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Time and Time Again

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kevin W.
  • 375th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander
Several months ago, I was honored to serve as a special awards judge at an international science fair, which was attended by more than 1,600 students representing the best and brightest of more than 40 countries. This fair offered tremendous insight into the current and future potential possessed by our world's young high school students. More than one of them had already filed for, and secured, multiple patents for their inventions. It was very encouraging to witness the success of students from our own nation.

It was only fitting that the sponsors arranged a unique opportunity for the students: a question and answer session, hosted by a panel consisting of six esteemed Nobel Laureates. After all, many of these students are likely to reach similar levels of success in their lifetimes, so why not give them the opportunity to learn from those who have reached the pinnacle of their careers?

Several Nobel Prize winners shared their academic history, discussed their achievements, and even spiritedly debated the nuances of controversial scientific theories. While all of this was exceptionally fascinating and entertaining to hear, two unexpected nuggets of wisdom were revealed that really caught my attention.

One student asked a panel member to describe his proudest achievement. Many in the audience, including me, anticipated he would tout his incredible contributions to understanding the dynamics of chemical elementary processes. Instead, he proclaimed his proudest accomplishment to be this: "Getting my wife to say 'yes' to my marriage proposal!" Second and third on his list? Fathering both of his daughters!

In response to a very different question, another Nobel Prize winner shared his recipe for success: He views time itself in economic terms. As a limited commodity, every action we take has an "opportunity cost" associated with it. We choose to do one thing at the expense of another. For example, there are literally millions of books that have been published. When you take the time to read one of them, you are making a conscious decision to not read another one out of the millions that you could have selected.

While these responses to questions from the students were not intentionally linked to each other, and in fact were separated temporally by several other intriguing discussions, both answers provided some insight into what these highly successful scientists clearly wanted to share with this group of young people: Time is a precious commodity. Our personal priorities will drive how we spend our time. At the end of the day, when we look back at our accomplishments, some things will matter much more than others.

Nearly all of you reading this commentary are committed to serving our nation in one way or another. I can assure you, with full confidence, that your service is a superb use of that precious commodity known as "time." But as you strive to achieve great things for our nation, put your efforts into perspective. You aren't serving an inanimate entity; you are serving this nation's people and its families. That includes your own, whether related genetically or adopted through friendships. Focus on taking care of our nation's people and our families, and the way you spend your time will take care of itself.