Character is Your Fate

I had the opportunity recently to watch one of my favorite movies, The Emperor’s Club. It was made about fifteen years ago and stars Kevin Kline. I won’t go into the plot here but I highly recommend it. What brings it to mind this morning is one of the opening lines. Mr. Hundert declares that your character is your fate. The moment I heard it; I knew it would be the focus of my next blog.

Think about that statement, “your character is your fate.” It fits well into the message that drives my writing. The idea of integrity comes up often in my books and my favorite definition of integrity is “who you are when nobody’s looking.” The way you choose to live your life, the manner in which you carry yourself, the number of people you lift up will open doors for you that others of more questionable character will even know existed. There is nothing or no one that has more control, more input into your outcome than you. It’s not chance, or fate, or Karma that defines your path. It is you and only you. What month, day and minute you were born is irrelevant. It’s not your environment, your birth order, a Ouija board or a sooth-sayer that determines your future. It is strictly the choices you make, your honor and your persistence that creates opportunities for each of us. Let’s look at each.

Your Choices – A prime factor in the results we encounter in life is the choices we make, knowing that for every behavior, there are consequences. The consequences might not be immediate, but sooner or later they will arrive. I read a book once entitled “You sat on the Burner, You sit with the Blisters.” Those choices you make, in large part, defines your character. I won’t offer a long list of negative choices, what’s important is that you understand that however you live your life, your outcomes will be what you chose, what you deserve.

Persistence – In a speech to The Harrow School, late in 1941, Winston Churchill said; “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never…except to convictions of honor and good sense.” If you know you are on the right path, that you have made sound choices, that you have integrity, never give in to obstacles, to moments of grief or failure, to loss of loved ones or similar heartbreak. My main character in the Shepherd Chronicles, David Hynes said once, “As long as your get-ups exceed your knock-downs by one, you are still in the game.” As an author. I have spoken to many successful writers who share tales of the exorbitant number of rejections of manuscripts that they receive before they finally break through. Had they given up at fifty rejections or a hundred, then millions of readers would have missed out on some great novels. “Persistence makes the impossible possible, the possible likely and the likely definite.”

 Honor – One of the driving messages of my books is that the true measure of a person is not the size of their home, the value of their car or the money in their bank account. The truest measure is the number of people he or she lifts up, the number of people they touch in a positive way.” Through the laws of behaviors and consequences, I believe that those that give back, that take their eyes off themselves, will find that good things will come back to them tenfold. I have no scoreboard or chart to prove that statement, just faith in the way of the world.

So, choose well, carry yourself with integrity and never, never, never give in. Sounds simple doesn’t it. My suggestion is; follow this simple formula and watch the gateway to your path in life swing wide open. Success in life is out there waiting to be had, why not you?

Persistence Wins – Always

During my short time as an author, I have had many conversations with people within the publishing industry. They send along one universal piece of advice. Be persistent. While that is true in all walks of life, it seems to be most prevalent to authors. There is story after story of people becoming best-selling authors but only after receiving rejection after rejection. I have to tried to absorb the advice into every area of my life.

            I suffered through another example this week of persistence. After spending many hours writing, I decided I needed to go for a walk to clear my head. It had been a while since I had walked the Ellicott Creek bike path but this felt like a good day for it. I dressed comfortably for the walk and got down to what shoes to wear. Not wanting to get blisters for the five-mile walk, I selected my Adidas Sambas. They were my indoor soccer shoes and had to be over twenty years old so they were well broken in.

            The plan was to start at the Niagara Falls Blvd end and walk two and a half miles out and then back. I was just short of the turn-around point when I felt an irritation growing on the sole of my right foot. Not wanting a blister, I decided to take a seat on the bench coming up and clear whatever is causing the irritation. I sat down, lifted up my foot and attempted to pull off my shoe. As I did, the sole of the Samba became partially separated from the rest of the shoe. I decided to start heading back a bit early, not knowing how long the shoe would hold out.

            I put the shoe back on and starting walking. To my chagrin, the heal section of the sole started flapping loudly with each step. Yet I persisted. After twenty or thirty steps of flapping, it stopped but it felt worse. I turned around and looked back at the blacktop trail and saw the entire sole of my left Samba laying fifteen feet behind me. I probably made it a hundred or so yards when the remains of my left shoe totally blew up, coming apart at the seams. Yet I persisted. I sat on the next bench and removed both shoes, stuffed my white low-cut socks in my pocket and walked barefoot on the black top.

