On A Day of New Beginnings, Starting Something New: Monday Morning Quotes

Thirty years ago today, I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the US Air Force and graduated from Clemson University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

That set me off on a series of adventures, during which I met and worked with some amazing people — maybe even you! The track of my Air Force career took some interesting turns, and the years since have been their own “long, strange trip.”

So as I look back at this day in my personal history, when the work I had done up to that point led to looking ahead to those adventures, I thought I’d start something new here on the blog. I ran this idea past my newsletter subscribers* and got more replies than usual, all of them saying that they thought I should do it. So today I’m starting a series of blog posts featuring quotes that may be interesting, inspirational, timely (in terms of historical commemorations or recent news), or just … odd.

I’m torn between calling it “Monday Morning Quotes” as in the post title above, or something like “Words to Start the Week.” (I’m open to suggestions.)

Why would I do this? For the simple reason that I love quotes. Over the years, as I’ve faced difficulties and decisions, I’ve turned to various bits of wisdom and lore I picked up along the way. Back in the days before cell phones, when I carried around a “Franklin Planner” (like many of my Air Force project manager brethren) to keep track of things I needed to do, one section of my planner included a printout of quotations called, appropriately and pedantically enough, “Words by which to Live and Work.” I’ve added to the file in the years since, though it stays on my computer these days.

So without further ado …

Words to start the week. To kick this off, I’ll use the quote I shared in my newsletter. It’s one of my favorite quotes from Science Fiction Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein, from his “Notebooks of Lazarus Long” (found in the novel Time Enough for Love):

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

Specialization is for insects.

glowing human being

(Image: “glowing human being,” by J E Theriot, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


I like that quote because I agree that we as people should strive to be well-rounded, to acquire new, varied skills and knowledge. I don’t think Heinlein’s specific list of abilities is as important as the idea that we are (and should be) generalists, even if some of us have specialties of a sort. I think many people bear this out in their lives without even thinking about it, when they work in one field but sustain other interests outside of work: the teacher who paints, the engineer who writes, the scientist who cooks; the nurse who maintains a motorcycle, the accountant who grows a garden, the programmer who plays an instrument.

I think I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post that if I had the time and energy to start another venture I’d establish a school that used that quote as the basis of its curriculum. In my dream school, students would learn life and family skills, survival skills, arts and sciences of all kinds, and above all that being human is itself a wondrous adventure with nearly boundless possibilities.

So take a moment, in the spirit of that quote, and consider some of the things you can do. Maybe you can check off a lot of the items Heinlein listed; maybe you could add a dozen more items that didn’t make his list; maybe you can do both. Regardless, I hope you can take some time to appreciate just how gifted and how skilled you are — and if the world sometimes calls your attention to the things you can’t do, I hope today you can concentrate on the things you can do. And do them.

Have a great week!

*Yes, I send out a newsletter from time to time. If you’d like to get it, you can sign up using the form in the sidebar on the right side of this blog or at this link.

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7 Responses to On A Day of New Beginnings, Starting Something New: Monday Morning Quotes

  1. Thanks for the great comments, everyone, and especially for the kind words! (You make me blush, cousin.)

    Brenda, I think I fall on the side of personal development, with any societal benefit being a by-product, but I wouldn’t state that as a condition or requirement or general principle. Two different people might choose to learn similar skills for quite different reasons — to satisfy an interest, to pursue a goal, to benefit someone, to carry on a tradition, etc. — even though the skill in practice may benefit society in the same way.

    David, I’m right there with you as a jack of many trades but a master of none — and I’m pleased to have known you for so long!

    Roy, I’ll put some more thought into what to call this series. And I expect I’ll get around to using other Heinlein quotes every now and again!

    Thanks again — here’s wishing you all the best,

  2. Roy Reichle says:

    Oh, and I think your new blog here should be titled something that has more to do with ideas, wisdom, or questions–not words. Quotes are collected as guideposts and anchors for life–a means to the end.

  3. Roy Reichle says:

    I love the stories of Lazarus Long. As a character he has much to be admired for, but at the same time, he’s a bit of a rogue. I think anyone would be who lived long enough to grow tired of human pedantry and self-importance. I agree with your assessment, Gray. A human may not need all of the skills Long mentions, but the sentiment, to be adept at many things is important. Long is of course on a frontier, space, where things like fighting and dying well are skills more called for. Many people in his era are also in space ships where varied skills are necessary. Nevertheless, we all should strive to be renaissance humans, we may be called on at any moment to solve a problem, program a computer, or comfort a dying friend.

  4. Conan says:

    I agree with the sentiment. While I cannot do all the things in that quote, I can do several. I’m the proverbial “jack of all trades, master of none.”

    I also noticed that 30-year anniversary today. Although I didn’t meet you in the Air Force, we walked that path in parallel, to include college, ME, and AFROTC Det 770. We met the summer before our HS Senior Year at Governor’s School, so I got a head start on that friendship.

    I also have an extensive quote list I collected over the years. That one is not in there, but I may add it (most of mine are generally military related that have application to the job or life).

  5. Brenda says:

    I agree with your sentiment here wholeheartedly. Though it took until I was older to really value the things that I do outside of my trained vocation.

    My question to you: Do you think it is more important to be a diverse and well-rounded person for your own personal development or for the benefit that you can bring to society? I think about this as well and would be interested in other people’s thoughts.

  6. Katherine Switala says:

    Well then, this is inspiring and I am impressed. You make me proud.

  7. Jim McQuaid says:

    Great thought. I’m a believer in liberal education – which seems to be going out of fashion in favor of a relentlessly vocational focus.