We’ve never looked at television host Larry King as an oracle, at least not until his death at the age of 87. Only then were we made aware of a quote attributed to him that could be the simplest explanation of how to navigate the vicissitudes of life.

“If you have passion, a chip on the shoulder, a sense of humor, and you can explain what you do very well, it doesn’t matter if you’re a plumber or a singer or a politician. If you have those four things, you are interesting.”

Perhaps Larry was only referring to whether you’d be a decent subject for one of his interview programs. But in this salient nugget of wisdom, he could well be stating what all the monks, priests, scholars and philosophers have spent centuries and volumes trying to define as a “life worth living.”  Let’s break it down to it essentials, shall we?

  1. Like Ishmael, what is your great white whale? Do you have a strong and barely controllable emotion about something in your life? Whether it be the arts or fiduciary accounting, pursue it until your EKG reads “zero.”* Even if there is little chance of success that your single apple seed turns into a full-blown orchard, the Sisyphean climb up your mountain will produce plenty of strong memories and interesting fodder for psychiatrists, sociologists and yes, talk show hosts to study.
  2. Believe in yourself. No matter how uncertain, insolvent, or unbalanced you are, put that chip on your shoulder and don’t let anyone knock it off. Who are they to question your love of ice baths? Like Larry quoting Lenny Bruce, tell them to go unfuck themselves.
  3. Laugh long and hard, and at your own screwups most of all. For those who can chortle at the absurdity of the world tend to live until at least 87 years of age.*
  4. Get a story and stick with it. Even if you have many interests, many side hustles, and many dreams, formulate a simple narrative about yourself and repeat as often as necessary. In Larry’s case, that started with his name.

*Despite many people thinking Larry had died ages ago, he actually just kicked the bucket on Saturday. Utilizing his own four point system detailed above, he managed to beat the actuarial table by a good 8 years.

In August 1953, an obscure country boy named Elvis Presley walked into the offices of Sun Records. He aimed to pay for a few minutes of studio time to record a two-sided acetate disc: “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.”

A Boy From Tupelo. Early Elvis Presley recordings.

He later claimed that he was merely interested in what he “sounded like”, although there was a much cheaper, amateur record-making service at a nearby general store. Biographer Peter Guralnick thinks that he chose Sun in the hope of being discovered. Asked by receptionist Marion Keisker what kind of singer he was, Presley responded, “I sing all kinds.” When she pressed him on who he sounded like, he repeatedly answered, “I don’t sound like nobody.”

Elvis Lives! anagram t-shirt

Keep hope alive with this positive anagram about the King of Rock and Roll.

Elvis couldn’t imagine what was coming next for him. How could he foresee a glorious career of legendary fame and musical adventure? The future is hidden until it happens. You never know what you might be capable of, until later. If you knew what was in store for you, life wouldn’t be nearly so interesting. So maybe it’s time for you to head down to Memphis.  You never know what might come of it.

What do you mean, you don’t know who Charli D’Amelio is? She’s only the most popular personality on TikTok, with 76 million followers and counting! (The number changes constantly, there’s a live feed of the count here.) So what does Charli do to earn these followers? Dispense sound financial advice? Speak out against racial injustice? No. She dances to pop music, mostly around her parents’ house in Norwalk, Connecticut.  And she’s damn good at it too. Why, she’s become so popular that she even has a line of official sportswear, in case you need a new hoodie:

Charli D'Amelio hoodie

You may not have 76 million viewers on TikTok, but you can wear her sweatshirt.

Now it’s easy to look at Charli dancing in her bedroom, decide that it would be great to become a big star by dancing in our bedroom, and make a few 6 second videos in a quick quest for fame and fortune.  The reality? Though it sounds like a fairy tale, 17-year-old Charli didn’t just switch on her iPhone camera and become an overnight sensation. She’s been a competitive dancer since she was 3, was raised by a fitness enthusiast mom and a businessman dad who sweated over her career, and spent years working on choreography and routines away from the limelight.  She’s also an optimist, gazing out at the world and not being intimidated by other dancers, celebrities, and cat video uploaders all jockeying for our somewhat divided attention.

