Almost since the onset of The Running Boom of the 1970s, the sport has espoused the Just Do It lifestyle, a phrase famously coined by co-founder of the Wieden+Kennedy advertising firm, Dan Wieden, who died October 3, 2022 at age 77.
But in that one phrase, Wieden captured the essence of a movement that defined an era. Just Do It was the embodiment of that, till then, unspoken, but powerful lure to a fuller life, as a generation came to its maturity seeking to explore the outer limits of its abilities.
Looking back at it from this far vantage point, and comparing it to the one just preceding it, one can see what a luxury, what freedom it was to be able to seek fulfillment in such a manner! Because the freedom and resources required to explore one’s passions are not afforded to every generation in equal measure.
I recently published a book about my parents’ meeting and marriage during the waning, gray days of World War II in Poland – BISIA & ISHAM: The Countess & the P.O.W. (there is a link to buying it along the black bar above this post). It’s a remarkable story of an escaped American POW, and a Polish resistance fighter reared in a medieval castle. I pray I did justice to them.
Broadcaster Tom Brokaw famously dubbed theirs The Greatest Generation, an acknowledgement of the testing times that confronted that cohort in ways beyond their choosing. And, as we now know, they rose to meet those challenges, one and all.
With two members of the Greatest Generation for parents, in my experience, it wasn’t so much greatness as responsibility that defined them. I can’t remember a single day my father didn’t get up and go to work. Or one in which my mom ever shirked her responsibilities as a teacher in a career spanning 40-years.
Steadfast, that’s what they were. It’s what their nations called them into service to be, and it’s a measure of what they tried to impart to us. But history rarely, if ever, repeats itself from one generation to the next. Thus, the lessons learned in one may no longer apply as directly now, no matter how valuable they may be.
To illustrate the stark difference between The Greatest Generation and their Baby Boom children, all we have to do is compare our Just Do It mentality with my dad’s response when asked how he and his cohort managed the massive challenges of their generation, including the Great Depression and WWII.
“You just go,” he said. “You just do.”
There is a hard-eyed acceptance in that response that has nothing to do with what he might have wanted to do or where he may have wanted to go. How similar, yet how different a phrase it is from our “Just Do It”.
“You Just do” suggests a world that is coming at you hard, that puts you on your back foot, playing defense. It’s what Will Shakespeare called “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” In such circumstances, choices are few, opportunities limited. Duty, not want, is the order of the day.
Just Do it, by comparison, suggests a forward leaning, grasping toward a beckoning challenge, a challenge of one’s own making. “You Just Do” takes up the mantle of responsibility for challenges beyond such choosing.
We are all born into the whirl of time. Our challenges at the macro level are determined by the sweep of history. Just like our greatest American presidents are the ones whose times required greatness of them, so, too, are our lives predicated upon an ancient Chinese curse which says, “May he live in interesting times.”
A curse? Or a blessing? Only time will tell. Hope you enjoy the book.