BOWEN COLUMN: Life of one of the great Pep-talk specialists

Published 10:30 am Saturday, April 23, 2022

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Sometimes I scroll through old writings and see things I barely remember writing, deep down in the archives. I happened across these thoughts this week regarding the great servant Joshua, with a tie-in to one of the great American speakers and motivational personalities. Read on.

The book of Joshua opens with the Lord’s approaching his servant Joshua and telling him that it’s time for him to take the Israelites across the great Jordan. The Lord gives Joshua quite a pep talk in the opening chapter, and it is that pep talk that reminded me of perhaps the world’s greatest motivational speaker ever. This particular gentleman took positive thinking and a great faith to spectacular heights over his eight decades.

But it never came easy.

It wasn’t our modern-day hero’s own faith that saw him through his very first crisis. It was his grandmother’s. It is quite a story.

Nine days after he was born, he stopped breathing, and the doctor laid the lifeless body on the bed. But his grandmother was standing there with the family, and she – as only a grandmama probably could do – picked up the boy and held his body close to hers and began whispering into his ear. In a moment, the little nine-day year-old boy revived in her arms.

When he was five, he lost his father — and two days later his baby sister died, too. Many years after these tragic events, he would look back, and write, “It’s not what happens to you that determines how far you will go in life; it is how you handle what happens to you.”

The tenth of twelve children, he was raised in a poor family by his widowed mother during the Great Depression. At 7, he was already helping to support his family by selling vegetables they had raised and milk from their cow. His hope of being a Navy pilot was a faraway dream, for sure.

When he was only 20, he fell in love with a beautiful redhead named Jean, and they married. In his later work, he would always refer to her simply as, “the redhead.” It seemed to work.

But these new responsibilities made his life even more difficult. He had to quit school to help support them. He had to “jump ship,” as he would say, to sell pots and pans. He learned quickly that making it in any endeavor would be a day-by-day enterprise. Many years after those early years of marriage he would write,

“Success is one thing you can’t pay for. You buy it on the installment plan and make payments every day.”

Faith is the same. You can’t pay for it. It is a ‘step by step’ proposition, and you build it on the installment plan. It’s a great lesson of faith we learn as we go.

Life as a salesman in those days was difficult, so much so that he often could only afford a little gas in his car. So, he would drive his car as far as he could, going door to door; and whenever it rolled to a stop he would get out and start walking door to door as far as he could walk.

He promised the redhead that things would get better:

“Your attitude,” he once said, “not your aptitude will determine your altitude.”

He decided to take that very message — a message of positive thinking — and spread it as far as he could. He took it to churches, clubs, and schools. Each night he would write down all the great things he hoped to accomplish the next day. When the company he worked with dissolved, he decided to sell the product he knew best: his own energy and optimism. (Ah, that we would sell such optimism today to the world spiritually!)

He turned to motivational speaking – “You’ve got to be before you can do, and do before you can have,” he said.

He built a library of inspirational materials from stories in newspapers he would collect. By 1975, he had written his book, “See you at the Top,” a book of his most inspirational stories and quotations.

Thirty publishers rejected the book before one accepted it. It would go on to sell more than two-million copies worldwide.

“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want,” he said.

For 40 years, he traveled more than five million miles with his message of faith and optimism. He advised the most successful men in the world — from Fortune 5 CEOs to Presidents of the U.S. Overall, he wrote 30 books that are published in 36 languages, motivating 250 million people.

“Failure is an event, not a person,” he said, and he lived a life that proved that to be the truth.

His perseverance, faith, and positive thinking enabled him and that redhead to stay married for 66 years — 66 years, and two days, exactly — before he left that lovely redhead in 2012.

Even his references to those long years of marriage were always mixed with optimism. They did not enjoy 66 years of marriage. No, to that, the great motivator would say, “We enjoyed 66 honeymoons.”

You’ll remember the man who enjoyed all those years with his ‘redhead’ as the famous and — in the world of motivation — the incomparable Zig Ziglar. He could flat-out give a pep talk, too, just like old Joshua of old.

So now, to quote another great American icon, now you know … the rest of the story.