Category: Inspiration

The Content Of Their Character

Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States. He was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He died on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Had he lived, he would have been 80 years old on January 15th. In 1964 he won the Nobel Peace Prize and was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.

Dr. King is remembered for many different things. On August 28, 1963 he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. If you have never heard or seen the entire speech, you should take 20 minutes and do so. It is an inspirational speech, but it also describes a divided America from 40 years ago that didn’t come close to treating African-Americans as real citizens. I am glad that I don’t live in 1963 America anymore. I was 10 years old at the time and didn’t really grasp what was going on, but I’m glad that we have made progress.

I don’t understand how we as a people could have allowed the discrimination and intolerance against African-Americans to go on as long as it did. We fought the Civil War where hundreds of thousands died, to stop the spread of slavery to more states, and then did virtually nothing to actually “free” African-Americans. The Emancipation Proclamation may have freed some slaves on paper, but in reality, did not. African-Americans have been discriminated against in every way possible for more than another 100 years.

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution officially ended slavery on December 6, 1865.

Dr. King points out in his speech, speaking about the Emancipation Proclamation, “But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.”

That Jim Crow and segregation were allowed to exist at all, much less for as long as they did, is a terrible, painful memory for America. In 2009 America we have made progress towards equality. We have come a long way since 1963. But we are not there yet. As long as there are ignorant little men, we are not there yet.

In his “I See The Promised Land Speech” that he gave in Memphis, Tennessee the night before he died, he tells this story:

“You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said yes.

And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you drown in your own blood–that’s the end of you.

It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states, and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what the letter said.

But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the Whites Plains High School.” She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”

He ended the speech by saying, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Some people are saying that when Barack Obama takes the oath of office tomorrow, Dr. King’s dream will be achieved. I don’t think so. I think we are still far from it. America still has too many citizens suffering in poverty and despair, without any hope for the future. Too many of our children live with violence and the fear of violence on a daily basis. Discrimination still exists. We are not there yet.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office tomorrow and becomes the 44th President of the United States, it will be because America is a better place now than it was in 1968.

Dr. King was a courageous man. He was as brave as any soldier on a battlefield. He gave his life to free this nation from shameful behavior that divided it.

This country is a better place because of him, the people who marched with him, and the people that supported him.

How To Quit Smoking Today

No Smoking Sign

I quit smoking on January 8, 2001. I smoked for 31 years. I am going to tell you how I did it so that it might encourage or inspire you to quit too. Sometime in December of 2000 a co-worker asked me if I wanted to make a New Year’s resolution to quit smoking. I said yes, I’m ready to try to quit again.

He picked January 8th as the quit date. It was the Monday after the first of the year. I bought a box of patches. I also had two people in the office who encouraged me to quit.

On the morning of January 8th, I put a patch on my arm and went to work. My fellow quitter continued to smoke and did not make any attempt to quit. As far as I know, he still smokes. I just stuck with it. In the office, my two friends kept encouraging me and congratulating me on how well I was doing. After two months, I decided that I could stop wearing the patch.

I’m not sure how I knew that. I just thought that I was ready. I saved the last one and carried it around with me wherever I went. Just in case. I never used it and eventually stopped carrying it around.

I am so glad that I finally quit smoking.  I always thought that even if I could quit, I would always want a cigarette. That has never been true. I have no desire for a cigarette at all.

Every once in a while (once a year?) I think about it and it passes in a few seconds. I am around smokers all the time and it doesn’t bother me. I wish I had never smoked that first cigarette. You don’t need cigarettes and they don’t do anything good for you.

Smoking is just a terrible addiction and you don’t really understand that until you quit. If I can quit smoking, you can too. I smoked constantly. I never went anywhere without my cigarettes. They ruled my life.

At one time, some people thought that going “cold turkey” was better than using a nicotine substitute to quit. I just suspected that or sensed that from some people. They thought that you were somehow a better person if you quit “cold turkey” and less of a person if you used a substitute. That’s a bunch of nonsense anyway. It is perfectly acceptable to get help to break your addiction. Six months after you quit, it won’t matter anyway.

I started smoking in 1969 when I was 16 years old in high school. I had very bad acne in my teenage years and thought that if I smoked I would eat less candy. That was pretty stupid logic, but I was a teenager. I didn’t inhale the smoke when I first started, but eventually someone taught me how. I still remember where I was when I learned that. Also, when I first started inhaling, I got dizzy from the smoke. I guess I thought that was a good thing at the time. My school actually had a smoking area in the parking lot where you could go and smoke. I remember being dizzy for the beginning of my first class after lunch.

