Forward thinking: The path to greatness

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Her name was Julie Andrews…

In your mind’s eye, picture with me a young girl skipping onto the stage of a dilapidated, half-filled theater hall, her thin voice competing with the noise of an unruly audience.

Midway through the first verse of her first song, a beer bottle smashed onto the floor just a few feet in front of her. The child’s voice quaked momentarily, but she continued to sing. “The show must go on” mentality had already been ingrained in her.

As she neared the end of her musical number, the young girl struggled to find enough breath to finish her performance. The smoke–filled air reeked of cigarettes and made it especially hard to sing. She missed a couple of notes as the song ended, curtsied, then made her exit to a mixture of applause and boos.

Such were the humble beginnings of Academy-Award winner Julie Andrews.

Picture her now twirling, arms outstretched against the beautiful backdrop of the Austrian Alps – melodiously singing the opening stanzas of “The Sound of Music.” Whether as Maria Von Trapp or Mary Poppins, Andrews sings and acts so effortlessly that it’s tempting to assume that she was born a star. Not so.

It’s easy to overlook Julie’s humble beginnings and the many years she spent as a child touring with vaudeville troupes, performing in seedy auditoriums in front of rowdy, working–class crowds in Britain.

We imagine ultra-successful individuals being endowed with almost superhuman talents. In doing so, we surround greatness with a certain kind of mystique. However, that is not the case. Too often we obscure the reality of success by making a number of misjudgments about it.

Allow me to elaborate on three such mistakes. I often think of them as the overestimated and underestimated realities of success.

First, we overestimate the person and underestimate the principles.

Julie Andrews suffered a mid-career swoon during which a number of her movies flopped. However, she rebounded to win a Golden Globe in 1982. As she remarked, “Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the twentieth.”

Later on, throat surgery deprived Julie of the ability to sing. Undaunted, she moved on to other pursuits and became a successful author of children’s books. When asked about no longer being able to sing, Andrews is fond of quoting a line from The Sound of Music, When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”

The point is that Julie Andrews’ stardom cannot be attributed solely, or even primarily, to her charming personality. Rather, she has been aided by her determined perseverance and her irrepressible positive attitude – principles that can be applied by anyone.

Second, we overestimate luck and underestimate the work.

We often hear or comment about someone’s career taking off after getting a “big break.” Usually, however, the big break was preceded by years of dedicated practice. “I’ve never minded being disciplined,”  said Julie Andrews.  “I’d always rather a have quiet evening in than to go to a wild party. Discipline for me has always been the foundation which leaves me free to fly.”  Yet another transferable principle.

Third, we overestimate skill and underestimate stamina.

Julie Andrews’s voice propelled her to stardom, but in her own words, “singing has never been particularly easy” for her. She was not blessed with such immense vocal prowess that she could bypass intensive practice sessions throughout her career.  In her own words, “As my mother said, I never sprang out of bed with a glad shout. My voice needed oiling and then it took off.”

The name of Julie Andrews may not be a on your list of most popular movie stars, past or present. You may not remember hearing any of her musical recordings. You possibly did not know that she wrote children’s books.

Nevertheless, her life offers up some items for reflection and thoughts to ponder on your pathway to success. In closing, I ask you a few basic questions:

What quality do you tend to overestimate in your personal outlook toward success?

Why do you think this is the case?

What element of success deserves closer attention from you?

How would prioritizing it benefit you personally and/or professionally?

Until next time…

Loren (1)–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is currently a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.

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