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What Defines You?

An old friend stopped me on the street the other day and said, “How’s that 9/11 Patch thing you’ve been working on all these years?”

Startled by the fact the first words out of my old friend’s mouth pertained to a project I had submersed myself in since September 11, I was a bit dumbfounded. I looked up at her and said, “I’m fine, how are you?”

Realizing the comment was a bit out of order (in the sense that it would make more sense to have it follow the basic informal greeting) she quickly blurted out the obligatory, “Hello—how have you been, Brett?” and we went on to catch up a bit. Of course the subject came up again as I knew it would and I happily updated her with the fact the project (a 9/11 Tribute patch for the uniforms of fire, police, and military personnel) had grown to involve 5000 organizations in twenty-two different countries. I found myself going on and on and finally stopped myself and changed the subject.

As we parted ways, it occurred to me what really defined me. I hadn’t seen this gal for years but somehow this project I had been running was the first thing that came to her mind when she saw me. I had spent years trying everything I could imagine to bring attention to the project, which was also a fundraiser, and felt as if people just didn’t care anymore—they had moved on—you know, resilient nation and all that stuff.

But some how all those years of banging the “Never Forget” drum seemed to be paying off. It wasn’t that I was obsessed with 9/11 or anything—I just felt compelled to take action and try to make a difference. As a firefighter on the west coast I felt somewhat removed from the event but believed if I worked hard enough, I could bring about something very positive out of 9/11.

Certain Internet publications picked the story up over the years and a few news papers but it really never got the attention I felt it deserved. My goal was to get the special tribute patch on all uniforms but I never even came close—it just didn’t get wheels like I thought it would. Still to this day, people here and there continue to order the patch and there are still hundreds of fire departments out there that have made the patch a permanent part of their daily uniforms.

Does the 9/11 Patch Project define me? Is it really the first thing that comes to mind when I run across an old friend? Is this a good thing—is it my legacy?

I think what it’s really about is the fact there are 6 billion of us on this planet and we live an average of eighty years. What we do with that time is what really defines us. If we choose to just get by and make it to eighty what good comes from that? If we choose to hang ourselves out there and strive to make positive change—whether we are actually successful or not, wouldn’t we still want to be know as the guy/gal that tried?

To live out your life and not make every effort to touch as many of those 6 billion on this planet as you can, seems like a waste. There are many things that need fixing and many people that need help. Are you getting a bit uncomfortable as you read this? Do you know someone who needs your help or is there a cause that needs people to back it? Or are you simply happy to get married, have kids, get a great job, make money, buy a few things, retire, travel a bit, and then die?

Personally I have this overwhelming desire to serve and can’t accept that there is any other plan that makes sense in my life. But that’s just me. I don’t have any money, I can’t go back to my firefighter job as I was injured, I lost my home of eleven years, I lost my truck, my credit sucks, I can’t find a new job, and my two startup companies can’t get funded because of the major economic down turn. But despite my predicament, I live to serve and I have much more work to do.

I am not defined by this 9/11 Patch I have worked feverishly for seven years to get on all uniforms—I am really defined by the fact I will not quit at something I feel compelled to do—I am also defined as an entrepreneur—and I am also defined as someone that will never be happy simply living out the short time I have been given on this planet.

What defines you?