My first attempt at quitting came when I was in my twenties. My father always encouraged me to quit. He read about a Dr. Funk in Philadelphia who had been to China and brought back a form of acupuncture to help people quit smoking. A group of us, including my father who didn’t smoke cigarettes, went to the hospital in Philadelphia. We listened to a short lecture and then had a surgical clip placed on our ear. It lightly pinched for a second while going on, but all in all it was relatively painless. For me, it was quite amazing. Wearing that clip just killed my desire for a cigarette. I did not want to smoke anymore.

I wish I could have left it on forever, but I went back to the hospital to have it taken off after a week. That was the prescribed amount of time to wear it. Supposedly, the nicotine addiction was broken after a week and the device was no longer useful. The first time I ended up quitting for a couple of weeks. This stop smoking technique was soon offered at other hospitals. I tried this method two more times over the years. It was always a good way to kick start a quitting program. I knew that I wouldn’t want a cigarette for the week that it was in my ear. The rest was up to me.

I tried cold turkey a few times too. Merriam-Webster defines “cold turkey” as the abrupt complete cessation of the use of an addictive drug. Once I quit for three months and I thought I had my smoking addiction beat. I really felt bad smoking again after quitting for three months.

I chewed Nicorette gum for a while too at some point. I don’t remember how long I was on that. It was probably at least a month.

When I finally quit for good using the patch, I also took Wellbutrin for the first week. I talked to my doctor and he wrote me a prescription. I was a little crazy on Wellbutrin and stopped taking it after a week. It made me paranoid and I would occasionally shout things out for no apparent reason. That wasn’t good and I stopped taking it.

I was a little angry at the fact that I had to pay so much for the patches. I figured that I had paid so much in cigarette taxes over the years that the patches should be subsidized by the government or the tobacco companies. No such luck. The Marlboro Man wasn’t going to help me quit. I’m glad I invested in the patches though. I have saved a lot of money over the past eight years. At $4.00 per pack, 365 days a year times 8 years, I saved $11,680. I smoked more than a pack a day though usually, so I saved even more.

Some friends of mine have used Chantix to quit recently. I have never used it, but they recommend it. It’s worth looking into.

A recent story in the New York Times says that most people attempt to quit 8 to 10 times before they are successful and that 21% of the U.S. population still smokes. That is way too many. If you have tried to quit before and failed, it is worth it to try again.  Do it today. Right now. You don’t want to be the last smoker in America do you?

Decide which nicotine replacement method you want to try and get a supply of them. Find a friend or co-worker and ask them to support you. Throw those cigarettes in the garbage where they belong. Let’s put the cigarette makers out of business due to lack of interest in their evil product.

I didn’t know that my last attempt to quit was going to be successful. I just knew that I wanted to quit because it was so bad for my health. Keep trying. You can do it.


Can Kindergarten Scar You For Life?

Hamilton Square SchoolCan one stupid incident in kindergarten scar you for life? Can it hold you back from doing certain things for years, until you are finally able to overcome your fear? Yes. It can.

I still remember being in kindergarten at Hamilton Square School. It was 1958. Fifty years ago. I can still see the teacher in front of the class. I will call her Mrs. L. instead of using her real name. I was sitting far to her right in the first row. She asked the class a question and I was eager to answer. I stood up, waved my arm wildly in the air so that she would see me and yelled, “Hey Mrs. L., hey Mrs. L.” She turned and looked at me and admonished me for saying “hey.” I can’t recall exactly what she said, but the whole class laughed at me and I sat down embarrassed and dejected.

It took me 23 years to get over that. I don’t think that she meant to “scar me for life”, but I’m also sure she didn’t realize how much she hurt me either. Whenever I think back to how I became afraid to speak in front of a group, this is where it leads me.

Except for the antics of one young boy who didn’t want to leave his mother at the beginning of the year, this incident is all I remember from my first year of school. In fourth grade my class put on a play about Christopher Columbus. My best friend played Columbus and I was in charge of pulling the curtain. I did not want to be on the stage facing an audience and having to recite lines.

In fifth grade one day, my teacher asked me to go to the front of the class. He then began grilling me with questions about what I was going to do on my summer vacation. That was just torture to be in front of the class like that. I was enormously relieved to be able to sit down again.

