Yes, that Zig Zigler! I don't know how true it is, but it inspired me to start reading more. The problem with that is that I was a very poor reader. I still am. I always have been. I moved a lot as a child. Being the son of a military lifer, I attended 10 different schools before I even started high school. Every time I moved, I got farther and farther behind, especially in math and reading. As a child, I was rarely read to by my mother. I was one of five children she had within ten years before she turned 29 years old. To say that she had her hands full was an understatement. And, she got little or no help from my father. Couple that with not being able to focus on ANYTHING for more than a minute or so, and you have a prescription for being a poor reader as an adult.
Being a poor reader caused me to struggled with school all my life. I barely got into college, and by the slimmest of margins I did in fact graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication. To balance that I was very determined and worked very hard, just not at studying. It wasn’t until I heard Zig speak those words that I re-determined to read more and to become better at it. My minister, Leon Barnes, also encouraged me to read more. I was amazed when I he told me that he read at least one book per week! As a public speaker I was often asked to speak on various opportunities. On one occasion I lamented that I didn’t have a good speech topic come to me yet, and time was running out. He laughed and said, “Steve, you’re behind on your reading.” He went on to say, “If you just read something to contemplate and meditate on everyday then you’ll never have to decide on what to speak of. All you have to do is speak and retell what you read that day.” It wasn’t easy, and it sometimes took me a long time to finish a single book. When I did finally finish reading a complete book from cover to cover, I felt like I had conquered the monster in my life. I danced, I shouted, I celebrated! Then I continued to read some more. Even though I still do not consider myself a good reader I have never stopped reading since then. I probably learned more about my discipline and success by reading than anything else in the last 35 years or so.
Twenty five years after I left college with my bachelors degree I went back to graduate school with a new confidence to succeed because I was now a READER! I graduated with a masters degree in Integrated Marketing Communication with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
What was I now reading? Other than graduate school assignments, nothing technical. Nothing to complicated. I did NOT like reading fiction. I liked reading about human striving for excellence, and I liked reading success stories. Those elements seem to all come together in autobiographies.
In my first year as professor of Mass Communication at Harding University I was asked to teach a class to budding journalists called Broadcast Performance. About halfway through the semester I feared running out of content. So, I assigned the class one of my favorite personal projects, reading an autobiography of a famous journalist. The class moaned and complained about the assignment (what??? them???). They had to read and then either write a synopsis or give a PowerPoint presentation on their selected journalist crush! After all was said and done, they loved it! This assignment turned out to be one of their favorite assignments. The next semester I taught Broadcast Reporting. I was going to do this again for that class, but most of the students I had in Broadcast Performance was also in Broadcast Reporting.
As an incentive, I offered to buy back each of their books from them after the assignment was completed, (at a reduced rate of course). I loved reading these. My wife always called me out saying, with great sarcasm, "I thought you didn't like to read fiction?"
My fun reading story: Back in the late 70’s and 80’s I was always a big fan of the legendary sports journalist and broadcaster, Howard Cosell. There were only about six of us in the country at that time! I got to work with him once when I was a photojournalist for an ABC television affiliate station in Little Rock. He was a kind-gentlemen that was engaging and entertaining as we worked. I also had a rather impressive Howard Cosell voice impersonation. I told him so and he insisted that I show him! When I returned from the assignment I read his entire autobiography, "I Never Played the Game," OUT LOUD, in my Howard Cosell voice impersonation! Yep, read the entire book out loud! It was so fun. It drove my wife crazy!
Steve Shaner, is a professional storyteller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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