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August 6th, 2011
07:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #929 'The wisdom of Sam'

Reporter's Note: I didn’t make enough of a fuss about the president turning 50 this week. I didn’t even send him a card. And yet, here is a letter…I hope it will suffice.

Dear Mr. President,

I have had some thoughts about you turning 50. Of course, the first is happy birthday. But beyond thought...

When I was 30 years old and working for ABC News, I happened to be in the Washington bureau one day (I lived in Denver and was new to the network, but rapidly learning that travel was to be a regulars feature of most weeks) and as I walked down a hall I heard a gruffly familiar voice summon me into an office. It was Sam Donaldson. At the time, he was at the full height of his Sam-ness; barking at presidents, sending mere members of Congress running for cover, and generally roaring through Washington like a force of nature.

I was, by comparison, the youngest correspondent at the number one news network and he thought I could use some instruction. "Sit down, Tom," he commanded. Then, like a fortune teller, he told me the tale of my future. I don't remember all the details, but he generally traced what I should expect in terms of professional development in my 30's, my 40's, and then I distinctly remember he said, "Then, in your 50's, you will do the meaningful work of your life.". Moments later he dismissed me, and that has so far proven to be the only substantial conversation we've ever shared. And to be honest, I didn't converse much. I listened.

Many times since, I have been glad that I did. Because Sam was right.

When we are young and clever we assume that we are rising in the ranks not merely because that is what happens in this world, but also because we are somehow quicker, smarter, better than all those stodgy older folks, locked in their habits and customs as surely as nuns. But I have discovered that, just as Sam predicted, for all my fury and supposed brilliance in younger years, only now am I truly prepared to do the important work of which I have always dreamed. Only now do I have the complete combination of health, inner calm, perseverance, patience, experience, and imagination fueled by practical awareness to make a difference in the world...not merely in my own mind.

Or at least I think so. And I think the same may well be true of you. Sure, you won the presidency a few years back, and that is nothing to sneeze at. But you've taken some hard knocks since, allowing your opponents to pummel you as unprepared for the office, and making even your friends wonder if you are up to the task.

But now is the time to put that in the past. Now is the time to embrace your 50 years of experience on this planet and say not "What have I done?" but rather, "Now, finally I am ready! What shall I do?"

As I have mentioned before, you and I are close to the same age. And while I can't speak for you, I plan to keep living out the legacy of Sam. I think the years ahead are going to be my best yet, and I hope the same for you.

Call if you can. I’m running around a good bit this weekend, but always happy to talk.

Regards,

Tom