            Over a mile and a half to go. I said goodbye to my beloved Sambas at the next garbage can, with a moment of silence, and kept walking. After about a half a mile, I realized blisters were no longer an issue but burning my feet was. The black top was unrelenting. I alternated between the grass and the tar but the grass offered images of circling yellowjackets and mini piles of goose droppings along the way. And yet I persisted.

            See writing Gods, I can be persistent. I can do it. I have what it takes to become a best-selling author, right down to the soles of my feet. When my fourth book is done, sometime this month, I will do whatever it takes to get it into the hands of my loyal readers and create new ones. I will persist.

            What about you? When the goal you set stands just out of reach, when the plan you made seems unattainable, what at will you do? Success will not seek you out, will not knock on your life’s door. It may take one more try, one more step, shoe or no shoe, but your victory remains in your hands, right where it’s always been. You chose! Persist!

Do you have a Walter in your life?

Today begins a new series of blogs about the characters from the pages of my trilogy, The Shepherd Chronicles. As the Shepherd, David travels about and engages in several encounters with people who might best be described as lost. It is David’s job to help those people find their way back to their life’s path. Many of these characters know how badly lost they are, others are totally clueless, thinking it’s the rest of the world that is crazy. Walter is one of the latter.

            Walter is one of the few out-of-family characters whose name appears in all three books. In The Promise, we are introduced to the middle-aged perfectionist who is trying desperately to relive his life through the efforts of his son, Terry. Walter was, at best, an average athlete during his high school days and usually rode the bench during most games, scoring only one goal during three soccer seasons, no baskets during two basketball seasons and third doubles in tennis. His athletic abilities never carried him to even trying out for any teams in college.

            Terry, on the other hand, was a natural athlete who succeeded at any sport he tried. Throughout his childhood, Walter pushed and prodded Terry to achieve more and more. Daily practices, summer camps and every league available to kids kept Terry occupied every day of the week, all year round. Terry didn’t perform because of his love of sports, he did so to please his impossible to please father. Becoming a recruited college athlete was more Walter’s dream than Terry’s. He never wanted to disappoint Dad so he worked hard at becoming the athlete of his father’s desire. Winning every game he could win, every award that was available. You see, due to all the manupulation his life incurred, Terry learned to hate sports. His heart simply wasn’t in it. Where Terry truly excelled, the love of his heart, was music. His father called it a waste of time.

            Needless to say, Terry found a way to rebel off the field or the court. He and his father grew farther and farther apart. When Terry tried to win back his father, Walter had no time to listen as he was busy trying to secure a scholarship for his son at his alma mater. Walter had pushed his son to the edge of the cliff, toes dangling over the side, waiting for one more push or for his son to jump all on his own. Mr. Perfectionist was perfectly ruining his son’s life.

            What about you? Do you have a Walter in your life, trying to gain fame vicariously through the skills and efforts of others?

            In the story, David confronted Walter. He was rudely ignored. It wasn’t until David forced Walter to listen to his son’s heart, from his son’s own lips, that it finally sunk in. When faced with the choice of losing his son forever or letting his son live his own life by his own path, that headway was made. Of course, this one event did not totally alter Walter’s perfectionist ways as we come to discover in future chapters, but it did make Walter aware that you can’t lead someone else’s life for them. That each and every one of us is the caretakers of our own path.

            For the perfectionist in your life, don’t be afraid to confront, to share your own heart. The Walter’s of the world don’t get it. They think they are providing happiness, but it usually their own and no one else’s. To those of you with a Walter, lovingly open your heart and tell him the damage he is doing. To you Walters reading this, lighten up!

Let Praise Lead the Way!

Crossroads are not visible close up, not in the moment, or the hour, or the day. Deeply meaningful crossroads may truly be decades in your rear-view mirror before they come into focus. I want to share one of mine that is at least five of those decades in my past.

            I spent many of my summers at Camp Lakeland in Angola, NY. During my youth, I enjoyed sports, playing football, baseball, soccer and more. I was never the first player chosen when teams were picked and sometimes the last, but I still enjoyed participating. That all changed that next summer at camp.

