Life wants you to succeed… do you?


I have some bad news for you.

You’re not going to be President of the United States.

I know… I know… quite a shock.

The thing is… well… let’s do some math.

In about ten years, the United States is going to celebrate two hundred and fifty years of existence. (Nice. Happy Birthday, America! Congratulations on the vast majority of your accomplishments.)

Over that time, unless we have a wave of resignations, we still will not have had fifty people serve as President of the United States. Even if we stretch the math, we have two hundred and fifty years, divided by fifty presidents… about five years per president.

And taking a bit more from that math, we can expect that over fifty years, ten people will have been in the office. You can’t run until after your thirtieth birthday. And you almost without question definitely won’t be elected after you turn eighty.

So… we have created a fairly decent fifty-year window of opportunity for ten people. Are you one of the ten?

I suppose you probably could be. It’s not absolutely impossible. But the reality is, more people are going to win Powerball jackpots, and no, you won’t be president.

Funny question: Do you want to be president?

I would love to be a professional singer. Unfortunately, I can’t sing. And that makes it a difficult career goal. (Not impossible. Just difficult.)

I certainly do believe that some people, more than others, can view becoming president as a fair and possible career objective. For most of us though… even with the math offering limited opportunities… no.

My guess though, is that the days are gone… I do believe… when a lot of kids actually want to be president.

When I was in elementary school, we got the positive version of “Flowers are red” (Harry Chapin classic… find… listen to it… love it… and pay attention to the message it contains.). We were told that when we grew up, we could be president. It was a time when boys dreamed of being firefighters and baseball players. Eventually a bad coach and the inability to hit a curveball derailed my baseball ambitions.

But the real lesson here is that I don’t know if it matters what the realities are of the job description. Instead, it rests with the definition you place upon success.

Do you have to be a millionaire? Do you have to own a home? Do you have to graduate from college?

I think we can all think of a few people that we would consider successful, influential, and of significant importance that didn’t make millions… didn’t have a home… didn’t get a college degree.

Instead, the question becomes one of character. When you challenged yourself, did you take on the challenge? Did you accept it and make an attempt? I’m not even going to judge success based on wins and losses. I’m going to allow for decisions based on effort.

Vince Lombardi I believe – and I’m paraphrasing – once said that winning is getting up one more time than you get knocked down.

Don’t start playing with numbers and counting knockdowns and standups. I like the thought. If you get told no two times, the third attempt may be your yes. And it adds up from there. If your book is rejected ten times… twenty times… four hundred times… did you send it back out an eleventh… twenty-first… four hundred and first time?

When it comes to rejection, I can tell you all about it. I’ve had plenty of query letters, interview requests, book proposals and manuscripts returned. Some were sent back in brutal form.

But I try to learn from these rejections. When I get a no sent to me, I reread the material involved. Was it because they didn’t have time to interview with me? (Meaning absolutely nothing I did.) Or… could I have offered a more convenient way to conduct the interview… did I make some glaring mistake like misspelling their name or having incorrect information in my request… was there something I did?

When you send a sloppy cover letter to someone, they have the right to assume you are sloppy. Would you hire someone to be an editor that didn’t fact check your name properly and went on to incorrectly spelled the company name when writing to you? Of course not.

But if you learn from your mistakes, get back on your feet, and try again, I would contend that even the losses can count as successes. (Or at least contribute to some.)

Where we end up as a result is a place where success isn’t measured by the beliefs and opinions of everyone else. I don’t care whether or not you feel like going to your high school reunion. In fact… Harry Chapin time…

In one interview clip I heard with Harry, he was asked about something and he answered in good tired and bad tired. The idea of bad tired was working all day for someone else… accomplishing their goals and targets. Good tired was when you worked for something you believed in, and I would allow for that to even be working hard to provide for yourself and your family. Good tired allowed you to wrap up each day satisfied that you had given everything you had to it… and sleep a peaceful and deserved sleep.

I like that concept.

How many times have you tossed and turned at night, worried about something or other? Probably plenty of times. And more often than not, probably because of something you needed to do, didn’t do, or had to get done for someone else.

Back to being president.

I hope you’re smart enough that you don’t want to be president. There are plenty of ways to change the world and be a positive trendsetter or contributor to your local neighborhood or even around the world. You don’t have to be president to make a difference… and a good difference at that.

My first job was in the housekeeping department of a hospital. I’m hoping that, without description, you can imagine how wonderful working in housekeeping at a hospital can be. I even had a bonus… mom worked there as a nurse. And everyone knew my mom. So there was little room for goofing off. I didn’t want to embarrass my mother.


