I just read a book you will love. It has 35 short chapters written by some of the most successful public people over the past few decades—in sports, journalism, politics, and many other walks of life. The book is What Made me Who I Am, and is brought to us by Bernie Swain, a co-founder of the famous Washington Speakers Bureau. The book starts with Bernie’s own story of overcoming all odds and creating a mammoth enterprise that has benefitted millions of people, and yet started out in the cramped space of an office supply closet, which was his first office.
You’ll hear from Olympic Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton about how she great up in a small coal mining town in West Virginia and found her way to inspiring the world with her gymnastic exploits. The very things she was criticized for as a child (always jumping and cartwheeling and such) became the keys to her future greatness. Even her small stature, which had seemed a weakness, became in gymnastics a strength.
Terry Bradshaw went from a southern university football team where he was on top of the world, to being a first round draft pick in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers and then, in his words, he got to the big city and managed to “hit the ground stumbling.” He tells about the early failures and terrible humiliations he suffered in the big show before turning things around, in a way that provides a lesson for us all.
Madeline Albright, Tony Blair, Tom Brokaw, James Carville, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lou Holts, Mike Krzyzewski (and I still can’t believe that’s how you spell it), Colin Powell and a big cast of other great people tell you their stories, and reveal the inflection points where tragedy could become triumph, or failure could turn into fame and fortune, largely through attitudes of service, hard work, and persistence.
I was endlessly fascinated and inspired by these stories. I think you will be, too. They’ll give you a bigger and broader sense of the possibilities for your own life, and especially when things are not going great. These high achievers were not ashamed to speak of their flaws and failures, their heartbreaks and mistakes and turnarounds.
You know how, every now and then, you come across a passage in a book and have to run and tell someone about what you just read? There were dozens of places like that. I’m sure my wife got tired of me telling her the story of the girl who went from homeless to Harvard, or what it was like for Scott O’Grady to be shot down behind enemy lines and evade adversaries for days, murderers who would shoot him on site, and often walked within a few feet of where he was hidden. How do you keep cool in a life or death situation? How do you succeed? This book is full of amazing stories that will wow you and motivate you. I wish I could tell you about 20 of the stories right now!
Bernie Swain himself has meant a lot to me. Because of him and his great colleagues, I’ve shared the stage or the program as a speaker with many of the great people whose words are featured in this book, and so many inspirational others. In the early days of my career, I was always coming home to tell my wife that I had shared the podium with Colin Powell, or General Norman Schwarzkopf, or President George HW Bush and Barbara, or James Carville and Mary Matalin, or Mary Lou Retton, or Tom Peters, or Tom Brokaw. And I’d tell her about the thunderstorms that kept me from getting to Dallas in time for a talk and how the football great Terry Bradshaw drove across town to fill my slot so there wouldn’t be a blank stage for an hour. Or that I had just spoken on a program with an astronaut, or the Blue Angels, or The Thunderbirds, or the coach who just won the National Championship, or The Super Bowl, or the World Series. In my early days out of the classroom, Bernie and his associates made it all possible. And now, so many of his friends and my fellow speakers tell stories here that will delight you as they have me, throughout the years. Treat yourself to a great read!