            We were playing softball in an organized game between cabins. I came to bat in the first inning and as I stepped into the batter’s box, I heard the left fielder call out to his teammates. Now, I knew the left fielder from back home, his name was Jeff, but I had never been around him playing sports. He had an impression of me that I wasn’t aware of. He yelled out “Power hitter guys, back up”

            Power hitter? Who me? I was twelve years old and no one ever believed in me like that. I stepped back out of the box. This guy believes in me. Maybe I should believe in me too. I watched the first pitch go over my head. The second pitch was right down the middle and I swung and drove it into left field, over Jeff’s head and the ball rolled all the way to the tree line. Confidence in yourself, in your abilities is like a magic pill. I took that pill at the plate that day and became the hitter Jeff imagined. I hit eleven more home runs that summer.

            The last athletic event of the season was a camp Olympics. I came in second in the 100-yard dash, although I swear, I won. It was a photo finish with no camera. I won the 220 and the 440-yard run and was scheduled to be the anchor runner for the 440-relay, the last event of the day. At that point, my team was tied for first place.

            As the race progressed, my team was falling farther and farther behind the team that, if they won, would win the whole day. By the time I received the baton, I was at least thirty yards behind. I stumbled a bit at the beginning then started to gain speed. The runner ahead of me made a crucial mistake. Instead of running his race, he kept looking over his shoulder to see if I was gaining on him. I was. By the time we hit the last turn, I was right behind him. Once I passed him it was over. It wasn’t even close. The best part was the whole camp was watching this one event and the cheers I got were unlike anything I had ever experienced.

            When I went home after that session, I was truly a whole new person. I had a confidence in my athletic abilities that served to make me more competitive, more capable. I was never the last player chosen again.

            Whatever your role in life, in sports, at work or as a parent, let praise lead the way. Cheer on your teammates, let your coworkers or subordinates no how much you value their efforts and never, never stop telling your children how much you believe in them. Slip them the confidence pill. Be their Jeff.

Another Man’s Skin

Sara Kulwich/New York Times

If you read my last blog, you are aware I went to New York City to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway. It was an exciting moment. The production did not disappoint. That’s not to say that it followed the script and the characters step by step, but it did take a 1930’s era story and raise it up to the conscience of a 2019 audience. The play produced 57 years after the release of the award-winning movie, introduced a new character and a new dressing for an old argument.

First, the new character, Link Deas. He appeared in the novel but not the movie. He was Tom Robinson’s employer that explained how Tom lost the function of his arm. Link was identified as the town drunk who always went around with a bottle wrapped in a paper bag with two straws. He later crosses paths with Jem and Scout and offers up his enlightened opinion of the people of Maycomb and how he has managed to keep most of them away from him for many a year.

Second comes the argument. Atticus Finch, played masterfully by Jeff Daniels tries to teach his children, just as Gregory Peck did in the film, that you shouldn’t judge a man until you have walked around awhile in his skin. In the play, it causes Scout to ponder while bringing Jem to argue. He struggled to accept the notion that a man as mean and evil as Bob Ewell could have a redeeming nature. Jem said why would he want to walk around in the skin of a man that doesn’t spend much time there himself. Atticus points out the Mr. Ewell recently lost his job and that doing so has put the rest of his life as he knows it in jeopardy.

The new dressing was a statement Atticus makes during the argument. He says that when a man joins a group or a mob, he ceases to be himself, gaining his anonymity, no longer an individual and no longer responsible for the rantings of the mob. The opinions of the group are that of the group and not necessarily the opinion of each individual of the group. That statement stayed with me during the rest of the first act and well into the intermission.

I have purposely avoided political debate in my postings and blogs. I have not felt comfortable bringing those sides into my feelings about leading a better life and lifting up our fellow man. However, like Jem, I have a problem with this discussion. In the anger and the disunion shown in this world, I am not comfortable giving someone a pass for hanging with extremists and bowing out of the venom by saying it was the group’s opinion not mine. That simply doesn’t work.  If you run with a mob, chant their slogans, carry their torches, whether you agree with every plank of their platform, your support lifts up the anger of the group and paints all members of the mob with the same brush, no matter what you whisper in private.

