by Tom Melander
I love a good success story. But there’s one type of success story I’m tired of hearing. It’s the story about the really successful person “giving it all up” to become…drum roll, please…a really successful person doing something else. Like the story I saw on Oprah once, where a young Harvard graduate left his highly prized job in New York City to start a business based on his passion for cupcakes. I’m sorry, but I’m neither amazed nor inspired to find out that a Harvard graduate could start a successful bakery.
Stories like this are told to illustrate the popular idea that, if you do what you love, the money will follow. We’re to believe that if we pursue our passions, somehow “the universe” will automatically support us. Well, having tried this myself, I’d like to add this corollary: sometimes the money follows too far behind. I don’t mean to be a wet blanket on anybody’s dream, but I’ve found that sometimes you just have to do the work that’s at hand. And, if you do it with as much care and personal integrity as possible, things might just work out in the end. Doing the work at hand is what I call practicing the art of the possible.
A Success Story for the Rest of Us
With that in mind, here’s a success story a little more down to earth and close to my heart that I want to share. It’s an example of how even in very tough circumstances opportunities still exist.
It’s about a housewife whose husband left her in the mid-70s while she was pregnant with their third child. With brave resolve, she moved forward. She was on public assistance for a time. While her kids were still small, she ran a day care in her home and took care of other neighborhood children. When all of her children were finally in grade school, she went back to school herself to become a paralegal. From there, her professional success really took off. She went on to become a successful entrepreneur by starting a title company with an attorney she had worked for.
Values + Resilience Lead to Success
Though she enjoyed her work, the key to her success was not her passion for child care or law. Rather, these jobs were simply tools she used to express deeper values of helping, caring, and providing for the needs of others. By expressing these values from her personal life, I believe, she fueled her professional success. So in addition to providing a comfortable living for herself, she raised three amazing adults. She made peace with her former husband and formed a professional (and personal) relationship with his wife. And with her title company, she provided employment for many friends and family when they needed it the most. This last group included me when it became apparent that my career as a singer-actor wasn’t going to feed my kids.
While her values fueled her success, it was her resilience that enabled her to practice that art of the possible by finding the opportunities in her circumstances. In an article entitled The Road to Resilience, the American Psychological Association defines resilience as“…the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.” Notice that resilience is a process, not a trait. Anyone can learn the thoughts, behaviors, and actions that increase resiliency.
While I was under her employment in 2007, Chris, the heroine of our story, was diagnosed with a neurological disorder. As her physical abilities rapidly declined, once again with brave resolve she moved forward and tended to the work at hand: she sold her business, her home, and her belongings. And once again, her values and resiliency gave her both the direction and will to live her remaining days in company of the friends and family she cared so much for. True to herself till the end, her last words to her youngest sister were, “forward, forward, forward.”
For additional information on cultivating resiliency look to these resources from the American Psychological Association: