“Born to an age where horror has become commonplace, where tragedy has, by its monotonous repetition, become a parody of sorrow, we need to fence off a few parks where humans try to be fair, where skill has some hope of reward, where absurdity has a harder time than usual getting a ticket.”
Those words may sound current, but they were actually written by the great Washington Post sportswriter Tom Boswell in 1984. Our world has been made over many times since then, riding cycles of economic strife and political tumult, juxtaposed with expanded opportunity and extraordinary invention. Yet the lure of hopeful isolation remains constant. Indeed, the serenity of spring always seems to calm the soul.
At least that was the effect that four days in sunny Phoenix had for me in early March at the MCAA Annual Convention, which bills itself as our industry’s best show. And now I agree.
The conference this year featured several ambassadors of hope, none more emblematic of dreams fulfilled than Theo Epstein, president of the Chicago Cubs and former general manager of the Boston Red Sox. Both franchises had been the cursed, legendary losers of their respective leagues, but that was before the youthful Epstein took charge.
Which actually points to another vibrant, energizing aspect of the show – its many youth participants. A Final Four of engineering school teams vied head-to-head for cash prizes in MCAA’s annual student competitions, but representatives from many of the other 23 competing schools were on hand, as well. Students and faculty advisors filled a separate hall with exhibit space for at least a dozen schools in the conference hotel. For graduating students, of course, the event doubled as a job fair.
Women in the Mechanical Industry (WiMI) were another particular emphasis in Phoenix, and over 120 members of MCAA and the Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA) gathered at a separate reception to discuss upcoming events. Chief among them is the first WiMI Conference, to be held this June 24-26 in Chicago.
Arguably, the most inspirational speaker at the high-energy event may have been Mick Ebeling, a successful motion design artist in Hollywood who came to found NotImpossible.com and the NotImpossible Labs. It had not been his life’s goal to do so, by any means, but he had stumbled onto his life mission by seeing something that needed to be done. In a weak moment, he had promised a paralyzed fellow artist that he would paint again, and then he assembled a team to make that happen.
Refusing to take “no” for an answer, Ebeling reminded everyone that every invention—railroads, flight, telephones, computers, etc.—was impossible, “until it wasn’t.” Still, he also urged the crowd not just to be positive, but to think big, as well. Quoting education reformer Horace Mann, Ebeling stressed simply, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
That certainly is a challenge for us all to take to heart. And spring is the perfect time to ruminate on all the opportunities we may yet have to make that happen.
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