Words of Wisdom from Gene Simmons’s Mom

Flora Klein is a lovely, Hungarian woman.  She is on in years.  Born in 1927, she is ninety this year.  Jewish, she survived the death camps of the Third Reich.  To say she is quite a remarkable lady is an exercise in understatement.

As a fourteen-year-old girl, she watched her mother and grandmother go to their deaths.  Her grandmother was given the death sentence and her daughter—Flora’s mother—did not want her mother to face death alone and made the incredible decision to join her in death.  A profoundly moving example of sacrifice and selflessness in the face of evil.

Having survived the horrors of the war, she emigrated to Israel.  There, she married  a carpenter and had a son, Chaim, in 1949.  Her husband eventually left the family and left mother and son to fend for themselves.

In 1958, Flora and Chaim journeyed to America to forge a new life, as have done many Jews over the past century or more.

They settled in New York.  Chaim grew up and took his mother’s name, Klein, and exchanged his Hebrew name for Eugene, or “Gene” for short.  Gene Klein.

Gene—still “Chaim” to his mother—received all his direction, nurture, and inspiration from his mother.  It is no exaggeration to say that Gene worships the ground his mother walks on.  Not his father; his mom.  Mention her and ask him to talk about her and he tears up.

Gene was trained in rabbinic Judaism at a New York yeshiva and eventually worked as a New York City school teacher.  He was a young musician and pursued that, his mother cheering him on.  Eventually he formed a group with his friend Stanley Eisen.  He and Stanley changed their names.  Now they are known as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  You’ve probably figured out that Israeli-born Chaim Witz is Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS.

Gene eventually went on to superstardom in the entertainment industry.  In recent years, he’s gotten into many different business ventures—some as startups rooted in KISS®, the brand.  Others are independent enterprises.

A few years ago, when asked on the Canadian talk show The Hour (minute 11:10) where he got his inspiration to be a success in so many fields, he answered without hesitation, “My mother.”  He began to choke up as he told the audience he wished she could be a part of all their lives.

His advice:  If you want inspiration, look to your mom.  She’s his inspiration to this moment.

He spoke of the time he got his first $10,000,000.00 (yes, that much) check—a one lump sum—as a return on his work with KISS.  He brought the check to his mother, wanting her to be proud of him.  “Mom, look at this.”

She said, in her broken English, “V’wonderful (pronounced VWAHN-dare-fool).  V’wonderful…..Now what are you going to do?”

Superstardom.  A ten-million-dollar check.  “Now what are you going to do?” Are you serious?

“Precisely the point,” says Gene.  One doesn’t rest on yesterday’s accomplishments.  Tomorrow is a new day.  What will you do to better yourself?  How can you improve what you do?

This is timeless—and distinctly Jewish—advice and perspective.  How about you?  Are you going to rest on yesterday’s successes?  Or worse, are you going to give up because of yesterday’s failures and disappointments?  Or will you value the gift of life and make the most of it that is possible?

Not sure?  Ask Chaim.  Better yet, ask his mother.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement (Steven L. Pease)

The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank)

 

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Larry Bird’s Hall of Fame Habit

The Work Ethic of Larry BirdIn 1979, Larry Joe Bird, “the hick from French Lick (Indiana)”, first broke into the NBA, the beginning of a long and spectacular career with the Boston Celtics.  Larry had a practice regimen that he faithfully observed throughout his career.  He would arrive at the venue at least two hours before game time and, with the help of a ball boy, shoot baskets.  Over and over.  Before every single game.  Larry said that through hard work and self-discipline, he was able to go farther in his career than other guys who had better natural gifts but didn’t work hard developing their talents.  Though Bird was tall (6’9”), he couldn’t run or jump well.  But he could outshoot and outthink his opponents.  This he did time and time again.

We all come into life with certain aptitudes, advantages and challenges.  What we do with what we’ve been given determine the kinds of lives we make for ourselves.  Quality and success in life do not come automatically.  You may have superior intelligence, even brilliance.  But if you neglect the hard work of study, learning, practice and productivity, your potential will remain unfulfilled.  That software developer, entrepeneur, author, cardiologist or Grammy Award-winning musician inside you does not emerge automatically.

Some years ago a friend of mine was working on his Ph.D (in education).  When asked what types of students earn their doctorates (versus those who don’t), he remarked, “The Einsteins wash out.” Why? “Because you can’t outsmart the work.”  That was the secret of Thomas Edison’s genius.  “It’s plain hard work that does it.”

Similarly, you may have come into life with health problems in your family tree.  Those challenges do not have to define or limit your life.  You may have obesity, heart disease or high blood pressure in your family line but their effects are not necessarily inevitable.  Again, it takes work—the hard but fruitful work of exercising, eating carefully, avoiding unhealthy behaviors and stuff.

