I certainly was. I was a teenager living in Germantown, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis. It was 1976 or 1977. I was sitting in the small breakfast nook next to the kitchen. My brother, Gary, was home. He must have been in the Marines at that time. To this day, my brother Gary is the most curious person I know, constantly exploring why and how. He is self taught in the art of inquiry and infused in me a deep appreciation for the scientific method. He knew I was clueless about my future after high school, so he did his thing that evening.
Teenaged Marla only lived in The Now. I was a good student who loved school and was active in lots of organizations at school and in my church. I loved to read, ride my bike, sing, play basketball and the piano. I had not given my future any serious consideration. I did not know you could study for the ACT, and I didn’t apply to college until I had graduated from high school.
“Marla, what do you think you want to study and do when you’re done with high school?”
“I don’t know. All I know is that I want whatever I do to make the world a better place,” I said.
“How do you think you will do that?” he asked.
“Well, at the Academic Awards Banquet, this man spoke, and he was really inspiring to me. He’s a lawyer. So, I think I want to be a lawyer,” I said.
“Marla, go get the yellow pages.”
Remember, this is the 1970s, when cities the size of Memphis had a White Pages of residences and a Yellow Pages of businesses.
“Look up ‘attorney’.” I remember this because it was the first time I realized lawyers were officially called attorneys.
There was about an inch and a half of pages of attorneys in Memphis. Gary said, “Do you really think we need another attorney to make the world a better place?”
I didn’t know how to answer that, so he went further.
“Don’t you think you would make the world a better place if you could build a bridge for a community or engineer a clean water system?”
My brother went on to become a very successful electrical engineer, by the way.
This was the first time I recall that I articulated my intention to make the the world a better place. I have never stopped asking the question of how my work can contribute to making the world better.