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The Sentence

By Manny Roman

Manny RomanDuring a New Year’s Eve gathering, I mentioned to a friend that I respected and admired what he had accomplished in his life. He graduated from the Air Force Academy. He became a fighter pilot. He implemented a program that trained fighter pilots to out-fight Soviet MIGs during the Vietnam war. He wrote a couple of books about his service. I mentioned that he had a great sentence. He, of course, asked for an explanation. Here it is.

Management and relationships guru Daniel Pink speaks of an incident that may have occurred in the 1960s in President John F. Kennedy’s office. Playwright, Congresswoman and Ambassador Clare Booth Luce was concerned that Kennedy was attempting to accomplish too many things and thus losing focus. She said, “A great man is a sentence.” The president asked what that meant.

She explained that great leaders did not attempt to do a big number of things. They tried to do one or two big transcendent things. Any great leader that accomplished a worthwhile cause could be described in one sentence. Lincoln: “He preserved the union and freed the slaves.” FDR: “He lifted us out of a depression and helped us win a war.”

As I thought about this Sentence when I first heard of it, I realized a few things.

First, when we are very young, our sentence can only describe a dream or an aspiration, a vision. (Perhaps of becoming a pilot and serving your country.) It can’t really describe who we are yet because we are not who we will become. It is said that a vision without a task is a daydream. Therefore, to accomplish our vision, we need to have a plan, a course of action and implement it towards that vision. (Perhaps attend the Air Force Academy.) We are now in the process of building our Sentence.

In the middle stages of our life, our Sentence is being modified and sculpted by external and internal forces. Life and work get involved in the modification of the Sentence. If we can maintain our vision and the attendant task we are on track with our Sentence. During this critical phase of our development, we are finely tuning our Sentence. (Perhaps by realizing that pilots need specialized training) We are working under the constraints and objectives of our employment and other life circumstances.

In the later years of our life, our Sentence should be pretty well defined. We may have been able to greatly influence our Sentence. (Perhaps by developing and implementing a way to save pilots’ lives with specialized training.) We may have developed the ability to make choices that lead to our desired Sentence. In this case, we would feel that we had a rich and rewarding life.

Maybe other forces had the greater impact and our Sentence is nothing like we wanted or expected. Our life may prove a disappointment and be a cause of bitterness and anger. The Sentence may be fairly negative.

A third, and more likely option, is that we had a combination of disappointments and triumphs. In this case, we may have some regrets and some joy. I would suspect that most people fall within this category and have a relatively moderate Sentence.

All this assumes that we had a vision to begin with and we attempted to implement actions to arrive at that vision. I suspect that, when young, most of us did not have a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve in life. I don’t mean the vision of becoming “rich and famous.” I am talking about something that includes real achievement; a guiding light for your life. Does anyone really want their defining Sentence to be, “He made a billion dollars?”

Finally, another conjecture that I have is that your Sentence must be spoken and defined by others, not yourself. You can diligently work towards honing the Sentence. You can have the vision and the tasks to accomplish your goals. However, your Sentence must be given to you by those who appreciate and admire your accomplishment. Multiple sentences are possible.

Here is my Sentence for my friend: He served his country with valor, honor and selfless achievement, saved lives and raised a family that follows his example of honorable service.

Manny Roman, CRES, is association business operations manager at Association of Medical Service Providers.

 

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