How to Keep Calm and Carry On Like Erma Bombeck
Laughing all the way to the bank
Erma Bombeck wrote a syndicated column with 30,000,000 loyal readers who gleefully cut her columns out of the newspaper each week and taped them to their refrigerators (Google it, Gen-Y).
She famously said a lot of things, but perhaps my favourite is this:
"I believe in the Big D: Discipline," she says. "The house may not be clean and I may be three weeks behind on the laundry, but I make my column deadline. That's my priority. I sit down at the typewriter at 9:00 AM, take time off for a lunch and a 30-minute nap and I'm back at the typewriter until 5:00 PM." It's a strict schedule that Bombeck has stuck to for nearly three decades and, at the age of 64, she has no plans of trading it in for the retired life anytime soon.
Now, I certainly can't guarantee the all the way to the bank, exactly, but I do know this: There's a method to success, and "talent" is only a small part of the equation. I know, I know: Malcolm Gladwell way overstated the importance of the 10,000 hours rule in his book "Outliers." But the concept is correct. You can be as talented as Mozart, but if you never sit at the piano and bang out some scales, you're never going to make it.
Patience, Perseverance, & Persistence
The three P's. If you don't have them, it doesn't matter how smart you are, how "good" you are, how cute you are. Unless you win the lottery, you're doomed.
Erma Bombeck had all three.
She was a "typical" housewife of the era, raising three children in the suburbs and giving up her journalism career to cook, to clean, and to take care for her kids and husband. But at age 37, she decided it was time to write again, and gamely approached the editor of a local weekly asking to write for him. $3 per column and a handshake later, she was writing for hire again.
Meeting deadline after deadline, racking up over 4,000 columns and juggling her family and career in an age when most women simply couldn't, she not only became an icon, she was able to garner support for the ERA, traveling the country and lending her name to the cause of women's rights.
On top of this, she battled a genetic kidney disease (which she died of at age 69) as well as breast cancer and the double mastectomy that went with it.
Believe in yourself and then get on with it
There's a great video clip of Bombeck telling the story of how she came to see herself as a writer. Brother Tom Price, English professor at the University of Dayton, read her work and, as she tells it, said three words to her that changed her life. He said,
"You. Can. Write."
At that moment, she realized she could either believe him or not. She started to believe him, then faltered...and then, humorously, remembered that Brother Tom Price was a man of the cloth, and couldn't lie.
She chose to believe him, and never looked back.
Realistically, you should have some sense that your goals are doable. At the same time, as the Cheshire Cat so famously said, ... Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." If you can believe it, you can do it.
So if you don't have a Brother Tom Price in your life yet, I'd suggest that you keep going, vowing either to be the first ever to do the thing you set out to do, or to at least try. You'll be arguably further along the path to success if you try than if you sit still. Perhaps you'll change your goals a bit along the way. That's not so bad.
Add mental clarity and you can't lose
All the persistence in the world, all the patience, and all the practice; all the belief you have in yourself, too, will get you nowhere if you haven't got mental clarity. I think that's the "Keep Calm" part in "Keep Calm and Carry On" that resonates so much with me.
I know everyone and his brother is touting the benefits of mindfulness these days, but I think it's for good reason: It works. Anyone can do it, anywhere, with no cost. It just takes discipline. Yours for the taking.
If you can do this, sit still for, let's say, 20 minutes per day, focusing on your breath or doing a body scan (or other practice) you are going to find yourself closer and closer to your goals, more and more aware of where you have strayed and how to return to your path, and able to see the gaps in your otherwise well laid plans.
Add to mindfulness practice a few other non-bendable rules:
- First, take a good night's sleep as a non-negotiable thing-you-must-do. It's not frivolity. It is a necessity.
- Second, eat well. I don't care what "eat well" means to you. Just do it. I'm guessing Diet Coke and doughnuts for breakfast isn't going to make the cut, but whether you go all Paleo or eat à la Française, it matters that the food you choose to eat nourishes you.
- Third, last, exercise. Not as an afterthought, not as an "if I have time." Do it. Every day if you can.
Do these things, and do them well, and you'll reach your goals.
I think the secret is that, though this list of things is simple and inexpensive, the sum total of these things takes discipline. When you do these simple things, you will be in a rarified group of people. You'll look around you one day and notice that things have not gotten easier in your life, but that you have gotten stronger. And you've reached your goals.
Erma Bombeck would be proud. Go for it and good luck.