My Journey Toward Wisdom Through Life Experiences

Donald L. Steward Ed.D.

Throughout my life I have picked up pieces and bits of information that were assimilated and turned into knowledge. This knowledge was filtered through the lens of personal experiences and turned into wisdom. In a real sense the process of formal school learning and occupying a position at work do not tell the whole story of an individual. To get a better sense of who a person is, you must explore how life experiences have informed and molded the person.

This paper documents my chronological journey through life and what I have discovered on my quest toward wisdom.

Scouting - As a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Sea Scout I was taught core values that would guide my life. I learned to judge people as individuals and not as members of any particular group, how to work in a group and self-reliance.

At Miami Senior High School the motto was non verbis- sed operis which means not words, but deeds. Through out my life I have met many people who could expound at great length on what they would do, but only a few who would actually do the things they said. I believe it is more important to demonstrate through actions than words. To me actions do speak louder than words.

My first job was at Winn-Dixie grocery store. I started as a bag boy and rapidly advanced to stocking groceries, then checker and I was told I was on track to manage a department after high school. I used to come in at 5AM to unload the meat truck into the store freezers then attend high school and return to the store to stock or check and after the store closed to broom and mop the floors. I stripped and waxed the floors twice weekly. I learned hard work gets noticed, reliability is an important part of the job, and advancements are earned not give.

When I joined the U.S. Navy; testing showed I had electronics, electrical, and mechanical aptitudes. By chance I was sent to Machinist’s Mate school and then submarine school. After qualifying on a diesel submarine I was sent to nuclear power school and served as an instructor at West Milton Atomic Power lab before joining a ballistic missile submarine crew. My Navy experience taught me many things.

I held several positions at Southern Bell Telephone, Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone company service in the plant department. I learned the Bell system way of doing things which emphasized safety first and then competent completion of task. The Bell System Motto "No job is so important and no service so urgent that we cannot take time to perform our work safely" has proven wise in every instance. Speed is no substitute for quality. While we have all heard is this refrain – why is there always enough time to do a job over, but never enough time to do a job right the first time. I have found that the “look” of an installation will tell you quite a bit about the quality and durability of the work. Sloppy work is careless and lacks a commitment to quality. Providing the right training and tools or test equipment is essential to providing an excellent service.

As an outside plant engineer, I learned the real economic advantages of planning for growth rather than reacting to growth. The art of engineering is not in designing for today, but foreseeing the future need and economically planning for it. I learned how powerful economic modeling can be using mainframe computers even in the early days of time-sharing resources on teletype terminals. Coordinating projects with condominium developers, Florida Power and Light and the City of Miami taught me the need for proper coordination of effort and clear communications between parties.

As a student at Miami-Dade Community College I discovered ability in accounting and later at Florida International University an operations research ability to perform transportation modeling in my head. I learned two important concepts apart from the class work. First, discovering what a liberal arts education really means to developing the whole person. Second, from a class on inventing the future, I learned that attacking a problem straight on never solves the problem; you must identify the problem, then step back and look behind the problem at the causes. Fixing the causes solves the problem.

At Bell Atlantic just after the AT&T Divestiture and while attending George Washington University for a Master’s degree in Telecommunication Operations, I came to understand that politics at the Federal Communication Commission and Federal Court system may be legally rational but have nothing to do with what we would call common sense. Working within the system means you must make some compromises that otherwise seem stupid.

While working at GWU my wife and I had the opportunity to host a young woman from Peru who was the sister of an MBA student working with my wife at the GWU library. Milagros taught us the concept of realities. She would drink sweetened condensed milk rather than milk from the refrigerator and has some other interesting habits. She showed us how to see the world through her eyes. She grew up without refrigeration and was accustomed to drinking canned milk. Her reality was a valid as my reality and I gained a clear understanding of what a world view is and being sensitivity to the realities of other peoples.

My wife and I began traveling around the world to explore these realities and soak up some culture. We have been to Europe several times especially Greece, Spain and Italy, taken Mediterranean cruises and Caribbean cruises, visited Canada, Curacao, Costa Rica, Portugal, England, Nassau in the Bahamas, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia, and spent 21 days in China. We enjoyed exploring the cultures and getting to understand their realities.

At SUNY- Fredonia and IUN I discovered how a poorly managed Information Technology operation can cripple a school. Both places suffered e-mail debauchees that rendered e-mail useless for a considerable length of time before my arrival. The loss of e-mail for 3 months at Fredonia was an embarrassment to IT staff that had no backup on the server and could not recover old e-mail for the faculty or staff. AT IUN, the attitude and ability of the IT staff was a contributing factor in spotty e-mail and web service. The root cause in both cases was lack of attention to detail and the inability of the staff to muster proper resources from central administration. The real impact of these problems was on the external perception about quality at these schools. The lesson here is to know what services are essential and what services are optional, then convincing administrative leadership of the importance to plan for maintaining the essential services under a variety of emergency situations. It is really all about establishing and maintaining communications.