I forget most of the people that I meet. Given the amount of people that we encounter each day, it is near impossible not to. But every once in a while, you meet somebody that you can’t help but remember. And you remember them not because they made you laugh or cringe–a strict teacher or entertaining comedian–but because their life made you reconsider your own. For me, the person that most recently had that impact is Devon:
You can read an article about Devon here. His biography in a nutshell is: a talented outdoor athlete (surfer, snowboarder, etc.); husband of eleven years to a beautiful and kind woman named Becca; and father to 5-year-old Madrona, who can already shred powder on the slopes of Crystal and White Pass like no man’s business. He is in his early thirties, has built multiple homes, and he and Becca also own a coffee shop.
What struck me was that when I talk with Devon, it is hard not to notice that he seems genuinely interested in what I am saying. He has zeal for life, but at the same time, he does not take life too seriously.
Oh, and he happens to be nearly blind.
Devon had full vision until 2008, when a hereditary disorder started to impair his vision. This would be hard enough for anybody, but it would be especially difficult, as you can imagine, for someone whose livelihood and passions depend on dexterity and coordination.
Ink has already been spilled on stories of individuals whose disabilities seem to strengthen them. There was a man in my hometown who lost both legs in a freak electric accident, but when he spoke at my high school, he wore a hat with the letters “HANDI” written on it and said that this hat was his only actual handicap. Hearing about people like this from a distance is powerful in its own right. Getting to know one such person–like Devon–is even more powerful.
There are definitely multiple lessons that anyone in their 20s can learn from Devon’s life.
One lesson comes from Devon’s attitude to life: stop complaining and be grateful. Stop complaining and focus on moving forward, on helping other people, and on living a life to be proud of. My life is ridiculously comfortable and ridiculously easy. In the history of humankind, I (and maybe you too) sit amongst those who enjoy lives virtually absent of hunger, abuse, malnutrition, etc. When you consciously stop complaining, you will be free to focus your emotion and your energy in other directions and towards way more productive activities
Another lesson comes from the mouth of Devon himself. I have paraphrased what I learned from a conversation I had while riding with him up the same ski chairlift that I fell from nine years ago (that is a whole ‘nother story):
Don’t worry if you have not found what you love to do yet. But don’t settle for a job for the long term unless you are energized to wake up and go to work and are satisfied with what you accomplished at the end of each day.
For Devon, he found this satisfaction and energy in building houses, in using his hands and seeing the physical progress and final product of his work. Impaired vision prevents Devon from building these days, but I have no doubt that Devon will find another line of work in which he will excel and find purpose and satisfaction. Those of us in our 20s who are not sure what life we want to pursue will also be able to find incredible jobs that we did not expect if we are willing to keep our minds open to all the available opportunities and if we look for jobs that will engage our talents and challenge us, not just sinecures (thank you, SAT prep books) or jobs that offer a nice title or an early retirement.
In short, it is OK to wander.
This is important advice for someone who feels the pressure to figure it all out right now; to find a ‘real job’ and to settle down.
The “Devon Test” for a job is twofold:
- Do you look forward to going to work?
- Are you satisfied with what you accomplished throughout the day?
There is nothing in this test related to your jobs’ benefits, paycheck, uniform, or perks. These two criteria might seem like an oversimplification, but combined, they provide a reliable way to test whether your current job–or your current attitude toward your job–is optimal.
Now, Devon has written a book for kids called The Adventures of Jake Skater. I plan on bringing a few copies to students in the DC Schools Project, an ESL tutoring program in Washington, DC. If you have a younger sibling, cousin, or friend, consider buying a copy of the book here at Amazon.com.
Devon said after finding out that he would eventually lose most of his vision:
“‘I’m not going to stop living…I’m going to beat this.”
I look forward to hearing about what he will do next and how he will influence other peoples’ lives.