WE STOOD ON TABLES or chairs, threw our hands in the air, and as animated and loud as our tired, sleep-deprived bodies would allow, yelled through hoarse throats, “I feel healthy! I feel happy! I feel terrific!”
I was 18 and had quit three-quarters of the way through my first term of college because I had been accepted into Mr. W. Clement Stone’s Combined Insurance Sales & License Preparation two-week training in downtown Chicago. If I passed, I was guaranteed a job.
My fellow students showed up that first morning very tired. Our trainer, whose job it was to mold us into purpose-driven “positive-attitude, never-give-up sales machines,” noticed our heavy heads and said to us, “Stand up! Now repeat after me, ‘I feel healthy! I feel happy! I feel terrific!’” He explained that on the road to success we were not always going to feel like making that next sales call, reading that next book on success, or being on fire with positive enthusiasm, so we could simply repeat to ourselves out loud or in silence, “I feel healthy! I feel happy! I feel terrific!” We repeat these words, he said, because we have powerful brains, in charge of how we feel, since our emotions and actions follow our thoughts.
I listened! When I look at how sophisticated our world has become, that simple mantra, along with books like Laws of Success and Think and Grow Rich that were part of Mr. Stone’s curriculum, seem trivial and very old school. The idea that someone could get purpose out of selling insurance might seem a bit simple. Or maybe not.
I’ve been thinking about Mr. Stone’s classes as I reread As a Man Thinketh, a book I last read when I was a teenager. I am reading it on my phone as I am able to steal a few moments as I drive through the Western states with our four youngest boys, who are 8, 8, 11, and 13. We are camping in an RV on a quest to see all 48 lower states, having seen most of the Eastern states earlier this year. America is beautiful. It is inspiring seeing Mt. Rushmore and visiting trails and the homes and libraries of our great presidents and leaders as we travel.
It is also inspiring reading the bronze narratives about the CCC projects we encounter. Many of the trails, roads, and monuments in many of the parks we have visited were completed by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), which was created by President Franklin Roosevelt.
Over 10 years, the CCC hired three million single, young, jobless men for the “conservation and development of rural lands owned by federal, state, and local governments.” They were paid $30 a month, $25 of which was to be sent home to their families.
Everywhere we look we see the work of these young men. Men who Roosevelt had the good sense to put to work doing something constructive, beautiful, and worthwhile rather than having them sit at home idle during the Great Depression. I am sure some of those boys needed some coaching by their supervisors. While they may not have gotten up to yell, “I feel healthy! I feel happy!” and such at the breakfast table, I am sure there was a positive feedback loop embedded in a day spent in nature, building enduring and worthwhile infrastructure we are still enjoying today. I wonder about those men of the CCC and the luck they had to be a beneficiary of the understanding Mr. Roosevelt had regarding how we humans operate as physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual beings.
As we travel, my wife Amy and I are constantly hiring people to help us. We praise them for their help. A week ago, we had a flat tire on our six-wheel rig. We came into a crossroads town near the Texas border and pulled into a converted gas station with a spraypainted sign reading “tires.” A bunch of new and used tires were scattered around the dusty lot. A 30-something man with grease and dirt from a long day of work came out and looked over our tire.
My kids filed out as he raised the passenger-side rear wheels off the cement a few inches. He climbed under, came out, looked at my boys for a while, and then told them to “stand over there,” pointing to a place a few feet away. They watched as he took the wheels off with dusty elegance and efficiency and wrestled the embedded screw from the tire’s tread. He then said they could not follow him into his shop—“dangerous,” he said as he motioned for them to stand at the door as they stood on tippy toes to watch. It was getting dark; the sun sets quickly in the desert.
He came out and put the tire on. I followed him into his humble office. He told me it would be $25. I got tears in my eyes and said, “You have been an angel to us. What would we have done if you had not been here?” He looked at me and said nothing, his face a bit red that I would call him an angel. I said, “$25 is too low, make it $50.” I signed his iPad and we drove off. I told the boys he was an angel and they showed me the big screw covered in tire bits that the man had given them.
I hoped he went home and told his family how he helped this guy with a bunch of boys get back on the road. I hope whoever meets him at the dinner table realizes how important his work is. I think we need to say thank you to everyone that comes into our universe. We need to have them know that their small act was helpful, was nice, and connected us.
Thank you for reading this column. Writing it gives me some purpose and allows me to feel useful. Maybe we should have said, “I feel healthy! I feel happy! I feel useful!” so many years ago in that Chicago seminar room.