I have never stopped to wonder what life might be without a sense of accomplishment. Life has surrounded me with many hardworking people who have refused the chance to sit back and watch the world go by them.
To sit on the sidelines when you can still make valuable contributions is just not the lesson I have learned from my elders.
Technology has had an amazing influence on my life and without pushing the frontiers of innovation, I seriously doubt that I would be the person that I am today. Taking risks has been a part of life that keeps my mind and body limber.
I can still remember climbing into my car and going off to college by myself. I had the advantage of already being away from home for four years in military school, but I guess that not knowing what a leap I had to make to get from Mount Airy, North Carolina to Cambridge, Massachusetts made the first part of the journey easier. In 1967 there were not a lot of Southern boys at Harvard.
The leap from majoring in History to farming on the shores of Nova Scotia and in the foothills of central New Brunswick was even greater. I still remember being told by the provincial department of agriculture that using a round baler was impossible in New Brunswick. Not only did I use them to feed my own cattle, I started selling them.
In fact according to the agricultural experts just about everything that I did was wrong. Wintering my cattle in the woods would be too hard on them. I would lose too many calves by letting them calve outside, and there was no way that I could produce good beef from young bulls instead of steers. Of course it was also impossible that we could make a profit selling performance tested Angus bulls in a Hereford province.
With all of the that against us it came as a surprise when we got turned down for a provincial loan because we were doing too well.
One of the biggest risks my wife and I ever took was selling our nearly 200 head of cattle in one day at a dispersal sale at our Tay Ridge Farm.
Farming taught me a lot. Having the vision see wild land as what it can be, and the dedication to actually make it productive does not come easy. Pulling stumps and picking rocks out of a field never gets easy.
I built two huge barns from the ground up. They're still standing. I am proud of that. I learned to fix what broke and to make the repair better than the original. With a torch, welder, grinder and pieces of steel, you could fix problems that no engineer hundreds of miles south could forsee.
I also learned that years of helping others likely means that they will be there when you really need them, and that they will not need to be asked.
The jump from the farm to working for Apple Computer in Halifax, Nova Scotia was just as risky. We went from owning our farm to having a mortgage on a house in city. For the first year we still owned the farm, and I was making so little money that I had to go back and sell our old bulldozer to pay our city taxes. Life got better at Apple, but we eventually got as far as we could in Canada without moving to Toronto.
We made the decision to go to Columbia, Maryland and take another job with Apple. It was not the right city for our family.
It did not take us long to head to Roanoke, Virginia where I ended up with a promotion to a manger just as Apple decided to remove the Columbia office from the map. Over the years, I got the opportunity to work out of the Philadelphia, Boston, and New York offices.
I ended up helping to close down the Charlotte office and managing the Reston office where I first had been viewed as an intruder when my area associate and I moved into a shared cubicle there in 1993.
When I was made Apple federal market manager and given just two reps to cover it, I thought that I had been given an impossible challenge. Four years later we had more that tripled the business, and our team was over twenty people.
The success made for frequent travel to Cupertino which seemed like a second home for a brief time.
Looking back I enjoyed helping others grow and take positions of importance at Apple and in other companies more than almost anything.
The twenty years at Apple was full of challenges and rewards, but like all things it came to end, and there were even more risks to take.
This summer it will be seven years since I left Apple, and the risks have not gotten any less challenging, but I would not have it any other way.
I still remember an early computer customer telling me that he was going to wait a few years before buying one just in case they got lots cheaper.
Well the story of technology is one of products falling rapidly in price, while both the technology and the expertise to use them have become commodities that have as little shelf life as overripe vegetables.
With technology you have to get on top of the wave, or it will crash over you, and you will have to wait for the next wave which might be even harder to climb and ride.
Living along the Crystal Coast of North Carolina, we see lots of real waves and live a lot closer to the weather than someone might in an inland city.
Weather like it was on the farm becomes one of our risks. Frozen waters kill fish, sometimes careless people, and make it hard for our shore birds to feed. Recently we were frozen in for a few days, and I watched one of our great blue herons skating on the ice as he tried to figure out how to fish.
My wife was not very pleased when I announced that I was going to take our skiff on an ice breaking mission. Considering all that I have faced in my life, I was not very worried.
I suspect my wife had forgotten about the time that one of our big tractors slipped into a shallow pond while I was blowing snow during a blizzard. It was twenty degrees below zero the next morning when we used a chainsaw and the old bulldozer to get the 16,000 lb tractor out of the pond.
Riding around in a skiff at 45F breaking inch thick ice is pretty tame compared to that.