When I was eight, my mother obviously thought I was very cute and very talented.
She would dress me in super fancy clothes and take me from Long Island into The City to audition for television and print commercials. Sometimes she’d drive, other times we’d take the train into Manhattan.
I almost always knew what the commercial was for, and this gave me time to prepare and practice. One of the few occasions when this wasn’t the case . . . well, you’ll see why it has stuck with me all these years.
The bitter cold on that midwinter day had meant taking the train was out of the question. We parked the car on a busy street and walked the rest of the way. The trek seemed to go on forever, and by the time my mom announced she’d found the building, my toes and ears were frozen.
Mother rang the bell. The door opened to a giant man blocking the entrance. Right as I lifted my foot to take the one step into the building, he looked down at me and asked, “Can you hula hoop?”
Up to that point in my very short life, I don’t think I’d disappointed my mother in the way I was about to.
Without giving any thought to my response, I immediately said, “No, I can’t.”
He looked at my mother and said, “Sorry, we can’t use her.” Then he closed the door in our faces.
That was it. I stood there freezing in my cute mini-skirt. Even if he had shut the door as quickly as he did only to keep out the cold, the effect was the same on eight-year-old me: I’d been given no opportunity to further respond, or to step inside for warmth, or to even attempt to hula hoop.
My life changed during the long walk back to the car and during the long drive back home. My mother preached and lectured the entire time—even into the next day.
Her bottom line: You should have said anything other than “no.” She explained to me the importance of seizing opportunities and always being willing to try something new.
She didn’t care about the fact that I knew I couldn’t hula hoop. She said that wasn’t the point. The point was this: Whenever you’re asked if you can do something, the proper response is either “yes,” “I’ll try,” or “I think so.” Today, I get it. But when I was eight, all this went over my head.
Still, between that winter day of the failed audition and now, my mom’s nagging must have sunk in at some level. I know, because look what happened to me on two occasions:
- During a job interview, the person conducting it expressed his confidence in my ability to fill the position. He said he had one final question: “Do you know . . .?” And he named a software application I’d never even heard of. I didn’t say, “No, I don’t know that program.” My mother’s words of wisdom somehow sang out to me. Without giving any thought to my response, I enthusiastically replied, “Yes, I’m familiar with it!” I was offered the position.
- Immediately after subbing for a tap dance class in Los Angeles, I spotted a tall, blue-eyed, debonair gentleman observing me hit the wood. He approached me, and this conversation took place:
Hello. My name is Joe Tremaine. Have you ever taught at a dance convention?
Sir, I’ve never even heard of a dance convention. But I love to teach, and I’m very good at it.
I need a tap teacher this weekend. Are you available to travel?
Good. Let’s schedule a meeting for tomorrow in my office to discuss the details.
Resist counting yourself out by announcing what you can’t do.
Remain willing to say “yes” to yourself and to your potential. Say “yes” to what you want. Say “yes, I’ll try”—as opposed to “no, I can’t.”
What looks like a loss may be the very event which is subsequently responsible for helping to produce the major achievement of your life. — Srully D. Blotnick