My brain is full … and beyond

in Voices by

By Jack Sparacino
My family moved from Massachusetts to Malibu, Ca., when I was in the eighth grade. Boy, did I love living there. Almost no homework and lots of pretty girls in my classes in Santa Monica. Beautiful weather, great beaches, easy access to the pier where I fished like there was no tomorrow, and the best tasting cheeseburgers I ever remember.
The following year we moved a world away to Milwaukee where I started high school.  My dad, a wonderful man who was also a rocket scientist (literally), helped me with algebra after I struggled with it and just about all my other subjects.  In frustration, I told him that algebra was too hard and that “my brain is full.” (He laughed and gently pointed out that I was mistaken; then we got back to the equations.)
Eventually, I got my bearings and did all right in high school, better in college and beyond.  I got through the math and statistics courses. But the best lessons I learned in the decades since all those years in school were also made possible because my Dad was right about my brain not being full after all.  Here are some of those lessons.
1. Try to not reach too many conclusions about someone the first time you meet them. Or the second time. Like Steve, during our junior year in college.  Haphazard clothes, all elbows and knees, really goofy sounding.  A loopy character.  He turned out to be brilliant, funny and a darned nice person.
2. Don’t make too many job and career decisions based on money.
Getting trapped in a job you hate because it pays really well is practically a prison sentence.  On the other hand, my first job — cleaning bathrooms for the YMCA — wasn’t much fun or lucrative.  Funny how cleaning fish is sort of a mess but after filleting thousands for free, it never gets old for me.
3. Figure out your OWN tolerance for risk, adjust it as you move along through life, and don’t get too hung up comparing yourself to other people and how they handle risk.  Did I REALLY ride my bike to my office in grad school every day in Chicago?  Even in the ice and snow?  Was I nuts?  Sort of.  I was also 25 years old and indestructible.
4. Always have a Plan B.  And when you have time, keep a Plan C handy, too.  Give them more creative names if you can. Write down these great backup plans. (And see if you can remember where you put them better than I do.)
5. If you can’t explain a good idea clearly to your mother in about two minutes, it probably isn’t that good an idea.
6. Think you’re really smart?  Then try hanging around with really REALLY smart people for a while and get back your humility.
Working for 20 years at United Technologies Corporation did the trick for me.
7. Ask a lot of questions. Only occasionally will you look like a dope, and most of the time you’ll BE a dope if you stay silent.
So thanks, Dad!  My brain never did get full, as far as I can tell.  Maybe that’s because I keep forgetting things, which makes more room for new stuff!