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The Sensible Scribe

Questions to Get Ahead in Life

Everyone has setbacks. Ever wonder how successful people, such as Jimmy Dean, Bob Hope, or Joan Rivers overcame theirs. So did I. When I was still struggling, my passion was to know how other people overcame rejection and defeat. To be successful in life you must have a certain understanding of things such as: how to deal with criticism, how to overcome challenges, how to balance your life, and even how to deal with success. To understand these things you need to talk to those who have been through it before, who have suffered, persisted, and already succeeded.

When I was researching the key principles for my life I asked a variety of celebrities, politicians, and professionals some key questions to help find out what has made them successful. I chose questions that helped me see them in different ways. Being a firm believer that the quality of our answers is determined by the quality of our questions, I have used these opportunities to ask what I believe are some great ones. I wanted to ask questions that would either confirm what I already knew or lead me to a broader definition of the truth. I asked questions like:

  • What is the greatest disappointment in your life and how did you overcome it?
  • What’s the most important decision you’ve ever made in your life?
  • What’s the worst decision you’ve ever made in your life?
  • If you were to give an eighteen-year-old one specific piece of wisdom, what would it be?

Whenever you get the opportunity to talk to a successful person, one who has overcome adversity and overwhelming odds, be sure to have some questions in mind—the  answers to which will provide you with an education.

When I asked Jimmy Dean about his success he wrote back, saying that success and wealth is a state of mind. 

On success …

“My grandfather, W. J. Taylor, was the most successful and wealthy man I ever knew, and I doubt seriously that he ever made more than $10,000 in any given year in his life. But he was the best farmer in Hale County, Texas. He knew that. He had the straightest fences, the cleanest end-rows. He had the neatest barn and the neatest house. He raised nine kids, he had a great relationship with the man upstairs and a wonderful inner peace. To me, this is success and wealth.

 On setbacks in life …

“Being knocked down is part of life—getting up is also part of life, and I have very little use for people who cannot bounce back from the bludgeonings of temporary setback. [The word defeat isn’t in his vocabulary.]

On talent and hard work …

I have no use for anyone who can help themselves and does not. . . . My greatest fear is that with all our federal aid, state aid, city aid, county aids, etc., that they’re going to be many wonderfully talented people who will never be forced to find out what their talent is.”

Bob Hope was a great entertainer. I worked with him for a time and took that opportunity to ask him about his first break. He had changed his name from Lester to Bob because Bob Hope sounded more “chummy,” but he still wasn’t booking shows.

On getting a break …

“I was just about ready to go home to Cleveland to get a full meal and my laundry cleaned when this friend of mine walked up. He was a very successful Vaudevillian, Charlie Cooley, and he said, ‘How you doing?’ He took me up and introduced me to Charlie Hogan, his booker. He booked small theatres in and around Chicago. He said, ‘I can give you one day at the West Inglewood Theatre, will twenty-five dollars be all right?’ Well, I gulped, because I’d only been making ten a show at that time. That was the date that got me rolling.

Joan Rivers is one of the nicest, most generous people with whom I have ever had the privilege of working. She never refused to sign an autograph, and she always had time for me. She encouraged me with one of her stories about persistence.

On persistence …

On December 7, 1958, I walked into The Showbar in Boston. I was to be paid $125 for the week, two shows a night. I had already checked into the hotel across the street. It was a dirty, horrible place, but I didn’t care. This was my first job. After the first show, the manager fired me. As far back as I can remember, I wanted a career in show business. And as far back as I can remember, people were telling me ‘no.’ I tried everything and called on every one. Very little worked and everyone said no. My own mother said, ‘You have no talent. You’re throwing your life away.’ Even in my darkest moments, I knew instinctively that my unyielding drive was my most valuable asset. Perseverance, my dear, will always be just as important as talent.

While these stories are from famous people, there are just as many successful people that you may run across in your travels. Consider the people you meet to be treasure troves of knowledge. Always look to learn something. Ask good questions. Life provides you with so many opportunities to seek wisdom. Ask people to share their stories with you. Search for the words that will encourage, inspire, and help you along your journey. Successful people are often ready and willing to help and you will become more because of the knowledge and wisdom you receive.