You’re right. I don’t fit in here.
I am not skinny or glamorous
and I don’t know that much about fashion.
But I’m smart.
I learn fast and I will work very hard.
Andy Sachs to Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada
So, you decide, with a sense of calling and great resolve, to start a Speakers Bureau, from scratch, in the very area where the big guerrilla in the industry is firmly planted and in control. What a “preposterous idea.” What do you do?
You’re smart, you work very hard, and you have a touch of good luck (that comes in the decision of Ronald Reagan selecting you to represent him), and you build a new powerhouse bureau.
That’s pretty much the story of Bernie Swain, spurred on by his wife Paula, and the rise of the Washington Speakers Bureau.
And after enough years, he now has this reservoir of stories and memories and insights. And he thinks “there’s definitely a story to be told here.”
No, scratch that. He thinks that after one of his clients tells him that. In his introduction to his new book, What Made Me Who I Am, he recalls one of many conversations he had with Alex Haley (the author of Roots, and other books), one of his clients. Mr. Haley would drop by the Bureau offices for a chat (he did that often – oh for those days again), and (from the book):
On this occasion, Alex repeated one of his favorite sayings: “When an old person dies, it’s like a library burning.” That pithy phrase stuck with me, and as the days and months passed, I began to understand what he was telling me. Each life—the ones recounted here, the millions that go uncelebrated—is defined by experiences that have volumes to teach us. Each life is a storehouse of wisdom and knowledge, its own library, stuffed to the rafters.
Now, this established agency that the upstart Mr. Swain had to go up against had quite a reputation. Again from the book:
Our friend Harry Rhoads had sent us an article from Fortune magazine, entitled “Speech is Golden on the Lecture Circuit,” about the Harry Walker Agency in New York, then the world’s largest lecture agency. In the article, Henry Kissinger was quoted as asking Walker why he should sign with his company instead of with one of his competitors. Walker’s response: “We don’t have any competitors.”
“No competitors.” This led Bernie Swain to take them on. And, ultimately, he indeed proved them wrong – they ended up with quite a competitor.
The big break came when Ronald Reagan selected the new bureau to represent him in his post-presidency speaking career. I loved the reason:
“…it was the president himself who chose you. He liked that you, Paula, and Harry were starting up a new business, and he wanted to give you a chance.”
Now, about this book: after the story of the bureau is told, there are short chapters highlighting insights from one person per chapter, with this emphasis – their defining moments – “moments that defined them!”
The list of chapters includes names of accomplished people in government service, journalism, sports – the kind of cross-section of people that a top-notch speakers bureau would represent. (among the names: Madeline Albright; Lou Holtz; Dave Barry; Ted Koppel; Mary Matalin; Condoleezza Rice; Terry Bradshaw… It is quite a bi-partisan list, by the way).
In the world of Christian devotional literature, books have short, easy-to-read-and-ponder-in-one-sitting chapters. There are other books – let’s call them “daily inspiration books” — that have the same format. (I think back to a book I read by Earl Nightingale, decades ago. The book was composed of his short radio scripts. It was a helpful dose of daily inspiration).
I think this book can be read in this way. And I think you will find it worth your time.
So, take a good look at Bernie Swain’s What Made Me Who I Am. (It will be published on Tuesday, September 6. Here’s the Amazon link).
And, then, think about: your own work ethic, your own challenge to rise above your competition, and your own defining moments. I think such thoughts will be worth pondering, and this book will help.