Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lessons Worth Learning


A friend, knowing how strongly I object to politically correct speech, which I regard as self-censorship, sent me ammo in an email. He reminded me that the same Obama-Holder federal government that has deprived the Washington Redskins of its constitutionally-guaranteed trademark protection has Tomahawk cruise missiles, along with Apache, Blackhawk, Kiowa and Lakota, helicopters. For good measure, the same holier-than-thou hypocrites saw nothing wrong with employing “Geronimo” as the code name for the Navy Seal attack that killed Osama bin Laden.

Until one of my readers called my attention to the group, I had been unaware of "Anonymous," an international affiliation of cyber-hackers. He was alerting me to the fact that in the wake of the massacre of the French journalists, the Belgian branch of Anonymous has tossed down the gauntlet, announcing to the Islamic terrorists, via a video: “You will not impose your sharia law in our democracies, we will not let your stupidity kill our liberties and our freedom of expression. We have warned you; expect your destruction. We will track you everywhere on the planet, nowhere will you be safe. We are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forget. We do not forgive. Be afraid of us, Islamic State and al Qaeda – you will experience our vengeance.”

They vow to track down all jihadist activities online and to close down their accounts on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

And unlike the way Obama invariably draws his red lines with invisible ink, apparently when Anonymous makes a threat, they follow through. Since coming into existence in 2003, they have wreaked havoc on the Church of Scientology, the Westboro Baptist Church and a great many child porn sites. Unfortunately, proving that nobody’s perfect, they have supported WikiLeaks and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

After publishing three collections of interviews, “The Secret of Their Success,” “Portraits of Success” and “67 Conservatives You Should Meet Before You Die,” my wife Yvonne asked me what I had taken away from meeting and picking the brains of nearly 200 highly accomplished people who had made their mark in politics, religion, movies, TV, music, literature and business.

Because their stories were all so different and because the interviews had been conducted over a number of years, I was stuck for an answer. I was actually forced to re-read the books and take notes. But, finally, I was able to come up with 10 lessons that, collectively, the two hundred taught me:

Although only a small handful of these people were born into wealth, money was very rarely a prime motivator. (I know -- I was highly skeptical, too. But when I kept hearing it from one person after another, it began to sink in that if they had only cared about money, most would have given up long before they made any.)

It was the passionate pursuit of their dreams that propelled them to success. So even though only two of them, Catholic priest and onetime head of the Humanitas Society John Catoir, and minister and onetime presidential candidate, Pat Robertson, had what is generally regarded as a calling, all of them seemed to share the same sense of personal destiny.

Those of modest means may doubt it, but fame and fortune do not make people immune to many of the same problems, frustrations and tragedies, that plague the rest of us. Some of these people have lost or very nearly lost all of their money, others have tragically lost their beloved children.

Those who cope successfully with whatever problems befall them are those who see setbacks as challenges and temporary detours. They may be delayed, but they are never permanently derailed.

Age is a number, not an excuse. Some of these people were changing career paths at an age when others would be planning their retirement.

Becoming successful is often easier than remaining successful if only because it’s easier to compete with others than with oneself.

If these people have any one trait in common, it is the ability to be a self-starter.

Art Linkletter, one of my subjects, once sagely observed that old age is not for sissies. Neither is success. Only the terminally goofy believe it’s all a matter of dumb luck. Those who achieve success create their own luck through extraordinary self-discipline, long hours and hard work.

Even the most successful people experience failure, but what separates them from the crowd is that they don’t wallow in self-pity. They don’t blame others. They don’t say “Why me?” because they know the inevitable answer is, “Why not you?” They accept that life is rarely if ever fair. But instead of whining about it, they do as the old Jerome Kern tune suggests: they pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again.

Finally, several of these people sing, dance or act, for a living. They do things that seem like a lot of fun. But a great many others put on a suit and tie, go to an office and have meetings with other people wearing suits and ties. What I discovered to my surprise was that they were also having fun. The secret of their success was that their work was also their play. Even the oldest among them was still astonished that they actually got paid to have such a swell time.

But even if you’re never rich or famous, there are other consolation prizes
that life offers the runner-ups. For instance, in my own case, I have a wonderful wife, good friends, the world’s best dog, and how many people can boast that along the way Fred Astaire danced just for them, Oscar Levant played piano just for them and Tiny Tim sang “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” just for them?

In the immortal words of George Bailey, “Thanks, Clarence.” It really is a wonderful life.

©2015 Burt Prelutsky. Comments? BurtPrelutsky@fastmail.com.