Well, it’s officially fall now. Busy times. I hope all is well with you!!
I was doing some religious reading tonight, about “David and Goliath” experiences, when we are faced with some enormous challenges, and somehow overcome them, with no encouragement from anyone around us. It made me think back to my own experiences in that vein.
When I was very young, a child of 10 or 12, I was very bad at math, and had a tutor, to try and bring my math grades up. She was kind of a severe woman, frustrated with my lack of aptitude, and I hated math—and she told me that I was a “butterfly”, would flit from one thing to the next in my life, and would never amount to anything. French schools in those days, and teachers, were not long on encouragement. But her prediction stuck with me that I would never amount to anything. I believed her. (And I did not improve in math with her help!!)
I wrote my first book at 19, kind of as an experiment to see if I could, and I found I loved doing it. I had always written for pleasure, and never thought of it as a career (I wrote mostly poetry in my teens, but was hoping for a career in design). And by some miracle after writing my first book, I met Alex Haley, the author of Roots, who was an incredibly kind man, and he encouraged me. He was very supportive of young authors, and referred me to his agent. (No one in my close circle or family was interested in my writing a book, and thought it was some kind of aberration and a ridiculous idea. No one thought I could write.). I submitted my book to Alex Haley’s agent, who took forever to read it, and finally told me that writing just wasn’t going to be a career for me. He told me to forget about writing, and discouraged, I had lunch with a friend who was a writer, and told him what a flop I was with my writing. He suggested I show the manuscript to his agent before I gave up entirely, a woman, which I assumed would be hopeless, but I gave it a try, and sent it to her. It was a distinguished agency that represented people like F.Scott Fitzgerald and Agatha Christie. Most of their clients were estates of famous writers, but I gave it a try. She liked the book and agreed to represent me, sold it very quickly, as a paperback original, and I was thrilled. (The book is still in print). The next 5 books I wrote did not sell to any publisher, and I was beginning to think that the first agent was right, that I had no talent and should forget writing. I almost did. And then lo and behold the 7th book I wrote sold, and my writing career slowly, slowly took off—not with any dazzling success, but the books sold steadily, still in paperback. I shared with that agent the dream that one day I would write a hardcover (I was still very young then, since I had started so early. And I was working in advertising, as a copywriter, and writing at night). The agent looked at me with outrage when I said I’d like to publish in hardcover one day, and said “Who do you think you are?” (I can still hear her say it). She saw me as a paperback writer forever, stuck where I was. Her words really stung, and upset me. I was working very hard at what I wrote. I never saw myself as becoming famous one day, I just wanted to do it well, and improve with each book. One of my strengths is persistence and perseverance, once I do something, I stick with it, and want to do it well. Her very sharp comment, which was a put down, stung, and led me to look for another agent. When I found that agent, Mort Janklow, who is still my agent, he took me to heights I had never even dreamed of, and treated my work with enormous respect. He saw the potential there, and helped me achieve it. It’s taken many years of hard work, and has given me a remarkable career I love. (As an aside, my father read one of my books and thought it was junk, and told me not to bother pursuing a career I had no talent for, and my mother never read a single one of my books in her entire life.).
My point is that if I had listened to that tutor when I was 12, maybe I would have amounted to nothing, just as she predicted. If I had listened to the first agent, I would have quit before I started, before I was even published. If I’d listened to the second agent, and shrunk back into the shadows, I would never have been published in hardcover or have the career I do now. We all have naysayers in our lives, but somehow through it all I persisted, I refused to believe them, and like David fighting Goliath, I was the little person, the unknown writer, the shy young girl, but I persisted and persisted and refused to believe them, and stuck with it, and it has given me a wonderful life, doing what I love. You just can’t listen to the people who want to squash you, and you have to keep on going, no matter what they say.
My last husband, Tom, had a similar experience. He was a lot older than I am, born into a very poor family, in the Depression (they lived on mayonnaise sandwiches in the lean years and couldn’t afford to buy him shoes, he had to wear the ones he outgrew), and he did extremely well in school, with a strong aptitude for science and physics. One of his high school teachers recognized what he believed was genius and asked Tom’s parents to let him apply to college. They were outraged, and wanted him to go to work as soon as he graduated, they said he wasn’t smart enough to go to college. Television was new then, and they wanted him to become a TV repairman, which they thought would be a great job for him with a future. The teacher, in secret from everyone, applied Tom for Harvard and MIT, and Tom was accepted at both with a full scholarship, and went to MIT, and Harvard for graduate school. And he really was a genius. I don’t think Tom’s parents were too pleased at his going to college, instead of getting a job repairing TVs, and bringing in an income right after high school. At 27, five years after he graduated, he had been working on a ‘project’ in his garage, on a tiny budget, and invented a laser which is still in use today. He sold it by mail order out of his garage at first, and made his first fortune from it. In the years afterwards, he started Genentech, helped build Tandem and Compaq, was one of the founding members of Silicon Valley, became a famous venture capitalist, financed AOL, Amazon and countless companies, was one of the first supporters of Google, worked at Hewlett Packard, and was an inventor, scientist, a famous sailor, a sculptor and was an extraordinary man. (And he returned to give his high school teacher part of his early earnings from his laser, in thanks for what he had done for him, applying him to MIT).He had a dazzling career, and if he had listened to his parents, he would have been a TV repairman. If the high school teacher hadn’t had the courage and determination he did, Tom would never have gone to college. Tom led a fascinating life, and had an extraordinary career. Tom Perkins. He died last year after a remarkable life.
If we had listened to the people who didn’t believe in us, I’d never have written a 2nd book, and Tom would probably have been the smartest TV repairman in his town, and his genius would have been wasted. And I’d never have had the career that I have enjoyed for all of my adult life. We all have those negative people in our lives, who tell us we can’t do it. They’re so easy to find. It’s much harder to find people to encourage us. And sometimes, often, we have no one to encourage us at all. And we all feel so small faced with the obstacles. The obstacles seem so much bigger than any chance of success.
Whatever it is you’re doing, or want to do, or dream of doing, don’t let those negative people hold you back. Don’t let them stop you. Don’t let them rob you of the chance to do something you love. David took Goliath out with a simple slingshot. Believe that whatever it is you want to do, you can!!! Don’t let anyone stop you!! It’s something to think about.
Have a great week!!