PERSONAL SPACE: To Be or To Do?

The intense and brilliant American fighter pilot and military strategist Col. John R. Boyd (architect of Operation Desert Storm) once divided the world into two types of people: those who want to be somebody and those who want to do something. Boyd said that one day we would all come to a fork in the road during which we’d have to choose whether to become visible, popular and paid—obviously, I’m paraphrasing—or whether to do good work that might actually make a difference in the world. Of course, the colonel was referring to maintaining integrity in military situations that involve life-or-death decisions and may have international consequences, but I love the quote because it has broad meaning for every single one of us. 

Boyd was talking about the strength of character it takes to do the right thing—and how it is more important to accomplish something than it is to have people screaming your name for the wrong reasons. I was reminded of Boyd’s words recently when a friend’s baby sister was offered a role on a well-known reality series. It was one of those shows in which the producers choose people with contentious personalities, ply the contestants with alcohol and put them in awkward situations. By the end of the season, everyone involved ends up looking ridiculous. When my girl couldn’t convince her sister to turn the offer down, she enlisted my help. 

I’ve known my friend’s sister for many years. She’s a smart college graduate who just happens to look like a Black Jessica Rabbit. Ever since she was a teenager, she’s had to battle against the notion that an attractive, shapely woman cannot be intelligent and career-oriented. She’s always getting offers to appear in music videos, clothing-optional films and sundry madness. We’ve mostly been able to counter the bum offers with promises of a fabulous future, but she graduated from college in a disastrous job market, bounced from internship to internship and felt her dreams of a career in sports journalism were getting no closer. How to convince this gorgeous young woman that she would be wasting her talents by going for the fast buck, and that it was more important for her to stay focused on her long-term goals and her career? I ended up invoking Boyd. She could be “somebody” or she could do something. 

I’m proud to say that she made the right choice: Soon after our conversation, she got hired by a local television station in her hometown to do background sports reporting. Meanwhile, the woman who was put on the reality show in her place imploded midway through the season, had a televised meltdown and will now be saddled with a tarnished reputation that will follow her for the rest of her life (the meltdown is the first thing that shows up when you google her name). 

As we all go through life, we are faced with choices that challenge our integrity and make us question if the road we’ve chosen isn’t just a bit too long and hard. And as we’ve been inundated with endless examples of people who have become known for nothing other than a willingness to expose their lives to others or exploit their peers, many of us have become impatient with hard work and strength of character. I’ve always felt that my reputation and my opportunity to contribute to the universe were worth more than any short-term scheme that came my way. Look to the example of our cover subject, Samuel L. Jackson, who has long persevered in the movie industry and can now say that he holds the Guinness World Record as the highest-grossing actor of all time. Don’t just aspire to be somebody, fam. Do something. 

E-mail me amy@ebony.com or hit me up on Twitter @amydbarnett to let me know what that something will be.