The Ground And The Stars

My sophomore year of college we had a guest speaker from NASA, Dr. Roy M. Sullivan, come in and talk to us about his personal story of how he came to be a NASA engineer. He did his undergrad at Pennsylvania State University in Civil Engineering and then continued there for his PhD. in Engineering Science and Mechanics.

Once he graduated with his PhD, like what happens to many graduates today, he had no job to match his fancy new diploma.

So he did what he had to do and took work at a pizza parlor. A customer he met at the parlor was an architect and agreed to give him a couple hours of work a week at his company crunching numbers. The other thing he did was give him the contact information of somebody he knew at NASA.

While continuing to work at the pizza parlor in addition to working for the architect, Sullivan sent in his resume to the person at NASA.

He got an interview, got hired, and he now has over 30 years with NASA.

There are three things about this story which I think are important.

First, there’s no getting around hard work in order to accomplish great things. During his talk Sullivan said, “Sometimes you have to work hard without instant reward but you can’t let that stop you, you have to keep working hard”. As Fact Of Life #9 says: Life is a Pay to Play kind of sport.

Second, no matter what level of success you reach you are never above or excluded from certain things. That includes Fact Of Life #2: You gotta eat. And by extension, that sometimes also includes having to working at a pizza parlor.

Sullivan’s story is proof as to why it is so important to be open to things and to never stubbornly believe that you’re too good for something. There are times when you have to do jobs you don’t necessarily enjoy or jobs that you don’t think are really worth anything. There are times when you have to “work hard without instant reward”.

And third, opportunity often times isn’t obvious at first glance. You never know when it could be staring you right in the face without you even realizing it. Remember, everybody knows somebody you should know.

(And even NASA engineers enjoy eating pizza)

Story Recap: Sullivan, aspiring engineer, obtains PhD. Sullivan takes work at a pizza parlor when faced with having no engineering job after graduation. Sullivan ends up with a NASA career from meeting a customer at the pizza parlor.

Lesson in one sentence: Just because you reach the stars doesn’t mean you’re too good for the ground.

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