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.


Moving Forward


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:



7 thoughts on “The Art of the Possible

  1. I think it is incredibly important to look upon your job or career as a part of yourself but not all of yourself. We need to rely on others and not to judge character solely on the job we hold. Lucy's story is an inspiration to all of us especially in a market where her father would be an asset to us all because he can provide guidance, support and can bridge a language divide. 


  2. So often in our fast paced lives we are reaching for the next best thing.  We often forget to stop and evaluate the skills and values that we already possess.  It’s important we “stop and smell the roses” or we can easily lose focus and direction, meddling in the fine details.  I often see myself doing this in my work and have to remind myself to look at the “bigger picture.”  As I was reading this story, it came to me that work is not only about getting the job done, but also about the connections we make in life. Ultimately, it was Chris’s friends and family that gave her the strength to build and carry out her business to the end.  Although the media often focuses on those rare situations, such as the Harvard Cupcake Man, I believe success is in the eye of the beholder.


  3. I think this is a very relatable, holistic approach to career related issues.  I completely agree with that feeling that was referenced in the beginning of the entry – stories like those have the potential to make other people anxious and even worrying if their career is the "perfect fit."  I think it's more important to feel like the various things in your life are fitting together in a way that fulfills you, and in a way you can manage.  In the case of Chris, it was admirable for her to go the routes that she did, and her positive attitude seemed to be at the heart of her decisions.  Solely looking at a career for how well it "fits" what a person thinks he/she wants may not be the best approach.  Especially if that means ignoring other life factors.  Thank you for this blog post, I enjoyed reading it.


  4. Every day there are tons of people faced with tough situations.  There are those who have a young family and just got laid off from their job, those who are mourning the death of a loved one who died too soon, those who are faced with terminal illness and those who work two jobs just to keep food on the table. Yet it seems that when faced with a challenge most people rise above and find ways to be optimistic about the hand they were dealt. Sure, it may not be easy, in fact, there are days when it seems impossible, but humans are made to be resilient. 
    It is hard to hear stories about people who gave everything up and "instantly" became very successful in their passion. These stories are broadcast all over the media and can make a person who is feeling down feel even worse. But these stories can also instill hope that one day all their hard work will pay off and they will reap what they sow. 


  5. I thought this was an amazing story and Lucy's story also. Thank you Lucy for sharing that.  I agree that some success stories like the one about the Harvard student aren't uplifting at all. If you went to one of the top universities in the country you are expected to succeed.  I think it's nice to see "normal" people do well. I applaud Chris for never giving up. More people should have that spirit. It's so easy to give up, but bravo to those that don't even when the odds are totally against them, I like the title, it makes you feel like anything is possible.


  6. I agree that the media still tells us that if we follow what we love and stay true to ourselves we will be able to succeed. Some Americans still believe they are able to acheive the "American Dream" of success even though the cycle of life leaves very little chance of upward mobility.  As I read this story I started to notice the push and perseverance of a person I also know, my father. My father left his home country in order to marry my mother.  In his country, he already had a successful business and was earning a lot of money for the age of 24.  When he moved to the states he took a large step backward. First of all, he moved to a country in which he didn't know the language and since cultural diversity was much less present in 1982 than it is currently, he had a very difficult time making social connections.  Considering the actual exchange rate was minimal, his economic success completely diminished.  My father had to search and search for jobs in which he would not be hired for his strong accent.  And now that I reflect on how much he has overcome, by working jobs he would never have dared to work in his home country, I am quite impressed with how his English has become refined and he is also a successful paralegal for an immigration lawyer of which he can speak both Spanish and English.  I think that perseverance and determination is a large part of a success story. Determined to earn whatever money you can until you persevere in your own way.


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