This week people across the country were saddened to hear of the passing of Tom Magliozzi, the older brother of the dynamic “Car Talk” duo that graced the airwaves for over 30 years on NPR. The show aired live from 1977 until 2012, and NPR has broadcast repeat episodes since then. I have been a casual listener of the show ever since I can remember, and in my adult life “Car Talk” has become a staple of my Saturday morning routine. I don’t even own a car, and I rarely drive, but any listener of the show knows that it’s about so much more than cars. It’s more about the personalities of the Magliozzi brothers (Click and Clack—though when asked who was who, the brothers said they didn’t know) and their humorous take on human relationships, accented harmoniously by Tom’s infectious laugh.
Mr. Magliozzi led a remarkable life, as documented by the many obituaries that have been written about him this week, and much can be learned from the way his unbridled sense of humor and positivity inspired so many people. And he also had powerful career advice. Despite the “average Joe” vibe the brothers exuded, Tom and Ray both attended MIT, and in 1999 they gave the university’s commencement speech. As reported by the Times, Tom told a poignant story about the evolution of his career path:
“Tom described driving on Route 128 to his job in Foxboro, Mass., in a little MG that ‘weighed about 50 pounds’ when a semi-truck cut him off. Afterward, he thought about how pathetic it would have been if he had died having ‘spent all my life, that Ican remember at least, going to this job, living a life of quiet desperation.’
“‘So I pulled up into the parking lot, walked to my boss’s office and quit on thespot.’
“His brother chimed in, ‘Most people would have bought a bigger car.’”
After that, the brothers opened up their own auto shop, and went on to host the most popular show in the history of NPR that touched millions of lives. The point of the story was clear: don’t get stuck on a path that you wouldn’t be proud of if you died tomorrow.
I’m not recommending that anyone living a “life of quiet desperation” in an unfulfilling job (and I know there are a lot of you out there!) march into your boss’s office at this moment and submit your resignation so you can open an ice cream shop (yes, that was the first thing that came to my mind). Nor was Tom Magliozzi urging his listeners to take such a drastic course of action. Rather, he was encouraging us to take charge of our own fate before something dramatic like a brush with death makes us realize that our lives up to this point have been totally meaningless. Think about it… if your life ended today, would you be proud of the path you have pursued?
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