I’m in a panic. I have to do a radio interview later in the week about the just-released Life Lessons of a Harvard Reject: Tear Down the Walls Holding Back Your Success. The station asked for seven talking points for the 16-minute interview. Here’s what I dashed off this morning:
Talking Point No. 1: What’s the book about?
It’s a 431-page pep talk on improving every aspect of your life. It will show you how to improve your attitude, dream bigger, make better decisions, take swifter action, work harder and smarter, etc. For those out of work, it’s about HIGHERING yourself when the world isn’t hiring. It’s like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, See You at the Top, The Power of Positive Thinking and other classic works – only on steroids!
Talking Point No. 2: What’s the Title All About? What does it have to do with the book?
Let’s clear up one thing right now. I’m not a Harvard graduate. I am a Harvard Reject. The title really addresses the point that I had high aspirations even as a teenager. I didn’t apply to Wichita State. I applied to what I thought was the best school at the time. The admission door at Harvard didn’t open, but fortunately, Stanford’s did. Fellow Harvard Rejects include Warren Buffett, Tom Brokaw and countless others.
Ironically, I was recently talking to Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature (1989), the first book for the general audience on climate change. We were neighbors growing up in the 60s in Altadena, Calif. Anyway, he applied to Stanford and didn’t get in, but he applied to Harvard and got in. That’s why you have to keep knocking on a lot of doors! One will eventually open. In the book, I briefly talk about why I wasn’t Harvard material.
Talking Point No. 3: Nothing is as it appears!
There are always hidden agendas obscuring the truth. That’s why as a journalist I especially appreciate the Latin phrase Nullius in Verba, which basically means, “Take nobody’s word for it; verify your own truth.” It’s actually the motto of the Royal Society of London, that august scientific body whose members included Sir Isaac Newton.
When there’s so much misinformation in circulation, it suppresses real growth. It’s hard to build a life on a lie.
To illustrate my point and to poke fun at Harvard, I talk about the Statue of the 3 Lies in the preface of the book.
Basically, the statue of John Harvard that sits in Harvard Yard is a big phony. In fact, I posed in front of it once, not knowing its notorious history. For example, the sculpted figure by Daniel French, the same guy who carved the Lincoln Memorial, is not John Harvard. Nor was Harvard the founder of the college. Nor was the college founded in 1638. Imagine that: All of that information etched in stone and none of it is true.
The bottom line is we put way too much faith in so-called experts. You have to find your own truth. You have to be comfortable in your own skin. How did Oscar Wilde put it?: “Be yourself, everybody else is taken.”
Talking Point No. 4: Few Things Are Impossible
It was 30-years ago this past summer that Larry “the Lawn Chair” Walters entered our conscious radar. On July 2, 1982, after attaching 45 helium balloons to an ordinary lawn chair, he set sail from his San Pedro backyard, soaring 16,000 feet into Los Angeles International Airport airspace. Can you imagine what it was like for those pilots to look out their cockpit windows and see this guy drifting by? I can only imagine what they radioed in to their air traffic controllers. He finally got tangled up in some telephone wires in Long Beach, but for 45 minutes he was the king of the world. That 45-minute journey was the culmination of his 20-year-long dream to fly. After he was arrested, he said, “It was something I had to do.”
So, from my point of view, few things are impossible. Walt Disney began sketching on toilet paper because his family was so poor it couldn’t afford drawing paper. Kansas Senator Bob Dole was so impoverished growing up that his parents rented out their house while they moved into the home’s basement. Talk about humbling and humiliating!
James Garfield was the last of our U.S. presidents to be born in a log cabin. He was just 17 months old when his father died. To put himself through his first year of college, he worked as a janitor and carpenter. By his second year, he was made assistant professor of Literature and Ancient Languages. By age 26, he was his college’s president. In 1880 at age 49, he was elected president of the United States.
So no excuses! Whether your challenge is gravity or poverty, you can overcome it, but don’t be afraid to seek loads of help.
Talking Point No. 5: You’re Going to Get Beat Up, But That Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’ll Get Beat!
Pretty much everyone knows Frank Capra or at least his films, including It’s A Wonderful Life. Well, it wasn’t such a wonderful life for Capra at the 1933 Oscars. He had been nominated for Best Director and his good friend Will Rogers was emcee. As he was announcing the winner, Rogers gushed, “Well, well, well, what do you know? I’ve watched this young man for a long time. Saw him come up from the bottom — and I mean the bottom. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Come up and get it, Frank!”
Capra’s table was ecstatic as the jubilant director bounded out of his chair and toward the stage, the spotlight frantically searching for Hollywood’s new De Mille. “Over here,” Capra waved. Then the spotlight just as quickly deserted him for another Frank — Frank Lloyd, director of Cavalcade. When Lloyd reached the stage, Rogers greeted him heartily. Meanwhile, an audience member shouted, “Down in front!” to the stunned Capra, who slinked back to his table. “I felt like a worm,” he said later.
As much as that embarrassing and humiliating moment wounded Capra’s pride, he went on that same decade to win Oscars for It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and You Can’t Take It With You (1938).
So, the Life Lesson takeaway is expect to take your bumps and lumps before getting over the hump!
Talking Point No. 6: Find Good Mentors: Don’t Discount Books and the Hallowed Pages of History to Find Them
On that note you could start and end with Abraham Lincoln.
It’s no accident that more books have been written about our 16th president than about any other person, at least here in the United States. One friend said of him, “I never saw a sadder face. He was a long, gawky, ugly, shapeless man.” That may be true, but what a man!
On the futility of holding a grudge he said, “You have more of a feeling of personal resentment than I have. Perhaps, I have too little of it, but I never thought it paid.”
On the futility of holding onto bitterness, he said, “Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who knew me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.” He was a healer, not a dealer of division and discord.
Upon hearing that a man had been sentenced to death for desertion, Lincoln reviewed his case. The soldier’s one-page file showed he didn’t have one friend in the world and his entire family had been killed in the war. Lincoln slept on the request for a pardon and announced the next morning that the testimony of a friend had sealed his decision. When an officer reminded the president that the request had come with no letter of reference, Lincoln said, “I will be his friend,” and pardoned the man.
What house of worship did Lincoln regularly attend? “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion,” Lincoln said.
So, Lincoln seems like a worthy mentor to have by your side each day.
Talking Point 7: Life Lessons’ Call to Action Is To Take Action Today!
All the greats realize that Today is the Day. John Wooden said, “Make Today Your Masterpiece.” “Today” was the single word English art critic and social thinker John Ruskin (1819-1900) had etched on a stone, which he kept on his desk. German writer and polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) also expressed his appreciation for the precious gift of being given another 24 hours when he wrote, “Nothing is worth more than this day.”
A lot of your listeners are probably familiar with Rod Serling (1924-1975), creator of The Twilight Zone (1959-64), arguably the most imaginative show ever to air on television. When Serling was in the U.S. Army in World War II, he posed for a photo with his good friend during a lull in the fighting at the Battle of Leyte Gulf (Oct. 23-26, 1944) in the Pacific. At the very moment that Serling reached to put his arm around his friend, an Air Force plane flying overhead accidentally dropped an ammunition box, killing his buddy instantly.
So, never put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Start your personal improvement plan today, whether it’s getting out of your chair and walking around the block to launch your fitness program, learning a new dance step or polishing a new skill to make you more marketable to more employers.
Start HIGHERING yourself today!