Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Rest is History

John Grisham has written best selling novels that have published hundreds of millions of copies. Some of his books have even turned into successful movies.

John went to school and became a lawyer and as a young man he was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives.

His true love, was writing. He started getting up early in the morning to write before his workday began.

His first book was a modest flop. He was rejected by the first sixteen book agents and the first thirty publishing houses. Finally, someone published five thousand copies and he purchased one thousand of them. The writing bug had bitten him, so he continued to write.

His second book, "The Firm," was on the "New York Times" best seller list for forty-seven weeks and became a blockbuster movie.

The rest is history.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Price of Success

As a young man Henry Ford had a love for anything mechanical. When the German inventor, Karl Berry, patented the automobile in 1886, Ford rushed to launch his own design. He quit his job with Thomas A. Edison and focused on his high performance twenty-six horse power, two-cylinder engine.

In order to bring his automobile to production, Henry tried several partnerships. None of them worked out well. He launched the Ford Motor Company in 1903. There were more than fifty other car manufacturers in the USA at that time, but none were doing mass production. Ford's innovation was the assembly line. He was out to produce strong, dependable cars at modest prices.

By 1914, Ford had 13,000 workers on his assembly line. The competitors needed 66,350 workers to match him. His Model-T Ford cost $275, where his competitor's vehicles cost more than $1,000.

Determination is the price of success.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Strength, Endurance and Faith

Nelson Mandela was born into a privileged family in South Africa. He earned a law degree, opened his own firm, and was on his way to a life of ease and affluence. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut about the racial injustices of the apartheid government.

Instead, Mandela joined the African National Congress, a political opposition party which demanded equal rights for native Africans. He became a leader.

Because of his involvement, Mandela received a life prison sentence. He was given a thin blanket, an iron bucket for a toilet, and a straw mat to sleep on. His food was meager and he was beaten unmercifully time and time again. His years were spent alternating between solitary confinement and harsh physical labor.

Thirty years after having been unjustly sentenced to prison, the protests of his fellow black South Africans became so loud that he was released. Three years later, in 1993, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. The next year he became the President of South Africa.

It's called strength, endurance and faith.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What is your excuse?

Wilma Rudolph was born two months premature. She weighed only four and one half pounds at birth. Since the local hospital where the family lived did not take black patients, her mother chose to nurse her at home.

Rudolph suffered from an alarming succession of childhood illnesses - measles, mumps, chicken pox, scarlet fever and double pneumonia. Then Wilma's leg began to weaken and become more and more deformed. Her mother boarded a Greyhound bus and took Wilma to a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. The doctors told her mother that Wilma had a disease that had no cure and that Wilma would never be able to walk.

Wilma would prove the doctors wrong. First, she learned to walk with metal leg braces. Then, she learned to run. The braces came off and she kept running.

Wilma Rudolph won a track scholarship to Tennessee State University. In 1960, she traveled to Rome to represent the U.S. in the Olympic Games. She came home with three gold medals and three new world records. She became "the fastest woman in the world."

So what is your excuse?

Friday, January 27, 2012

The wizard of Tuskegee

George Washington Carver was born into slavery near the beginning of the Civil War. While George's mother was sold and sent away, his former owner was able to get him and his brother back. He exchanged a horse for them. The owner raised George and his brother as his own.

After emancipation, Carver tried his luck at various ventures including college and homesteading. He failed at everything he tried.

He tried one last ditch effort at college. He was the first black student at Simpson College in Iowa. He did well this time. He earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree at Iowa State Agricultural College - later known as Iowa State University. They appointed him to the faculty as a professor.

Booker T. Washington then hired George Washington Carver to teach at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and he became the greatest American scientist in the nineteenth century. They called him "the wizard of Tuskegee." He developed three hundred products from the peanut and one hundred eighteen products from the sweet potato.

Not bad for a fellow who started off as a failure.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jimmy Carter

On January 20, 1981, Jimmy Carter left Washington, D.C. for Plains, Georgia. Ronald Reagan had won the Presidential election in November, 1980 and at noon on January 20 he became the President of the United States.

Think about it. One day you are the most powerful person in the world, the next day you are a defeated, humiliated citizen of Plains; a town of some 600 citizens in Southwest Georgia.

Carter was shunned by his Democratic colleagues for a number of years. No one wanted to be seen with him or identified with him.

