I’ve recently been contacted by my high school reunion committee and invited to attend a reunion this coming October.
This is the first one in forty years I have attended, and it has me thinking about my life. I feel like I’m going before the judgment bar.
What have I done with my life? (Oh my gosh, I even went to elementary school with some of these guys.)
So what will I tell them after all these years?
It Only Takes One
As some of my classmates will remember, early on, I had real physical problems with a crippling disease called polio. They will remember my wheelchair and crutches period. Maybe they’ll even remember a couple of surgeries I went through. Most likely they’ll recall the extraordinarily difficult time I had catching on to reading.
There was no reason not to believe that a more limited or introverted life was in store for me. However, that was not the path I chose to pursue.
For example, from early on I tried out for every team sport possible.
This is where I learned that it only takes one “yes” to many “no’s” to turn your fortunes around. In the beginning I was cut from most every team sport I tried out for. And, if I were to make a team, I would not get the chance to play much.
This changed when I tried out for the local YMCA swim team. The coach let me on the team, and demanded that my times improve every single week. They did and I eventually found myself traveling all over California competing against some of the best swimmers in the state. I actually won a couple of races, and helped set a national age record for swimming the fastest four man relay in the country for that year. I was fourteen at the time.
That resulted in me meeting kids who taught me how to surf and water ski. And this led to swimming for an AAU swim club, which led to playing water polo and swimming in high school.
I ended up being the only kid in my sixth grade elementary class who lettered in two varsity sports in high school And only one of maybe twenty kids (maybe not that many) from my junior high school who went on to varsity sports in high school. Odd isn’t it. What’s the lesson here? For me, the only lesson I can come up with is the “genius of participating.” If something is important to you, you keep participating until something breaks open for you.
Rejection is a hard fact of life. But it only takes one acceptance to change your life.
You just have to keep on participating.
After my swimming phase, I declared Theatre Arts as my major when I first attended college. My parents were stunned. They knew of my reading deficiencies.
The summer before I started college, I even secured an agent to help me break into the entertainment industry.
During that time, I worked selling shoes to pay for singing and acting lessons. My singing teacher gave up on me. My acting teacher kept working with me.
I started going on all kinds of auditions. Talk about rejection. I heard every imaginable criticism possible. “You’re too blond, you’re too thin, you’re not convincing enough, you’re a little too tall, you don’t have the looks we’re looking for, your reading . . . was weak,” etc.
But, I kept plugging away. On one occasion, I read for one of the supporting leads in a college production of Moliere’s French comedy, The Miser. To my surprise, I was given the part.
That was a start for me.
After that production, I secured supporting leads in two other college plays, and did summer theatre with a group that went on to establish the world famous South Coast Repertory Theatre.
On another occasion, I was called back for a “TV pilot.” Oh, yes, once I was the reader at a poetry convention.
Eventually, I ended up on the radio. I did daily radio commentaries on social, political and economic trends that were broadcast daily over radio stations throughout the western part of the United States. What was amazing about this breakthrough was that I wrote the first three to four hundred scripts myself. I did this for nine years. This led to getting all kinds of very lucrative contracts as a management consulting. Go figure.
Today, I still make my living as a management consultant. Part of that includes, speaking in front of large groups of business people for as long as three hours at a time, without the aid of notes. What I like about doing this, outside of the money I make, is the idea of standing for three hours at a time, and sharing facts and statistics that I have committed to memory. Remember, as a child I could neither stand nor memorize.
How does such a thing come about?
Continuing To Participate
There is no other explanation for being able to do these things other than the willingness on my part to participate in doing them. As far as I can determine, there is no miracle to this, there is no hidden talent that is tapped into. There is simply the fact of continuing to participate in something you want to do. After a while, one thing leads to another, and eventually a niche opens up.
I believe that unusually gifted people make extraordinary contributions that benefit millions of people. I also believe that there are millions of people, who while they may not impact millions, nevertheless do succeed at making steady progress at positively impacting themselves. I think I’m one of those. While I’m quite sure I possess no special gift, I do, however, think I’ve succeeded at moving my own life forward.
So what will I say to my classmates, if asked about the last forty years?
“If I’ve accomplished anything, it’s because I just hung in there and participated until things worked out.” I think they’ll understand. After all, they will have remembered me when . . .