Yes, I believe in lifting each other up, being positive support but not at the expense of my integrity. I will not allow myself to sink into a pit just to keep another man company. I would rather help him to find a way out of that pit. The racism portrayed in this 1930 story has not washed away in time. For me, after spending the last five days walking the streets of New York, streets that carry people of all color, people from every country of the world, streets where English is a minority language, I never felt out of place, never felt like my place in this country has been taken over by others nor did I feel that any one person I saw didn’t have every right to walk the same sidewalk that I did. That is America, just as it has always been, a collection of people with the same dream and the same right to live that dream, no matter what brought them here.

Be an Atticus!

On this Thursday evening, at 7pm, I will be sitting in row 12 of the orchestra section of the old Shubert Theater in New York City, waiting for the curtain to rise on the most recent production of To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Jeff Daniels. My love of this play is not a recent development in my life. I saw the 1962 film that won an Oscar for Gregory Peck more times than I could count. The same play was the final production ever at Studio Arena Theater and I was there with my kids. I had tickets for the production at Kavinoky Theater last year until it was cancelled in a legal battle. Needless to say, I am a lifelong fan of this production. The question is why.

I watched the movie again last month to help find the answer. The character of Atticus Finch turned out to be the reason. He is, at least for me, the most admired character books or movies has offered. He was a man of honor, integrity and decency. He was a humble man that didn’t brag about his abilities, his intelligence or his skills with a weapon. Most of all, he was a father dedicated to his two children. He listened intently to his children and answered honestly to any question they asked, never shirking in his responsibility to educate them. His commitment to defend Tom Robinson and defend his family as well showed his empathy as did his understanding for his beleaguered neighbor, Boo Radley. It showed Atticus to be a human being to be respected. For me though, it was his fatherhood that touched my heart.

I must have been around twelve years old when I saw the film the first time. If I had to describe my relationship with my father then, I would call it distant. He worked fourteen hours a day and nine hours on Saturday. His evenings were dedicated to his social world and his Sundays to his yard or visiting his family in Rochester. Way, way, way down the list was the emotional needs of his two sons. The only time he took a big interest was when he came home as the disciplinarian and got out the belt to whip us into acknowledging the errors of our ways. He had a hard time connecting to the needs of his adolescent boys or even when they become teenagers.

So, I deeply admired Atticus Finch as a man I wanted as a father, and I envied Scout and Jem for the father that always had their back and not just as a target for a whipping. Atticus would read to them each night and always listen to their questions. As a single father, he played the roles of both father and mother with ease.

Atticus was simply the man I tried to be when I became a father. I read to my children every night I was home and sang them a lullaby when the lights went out. I attended every event I could, from baseball and softball games to concerts and musicals. I answered their questions honestly even when it was painful and many times it was. I never rose to be an Atticus Finch copy but I can say I never stopped trying to reach that level.

Fathers, take note. The image you are to your children is real and long lasting. Children know best of all what they want and need in a parent. If they don’t find it at home, they will look elsewhere, sometimes with disastrous results. In all things, in every way, put family first. Be the role model for your children to follow, to emulate. Be an Atticus!

Overcoming Disney

First let me explain that the title may be a bit confusing. I am not saying that we have to overcome Disney, I am pointing out that the Disney stories we grew up with, taught us that living our lives requires us to be able to overcome difficult, sometimes heart-breaking situations.

            I was in a conversation with a loved one about the difficulties in our lives. She came to a point where she said, “Life can’t be all like Disney characters.”

            I replied, “But Disney characters are all about living and coming back from difficult moments.” Think about it. Go back to your earliest Disney experiences. Bambi loses his mother and yet comes back to be the prince of the forest. Simba loses his father and has to battle Scar to regain his father’s kingdom. Cinderella is living a life at the control of her stepmother and evil step sisters, on her knees scrubbing floors well before she dances with a prince. Then there is Sleeping Beauty where she takes a bite from an apple and goes into a coma, cared for by 7 little people until she is kissed by another prince. And talking about the dwarves, how would your life be if you had to go through life named Grumpy or Dopey? How about going through life with the name Goofy or Dumbo. Now Dumbo, besides the name issues, is made fun of because of his ears only to overcome the ridicule by learning how to fly with those same ears.

