ON SUCCESS a poem by Henry Edward Fool
By anyone’s standards
Marcel Bertrand is a success.
He came here from France,
a humble teacher,
and ended up
the owner of a fine hotel
in one of the most coveted
cities in the world.
By contrast I guess
you might say that I
am UN- success- ful.
By the time he was my age
Marcel Bertrand owned a hotel.
By the time I was my age,
I worked for
who owned a hotel.
It’s a simple equation.
M. Bertrand worked THIRTY years
to get where he is today.
It was not easy; he worked long,
he worked hard.
During those same thirty years
I worked as well.
It was not easy for me either.
I worked long, I worked hard.
I put in my time as they say.
It is not as if
during those same thirty years
--while M. Bertrand was working
to attain his success—
I was laying around
on an old couch
in my underwear
and watching daytime soap operas.
(Though, admittedly, some time was spent in that manner.)
For the most part
during those very same years,
M. Bertrand was working and slaving away,
was working and slaving away.
(I have the scars to prove it.)
I must speak now
not so much for myself,
but for the tens of thousands,
hundreds of thousands,
or millions of other good
genuinely hard-working people
during those thirty years
were also working and
Many of them do not now own hotels.
It’s just a fact that
people who work long
and who work hard,
and who put in their time,
do not always end up
These are things I feel must be said.
While M. Bertrand was fixing the wiring
in a room, in the hotel
which he did not yet own,
I was busy fixing broken windows
in apartment buildings
that I would never own.
while M. Bertrand was being asked
if he might be interested
in managing the hotel
which he did not yet own,
I was being asked
if I could fix more broken windows
in apartment houses
which I would never own.
And when the owner of the hotel
which M. Bertrand would inevitably own
and left the building to a careless drunk of a son
who had no interest whatsoever
in running a hotel…
that careless drunk
asked M. Bertrand
if he would like to buy the damned place.
The guy I was working for, meanwhile,
continued living (did not die, as they say),
but, passed his property on to a son
who did not drink,
--very much interested in retaining his property--
then turned to me
if I would like to fix more broken windows.
And I did.
I had to do something
with the time
I was wasting
Sure I admit I should
own a hotel or two by this stage in my life,
and I would too,
had I not squandered all those years
working for a man whose son wished to possess property
instead of a man whose son wished only
to rid himself of it.
Looking back now,
I can see
that was my mistake.
(In my defense however, I must say,
it was difficult to see at the moment.)
for philosophical reasons,
let me say only this:
If you look in Books In Print
under my name,
you’ll find an entry
If you look in Books In Print
under Marcel Bertrand,
you will find
only a blank space
where his entries would have been
had he only worked
just a little harder.
ON SUCCESS (2)
I just read an article by Liz Ryan. Ryan is CEO/founder of Human Workplace and author
of Reinvention Roadmap. The article was: How To Find Work You Love -- And Why
Most People Don't Try. It was published in Forbes, a publication which declares, and
with good reason I suppose, that “Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their
own.” At the bottom of the article I was offered the opportunity to comment—something I
normally do not do—and I did. I wrote: “PURE and Utter NONSENSE” (an opinion which
is, if I know anything at all about the world in which we live, almost solely my own).
In the PURE portion of the Nonsense, Ms. Ryan tells us that:
“When kids are very little we tell them "Be whoever you want to be!" but as
kids get older, the message changes. By the time most kids are in middle
school, the adults around them have begun teaching them to be practical.
Little by little kids stop believing that their grandest dreams can come true.”
Regrettable as this message change may be, from childish self-delusion to reality, it’s
probably best for the kids. Continuing to traipse around in the world of nonsense which
Ms. Ryan proposes, once a child reaches puberty, can only make weaning more painful.
After all, there is a difference between kids, alone in their bedrooms, surrounded with
plush toys and endless piles of brightly colored useless plastic crap, and adults, mere
cogs, out in the real world, surrounded with all that entails and faced, on a daily basis,
with the things of nagging necessity.
Though tempted to refute every aspect of this article point-by-weary-point—and if I were
a much younger man I believe I probably would—I will not do that. But, I would like to
touch on a few select points, not to ridicule (because, easy as that might be, such stuff
is more irritating than laughable) but simply to refute them (because I'm trying to
maintain the illusion of being a kindly old gentleman).