Life is what we make it.  It’s a canvas to paint on.  Like Larry Bird, with hard work and self-discipline, we can take modest giftings, even disadvantages and turn them into a Hall of Fame life.

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Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires

Brian TracyI listened today to one of my favorite speakers on self-development, Brian Tracy.  He turned my thinking upside-down, as he often does.

Speaking on the topic “Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires,” Brian hit on the question of motivation.  Paraphrased, he pointed out that, more importantly than increasing one’s income to seven figures, what one must become in order to earn a million dollars is of paramount importance.

I’d heard this before, many times.  But today, it hit me in a fresh and invigorating way.  I’m not really the kind of person that would find happiness in more and better “stuff.”  Vacations in exotic and storied locations?  Sure, I’d enjoy them.  But I’ve a happy marriage and would gladly count an evening talking to my wife of twenty-five years a night well-spent.

In terms of self-development, however, he had me.  As I learned many years ago, many–perhaps most–of those with annual incomes in excess of a million dollars are “past the utility curve” with respect to money (to quote Chuck Missler).  Money becomes a way of keeping score.  “Am I contributing something of such value that people will give up their hard-earned cash to acquire what I offer?”  It’s a worthy question–one that will rattle you if you let it.

And it should.  Time, after all, is money.

To increase one’s income substantially requires tenacity, discipline, clearly-defined goals, continuous learning, and constant self-evaluation.

Okay, how about you?  More cars, vacations, and devices will probably not make you happier in the long haul.  But becoming the kind of person who can use his or her skills, carefully cultivated habits of work, and creative thinking to acquire a sizable income will.  Why?  Because, as Brian says, to do this, you’ve got to transform who’ve you’ve been into someone better.  Sharper.  Above the mediocre herd.

In a word: Excellent.

Are you up for this?

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To Live Life Well

lifewelllived

“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.” (Bessie Anderson Stanley)

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The Hard Work Factor in Making It

hard-workIf you stop by The Upside often, you’ll know that over the past number of years, I’ve mentored  young leaders..  During one particular period, a handful of guys in their twenties met with me and we discussed leadership, family, career and steps to success.  They were inspiring and invigorating meetings.

A couple of these men work between ninety and one hundred hours a week.

No, that wasn’t a typo.

90-100 hours every week, holding down multiple jobs.

You simply cannot expect to advance in your career, increase your income and become exceptional in your vocations and avocations without putting time into them.  A lot of time.

There are no shortcuts.  Those who are “getting rich quick” with cheap moneymaking schemes will eventually lose.  Being clever is not necessarily the mark of being a professional.  Nor is it a benchmark of character.

These guys earn my respect.  They are putting out to get ahead for their families—multiple jobs, college and vocational schooling.  And they carve out a couple of hours each week to meet and be challenged.

I’ve long admired the cultural, economic and vocational achievements of the Jewish people.  Jews make up one fifth of one percent of the world’s population and yet have won about twenty-two percent of all Nobel Prizes awarded since 1901.

This is due in part to a sober understanding that to get ahead and make an impact in the world takes an enormous amount of focus and hard work over many years.  The Jewish people have understood this as well as any people group in history.

God initially set the bar for humanity when He said, “Six days you shall labor and do your work.  The seventh is a Sabbath (rest) to the Lord your God.”  The Hebrew day was a twelve hour day.  Over a six-day period, that comprises seventy-two hours (no, I didn’t say forty).

There are no shortcuts.

I left our meeting challenged by the lifestyle of my colleagues.  How much would my skills as a writer and a musician improve—exponentially—if I worked ninety plus hours each week (including my forty-hour day job)?

How much indeed?

Time to get at it.

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Factors In Success

outliers_gladwellLast year I read a remarkable book, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  I am stunned by the results of Gladwell’s investigation into the hidden causes of success.  It is one of the most fascinating and upsetting books I’ve read in a long time.  Upsetting in a good sense, that is.  It upsets commonly cherished ideas about how people attain success in life.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck argues that one of the characteristics and problems of our age is what he calls simplism.  Simplistic thinking fails to take into account that life is complex.  There are many variables that make up the people we live with and the challenges of our time.  The rub is that the variables are not always apparent.  It takes probing, time, patience and labor, for thinking is work.  Really.

The strength of Gladwell’s work is the way he demonstrates that, for example, 1) Bill Gates was not just a computer genius who came on the scene in the 1970’s and through sheer brilliance became the richest living American, 2) Asians aren’t necessarily “better” at math than Westerners but are more patient and their numbers nomenclature more user-friendly, and 3) that some recent airline disasters have more to do with overarching cultural distinctions vis-à-vis authority and power distance rather than simple “pilot error.”

