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How President Obama motivated me to clean a creek (and satisfy my spirit)

One of the new teachers I work with at National University was teaching her students about Barak Obama. (We miss him right?)

They weren't enthralled. Not even interested. It made me sad. But then these kids were babies when he was elected in '08. They don't remember him. They don't know him.

When students are bored by great people, I insist that they study success. What can you learn from the iconic? What did they say? What did they do? How did they reach a level of achievement that most people don't?

When one of her students complained that her assignment was "so hard," I suggested that she refer him to this passage from Obama's first inaugural address (January 20, 2009). Whenever I think about it, it inspires me do something challenging:

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded, then, is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

I don’t know if it was Obama or his speech writer Jon Favreau who wrote it (probably both), but who cares? I love it. To most, it will sound counterintuitive, but it could be (should be?) every parent, teacher and coach’s manifesto.

After he reminds us of some of the timeless keys to overcoming challenges – curiosity, courage, hard work… – he addresses what every kid (and adult) must learn in order to live a fulfilled life. That instead of “grudgingly accept(ing)” our duties we should seek and embrace challenges because “there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.”

In other words, if you want to feel better try something hard. Do your duty, even if that duty seems inconsequential.

For over a week, when I walked to the park with my doggy Kihei, I saw that someone had disposed their disposable Styrofoam cooler on the side of the hill. It along with other trash eventually made its way into an almost dry creek bed.

It pissed me off for two reasons. First, that some asshole would leave it there. Second, that no one was doing anything about it (including me).

So with Obama on my mind (and needing my spirit satisfied), I assigned myself a moderately challenging task. I trudged down the hill, straddled the creek and plucked out the cooler. I stuffed the nearby trash inside it, carried it to our apartment dumpster and, with a tinge of satisfaction, tossed it in.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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