Tuesday, June 24, 2014

It’s All Greek to Me

This week, I’m traveling through the beautiful country of Greece with my family and some close friends.  We are visiting Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini, and I am enjoying seeing historic sites and learning more about Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  I’m also becoming more worldly – for instance, I’ve learned that Greek yogurt is simply called yogurt over here.

The following is a story I came across about a Greek fisherman that I found especially worthwhile and timely for anyone in heated pursuit of their dreams. I hope you enjoy it…

An American business executive was on holiday in a small coastal village in Greece.  As he strolled the docks and took in the seaside beauty, he noticed a local Greek fisherman with a particularly sizeable quantity of fish. 

“That’s quite a catch,” he told the man, genuinely impressed.  “How long did it take you to get all those fish?”

“Not very long,” answered the fisherman, “perhaps an hour or two.”

This puzzled the executive.  “Really?  Then why didn’t you stay out longer to catch more?”

The fisherman shrugged, then answered that his catch was perfectly sufficient to meet the needs of himself and his family.

“But, then what do you do with the rest of your time?” the executive asked.

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a nap with my wife,” the fisherman answered.  “In the evenings, I go to the village to see my friends, dance a little, play the pan flute, and sing songs.  I have a full life.”

“Well, I have an MBA from Harvard, and I’m sure I can help you,” the executive replied. “And I’ll be happy to give you some free business advice that can definitely change your life.  You should start by fishing longer every day.  This way, you’ll catch extra fish that you can sell. Just think about it.  If you double the number of hours you fish, you can catch twice as much in a day.  With the additional money you’ll make from selling the extra fish, you’ll be able to buy a bigger boat.  A bigger boat will let you bring on a crew and fish deeper waters, which will earn you even more money as you continue to catch more fish.

With that additional money you’ll earn, you can buy a second boat, and then repeat that till you can buy a third boat, and so on until you have an entire fleet of fishing trawlers.  Also, instead of selling your fish to a middleman at the market, you’ll be able to start negotiating directly with processing plants.  At some point, maybe you’ll even open your own plant, so you can do your own processing and keep even more money.  You’ll be able to ship fish to markets all over the world.  And eventually, you can move to New York City to direct your vast fishing enterprise from the greatest business city on earth.”

“How long do you think all that would that take?” asked the fisherman.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years from start to finish,” the executive answered.

“And after I achieve all of that, then what?”

“When your business gets really big, you begin offering stock.  You’ll make millions!”

“Millions?  Really?  That’s a lot of money. I can’t even imagine what I would do with it.”

“Well, you’ll be able to retire, live in a small village near the coast, sleep late, play with your grandchildren, catch a few fish, take a nap with your wife, and spend your evenings singing, dancing, and playing the pan flute with your friends…”  The executive stopped, realizing what he had just said.  The fisherman smiled. 

“Hmm.  Well, anyway, that’s quite a catch you have there,” the executive finished.  “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

“Thank you,” the fisherman answered.  “I certainly will.”

Now obviously, this isn’t a story about why you shouldn’t work hard.  It’s simply a reminder that we all need to consider some simple questions about what we do or hope to do with our lives.  Many people focus too much time on what they do for a living instead of on why they do it.  Once you understand the why, then you can organize your life so you don’t have to wait until you retire to truly enjoy what you love.  Start by pursuing what you love, and soon enough, you’ll be loving what you do!

As for me… I’m going back to the beach. 

Until Next Week,

Live Your Dreams!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Music for the Soul

When Stephen and Craig sat down to discuss the murky history of their favorite American musician, a man known simply as Rodriguez, they had no clue as to his birthplace, upbringing, or what had become of him.  He was virtually unknown in the USA, and  according to some rumors was already dead.  Nevertheless, they felt someone should research his past.  After all, in their native South Africa, he was one of the most famous musicians of all time.

During apartheid, censorship in South Africa had resulted in the banning of music with subversive messages.  Even so, the anti-establishment music of Rodriguez, an American singer/songwriter, made its way into the county’s consciousness, and inspired its people to stand up against their tyrannical, ultra-conservative government. 

For decades, Rodriguez’ popularity was an accepted fact, even though almost nothing was known to anyone in the country about his life or death.  Finally, when Stephen and Craig began investigating the mystery, this is the story they discovered…

Rodriguez was born in Detroit, and grew up in a single-parent, working-class household.  His immigrant father exposed his son to music at a young age, playing emotional Mexican folk songs after long days of work.  The songs moved the young boy to tears, and inspired him to learn to play guitar.

By the age of 16, Rodriguez had dropped out of school, and was performing his own music in bars and seedy clubs around the city.  Eventually, he met a man who wanted to sign him to a 60-year recording contract.  He made the deal, confident he would outlive it, and he was right.  After releasing his first single, the small label went out of business.

Echoing his city’s racial tensions and economic frustrations, Rodriguez wrote politically-charged songs that brought the hard streets of Detroit to life.  He often performed with his back to the audience to force them to focus on his lyrics.  At such a show, two local musicians saw him play and were captivated.  With their help, he soon had another record deal, and recorded a folk-rock album that captured his take on the challenges of life.

Music critics loved the album, but it didn’t catch on with radio stations or the general public.  Despite that commercial failure, the label gave Rodriguez another chance.  Armed with something to prove, Rodriguez delivered his second album, another sharp musical rant about the ills of society.  Unfortunately, its sales were also disappointing.  Two weeks before Christmas, Rodriguez was dropped from his contract.

