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In the pause: The courage to go your own way – a lesson from Mitch Albom and Tuesdays with Morrie

“What if you just did it your own way? No rules, no right or wrong, just what you think is beautiful?” ~Sandra Magsamen, Living Artfully

There’s really something to be said for going your own way. I often talk about my Darden professor who warned us to “stay away from the boxes”: the ones people (will try to) put you in, the ones you put yourself in, and the ones you put others in.

I was reminded of that idea again today when I watched an interview with Mitch Albom.  He was a sports writer who wanted to write a book about his dying professor and the important lessons he was learning about life by visiting him. Publishers didn’t want the book. They told him to stick to sports writing. That’s what he was good at. That’s what he knew. And this book was too depressing. “No one will want to read that,” they told him.

Albom persisted because he wrote the book in hopes of being able to pay for Morrie’s medical bills. One publisher finally took it, several weeks before Morrie died. And it was a very slow build, not an instant best-seller. Fast forward 20 years: Tuesdays with Morrie is read all over the world. It’s sold over 15 million copies in 45 languages and is read by kids, seniors, and everyone in-between.

Albom has grown, too. He’s gone on to write novels, nonfiction books, and stage plays. On one of those now famous Tuesdays, Morrie asked Albom how he supported his community and Albom told him he wrote checks to charities. Morrie told him he could do more. And he has. Albom founded an orphanage in Haiti that he visits once a month and has 9 charities total that he runs. So much for all those publishers who told him to stick to sports writing. Thankfully for us, and the world, he didn’t listen to them. He refused to stay in that box.

Albom, and so many renaissance men and women around the world and throughout time, teach us that it’s okay to not be neatly defined. It’s okay to do a lot of things as long as they are meaningful to you. Look at the people who founded our country—not a single one of them was just one thing. Somewhere between then and now we got into this rut in our society of having one narrow focus for our careers and our lives. Let’s embrace the idea that we are complex, intricate, and multi-talented beings. Be proud of always growing in new directions. Let’s be all that we are.

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