            We all saw comic books with Donald Duck raising his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. Well what ever happened to their mother? How did Daisey Duck fit in to all this family controversy. Let’s not forget The Beast in Beauty and the Beast. He was put under a spell where he was to remain an ugly beast until loved by the beautiful Belle. How about the poor apprentice Mickey Mouse being abused by the sorcerer in Fantasia? Aladdin, Shrek, Peter Pan vs. Captain Hook, 101 Dalmatians, the mermaid battling with her self-image. Even the feature length movies of our youth showed us the need to deal with difficulties. Old Yeller dies in his movie, Toby Tyler runs off to the circus, three animals are lost and find their way back in Homeward Bound.

            The writers and artists at Disney never offered up a rosy world. Instead they fed us story after story of the importance of never giving up, of overcoming any obstacle that happened to cross our path. For that, we should be eternally grateful. I don’t suggest we wait around for a princess or prince to save us or for a glass slipper to fall our way. Disney’s solutions might not always be available to us in that way. What I am suggesting is that we have been surrounded throughout our youth, of stories that remind us to never give up, to fight for what you believe in, to take on all enemies, slay every dragon until your path is clear again.

            I can assure you, if my life is any example, that the Captain Hooks, Cruwella DeVils, and Ursellas of the world may be waiting for you around every corner. Just know that they have been famously overcome in the past and will be overcome by you if you never give up. As David, the main character in my books The Shepherd Chronicles, once wisely said, “As long as you’re get ups exceed you knock downs by one, you are still in the game.”

Finding your path!

Much of what I write about in my blogs does not depend on theory or fantasy. In fact, my perspective comes from my experiences and observations. I have been working full time for over 40 years and every stretch of my career has deeply involved working with others. As an observer of life, as someone that has worked on his listening skills, I have listened and interacted with people at the worst and best times of their lives. If you pay attention, you find the commonalities between people that have succeeded in life as well as those that have struggled through difficult seas.

My beliefs on what guides people to their path in life have come from those observations. Those that know me the best, from my friends to my kids, will tell you that my battles in life have been many, deep and painful. Certainly, enough to derail a person in the worst of ways. Someone asked me recently what in my life am I most proud of? My answer, that I have survived, that I am still standing. Lesser men have allowed the freight trains that run through a man’s life to take them out, to drive them to the bottom of a bottle or the point of a needle. I have always seen my most important role in life to be that of a parent and I would not allow my misfortunes to allow me be anything other than an example for them. Each time I have been knocked down, I have managed to get back on my feet. I have sailed rough seas and have always returned to the docks. Nothing stops you from doing the same.

I have tried to live by the adage that people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. In my interactions with others, I have always tried to constructively listen to their words as well as the emotions behind those words. If there is a way I could help, I did. Leaders without followers are just out for a walk and people won’t follow someone into battle that won’s stand up for them, lead them proudly. So I have always tried to lift others up at their level of need not mine.

I have also learned that belief is useless without action. I can’t say I have never procrastinated, I have and more than I should. I do, however know the feeling of pride one carries when acting on faith, pursuing a direction that no one expects and succeeding at that task. One can’t win a race they don’t enter. Taking that first step for me has always been the simple encouragement that led to the second step. The fastest way to get me involved is to tell me it can’t be done. You gotta love the challenge!

Finally, anything I do, any event that carries my name, reflects on who I am. I don’t do shabby. In writing my books, I hang on every word. We edited and re-edited my last book five times. I take pride in my home, my projects. My kids know the term, pursue excellence, as well as their own name. They have heard it often. No matter what your job, no matter how small the task, attack it with pride as if thing that carries your name was going to hang in the Louvre, as if was going to lead the Thanksgiving parade. Excellence knows no replacement.

Crossroad or Dead End

Indecision. Hesitation. Have you ever wondered what happens during the time that expires while you wait to act, to decide? Do the conditions change or the options lessen?

I am a big believer in the magic of a crossroad, the ones we encounter on an almost daily basis. A crossroad is a moment in time tied to a location where it’s impact can totally alter your path and the direction of your life. How do I know? I know because I experienced my moment over 38 years ago. Its existence is obvious to me now but was just a blip in time when it happened. At that moment, in real time, I had no idea that my actions would change everything.

