My Story—How Much of It is Yours, Too?
I was born into a working class family. My dad, an unwanted child, had a sixth grade education, a verbally and physically abusive father, and a drinking problem. Despite his circumstances, he achieved far beyond what most other folks would have anticipated to be his fate. He made millions. He also squandered them. His decision to persist despite his shortcomings is the engine that assured his success.
My father’s forte was construction. He started as a bricklayer’s apprentice, absorbing everything he learned while at work. Over time he transformed himself and became a much-in-demand general contractor. He built part of the Washington State Library in Olympia, Tacoma General Hospital, slews of homes, and many of the brand name restaurants you see all over the country.
Living under his roof was a trial to his children and wife. He was verbally abusive, demanding, and criminally unsympathetic to our desires to do anything other than what he wanted us to do. I was suspect because I wanted to become a writer. He wasn’t even a reader. Unless we were all doing what he wanted, we were being “lazy.” And he “analyzed” to death beforehand every chore we were given, making this kid resentful before I ever set foot out the door to “get ‘er done!”
My mom—although a voracious reader—didn’t support my desire to become a writer either. Back then, there wasn’t the demand for writers that there is today, thanks to cable stations, the Internet, and other inventions unforeseeable in her day. Mom was sure I would starve to death unless I became well-versed in a “real” career that would support me reliably. So I dutifully became a secretary/ administrative assistant.
Back then, I figured they were both right! My dad was right because I was unenthusiastic to the max when it came to doing things I absolutely hated, so I rushed through them like Grant took Richmond just to finish them so I could open up space in my life to write. Dad considered this “laziness.” I considered it super efficiency: do what you gotta do fast so you can get to what you wanna do faster! My mom was right because only James Michener, Leon Uris, Louis L’Amour, and a handful of other writers were making a decent living back then.
But this “writing thing” just would not let me go! As unpromising as it was at the time, it was my “drug,” my addiction, my passion. So I kept writing; I have literally hundreds of journals to prove it.
Malcolm Gladwell writes in The Tipping Point that to become an expert in any field, it’s necessary to invest ten thousand hours in the pursuit. I’d far exceeded ten thousand hours of writing time by the time I was eighteen years old. Strangely enough, my first nationally-published article happened at eighteen, thanks to actor DeForest Kelley who shared the manuscript with a national TV magazine in New York. They wanted to publish it. I was over the moon! Mr. Kelley remained an enthusiastic encourager until his death in 1999. (You can read more about my association with Mr. Kelley in DeForest Kelley: A Harvest of Memories.)
English and Creative Writing teachers, Mrs. Choyce, Alpha Rossetti, and Walter Dobbs also encouraged me, but…silly me…back then, it was the naysayers in my life—my parents—I listened to most and regarded as “knowing me and my potential best.” WRONG!!!! Hear me, loud and clear: Naysayers are the blight on too many horizons. Never consider naysayers wise counsel. As long as other people, in better positions to know about your potential, encourage you, keep going!
I’ve invested thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of hours reading self-help books. I did this because I was unhappy as a 9-to-5 secretary and knew I wasn’t cut out for it, even though I was very good at it.
There’s a passage in the Bible that reads, “Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). I always thought that meant, “Raise up a good little Christian or Jew and when he is old, he will remain one.” What it actually means is, “Find out what your wee one’s passion is, and as long as it can serve others, encourage him to pursue it by giving him the encouragement, knowledge, and skills he needs to succeed as a businessman later in life doing what he loves.” WOW! What a HUGE difference a little excavation of the Scriptures makes!
Too many parents are sending their unique, creative, enthusiastic, gung-ho kids to cookie-cutter schools that raise cookie-cutter citizens. Why? Fear! They’re afraid that if their kids don’t toe the line, stick with the straight-and-narrow, they’ll fight poverty for the rest of their lives.
But what about the poverty of spirit they’ll have if they’re herded into careers that don’t excite them? What about the poverty of contribution when they do show up only to put in the minimum effort required to collect their next paycheck?
Employees who “check out” on arrival are parasites, party poopers, not positive contributors to a cause.
Parents: don’t feel guilty! You were taught to think this way! It’s unnatural not to worry about your children’s long-term survival. Part of your job description as a parent is to counsel wisely and gently guide your children to self-sufficiency.
The problem happens when we start looking at job market projections and steering our kids to the careers most likely to need lots of warm bodies for the foreseeable future. Not everyone is cut out to be a medical worker, IT engineer, or an alternate energy expert. Imagine, just for a brief moment—so you don’t let your imagination spoil your day— lying helplessly in a hospital bed being monitored by a person who couldn’t care less about you, your comfort, or your well-being. “Hey, they needed nurses, so I became a nurse…”
Nurses are special people. They SHOULD be special people. Not everyone can handle the constant pressure of holding other people’s lives in their hands.
The same goes for teachers, plumbers, writers, actors, singers, musicians, bankers, and electricians. It takes a unique passion to carry the torch for an extended period of time in any field. Those without passion for what they do burn out long before they wear out.
People come in all “flavors”: extroverted, introverted, and perverted! Expecting an introverted wallflower to excel on the sales floor is insanity taken to the ninth power. Expecting an extrovert to sit in a cubicle and crunch numbers all day is equally nuts.
If all this is making sense to you, you’re in the right place. Because whatever your passion is, there’s a niche for you in this world. You no longer have to “fit in” to survive. You have the option of standing out and thriving, even as an introverted wallflower.
It isn’t easy. Stop reading now if you expect success to come as quickly and easily as you can order up a meal at a drive-thru restaurant.
As my publisher loves to say, “There’s a big difference between being ‘led beside still waters’ and sitting around the watering hole waiting to be fed and quenched. Wherever we stay in our minds is where we live. Live in the upper stratosphere. The fruit of the spirit grows and thrives there.”
In the next chapter, I’ll define what it takes to succeed.