I don’t recall every incident in middle school and high school where I had to give a report in front of the class, but I do know that I dreaded every single one. Dreaded. I would worry about it constantly from the time the assignment was given, until it was over and somehow I survived. I was involved in all of the class plays, but behind the scenes working the lights. I knew the actors on stage and I admired them and respected them just for getting up there. I dropped out of a college Sociology course after the first class, when I learned I was going to have to give a presentation to pass the course.

It’s interesting to me, writing about this, and remembering that I played organized baseball from the time I was 9 until I was 18. I pitched in Little League, Babe Ruth League and Senior Babe Ruth. When you are the pitcher, everyone is watching you and you are the center of attention. That never bothered me. In fact, I liked it. I was very confident when I was pitching, even when I wasn’t pitching well. I just never connected pitching with speaking in front of a class or being on stage in a class play.

In 1980 I participated in a three day workshop in New York City called RelationShop. I have already written about some of that in a previous story, “Thanks For Having The Courage To Be Here.” In the workshop there are two co-leaders and several assistants who help them. They run microphones, hand out name tags, keep the room clean and make sure the chairs are lined up straight. I volunteered to assist at several workshops.

At the end of the workshop, the assistants are invited onto the stage to be recognized. Now, you don’t have to give a speech. You don’t even have to say anything, I don’t think. You could probably just smile and wave if you wanted. Of course, on the last night, just before this is supposed to happen, I am freaking out. I did not want to have to go onto that stage. No way. Fortunately, some of the other assistants supported me. I explained the situation and how panicked I was to Carla. She supported me by holding my hand and walking onto the stage with me as the other assistants followed. Carla was a Montessori school teacher at the time. I might have even been first in the line on stage.

Larry, one of the co-leaders of the workshop, was standing a few feet away. I remember starting out by saying something about how terrified I was just to be in front of so many people. I think there might have been 70 people in the room. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I ended up talking for 20 minutes!   Someone said it was the longest “thank you” speech that anyone in RelationShop had ever given. I remember that the audience was very supportive of me too. Once I admitted that I was scared to death, I just kept going. I got a big round of applause from everyone at the end. It was a really big deal for me. At the end of 20 minutes, I wasn’t afraid anymore.

I think that was the day I finally graduated from kindergarten. I was 28 years old. A week later, I went to a Retrospective for the workshop in New York City. It’s an opportunity for graduates of the workshop to get back together and introduce their friends and family to RelationShop. One of the participants who heard me give my 20 minute talk, asked me if I would come to Rockefeller University, where he worked, to give a talk about the workshop. It took me a minute or two, but I said yes. I went there a few weeks later and spoke for quite a while to a group of approximately 100 people about the workshop. I didn’t have any fear or anxiety. It was quite amazing to me that I could do that.

In the years since, I have been able to speak up at meetings and events with out any fear. It is truly one less thing to worry about. I’ve read that fear of public speaking is the number one fear that some people have. Jerry Seinfeld even made a joke that some people would rather be the dead body in the casket than give the eulogy at a funeral. I don’t know about that.

If it is such a big fear, why don’t schools try and identify kids who have it and help them? The younger the better. I would have been a much better student if I wasn’t glossophobic all through school. I don’t recall ever hearing the word glossopobia until recently. The name comes from Greek, glossa, meaning tongue and phobos, meaning fear or dread. There is even a website called, “Glossophobia.com” where you can read more about it.

I went to my first Toastmasters meeting recently. Steve Pavlina has written some stories about Toastmasters on his blog. Those articles got me interested. Then, a few months ago, I found out through a story in the newspaper, that a good friend of mine belonged to a local Toastmasters group. For some reason he never mentioned it. That is kind of ironic when you think about it.

Toastmasters International helps people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience. I really enjoyed my first meeting. It lasted about two hours. Everyone was very nice and I really felt comfortable. I will be going back next week to give my “Ice Breaker” speech.

I would love to hear your comments about this topic and about this post.

The building in the picture at the top of this post is where I went to kindergarten. It was called Hamilton Square school at the time. It has been the Board of Education building for at least 25 years, maybe more. It’s hard to see in the picture, but over the doorway it says, “Knowledge Comes, But Wisdom Lingers.” There are also four icons below the saying. They are an open book, a candle in a candle holder, a lamp that looks like if you rubbed it a genie would come out and a globe. My kindergarten class picture was taken in front of these doors. I still have the picture.

