“Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed in another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something- something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?”
― attributed to John Boyd by Robert Coram, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
It’s not easy to be something in this world. Playing the part infers acting in a way—a way that might seem counterintuitive to who we are in our core. The alternative to being something is doing something: backing up our words with meaningful action. To do the work that matters, that we know deep down to be the right thing. And to stick with our principles no matter what. Follow the vision, roll up our sleeves and live to a standard of honor and personal excellence. Surely, this is something to aspire to. But also a harder path.
The thing is, we all are pulled in both directions every day. Life is friction; with other people and with ourselves. Who wants to follow someone else’s dream at the expense of our own? I once had a coach who wore a t-shirt with the quote: “If you’re not the lead dog the view never changes”. I didn’t think to question why exactly I was following this particular character for as long as I did. Surely, my view didn’t change for longer than it ought to have been so. It’s easy to into the trap of falling in line. Breaking free eventually changed my view and my belief in what was possible.
“Decide what to be and go be it.” — Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise, The Avett Brothers
To be or to do… Is there a contradiction in choosing who to be? I don’t believe so. Doing is the real-time implementation of our decision of who we want to be in this lifetime. Boyd chose to be the person who held the line on his integrity and honor, focusing on work that mattered most instead of chasing prestige and accolades. The irony is that his legacy is far larger than if he’d simply fallen in line. To make a ripple we must break the surface tension of complacency.
To live an honorable life means living without compromising our core beliefs. That begins with deciding who we will be when faced with the choices life throws at us. So what will our legacy be? Living up to that identity is our challenge from cradle to grave. Honorable isn’t easy, but the view in the mirror is better.