Still, I’ll take the nit-picking approach to her first paragraph—just to show how tedious
this response could have been—before stating my case in a more general, easily
digestible, overly-simplistic (and, therefore, much-more-easily criticized) form. Here’s
what Ms. Ryan says:
“Some kids grow up without losing their faith in themselves — or their belief
that they can accomplish whatever they want to accomplish and become
whoever they want to be. What's different about those kids? Maybe the kids
who hang onto their dreams have support from their family members, who tell
them not to give up on their most audacious plans.”
As to that last part… actually, the most-often-touted fable (as well as the matching
reality), suggests the complete opposite. Many people who attain their dream, whatever
that dream may be, do so despite the jeering and nagging resistance of family. Pick up
almost any biography of any noteworthy person in any field to prove the point for
Additionally however, I must question that “faith in themselves” concept, which Ms.
Ryan, in one way or another continually inserts into her nonsense. There is not a single
person of failure (POF) in this world—and thousands are probably created every minute
of every day—who has not had tremendous “faith in themselves” going in. The mistake
is in believing that “faith in themselves” somehow makes them special. It does not. They
also seem to believe (because of the kind of nonsense that Ms. Ryan pushes) that “faith
in themselves” guarantees them success. In fact, it is merely the most basic requirement
in any honest attempt to accomplish anything.
Overall, this “faith in themselves” nonsense creates more problems in our world than it
For several generations now, well-meaning mommies have been cramming this “faith in
themselves” idea into the heads of their darling children, and the results are
devastating. Many of the first generation infected males—now in their late forties and
early fifties—are beginning to seriously consider leaving home; the following generation
is incapable of changing a tire or writing a coherent, legible sentence in cursive; and
(apparently) the difference between kindergarten kids these days and the current
generation of college kids is that the kindergarten kids are a whole lot tougher.
Ms. Ryan suggests that the difference between people who hold down the career of
their dreams and all us malcontents is that, as children: "Maybe they faced adversity
early on and overcame it. learning in the process that most of the obstacles we
face are not as formidable as we have been led to believe they are."
Actually, all of us face adversity at every stage of our lives and overcome it in one way
or another. When obstacles prove to be less formidable than supposed, nothing
reasonable, other than the feeling of relief, can be learned in that process. She seems
to think that every person who is not employed in the most wonderful job they could
ever imagine is just a quitter.
The remainder of her article is full of peculiar encouragement:
It takes courage to say "I want to make my own path!"
It is your ship to steer — but only if you know how much power you possess!
Give yourself permission to dream again.
Allow ourselves to dream really big
Give yourself permission to create a vision for your life and career.
Create a vision for your life and career. (In the absence of a vision for your life,
goals are nothing more than items on your to-do list.)
Here's how to do it:
1. Get a journal and start writing in it.
2. Accept and embrace the fact that everything that has happened in your life
so far was meant to happen just as it did. Successful people can say "I don't
like my life right now. Oh well - that's okay. I can change it.
3. Spell out your vision for your life in as much detail as you can. "One day I
want to work on Wall Street" is not a vision. I tell my students to picture the
clothes they'll be wearing when they walk onstage to accept the award they
earned for whatever great achievement they have in mind.
4. Don't tell anyone about your plans except for people who support you in
5. As your vision takes shape, look at its place in your life from altitude — that
is, with perspective. Get up above your day-to-day struggles and see your path
going back to your birth and stretching out to the horizon. Once you see it, you
can take your path wherever you want it to go!
I’m sure that’s enough of that to make anyone ask, “What is a respectable publication
like Forbes doing putting this kind of nonsense in print?”
She then gives us an example of all this idiocy in play. Here are the highlights:
Here's an example to guide you.
Monica... she's not happy in her job. Gradually it dawns on Monica that if
anyone is going to save her, it's going to be Monica herself. Monica gives
herself permission to dream big, the way she did when she was little. When
she was a kid Monica was crazy about horses. Monica told her brain. "The key
is to take a step in the direction of my dream, rather than dismissing it as
foolish." Monica took a step and joined the Board of Directors of a not-for-
profit agency that raised money to buy wild mustangs… later, she was
president of the Board of Directors and had helped to raise over $150,000 to
find homes for mustangs. Her journey had begun the day she realized she was
miserable in her medical practice job, three years earlier.
You can do the same thing Monica did. You can give yourself permission to
dream again, the way you did when you were tiny.
So, folks, it all up to you. Those people who had always wanted to play baseball
professionally, or become a rock star, or open a cup cake bakery, and failed to achieve
that goal, just didn’t have enough “faith in themselves”.
Man, I wish someone had given me this advice earlier!