Thanks For Having The Courage To Be Here

In January of 1980 I met Larry Lewis and he changed my life. At the time, I was a meter reader for Public Service Electric & Gas company in central New Jersey. Dr. Lawrence D. Lewis lived on Mt. Lucas Road, in Princeton, NJ in a house he called “Ivy Stone Manor.” It was a small house made of gray stone.

The Andromeda Galaxy as seen by the Hubble telescope.

My meter reading route started about a mile down the road. It usually took me about an hour to get to his house. While I was working my way there, a John Denver song would be going through my mind. It was called Farewell Andromeda, (Welcome To My Morning). It begins, “Welcome to my morning, Welcome to my day, Yes I’m the one responsible, I made it just this way. I’ll get back to this song a little later in the story.

The image is a picture of the core of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) taken by the Hubble telescope.

A lot of times when I went to Larry’s house he wasn’t home. This particular day, he answered the door and let me in. I went down into the basement to read his electric meter. I’m not exactly sure why, but I had a very strong thought that I wanted to say something to him. It might have been that, at the time, I didn’t know what kind of doctor he was. When I came back upstairs I said to him, “You look different. Did you shave off your beard?” He said that no, he hadn’t had a beard in a very long time. He had a stack of photos nearby and showed me one in which he had a beard. We started chatting. Although I can recall a lot of this as if it was yesterday, I don’t recall the whole conversation. He eventually told me that he was a psychologist and led a workshop called RelationShop.

He started telling me about RelationShop and handed me a pamphlet that I could take with me. I told him that was really interesting because I had just separated from my wife a few days ago. I sat out in his driveway for a few minutes in my gray Plymouth Valiant and read the pamphlet. One of the things it said was: The purpose of RelationShop is to provide the participants with the opportunity to experience the truth about love, sexuality and relationships so that frustration, effort and scarcity in these areas can be supplanted by mastery, spontaneity and fulfillment. I still remember that after 28 years.

I went to a couple of “Prospectives” in the area. They were events that graduates of the workshop put on in their homes so that you could get an idea of what the workshop was like. I signed up at one of them and was scheduled to take the workshop the first weekend of March in New York City. That was one of the first obstacles for me. I didn’t particularly like going to NYC, even though I only lived an hour away. The city was too crowded for me and everyone was in too much of a hurry.

RelationShop took an entire weekend. It started on a Friday night and went into the wee hours of the morning. Then you had to be back at 9:00 AM Saturday morning and it went late into Sunday morning. On Sunday, it would start at 9:00 AM again and it didn’t end until the early morning hours of Monday. There were a few short breaks each day and a longer dinner break in the evening. It was held in a hotel ballroom.

Over the course of the three days,  Larry and his co-leader Dr. Michael F. Valente talked about love, sexuality and relationships and guided the group through various “experiments” to help you to experience what they were talking about. There were probably around 70 people in my “class.” There was discussion and sharing  before and after each experiment. You had to raise your hand to talk and someone would run over and hand you a microphone. People shared some very personal stuff.

At the time, I was pretty terrified to say anything at all in front of a group of strangers. I listened to everything that was said on Friday and Saturday and participated in every experiment, but I never raised my hand and I never asked for the microphone.

At the end of Friday night, people who were assisting at the workshop, helped people like me who didn’t have a place to stay, share a room with other participants. I ended up staying in a very nice apartment with a great view, somewhere on the east side of Manhattan. Saturday was a particularly difficult day in the workshop for me and by the end of the day, I really did not want to be there.

The apartment had a nice balcony that looked out on the street from 10 or 15 floors up. Saturday night after the workshop, I went and sat on the balcony and chain smoked cigarette after cigarette ( I finally quit smoking 7 years ago). I was thinking about just going home the next day and not finishing the workshop on Sunday. I  was trying to figure out how I would explain all of this to Larry the next time I saw him. I did not want to spend another day in the workshop. Finally, the other person that was staying in the apartment
that night came out to the balcony and said that I should probably get some sleep because it was going to be another long day tomorrow. I went to bed still thinking about how I could get out of the final day.

I went back to the workshop Sunday morning. At one point I was speaking to the woman sitting next to me. She thought that I should share it with the group and grabbed me by the arm and raised my hand for a few seconds. Now, I know that Larry and Michael had to see this because they didn’t miss a thing and it was right in front of them. They didn’t call on me though and no one handed me the dreaded microphone.

