One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my life is that I can rise above any situation; that I don’t have to let my circumstances rob me of my joyous spirit; that I can take back my power and not let any person or thing ruin my day, or, for that matter, my life.
Looking back, I realize that I learned that lesson at an early age.
When I was seven-years-old, my parents took me to see both Broadway
musicals, Carousel and Oklahoma. From that day on I wanted to be the person who created “the pretty stage pictures.” I wanted to be a scenic designer.
We arrived late for one of the shows and missed the beginning. So
when the show was over, I refused to leave. I thought that, like a
movie, I could see the beginning again. That day I was dragged out of
the theater kicking and screaming, but my heart never left the theater.
In grade school, I took shoeboxes and made a scene from the book that
we were reading in class. Other students wrote book reports; I did
dioramas. In high school, I saw almost every Broadway show, including the opening night of Hello Dolly. In college, I designed many of the school productions and, with the help of one of the professors, got into Yale Drama School.
It was a three-year master’s degree program. They admitted twelve
students the first year. Then, because they only produced eight plays in
their smaller theater the second year, they let go of four designers. I
was one of the first to go. I was told I had no talent.
Of course, I was heartbroken. But, even then, I realized that nobody
could tell me I couldn’t do something if I truly believed I could. After
all, I was a “scenic designer” since the sixth grade. I was a designer,
at least in my mind, since I saw my first Broadway show. Nobody could
tell me I wasn’t a designer. Nobody could ruin my day. Nobody could ruin
my career. Nobody could ruin my life.
Soon after being booted from Yale, I became an apprentice in the
scenic design union in New York City and finally became a full-fledged
designer at CBS – television. My fellow classmates at Yale were still
designing school productions while I was designing national television
shows such as Captain Kangaroo, The Merv Griffin Show, and The Jackie Gleason Show.
Who said I had no talent? Who said I would never be a scenic
designer? Nobody was going to ruin my day or my dream. Not even the head
of the Yale School of Drama scenic design department.
More recently, that lesson was presented to me again, when I got a
speeding ticket. In spite of that, I continued to be joyous that day and
continued to repeat my mantra whenever not-so-wonderful stuff happens
to me: “No one, or nothing, can ruin my day.”