So how can you follow in Charli’s dance shoes? There’s a common saying in many professions that you should “fake it until you make it.” This applies to jobs from fashion modeling to selling used cars to pursuing social media likes. When you are new in a job you don’t have the confidence and skills, but you can develop some aspects of competence by mimicking those who do.

This notion is popularized in treatises expounding laws-of-attraction thinking, like that of Rhonda Byrne in her book “The Secret” and its subsequent cottage industry of conferences, coffee mugs and a current spin-off movie on Netflix.

As Byrne preached to her acolytes: “How do you get yourself to a point of believing? Start make-believing. Be like a child, and make-believe. Act as if you have it already. As you make-believe, you will begin to believe you have received.” But this is nothing new, as Madame Blavatsky, Norman Vincent Peale and Zig Ziglar attested before her.

Today this idea is the go-to trope of countless parents, personal coaches, and positivity gurus. Unfortunately, “Fake it till you make it” also has a negative side — while the make-believe approach may enable .01% of the people to rise above, it can’t work for everyone. That’s why every handshake artist in a business suit doesn’t become a CEO, why 99.5% of writers never have a bestseller, and why every teenager dancing on TikTok won’t get their own reality tv series.

The essential problem that blocks “success through a positive attitude” is a little thing called reality. Yep, reality is a real cock-blocker of make-believe. It’s amusing that Americans, once among the most practical people in the world, have become “reality deniers.” Whether it’s living our lives through the lens of social media or questioning medical science during a pandemic, we think we are are able to bend reality like magicians or morph into an image of perfection for our “followers.”

As the current Covid count is proving, reality ultimately triumphs over delusion.* The SuperOptimist encourages you to embrace the truth about yourself, both the good points and the not-so-good. If you get comfortable with reality now, it will serve you well in the future. Once you have a firm grasp on the facts (“I’m lousy at math. I’m good at crosswords. I enjoy frozen desserts. I’m a developing a slight paunch due to frozen desserts.”) then you can face the world with the determination to overcome your weaknesses while playing to your strengths.

And if you do want to get famous on social media like Charli, then embrace what it takes to succeed: talent, luck, timing, and consistency.  Good luck!

*Only the President of the United States and his apologists are not convinced of this.

 

 

 

 

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Hollywood mud-sling to get the juices flowing, as the latest Mickey Rourke-Robert De Niro dust-up proves.

Rourke demonstrates his SuperOptimist bonafides by

  1. thinking he’s in the same league as Bobby D. This type of blind self-belief that flies in the face of the facts continues to serve him well.
  2. calling De Niro out for an interview that may not have even taken place, and threatening him with grave embarrassment the next time he sees him. This display of power (albeit one of instagramming, rather than fists flying) was enough to spark a resurgence of interest in the actor, at least for 24 hours.
  3. attempting and succeeding in gaining attention on social media with a story that’s probably not true.
  4. continuing to be recognized by the world of show biz, despite changing his appearance with so much plastic surgery that he’s now basically unrecognizable.

We salute “the Mick” for wrestling another few column inches from the entertainment press, and wish him the best in his quest for respect from Sir Robert.

Who among us has a sunnier disposition than the indomitable Betty White? She turned 98 last week, which is no surprise, given that she’s still a force in the entertainment industry. *

So what’s the secret to an existence like Betty’s? Research shows that optimism contributes to 11 to 15 percent longer life span, and to greater odds of living to the age of 85 or beyond. But White has exceeded that by more than a decade. To what does she attribute that extra oomph?

“I know it sounds corny, but I try to see the funny side and the upside, not the downside” she said in a recent interview.  That’s right, Betty knows it’s best to look at every situation, even the crappy ones, and at least get a laugh or two out of it. (Like her first marriage to a rural chicken farmer that lasted six months.) As Betty is proving, it’s not just optimism, it’s SuperOptimism that can propel you to the century mark in style.**

And while you’re at it, it never hurts to light a votive candle just in case.

*Guinness has awarded Betty the world record for longest TV career for an entertainer — 75 years (and counting).

**You’ll also find vodka, hot dogs and red licorice on Betty’s training table. 

Did you know that Academy Award losers die 4 years earlier than Academy Award winners?*  That’s 1,460 days of life snuffed out due to a subjective judgment passed by others on a single performance.