The people I worked with, and by that I’m specifically talking about the full time co-workers in housekeeping that had been there for years before I arrived and would be there long after I left, were some of the most honest and wonderful people I’ve ever met. There was a realistic nature to them that is hard to define, and thus hard to explain. I suppose the best way of attempting it would be to say there were no illusions for them. They had their list of jobs to finish every day, and at the end of the night they would know whether or not they had finished them. They had their challenges everyday… it was a hospital after all, so the plan changed all of the time with a new spill or job to get done, often to get done at that very moment… and yet they made it to the end eight hours later.

But there was no grand reward involved. The job didn’t pay thousands of dollars each week. What it did was put food on the table and pay the bills. I think back of many of those people and I remember them as successes. I certainly learned from them.

Do we need to share stories about the teachers and coaches and other influences in your neighborhood?

When I was in high school I had decided to go to Syracuse University. My chemistry teacher at the time mentioned to me that the State University of New York had a campus right next to Syracuse University… literally right next to Syracuse University… and that they had a tremendous forestry program. In my yearbook he even noted that I was destined to get into forestry.

I haven’t. But one of my best friends was attending SUNY Upstate when I met him, and I can recall spending significant amounts of time in the buildings that made up their campus.

That teacher got excited for his students. He appreciated their efforts and that they were moving forward. I would consider him a success.

Another teacher laughed when he saw something I had written that made fun of the shortcomings of a certain department at the school that I won’t mention here. The song lyrics I wrote were to the beat of “Money for Nothing” (which was at its highest success at the time), and a wonderfully funny parody it was. I can still recall many of the lyrics I wrote for it… in four-part harmony, chorus and background vocals included. He told me to be careful about putting things in writing, but encouraged the pursuit of creative endeavors. It was refreshing.

Significantly more refreshing than a history teacher that was so self-absorbed and annoying he couldn’t handle laughter at his expense.

One day he was in front of our class and asked us what we’d do with a million dollars. The answers you can already guess… buy a house… buy a car… invest and retire. And he shot them all down. He told us we lacked vision. He said he would donate it to school and have a building created in his name.

“Imagine it at Duke University, Smith Hall…” and his stared off to the distance, arms stretched out in an amazing feat of overacting.

(His name wasn’t Smith. I’ll let you decided on the accuracy of the Duke part. For the sake of our story, he went to Duke. Jokes about people that have attended Duke and what might be in the water around the campus aside… anyway… I couldn’t bite my tongue…)

“There goes Duke” I responded.

The class roared.

I was sent to see the principal. (The principal is your pal… remember that when you’re spelling it.)

That was ok. I deserved it. I was disrespectful, and I got it. I apologized.

But he was… and maybe still is… an asshole of the highest order. (Pardon the language. And, as a disclaimer to any legal representation, that is my opinion and not something I can factually prove, despite how my story continues…)

A week after the incident and the apology, I went to my guidance counselor to discuss how I felt he was singling me out and picking on me. Yeah… because, of course… the counselor didn’t believe me.

Two weeks after the events, my parents called the school because I was worried about it and having troubles. They were assured by my guidance counselor that I was imagining things.

About three weeks after that, we took out midterm exams. The asshole… sorry… the teacher gave it the exam in two parts. A multiple choice test and an essay. Each would count equally toward the full grade.


I got 96 on the multiple choice part. (Pretty good, right?)

I got a 33 on the essay.

I’ll pause for a second while you consider that, and then we can circle around and return to it.

Ready? Ok…

On a midterm history exam, essay format, the teacher had determined that my grade was a 33.

Now I would imagine your first two responses, in order, would go like this: (1) Wow, that must have been one bad essay to score a 33. (2) Umm… hold on… a 33 on an essay? A history essay? How does anyone grade any essay, and more specifically one on historical material, numerically as a 33?

Let’s answer your second question.

Do some math. Because it creates quite an interesting result.

33 plus 96 equals 129. 129 divided by two is… well… would you look at that? It equals 64.5. In other words, just failing. I had scored a solid A on the multiple choice, and somehow managed to write an essay covering the same historical material that would earn the exact numerical grade on the essay that would allow my score to be a failing grade.

Amazing coincidence, isn’t it?

I didn’t bring you here to travel down Memory Lane, or even try to sort out some childhood trauma of mine. Instead… I just want you to consider…

Life, in general… as the expression goes… has no horse in the race. Hurdles and challenges and struggles are part of the deal, and some of us will face higher hurdles (and more of them).

The odds of you being successful depend on your definition of success, and not someone else’s. You need to be pleased with the work you do, the accomplishments you have, and the sleep you get at night.

It honestly can be that simple.

I wish I could tell you that you could be President of the United States. My understanding is that it can be a pretty sweet deal and an impressive office to hold. But I can’t.

What I can do is wish you a life that is something you look over with pride. Regardless of where you live, what you do, and how others treated you while you made your journey there. I can wish you a happy and healthy travels ahead. In the end though, you’re the one that is responsible for the path you walk.

Best wishes on your adventure.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at