Most people, in fact, almost all people side step or climb over their crossroad, not just once but many, many times. We negotiate them away, make excuses that delay our action. “I don’t have time today. My plate is full.” Or, “Maybe next week or next month or next year when life gets easier.” The funny thing about life is that it probably will never get any easier and the same excuse will surface again and again. Here is the absolute truth, your crossroad will become a dead end unless you act, unless you step out on nothing more that faith, a knowledge that your action is required with no proof, just a mysterious sense that “I need to do this!”

Opportunity does knock, just not on locked doors and closed hearts. Let’s say you get a job offer from a company you have been following for a while and applied to often. It’s exactly the job you crave, but you are dismayed to find out the location is in Birmingham, Alabama. You know nothing about the city nor know anyone that has ever been there. You only have 24 hours to make a decision. The prospect or leaving family and friends causes you extreme angst. The fear of moving to a strange land causes you to pause, just long enough to let the opportunity drift away to another applicant. What you didn’t know, couldn’t know by your choice, was that the manager of the Birmingham office is solidly connected within the company and has moved several qualified candidates though the company to the office of their choice, including your home town. In fact, the last three big promotions went to candidates that got their starts in Alabama.

While it’s true my crossroads occurred 38 years ago, I didn’t recognize it as such until seven or eight years ago. The vision of a crossroad doesn’t always come clear until many years later, until you can recognize its impact on your life.

Yes, one of the main rules in life is “belief without action guarantees defeat.” What brought my crossroad into reality was my decision to act on my opportunity, to step out and reach up above my station, beyond my plan, beyond my comfort level. I can’t even imagine what my life would have been had I not acted.

What about you? Unlock your door, open your heart, imagine all the possibilities that adorn your life’s path and when the gateway to your future swings wide open, run, don’t walk to your destiny. Like lightening, this chance may not strike twice.

Where is that magic wand?

The major theme that drove the second book of The Shepherd Chronicles was discovering your path in life. Once found, understanding what it takes to walk it, to grow with it and to stay connected to it at all costs. David, as the shepherd was given the chore to bring the lost back to their path. In this book, The Rules, He encounters a major challenge of his own. The choice he faces may bring his journey to an end and in doing so, alter his life forever.

            With the help of his mysterious messenger and a family that stood by him, David fights through his crisis by falling back on the Rules of Life, taught to him by his father though out his childhood. These are the rules that David shares with his followers and the ones I will share with you here. Listen carefully.

            The first rule is “We don’t learn to sail on calm seas.” It’s only through the trials and tribulations of life that we discover our strength and learn to overcome our obstacles, how to get up off the ground when knocked down. As David said, “As long as your get ups exceed your knock downs by one, you are still in the game.

            The next rule is the major theme of the trilogy. It says, “The true measure of a person is not found in the size of his or her home or in their riches, it is counted by the number of people you lift up in a positive way.” It means taking your eyes off of yourself and placing them on those around you, reaching out to the person next to you, easing their pain. Yes, one person can make a difference and for each person you reach out to, your path becomes more defined, more enriched.

            The third rule says that “Belief without action guarantees defeat.” You may believe you are the best candidate for a job, but if you don’t apply for the job your belief is empty. You may believe you and your date would make a perfect marriage, but if you don’t propose, you will never know. Opportunity doesn’t knock on locked doors or closed hearts. Ignoring the crossroads in your life is a guarantee to convert them it into dead ends. Yes, you may fail but if you do, see Rule 1. You can’t win a race you don’t run.

            Finally, Rule 4, “Pursue Excellence, for nothing else is worth your time.” Once you decide to take action, do your best, try your hardest and give it all you have because any less will bring you disappointment. It’s all about habits. Taking short cuts sets you up for failure and lays out a pattern you are sure to follow. Let your habits bring you success. Let your habits be the building blocks to your future, the pavement to the path you seek.

            Each rule can have an impact on your life and bring you short term success. To find that “pot of gold” you seek, it takes a commitment to all four rules. As with all things in life, it’s up to you. Happiness, success as you define it, does not happen by accident. It does not just appear one morning next to your orange juice. It arrives through your perseverance, your generosity, your action and your excellence. It is your choice so choose wisely. Your magic wand is you!


© Copyright 2017 Gary Friedman Books