare time with the local Girl Scouts. People like her make up the fiber that keeps America strong. In short, these are people that simply refuse to fail when difficult times rear their ugly head.
But today she is on her way, into the mouth of the cat, in one of the most dangerous locations on the planet; doing her job like she always does and serving her country. Yet without uttering a word, she has already displayed the type of intrinsic and inspirational qualities that bind us as a nation, and see us through the tough times.
Inspiration may not directly produce a job, erase a foreclosure or even put food on the table...this is true. However, inspirational actions do fuel creativity, and galvanize our nation to meet these challenges together. And our nation's employers will find that, when armed with a workforce that embodies the kind of inspiration displayed by this Airman and her fellow service members -- America will continue to prosper.
When I go to sleep tonight I will say a small prayer for this young airman's safety, and that her father's health continues to improve. But most importantly I'll give thanks to the many young Americans like her who will ultimately shape the future of our nation -- an inspirational beacon in uncertain economic times.