As I was reading The Other Wes Moore book last night, it had a surprise ending. It just ended.

There were many pages left, so I was not expecting the story to just end. I thought the story would continue and unravel more about his character and lessons learned. Although that was somewhat disappointing, the book is solid in its perspective and story. It is a perfect selection for those of us wanting to gain more insight about the collection of choices and how life can unfold based on many made.

The book explores the life paths of two people named Wes Moore. Both grew up, essentially, in the same neighborhood, but made very different choices. It was an intriguing book, exploring these two people with the same names yet ending up in two very different places.

For me, the book highlights three important elements on how better choices can be made.

Importance of mentors. Wes Moore, the Rhodes Scholar, had a hard-working support structure. His mother worked diligently to keep him on a straight-and-narrow path. When she was more challenged in doing that, she sent him to military school. A tough decision, I’m sure, but one that probably saved him from a series of questionable choices.

Not only was it a tough decision, it was one which cost. In other words, his mom worked long, hard hours to jolt her son into a potentially different life .

It was the support structure of the military school which kept Wes Moore on the right path and guided him to a so-far successful life. The support structure consisted of adult leaders, the students within the school, and the doors this school opened to other mentors along the way.

Importance of setting standards. Standards were set and enforced for one Wes and not really for the other. For the other Wes Moore, there was hope his life would not turn out as it did, but the standards were not enforced. Part of the reason is due to the previous point:  the lack of strong, or strict, mentors.

Setting and enforcing standards is an essential element as a young life grows. Without it, uncertainty seeps in; the nice clothes and shoes take precedence; and what is really important in life gets lost in the mix.

Importance of staying true to yourself when making choices. The other Wes Moore did seem to have a sense of what the right thing to do was, but he seemed easily distracted from taking a more difficult path of staying away from drugs and other bad decisions. In the end, not staying true to his sense of right cost him his freedom and negatively impacted many others.

There is a sense in everyone, I believe, of what is right or wrong. What makes the difference may be, again, having the right support structure and guiding hands active and present. Each young person needs an example, an affirmation of the better choices to make.

All three of these principles are important to remember as the philosophy of Thin Difference is explored further. As we continue the discovery, it seems the thin line is between making one choice over another; after the choice is made, a potential large impact, one way or the other, is the result.

There is an important passage in the book that is worth highlighting here.

“Colonel Murphy ascended to the podium, looking as strong as ever, his eyes still alit with a sense of purpose. Then he announced that he was leaving Valley Forge to undergo treatment for his advanced-stage cancer. He said something I will never forget. ‘When it is time for you to leave this school, leave your job, or even leave this earth, you make sure you have worked hard to make sure it mattered you were ever here.’ The notion that life is transient, that it can come and go quickly, unexpectedly, had been with me since I had seen my own father die. In the Bronx, the idea of life’s impermanence underlined everything for kids my age–it drove some of us to a paralyzing apathy, stopped us from even thinking too far into the future. Others were driven to what, in retrospect, was a sort of permanent state of mourning; for our loved ones, who always seemed at risk, and for our own lives, which felt so fragile and vulnerable. But I started to see it a little bit differently that day. Life’s importance, I realized, is what makes every single day so precious. It’s what shapes our time here. It’s what makes it so important that not a single moment be wasted.”

My life growing up was very different. Many of the city threats did not exist. The vastness of the prairies seemed to call out our dreams of the future and made anything seem possible.

If for no other reason, read The Other Wes Moore to understand the perspective and the paths taken, along with their inflection points. This is a story to be absorbed, understood, and acted upon in our own works.

By the way, the remaining pages of the book are a Resource Guide for young people needing a helping hand in realizing their full potential. It was a great way to end the story of Wes Moore, but also seems to be a new beginning for him and his work.

What was (or, is) guiding you – kept you on the right path – in your youth?