That was the question I felt compelled to address. Maybe answering that would help me figure out what to say. I was sitting with Jai in a doctor’s waiting room at Johns Hopkins, awaiting yet another pathology report, and I was bouncing my thoughts off her.
“Cancer doesn’t make me unique,” I said. There was no arguing that. More than 37,000 Americans a year are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer alone.
I thought hard about how I defined myself: as a teacher, a computer scientist, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a mentor to my students. Those were all roles I valued. But did any of those roles really set me apart?
Though I’ve always had a healthy sense of self, I knew this lecture needed more than just bravado. I asked myself: “What do I, alone, truly have to offer?”
And then, there in that waiting room, I suddenly knew exactly what it was. It came to me in a flash: Whatever my accomplishments, all of the things I loved in life, were rooted in the dreams and goals I had as a child… and in the ways I had managed to fulfill almost all of them. My uniqueness, I realized, came in the specifics of all the dreams – from incredibly meaningful to decidedly quirky -- that defined my 46 years of life. Sitting there, I know that despite the cancer, I truly believed I was a lucky man because I had lived out these dreams. And I had lived out my dreams, in great measure, because of things I was taught by all sorts of extraordinary people along the way. If I was able to tell my story with the passion I felt, I thought, my lecture might help others find a path to fulfilling their own dreams.
I had my laptop with me in that waiting room, and fueled by this epiphany, I quickly tapped out an email to the lecture organizers. I told them I finally had a title for them. “My apologies for the delay,” I wrote. “Let’s call it: ‘Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.’”