Now 29, Rodriguez had two daughters and was broke.  Putting aside music, he settled into a life of hard labor, working various construction jobs and living modestly in a derelict house he purchased in a government auction for fifty dollars.  Little did he know that, halfway around the world, he was being hailed as a musical genius.

Almost 28 years after the release of the first Rodriguez album, Craig created a website announcing his search for any information about the mysterious singer.  But the last thing he ever expected was to find that Rodriguez was actually alive!

Unbeknownst to Rodriguez, copies of both his albums had made it to South Africa when they were first released.  But there, unlike in the USA, people loved them. They loved his music so much that, for many South Africans, it was the soundtrack of their lives.  With censorship spawning the pressing of thousands of bootleg copies, more than half a million of Rodriguez’ albums had been sold there.  In spite of never seeing any success at home, he was more popular in South Africa than Elvis Presley or The Beatles.

Sixto Rodriguez will be 72 years old this July, and he’s experiencing a career renaissance.  After learning of his South African popularity, he made numerous trips there to perform for tens of thousands of people, dwarfing any show he ever played in Detroit.  Then, last year, a documentary about Rodriguez and his late-in-life popularity on the other side of the world won the Academy Award.  That film, Searching for Sugar Man, generated an explosion of new interest in the musician’s work in the USA as well.  Finally, his albums are selling in his home country, and he’s playing in front of thousands of Americans every year.

Rodriguez plays music not for the money, but for the pure joy he feels in pursuing his passion.  He connects with people because of his honesty and authenticity.  This story reminds me that dreams have no expiration date, and the path to a well-lived life begins with following your inner song.  Find what makes you unique, then share it with the world!

Until Next Week,

Live Your Dreams!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

An Amazing Life

Martin was born in New York City a few days after Christmas.  His parents had emigrated from Romania during one of the worst economic periods in American history.  Martin didn’t have many toys, but he made up for it with a vast imagination.  Riding his bike through the streets of New York, he often pretended it was a spaceship or a knight’s horse.  His mother guided him to start reading at an early age, and his father helped instill a strong work ethic in his son.  Above all, though, they encouraged him to dream.

When Martin was 9 years old, his brother and only sibling Larry was born.  It was then, while his parents were preoccupied with their new infant son, that Martin discovered the magical world of movies.  Going to movies nonstop fueled his creativity and brought to colorful life every swashbuckling tale of adventure and heroism he could think of.  A few years later, he entered a writing contest in one of New York’s largest newspapers, and received an encouraging letter from the editor suggesting that he consider becoming a professional writer when he grew up.  Finally, an outlet for his boundless imagination!

Martin got several writing-related jobs during high school, including writing obituaries for a news service and ad copy for a hospital.  However, he was determined to write his own stories one day, and, after he graduated, he successfully landed a job as an assistant in the new comic book division of a magazine publishing company.

Still in his teens, Martin’s goal was to learn everything he could about how a publishing company worked, even as he handled menial tasks like filling inkwells, erasing pencil marks from finished pages, and getting coffee and lunch for the artists.  Fortunately, the staff was very small, putting him in the right place to take advantage of any opportunities that arose.

Demand for hero comics grew, so the company kept adding titles to their output.  The workload increased, and the creative staff grew increasingly buried.  Finally, unable to meet all the deadlines themselves, they enlisted Martin to help.  He was given the chance to write a two-page story in one of the more popular new titles.  Two issues later, he graduated to writing regular backup features.  Barely out of high school, Martin had become a full-fledged published author.

Things moved forward at an incredible pace.  Less than a year after he was hired, the comic division’s editor, who was also their main writer, left over a dispute with the publisher.  Martin, not yet 19 years old, was cornered by his boss and asked, “Do you think you can hold down the job of editor until I can find a real replacement?”  Martin accepted without hesitation, and was installed as interim editor.  Taking to the job with enthusiasm and vigor, he displayed such a knack for the business as well as the writing duties that his “real replacement” would never be hired.  Eventually, he received an official promotion to editor-in-chief.

A number of years after his promotion, Martin found himself at a crossroads.  Interest in hero-themed comics had dropped dramatically, forcing Martin to focus on writing romance, western, humor, science fiction, and horror comics.  He found the subject matter tedious, and became so dissatisfied with the direction of his career that he considered quitting.  Once again, though, his mind returned to the tales of heroism he’d loved since childhood.  If he was going to leave the industry anyway, he had nothing to lose by writing the stories he wanted to tell.

Stanley Martin Lieber, under his pen name Stan Lee, began writing stories that, for the first time in comic book history, featured complex, well-rounded heroes who were truly human.  They could be grumpy, jealous, vain, and worry about bills and impressing their girlfriends.  The characters he created – including The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The X-Men, and Spider-Man – were so relatable that their popularity was instantaneous and lasting, and helped make the company where Stan had started as a gofer become the best-known and most popular comic book publisher in the world:  Marvel Comics.

Last month, Marvel Comics celebrated its 75th anniversary.  Along with his countless character creations, Stan Lee has held the titles of Head Writer, Art Director, Editor-in-Chief, Publisher, President and Chairman of Marvel Comics.  He has never stopped writing and, now in his nineties, Stan continues to remind us that dreaming big and never giving up on your dream is at the heart of living the life you truly desire!

Until next week... 

Live Your Dreams!