Sometime after that, the group did another experiment. I think it was called the “Be With” experiment. In it, you just walk around the room and go up to the other members of the group, one at a time, and be with them. You don’t say anything. You just look into the other persons eyes and “be with them.” It might last 10 seconds or a minute. It’s not a staring contest.

I went up to Larry who was standing on the stage and did the experiment. He looked me in the eyes and after a few seconds, held me by the shoulders and said, “Thanks for having the courage to be here.” That is one of the nicest things that anyone has ever said to me.  “Thanks for having the courage to be here.” His timing was perfect because it just lifted me up. He must have known what a difficult time I was having and how hard it was just being in that room.

We did one particularly heavy duty “experiment” late Sunday and there were more discussions and sharing. After that experiment, we were sent on a dinner break. Larry told everyone that the “worst” was over and to make sure to come back after the break. He said that in some previous RelationShops, people had failed to return from the break thinking that they couldn’t take anymore.

I went to dinner. I think the dinner experiment instructions were that you couldn’t ask any questions. When the break was over and I went back to the room, there was some instrumental music quietly playing. I listened to it for a minute and I thought that it was Farewell Andromeda, (Welcome To My Morning), the song that I used to sing to myself while reading meters on the way to Larry’s house. The second verse of the song goes like this:

Welcome to my happiness, you know it makes me smile
And it pleases me to have you here
For just a little while
While we open up some spaces and try to break some chains
And if the truth is told
They will never come again.

I kind of thought that John Denver had been telling me my future. I have always thought that the line should have been, “And if the truth is told, we will never be the same.

When everyone was back in the room and the workshop started again, I felt as if a giant burden had been lifted. I felt giddy, like Scrooge on Christmas morning, after the three spirits had visited! A lot of other people seemed to be in good spirits too. I’m sure part of it was knowing that the weekend was almost over! I actually raised my hand and took the microphone. I asked about the song and no one seemed to know if it was in fact Farewell Andromeda. Someone did volunteer though that it was the first time I had shared all weekend. Larry then explained our relationship and how I had found out about the workshop.

That weekend changed my life. One of the things I realized is that I wasn’t as separate from other people as I thought. Many people share the same feelings that I do about a lot of different things. The words that come to mind are, “once I was different, now I’m the same.” I have a lot more in common with everyone else than I do differences. My son was born in December of the same year. I left my job within two years of the workshop, looking for something more meaningful. I started reading authors like Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer and Jane Roberts.

I went on to become a volunteer assistant at some of the workshops. I repeated the workshop as a participant, to experience what I had missed the first time, when I was afraid and just trying to survive the weekend. I made some interesting new friends and spent a lot of time in New York City.

RelationShop was similar to, but not the same as, Erhard Seminars Training (est), a very popular workshop in the seventies and early eighties. I never experienced est, but I did go to Newark, NJ one night with Larry to hear Werner Erhard speak. John Denver was an est graduate and on their board of directors. His song “Looking For Space” was written about est.

I am so glad that I acted on my impulse to talk to Larry that January day.

The Lesson Of The Cliff

I first read “Lesson of the Cliff”, in the February 1986 edition of Reader’s Digest Magazine. I liked the article so much that I have saved the magazine for 22 years. The story was written by Morton Hunt and originally published in the July 14, 1985 edition of Parade, the Sunday newspaper insert. The Reader’s Digest article is a condensed version of the Parade story, which I have never read.

February 1986 Reader\'s Digest \

Over the years I have re-read it to inspire me when I was reluctant to take the first step toward a goal or decision.

I haven’t been able to find the article on the web so that I can link to it. I don’t think I can just re-publish the story without permission either, but I will try and give you a sense of what Morton Hunt wrote.

The story begins with Morton as an 8 year old boy in Philadelphia. He starts to climb a high cliff with some friends. They stop to rest on a small ledge near the top. The rest of the group continues to the top, but he is too frightened to continue up. He imagines that if he attempts to go back down he will fall and die. His friends leave and he is alone. As it starts to get dark, his father appears. His father tells him not to think about how far down it is and to just concentrate on taking one little step. His father tells him to put his foot on a rock just below the ledge. His father guides him to put his other foot on another rock a little lower.

He gains confidence with every step. One step at a time, he makes his way to the bottom. The experience teaches him a lesson that he never forgets and that he uses throughout his life.