To make matters worse, his brother, Billy, who had managed his wealth in a blind trust, had lost everything.

What did Carter do? He made furniture, wrote, spoke, and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. Eventually Carter made his way back into the public sphere. In 2002, he won the Noble Peace Prize.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No Failure is Final

Mohandas Gandhi, the founder of modern India, was not always a hero. As a young man he was considered a mediocre student with no discernable talents. He got married at age thirteen to the daughter of a family friend. The marriage got off to a rocky start. His wife found him to be impatient, immature, jealous and controlling.

Gandhi wanted to become a physician, but in college he flunked his science courses. He returned home in disgrace.

Through family connections, Gandhi went to England and managed to become a lawyer. But, his legal career was a failure.

Through another family connection he got a bookkeeping job in South Africa. It was there that Gandhi developed a philosophy of life that changed India and the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. learned the principle of non-violent resistance from Mohandas Gandhi.

No failure is final.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Try Harder

Who is the greatest basketball player to have ever lived? Most people would say it was Michael Jordan.

Did you know that Michael could not make his high school varsity team when he was a sophomore? He was cut in pre-season workouts. He played junior varsity ball.

The defeat hurt him. He went home and cried. He was overwhelmed by feelings of disappointment and embarrassment. He almost quit. Yet his mother counseled him to go out and play J-V ball. She said, "Prove to the coach that he was wrong."

Jordan started working on his game year round, morning and night. The rest is history - high school All-State and All-American, an NCAA National title, twice College All-American, six NBA championships, five Most Valuable Player Awards, twelve All-Star Teams, and two Olympic Gold Medals.

Are you stung by defeat and rejection? Don't quit. Try harder.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno, the legendary head football coach at Penn State University, died yesterday. He won more games than any college football coach in history- 409 games.

Physicians say the wiry man with thick glasses, who dressed characteristically in khaki pants, black sneakers, and a blue windbreaker, died of cancer. But it's not true. He died of a broken heart. Embarrassment related to being fired by the University's Trustees last November, 2011, took away his will to live.

I have no idea whether the Trustees did the right thing. My point is that people can will themselves to speed up the dying process. I have seen it happen over and over.

Jesus willed himself to die early. Both the Roman soldiers and Ponticus Pilate were surprised by Jesus' premature death. Earlier Jesus had said, "No one takes my life, I lay it down."

Make no mistake about it, when we lack the will to live we hurry our death.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most successful Americans to have ever lived. She is an actress, hosts a highly rated television show that bears her name, and has her own best selling magazine. When Oprah speaks everyone listens. When she recommends a product, folks buy it.

Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire. Oprah has had to fight hard for what she has. She was born in a backwater village in rural Mississippi. She fought her way through racism, rejection, sexual molestation, juvenile delinquency, and out of wedlock childbirth.

How did Oprah Winfrey overcome these obstacles? She has said, "Failure is really the Almighty's way of saying, 'Excuse me, you're moving in the wrong direction." In other words, the way out of trouble is to get on the right road - now.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I Believed

On October 1, 1996, Lance Armstrong was one of the most successful professional cyclists in the world. He had won virtually every championship and had just signed a multi-million dollar contract. The next day he was diagnosed with stage four testicular cancer. The lethal cancer had metastasized to his lungs and brain. He had less than a 1% chance of survival.

But, Lance attacked cancer with the same tenacity and resolve that he brought to cycling. He received chemotherapy and then forced his weakened body to endure multi-day mountain races. He believed that his strenuous exercise was pushing away the cancer.

As you know, it worked. Lance's healing defied all odds. He went on to win the Tour de France in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005, when he finally retired.

When Lance Armstrong was asked how he accomplished such an amazing feat, he said, "I believed."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Words to Chew on

Here are some words worth chewing on.

Indira Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, said, "You can't shake hands with a clinched fist."

Vince Lombardi, the famed football coach, observed, "The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field of endeavor."

Psychiatrist Alfred Adler wrote, "It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them."

Henry David Thoreau wrote, "There is no remedy for a broken heart, but to love more."

I like this quote from Babe Ruth, the famed homerun hitter, "Never let the fear of striking out get in the way of taking a good cut at the ball."

Financial advisor Michael Levine said this, "The first rule of money management is knowing what you've got. The second is knowing what you really need."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Arrogance Vs. Humility

The other day I sat beside a man on a plane who was working a crossword puzzle. Normally I would have paid no attention to him, but I noticed that he was doing this puzzle with a ballpoint pen.

