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  • Writer's picturetony

Day One of Many Good Days

26 September 1977. My Entrance On Duty (EOD) date at the National Security Agency, was forty-five years ago today. Earlier, I wrote about how I unexpectedly wound up at NSA, and the “long and winding road” that followed. I remember almost nothing about those first days, just a blur of in-processing, orientation classes, and getting lost in large buildings.

There’s lots more to say about all this, but for now, I just wanted to share a couple of quick thoughts.

Most of my career was shaped by circumstances and luck. I never (well, rarely) had a grand plan about the mission, or about myself. The world changed, things happened, and amazing things appeared in my life. In fact, over the years I learned to “plan for serendipity” – to look and be prepared for new ideas, people, and opportunities. This is not a passive activity. When I put ideas out there, in writing or in person, people listened and brought connections to me or added value that could turn my vague notions into something special. When I learned to treat every person that came into my life as someone who would teach me or learn from me, good things just happened.

I also benefitted from the leadership, friendship, partnership, and mentorship of many wonderful people, often over a long period of time. In my retirement remarks (in 2012), I noted, “Whether for decades or for a few years, there’s a group of us who have been working together, no matter the organizational structure or who the bosses are. It's a lesson I learned from the legendary Rick Proto early in my career - your personal network will outlast everything the organization will throw at you.”

That’s one of the benefits of a long career spent mostly in one place. Continuity of vision, concern for the health of the institution, seeing colleagues as people that grow and change over time (inside and outside of work). Every so often I wonder how the current generation will have a similar experience, in a work world with much less structure and stability. But then again, I’ve met many young people who have figured out how to create their own professional “infrastructure” of learning, mentoring, and growth that isn’t dependent on slow-changing organizations or physical proximity. And I am honored that I seem to have become part of a few of these modern self-created infrastructures.

Finally, I decided long ago that my mantra for work and life would be "Every Day is a Good Day" - a saying associated with the Japanese Tea Ceremony. I've had my share of tough days, complex problems, and challenging people, but every day is indeed a good day - even if you have to hunt a bit to find the good.


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