Next,  it is January 1945 and the Second World War is raging. He has to fly an unarmed plane on a reconnaissance mission deep into German occupied territory. He imagines being shot down and killed by enemy anti-aircraft fire or fighter planes. The next morning he takes off and reminds himself that he only has to climb to 25,000 feet and fly east. He focuses on flying one leg of the mission at a time, never picturing the whole trip, until he is back over friendly territory.

Skip to January 1957. He has been offered a book contract by a famous American publisher. It is to be a history of love from the early Greeks to the present. He can’t imagine how he is going to research all of that  history. It seems impossible and beyond his capabilities. He remembers the lesson of the cliff: If he only looks at one step at a time, he can do it. He concentrates on reading about love among the Greeks and writes the first chapter. It takes him two and a half years, but eventually the book is complete and published a few months later.

It is June 1963 and his marriage is breaking apart. He has to move out and get an apartment. He can’t imagine how he is going to tell his young son. He doesn’t know how he and his wife are going to divide their possessions. In September, after taking many individual steps, he moves into a new apartment and begins to learn the skills he needs to function as a single man.

Here is a quote from the final paragraph: “I have realized time and again, that, having looked at a far and frightening prospect and been dismayed, I can cope with it after all by remembering the simple lesson I learned long ago on the face of a small cliff. I remind myself to look not at the rocks far below but at the first small step and, having taken it, to take the next one, until I have gotten to where I wanted to be. Then I can look back amazed and proud, at the distance I have come.”

It is a simple, practical lesson. When you are faced with a project or task that appears overwhelming, decide what the first step is and take it. If you can break the problem down into a series of steps you need to complete to accomplish your goal, do it. But then, only focus on the step that you need to take next. When that step is taken, focus on the next one. Eventually, you will arrive at your destination.

“Lesson Of The Cliff”, along with 30 other stories, was reprinted in 2002 by Reader’s Digest in a book called “The Spirit of Courage.

You’ll See It When You Believe It

In 1989 I was laid off from a job working for Purolator Courier. I delivered packages like a UPS or Fed Ex driver. I then went to work for a small local courier service as a contractor. That was a really crummy job with no benefits and lousy pay. After a few months of that, I decided that if I am going to do this, I should work for myself. I just didn’t know what else to do. So, I started my own business, Voyager Express Courier. I worked at that for about 4 years and struggled along. In the course of running the business I used to go to my brother Howard’s house to use his computer. I had a typewriter at home and was familiar with that, but I wanted to create a customized letter that I could use to market my business. My brother had WordPerfect on his computer and a big, noisy dot-matrix printer. I remember having to yell to him whenever I had to print, “what’s that print key?” If I remember correctly it is shift + F7. I laugh about it now, but I suppose I should have written it down. It was really great to be able to backspace over mistakes instead of using white out, correcting tape or just ripping the paper out of the typewriter and starting with a fresh sheet. I finally broke down and bought a computer at the Trenton Computer Festival. It was held at Mercer County Community College. My brother Howard and my friend Carl helped me pick it out. It was a x286 with a 40MB hard drive and 1MB of ram. I couldn’t wait to get it home and have Carl hook it up for me. The operating system was DOS 5.0, I think, at the time. I didn’t have Microsoft Windows. It was all text based. I got a copy of WordPerfect since that was the only program I knew anything about. I still remember getting the modem to work for the first time, late one night. It was 2400 baud. Listening to the crashing, squealing sound of the modem negotiating with the other modem for the first time was awesome. I used to stay up until 2 o’clock in the morning playing with that computer. I became more interested in the computer than in the courier business.

You\'ll See It When You Believe It

Sometime in 1993, I picked up a book by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer called, “You’ll See It When You Believe It, The Way to Your Personal Transformation.” I don’t remember exactly how or why I picked up the book, but I did remember him for writing “Your Erroneous Zones.” The book is worth buying and reading for the introduction alone. I highly recommend it. It changed my life and, to this day, I consider it the 2nd most important book I ever read. I still have my copy and it is highlighted through out and the pages are yellowed with age. I used to keep extra copies in my house and car and give them away to people. I was sitting at my home office desk one night reading chapter four on “Abundance” when I read the following 3 sentences
starting on page 130:

“Imagine what gives you the most pleasure and makes you feel purposeful. What is it that when you finish doing it, you feel immeasurably fulfilled, and while you are doing it, time just seems to be nonexistent? Invite that into your consciousness, and then proceed  to follow your bliss.”

