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Making every day matter

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. John Michel
  • NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan commander
"No Reserves. No Retreats. No Regrets." -William Borden

As of this writing, I've been alive 17,789 days. That's 426,936 hours and 25,616,160 minutes. In the course of this time, I've been blessed to laugh frequently, engage meaningfully, and grow constantly. At the same time, I've experienced my own share of mis-steps, disappointments and failures. All of which, I realize, are part of the journey of growing into my full potential.

The process of becoming the best possible version of ourselves isn't easy. It takes time (and likely a few bumps, scrapes and bruises) to learn to live our own unique story and not get caught up in trying to imitate someone else's. We must work to discover our strengths, to uncover our talents and to try and make every day matter. Take the story of William Borden.

William Borden was already an extremely wealthy young man when he graduated from high school in 1904. Heir to a massive family fortune, he was virtually guaranteed to lead a life of luxury few could even imagine. For his school graduation project, William's parents even gave him a trip around the world.

As William traveled through Europe, the Middle East, Asia and a host of other countries, a growing awareness of how many people had next to nothing began to weigh on his heart. Despite the promise of an easy life at home, he soon realized there was so much more that needed to be done to help those far less fortunate than he around the world. It was a realization that would forever change his life.

Upon returning from his travels, he attended Yale, where he immediately began making every minute matter. He founded the Yale Hope Mission in order to help rehabilitate alcoholics forgotten on the streets. William also presided over the huge student missionary conference held at the University and served as president of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa.

William went on to do graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. When he finished his studies there, he sailed for China. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis.

Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead.

When the news of William Borden's death was cabled back to the U.S., the story was carried by nearly every American newspaper. "A wave of sorrow went round the world . . . Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice." Though he lived only 10,220 days, 245,280 hours, and 14,716,800 minutes, everyone recognized William Borden had made every moment matter.

As Borden's story reminds us, true success, at work and more importantly, in life, comes from recognizing it's not the amount of time we have that matters but ultimately, what we choose to do with the time we do have. With this in mind, ask yourself how are you using your time? Are you doing just enough to get by until it's time to rotate home? Or are you making the most of the days, hours and minutes you have left to accomplish more, to celebrate more, to love and laugh more, and to touch more lives with the remaining time you do have?

We are here in Afghanistan to help build an independent Afghan Air Force...and it matters. Each and every one of our talents, strengths, and skills are required to pull off such an ambitious endeavor. Each of us is, in many regards, a pebble being dropped in a vast pool of possibility. Though the pebble knows not of the ripples it creates, we do know every pebble settles to the bottom of the pool--forming a new foundation by which can be created something sustainable, something enduring, and in time, something amazing.

Please remember, every day presents us an opportunity to make ripples. Every day we have the chance to lay a new piece of history. And every day we can choose to give the best of ourselves in service to a cause greater than ourselves by doing something to help create a better, more empowering story for current and future generations of Afghan citizens.

Thank you for choosing to help build something that day, one hour, and one minute at a time. Please know it is a personal and professional privilege to serve alongside you in writing our own unique story.