I’m not writing today’s post as a spoiler for Gladwell’s book.  You owe it to yourself to get your hands on it and read carefully.  When I finished the book, I was struck with the reality that I am far too quick to pass judgment on the issues of the day, on why some fail and some succeed, even on theological issues—the area that I’ve given the most attention to since the early 1980’s.  Rarely are all the facts and evidence on the surface.

We are all composites of the influences and environments in which we were raised and in which we now spend our lives.  We are not simply our genetic makeup, products of our DNA.  More often than not, there are hidden factors that figure into the success of some, the failure of others.  Timing often figures in as much as raw ability.  We can thank Malcolm Gladwell and those like him (Scott Peck, Geoff Colvin, etc.) for digging deeper and giving us the full picture.

Here are a few brainteasers with which to bait yourself:

  • What cultural and economic tides are coming in right now that I can make the most of?  In other words, can I discern the signs  and trends of the times?  My friend Christopher Hopper has written extensively on the emerging wave of self-publishing.  You can read about that here.  It most certainly will be a force in the literary world in the days to come.  But it needed a level playing field, courtesy of the World Wide Web, to function and in which to be established.
  • What current politically hot issue engages me the most and do I have solid, consistent thinking and evidence to support my position?  Democrats routinely chide pro-life evangelicals for being oxymoronic—at once militantly anti-abortion and also vehemently pro-war (or pro-death penalty).  Are the criticisms valid?
  • Am I patient enough to thoroughly research problems and find meaningful solutions? Peck again.  You must be patient and resist the urge for simplistic, easy answers.  Thinking is work.  Are you up to it?

Digest Gladwell’s book.  It is a very important contribution!

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Flora Klein’s Advice to Her Son

Flora and ChaimFlora Klein is a lovely, Hungarian woman.  She is on in years.  Born in 1927, she will be 86 this year.  Jewish, she survived the death camps of the Third Reich.  To say she is quite a remarkable lady is an exercise in understatement.

As a fourteen-year-old girl,  she watched her mother and grandmother go to their deaths.  Her grandmother was given the death sentence and her daughter—Flora’s mother—did not want her mother to face death alone and made the incredible decision to join her in death.  A profoundly moving example of sacrifice and selflessness in the face of evil.

Having survived the horrors of the war, she emigrated to Israel.  There, she married  a carpenter and had a son, Chaim, in 1949.  Her husband eventually left the family and left mother and son to fend for themselves.

In 1958, Flora and Chaim journeyed to America to forge a new life, as have done many Jews over the past century or more.

They settled in New York.  Chaim grew up and took his mother’s name, Klein, and exchanged his Hebrew name for Eugene, or “Gene” for short.  Gene Klein.

Gene—still “Chaim” to his mother—received all of his direction, nurture, and inspiration from his mother.  It is no exaggeration to say that Gene worships the ground his mother walks on.  Mention her and ask him to talk about her and he tears up.

Gene was trained in rabbinics and eventually worked as a New York City school teacher.  He is also a musician and pursued that, his mother cheering him on.  Eventually he formed a group with his friend Stanley Eisen.  He and Stanley changed their names.  Now they are known as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  You’ve doubtless figured out that Israeli-born Chaim Witz is Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS.

Gene eventually went on to superstardom in the entertainment industry.  In recent years, he’s gotten into many different business ventures—some as startups rooted in KISS®, the brand.  Others are independent enterprises.

A few years ago, when asked on the Canadian talk show The Hour where he got his inspiration to be a success in so many fields, he answered without hesitation, “My mother.”  He began to choke up as he told the audience he wished she could be a part of all their lives.

His advice:  If you want inspiration, look to your mom.  She’s his inspiration to this moment.

He spoke of the time he got his first $10,000,000.00 (not a typo) check—a one lump sum—as a return on his work with KISS.  He brought the check to his mother, wanting her to be proud of him.  “Mom, look at this.”

She said, in her broken English, “V’wonderful (pronounced VWAHN-dare-fool).  V’wonderful…..Now what are you going to do?”

Superstardom.  A ten million dollar check.  “Now what are you going to do?” Are you serious?

“Precisely the point,” says Gene.  One doesn’t rest on yesterday’s accomplishments.  Tomorrow is a new day.  What will you do to better yourself?  How can you improve what you do?

This is timeless—and distinctly Jewish—advice and perspective.  How about you?  Are you going to rest on yesterday’s successes?  Or worse, are you going to give up because of yesterday’s failures and disappointments?  Or will you value the gift of life and make the most of it that is possible?

Not sure?  Ask Chaim.  Better yet, ask his mother.

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