I immediately turned to my right and looked at the computer equipment sitting on the desk a few feet away. I thought to myself, maybe I can make a living doing something with the computer. I loved playing around with that thing and I stayed up all hours of the night, completely forgetting what time it was. It was an amazing moment and it was right in front of me the whole time.

I started to investigate the different types of jobs or things you could do with a computer. The BASIC software program came with DOS at the time so I bought a book for $20 and experimented on my own for a month . I couldn’t see myself sitting at a desk all day typing on a computer so I looked for something else. I discovered in a computer magazine that computer networking for business was in its infancy and Novell Netware was the biggest network operating system. Microsoft Windows crushed it later, but in 1994 Novell was the king of the hill. There were “boot camps” to teach you how to become a Novell CNE. It was basically a crash course to teach you how to pass 6 or 7 exams to get your certification. The courses were run by independent businesses. For $2000 or so they would cram you with information over a 6 or 8 week period. I found a school that I wanted to attend and offered my business for sale to an another courier service that wanted to expand. I had a major account that they were interested in and a few smaller ones. I made enough on the sale to pay for my school and a little extra. My friend Carl enrolled with me. He had much more PC experience than I did, but he was new to networking too. We drove to the classes together and quizzed each other before the exams. The school was located in Somerset, NJ. We drove back roads as much as we could. There was a farm along one of the roads and it had a fake cow, about 3 times the size of a real cow, on a trailer sitting in a field. Everyday when we drove by we wondered what that was all about. One day we finally stopped and drove into the farm. The guy who ran the place explained that it used to be taken to trade shows and fairs at one time.  I have a picture of it somewhere and I used to take it out and show people. We finally passed our final exam and became Novell Certified Netware Engineers. I started looking for a job. It wasn’t easy. I started working for a small company outside of Princeton, NJ. I drove around with the owner and visited customer sites every day to fix or repair whatever problem they had. I remember he liked to drink a lot at lunch. He was the stereotypical 3 martini lunch guy. It didn’t work out and I was politely let go after about 2 months.

I stumbled across something called the Online Career Center. I can’t remember exactly how I found it, but I was browsing around on my modem. It was an entirely text based web site housed at the University of Minnesota. It has since moved elsewhere. I was searching one day and found an agency listing for a computer job with Bell Atlantic in Pennsylvania. I contacted the agency and they sent me on an interview in Valley Forge, PA. Bell had a big data center there. I thought the interview went very badly. I waited to hear something from the agency, but nothing happened. I called them every two weeks just to check in. By this time I had been out of work for months. I finally called them about 7 weeks after the interview. The woman at the agency said that Bell decided they weren’t going to fill the job. Right. I never heard that one before. I was very disappointed, but I was determined to find work in the computer field. I put on a suit, grabbed a copy of my resume and drove over to a computer store near my house. I can’t even remember the name now, but they were a small chain of stores. I chatted with them a little while and went home. I was sitting at my desk again when the phone rang. It was the woman from the agency saying that she had found me a different job with Bell Atlantic and I could start Monday! It seems that another supervisor from Bell had called the agency about a different job request, totally unrelated to the first job. She told them about me and the first interview. I’m sure I was still fresh in her mind because of our conversation only an hour before. The Bell guy called the original person who interviewed me and that person gave me a favorable rating. At least, I think he did. Why else would they hire me? I’m surprised he remembered the interview at all. Maybe he took notes. I was hired sight unseen for the second job. An hour before, I was crushed and despondent upon hearing that I didn’t get the original job.  An hour later I was ecstatic. I would have taken the job no matter what it paid, but they offered me $45K. I was a contractor and there were no benefits, but that was more money then I had ever made before. Over the next two years I worked for Bell Atlantic in Wayne, Conshohocken and Philadelphia, PA. I also went to Pittsburg, State College, Scranton, Harrisburg and Reading. They were the two best years of my working life. I enjoyed the work I was doing, the people I worked with, made good money and got to travel a little. Things were looking up.

A good friend of mine used to say, “The only way you don’t get what you want is you either give up or die.” I guess the moral of this story is that I didn’t give up. I knew what I wanted and pursued it. Even a failed interview ultimately helped me get what I wanted. Don’t give up. Keep trying.

Image | WordPress Themes