The reason for this startling fact: The losers unconsciously spend the rest of their lives comparing upwards, instead of down. In the case of Oscar nominees who go home empty-handed, many of them harbor resentments against the winners until the day they (prematurely) die, along with hating the guts of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, their agents, their lawyers, the editors at Variety, and the entire Hollywood community. In their minds, they deserved that statue and now the odds are great that they may never get another shot at one as long as they live!

Sure, the losers may mouth the words “I’m just lucky to be here, in the company of these other fine actors,” but how many believe it, live it, and are truly happy for the winner? In fact, unless they know how to process this loss SuperOptimistically, they’re on the road to ill-health and bad fortune.

Instead of obsessing over another person’s success, look over your shoulder at a screw-up.  How about that old roommate who was always borrowing your favorite sweater when you were both in college?

You know — the one who developed the dependency on prescription drugs and is now living in the basement of his mother’s house?

And if you’re really in a fix, think about someone you knew who you didn’t like very much, and who is now dead and gone. Just a skull and bones, rotting away while you get to enjoy a cranberry scone with your piping hot coffee.  Feel better now?

Start any comparison with those less fortunate than yourself, rather than those who have more**, and you’ll be three steps closer to SuperOptimism.

*Redelmeier and Singh, Annals of Internal Medicine, May 2001

**“More” is a technical term used by the SuperOptimist to define the combined problems of money, power, fame, good looks, family status, height, skill, 4.0 GPA, influence, and premium real estate location. All of these are potential impediments to achieving SuperOptimism.

This week, we mourn the passing of a great humanitarian and leader, one who brought the country together in perilous times and who gave selflessly to his profession.

Carrying himself with humility and restraint, he led a ragtag team of soldiers to prominence in the face of great odds. (He was also a frequent guest star on “The Carol Burnett Show” and played the lead on “Mayberry RFD.”) So let us pause during a time of discord and division to acknowledge the life and legacy of one Kenneth Ronald “Ken” Berry.

Starring as Captain Wilton Parmeter in the ABC series “F-Troop. Berry was a man America turned to for comfort during the years 1965-67.  Although Larry Storch hogged more of the comic spotlight as Corporal Randolph Agarn, it was Berry’s indomitable work as Parmenter that was the glue that bound the men of Fort Courage together.* Going against the redoubtable Fess Parker in “Daniel Boone” on NBC, they were solid in their Thursday night time slot for the entirety of their 65-episode run.

Taking on the hapless role of kook, klutz and fall guy, Berry made frustration and failure into an art form.  And while the New York Times referred to him as the “bumbling hero” of the show, Berry was much more than that. Without the physical grace acquired from years of professional dancing, he could never have pulled off the tricky business of stabbing himself with his quill pen, becoming entangled with his ceremonial sword, and wincing painfully as his superior pins a medal to his chest – immediately earning his character another medal for being wounded getting a medal.

The fact that Ken was a trained in the mold of Astaire and was hoping to star in the next wave of movie musicals (which never materialized), only makes him an even more heroic figure.  For Berry didn’t quiver and buckle when his plans went awry.  Instead, he turned the lemons of show business into the lemonade that was “F-Troop” (and later, a star turn in “Mama’s Family”), never complaining, never pulling focus from his fellow thespians, always comfortable in his own shoes.

And speaking of shoes, Berry later became a spokesman for Kinney, singing and dancing to the “Great American Shoe Store” jingle in commercials seen coast to coast. While far from his dream of the big screen or the Great White Way, Berry gives his all in these 30 second spots, and the resulting sales marked a high point in the life of the now-defunct footwear chain.

And so, on a day spent saluting the passing of president #41, we propose that another man be given a full state funeral, with color guards, brass bands and horse drawn carriage.  For while the record of George H.W. Bush causes some to question his convictions, our nation can truly coalesce around a man who put a pratfall before his own wellbeing.   Ken Berry made this country grin from coast to coast — an act that can erase divisions, heal wounds, and cause warring factions to put down their weapons in order to giggle, snort and convulse with laughter.