Why would a person work a crossword puzzle with a pen making corrections impossible? At first I thought, "That man is confident he knows what he's doing." But, it didn't take long to see that I had overestimated his puzzle skills. He had made some errors and he was finding it difficult to change them.

When you are doing a crossword puzzle you use a pencil with a good eraser.

The same is true with life. It is a mistake to over promise, to make arrogant claims, to brag about your abilities, and to be unforgiving. It is like writing with a ballpoint pen. Humility is like a pencil with an eraser.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two Buddhist Monks

Two Buddhist monks were returning to their monastery on foot late one winter day. It was bitterly cold with blizzard winds and plummeting temperatures. They knew that if they did not get back to the gates of the monastery by sunset, the gates would be closed until sunrise the next day and they would die.

As they hurried along the road they crossed a ravine. Down below they heard the cries of a victim. They knew they did not have time to help another person. If they stopped to help they would die for sure.

One monk stopped to help anyway. He picked the victim up, loaded him on his back, and started down the path. Just as the two men were about to arrive at the gate, they tripped over something in the road. It was the frozen body of the first monk. The second monk recognized that it was the warmth of the man he had been carrying that had saved his own life.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


We put all sorts of artificial limits on ourselves that are based more in cultural assumption than in truth.

What if the Wright brothers had listened to the people who said, "If God had intended people to fly, He would have given us wings?" These two men, who ran a bicycle shop, defied the conventional wisdom and today the air is filled with people.

I remember in 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite. They had such a head start that everyone assumed Russia would dominate outer space from then on. Three years later President John F. Kennedy, here at Rice University, challenged America to put a human being on the moon by the end of the decade. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped off the Eagle Lander on to the moon: "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind," he said.

Never accept the limits others put on you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Being Alone

In our busy, crowded and loud world, it is increasingly difficult for us to be alone.

Being alone does not mean being lonely. It is choosing to set ourselves off from the external, superficial noises of life and seeking instead the quiet strength which is found best in solitude.

You don't have to be a monk or a mystic to spend time alone. It can be as simple as a cup of coffee in the backyard at dawn, a neighborhood walk alone at dusk, or an idle lunch hour or a park bench. None of us is too busy for moments like these, and solitude gives us rich rewards. It restores our perspective and sanity.

Most of us fear being alone because we think the demons of memory will rise from the bottom of our guts to haunt us. We fear our aloneness will be more punishment than pleasure. Don't be afraid to be alone. Solitude will give you serenity.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Life Goes On

When he was celebrating his eightieth birthday, Robert Frost, America's most distinguished twentieth century poet, was asked a question, "In all your years, what do you think is the most important thing you have learned about life?" Mr. Frost paused a moment, then with a twinkle sparkling from under his bushy eyebrows he answered, "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life, It goes on."

We live in a world that is filled with some pretty ugly things - war, injustice, racism, poverty, and crooked politics. If you listen to the news regularly, you're likely to become tempted to say, "This is it. The end is now."

But hear me - Robert Frost was right. Life goes on.

I know there are things that worry you, that cause you fear. These bad things that make up life are real, but never forget the words of Robert Frost: Life goes on.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Have you ever known a person who was considered a genius?

I think most of us have the wrong idea about what being a genius means. Mostly what we call "genius" is just hard work.

Listen to this collection of quotes about genius.

Michelangelo said, "If people know how hard I work to get my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful to them."

Thomas Carlyle observed, "Genius is the capacity for taking infinite pain."

Alexander Hamilton recorded these words, "All of the genius I have is merely the fruit of labor."

Now and then I have people say that they would do this or that if they had the talent. Yet I have never heard a person classified as a genius speak of talent - only of hard work.

So, if there is something you've always wanted to do, but haven't done it, don't blame it on lack of talent or genius. Just get with it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Color the World

I enjoy people who are artistic. People who are able to produce works of art through painting, sculpture, and music inspire me.

But, there is another form of artistry which is just as meaningful. I am referring to people like Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa - not artists in the traditional sense, but persons who through the nobility of their lives, color the world around them.

I know people whose lives are a work of art. Wherever they go they radiate light. They enter a dark room, a sickroom, room where loneliness or hopelessness hangs like a pall, and almost immediately there is light and hope.

Most of us will never be artists or musicians. But, we can live lives that color the world around us for good.