When we were at our grandfather's home one afternoon many years ago, my sister and I asked Gramps what was his favorite time in his life.
"Every part has been the best in its own way," he answered. "I was proud to serve in the Navy during World War II. I enjoyed playing college football and studying medicine. Then I fell in love with Audrey and we raised our family. And I've found my purpose being a surgeon all these years."
Tears joined his smile: "Of course I have missed your grandmother terribly ever since she passed -- but now I get to see you two grow up."
Each step is fleeting, which makes each step precious. In other words, every part of our life journey can be the best in its own way if we choose to love wholeheartedly.
I paint because I love to paint. I run because I love to run. I started Give Running because I love to pay forward my blessings by helping others. I feel most myself when I am doing what I love, and three of the character traits I hold most dear are authenticity, empathy, and integrity.
I use three simple yet wise quotes by my hero, the late humanitarian and coach John Wooden, to define these guiding ideals.
Authenticity: "Be true to yourself."
Empathy: "Help others."
Integrity: "Make each day your masterpiece."
Like the primary colors red, yellow, and blue can create every hue, I feel that by blending combinations of these three primary character traits one can achieve every positive attribute. Perseverance, for instance, largely sources from integrity mixed with authenticity, much as violet is a blend of red and blue.
We are never complete with such a form of development; we can always blend our knowledge to mix new hues of understanding, just as we can always improve our character, attitude, actions, and world.
Painting, like life, is a process -- it is the joy of the effort that matters more than any final outcome. We never know how many heartbeats, how many brushstrokes, remain to manifest themselves. But we do know that making this heartbeat, this brushstroke the very best of which we are capable is what counts; and then we do this again and again and again.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned through Give Running is the importance of continuously seeking improvement and exploration. Although my nonprofit's genesis was collecting, cleaning, and donating shoes to disadvantaged youth, for instance, I have never seen Give Running as solely a shoe charity. However, I originally struggled with developing additional ways to live out our motto: Give opportunity. Give joy. Give Running.
This changed when I studied various business models in my entrepreneurship courses at USC and launched Give Running's new initiative of youth running camps.
Locally as well as globally, we conduct workshops on Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success, life skills, and physical fitness for underprivileged students. For instance, I coach young runners and facilitate guided service learning shoe collection drives with students in Ventura County through nonprofit Upward Bound programs, YMCAs, and Boys and Girls Clubs.
My personal experiences training and racing have provided me with insights into running as well as self-improvement at large. Indeed, I am proud of having made each of my heartbeats count as a four-year walk-on distance runner for the University of Southern California Track and Field Team. Being a student-athlete furthered my growth as a teammate-leader; I was elected distance team captain my senior year.
Grateful just to make the team, I made every effort to contribute, from volunteering to clean up camp after meets to pacing my sub-four-minute-miler teammate through the first half of long intervals in workouts.
My balance of academic, philanthropic, and athletic dedication led to my membership on the Trojan Athletic Senate and other committees; the more involved I became, the more fulfilling I found my student-athlete experience.
Days after my final race as a Trojan, I was the commencement speaker at the USC Student-Athlete Graduation Ceremony. Months later, I received the 2012 Male PAC-12 Leadership Award. Again, more meaningful than honors and finish lines, however, are the masterpiece days of the run and the journey.
My grandfather, who remains active in the O.R. at age 86, has dedicated himself to social good through practicing surgery for more than half a century, including caring for the poor and indigent free of charge; his example has taught me that helping others is good medicine.
Like each process through which I find great fulfillment, social entrepreneurship is my way of following in Gramps' footsteps of empowerment and healing.