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Love What You Do

May 16, 2012

The original title of this post was a mashup of its current state: “Do What You Love.” I believe that particular order comes from the famous Steve Jobs Stanford commencement speech, a year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It’s a wonderful message, but a little simplistic. For many, a job that feeds a family can’t be just set aside to search for the idyllic.

Today I attended a luncheon featuring a video on the life of a family friend. The video opened with a piece of another commencement speech, this one by Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch. At the time, he had also been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given “three to six months” to live. Professor Pausch talked about passion, and relationships, and building respect.

He talked about love. Randy Pausch waited until 39 to marry, because he wanted, “to find someone where her happiness was more important than mine.” He wished for the graduates to “find that kind of passion, and that kind of love.”

Whatever you do, it’s up to you to deliver the passion and love. I know. That’s simplistic, too. But in a job, it’s the individual’s choice to do it passionately, with love, and to make the best of it for themselves and everyone else. To make a difference, and that’s got little to do with pay. There are other rewards.

My family friend died on May 10th, after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 48. Last night I watched hundreds of young people leaving the funeral home holding each other and crying. Hundreds. Peter was a high-school teacher and coach. Now, everybody’s got opinions on teachers, but they’re not killing it at the teller line, and Peter sure wasn’t in it for the money. While my girlfriend stood in the long, rainy waiting line, one of Peter’s students told her that if it wasn’t for “Mr. G,” he would not have gone to college.

On Peter’s Facebook page, there are hundreds of similar messages from students and parents. Here’s a sampling:

  • You were an amazing person all around. A great teacher, friend, and father figure. Always looking out for me and worried about my happiness. I thank God he blessed me with your presence in my life for the time that he did. Rest in peace Mr. Gonnella
  • Words cannot describe you as a person! You made every day of my high school experience better! You were always smiling and giving everyone high fives and preaching words of wisdom. You have influenced me so much, and for that I thank you!
  • One of the greatest influences on my life. Thank you for everything. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without your support and confidence. Rest in peace.
  • You are one of the strongest people i know and man, did you fight the fight….You are a hero in my eyes! You will never ever be forgotten. Rest in Peace I love you!

Late last night, I chatted with Michael, the oldest of the five Italian brothers. We had no idea how many lives Peter had influenced with his caring, and humor, and love. I don’t think Peter premeditated that influence, either. He wasn’t really a guy with a plan. It’s just how he chose to live.

So, no matter the situation, job, or relationship, we, as individuals have that same choice of how we want to live. You never know how your encouraging word, joke or love will touch someone’s life, but it might just ripple like a pond of good. In Peter’s case, the ripples are immeasurable, and live on.

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