*Even the “F-Troop” theme song was centered on the exploits of this great American.  Let us sing in remembrance:

The end of the Civil War was near 
When quite accidentally, 
A hero who sneezed abruptly seized 
Retreat and reversed it to victory. 

His medal of honor pleased and thrilled 
his proud little family group. 
While pinning it on some blood was spilled 
And so it was planned he’d command …F Troop!

That’s what happened to a young man named Paul McCartney on this day in 1957.

A friend of his from the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys invited him to come check out a band called the Quarrymen, playing at St. Peter’s Church.  Now he could have said no, but he didn’t.   And if he had only shook hands with Eric Griffiths (guitar), Colin Hanton (drums), Rod Davies (banjo), Pete Shotton (washboard) or Len Garry (tea chest bass), then history wouldn’t have been written.

But he focused on the guy leading the band.  “He was singing ‘Come Go With Me,’ the Del-Vikings’ song, which I thought was fabulous until I realized they weren’t the right words,” recalled Paul.  “He was changing them. ‘Come go with me … down to the penitentiary’ — he was nicking folk-song words and chain-gang words and putting them into the Del-Vikings’ songs, a clever little bit of ingenuity.”

Why not take a cue from Paul and venture outside to meet someone new?  Who knows where it might lead?  Perhaps to the toppermost of the poppermost!

 

Whether it’s writing, painting, or opening a kebab stand, conventional wisdom says that you must “find your own voice.” But is that true? Maybe instead of driving yourself mad chasing after that invisible ghost known as “originality,” you should just lock yourself away for awhile and get busy copying the person you admire most.

That’s what Ray LaMontagne did. Before he was a world famous musician, he was just another schlub working a dead-end job in a Maine shoe factory, with no prospects other than surviving another shift.  Until one morning he awoke to his clock radio playing  Stephen Stills’ “Treetop Flyer.” For reasons known only to the gods, the clock radio and Ray, instead of reporting for work that day, he decided to become a singer-songwriter himself. But how the hell would he do this, with no training up to this point?

With what little money he had, he bought a bunch of old records by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and The Big O, Otis Redding, and began slavishly imitating them. He basically holed up in his apartment for a couple of years and let Redding’s voice be his guide.  By being laser focused on transmitting The King of Soul through his own larynx, he developed his own skill set that eventually lead him to multi-platinum recording success.

Ray found his own voice by borrowing someone else’s. So if you want to make The New York Times bestseller list, quit your job, tell your friends you’ll be unreachable for awhile, and immerse yourself in the works of your favorite writer until you can type them all by memory. You want to be a professional squash champion, start by watching all the video of Mohamed Elshorbagy you can find while glueing a racquet to your hand. Whatever your pursuit, it won’t be long before your mind alters its circuitry based on the information you’re feeding into it.  And yet, you will still be processing it through your own passageways, so what comes out on the other side will be considered “your voice” — unless your goal is to be an Elvis impersonator.

How long with it take for you to hit the big time?  If you’re a fast learner, give it about five years. And then when you become a raging success,* be like Ray and admit your thieving ways without shame. There are no original voices. And isn’t that a relief!

*Notice we didn’t say “if.”  This is SuperOptimism, after all.

Take a quick glance towards jolly old England and Harry and Meghan’s Royal Wedding might seem like a fairy tale come true. Especially for an actress from L.A. whose previous job was starring in a so-so cable show on USA Network.  But after the big celebration, the Duchess of Markle is going to have to start curtsying to all the family members above her.  Since her husband is sixth in line for the throne, that’s a lot of prostration.  As for Harry, he’s marrying into a world of hurt, judging from the behavior of his brides’s extended family.  On top of that, the British tabloids make life a living hell for all the Royals, and the taxpayers grouse about how much it costs to keep them in castles and jewels.  But in the spirit of the blessed event, let’s congratulate Meghan on how far her can-do attitude has gotten her, and kudos to Harry for looking on the bright side of Meghan’s distinctly non-royal lineage.  Better yet, when you watch the nuptials from the comfort of your cramped studio apartment, thinking it might be nice to have great wealth and a title handed to you, remember how good you really have it.  You only have to curtsy if you really want to!