Take a Chance

The next time you doubt yourself, I want you to think about someone else. There’s no question that your days are hard and you could use a break. Can’t we all? But when you’re having your worst day, I hope thinking about someone else inspires you to keep going.

grace-murray-hopper-demure

Take a short journey with me: Imagine being Grace Murray Hopper, born in 1906, the oldest of three children. Can you imagine a young girl living in the 1900s in New York City? Would you expect her to marry, stay home and raise the children? Or maybe she would work, most likely as a teacher or a nurse.  What are the odds that she would be not just a mathematician, but one of the leading computer scientists of the 20th century, a United States Navy Rear Admiral and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom? How many times do you think she heard the word the word ‘no’? How many times do you think she wondered if it could be done? How many times do you think she took a chance?

grace-murray-hopper-programmerMy dad brought me a couple of books when he visited last month, one of which was Computers: Their History, Present Applications, and Future by Shirley Thomas. Dad pointed out Grace Hopper’s role in computer programming, including her time at UNIVAC (now Unisys), where dad also worked. Among Ms Hopper’s accomplishments:

  • Attended Vassar despite being turned down the first time she applied.
  • Served in the WAVES (a branch of the US Naval Reserve), despite not meeting their physical requirements.
  • Developed the first compiler, despite no one believing it could be done, leading eventually to her work developing COBOL, the most ubiquitous business language to date.
  • Worked for the Department of Defense until she was 79, despite the mandatory retirement age of 60. (Congress had to approve her active duty status.)

Is it any wonder that she became known as Amazing Grace?

My favorite Amazing Grace quote is:

“The most important thing I’ve accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. They come to me, you know, and say, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ I say, “Try it.” And I back ’em up. They need that. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir ’em up at intervals so they don’t forget to take chances.”

The next time you feel overwhelmed, I hope you remember Rear Admiral Grace Hopper and all she accomplished. I hope you remember to take a chance.

grace-murray-hopper-rear-admiral

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