‘Twas a summer way back in the 1960s. It was the interlude between my sophomore and junior years in college. That particular summer I hung out with a friend named Les. He was nearly two years younger than I and he had just graduated from high school. He had turned 18 and I was just 19, still six months away from turning 20. Being rather immature, I was more comfortable with friends a year or two younger.
I worked part-time that summer trying to sell encyclopedias door-to-door. This was daunting for someone as shy as I was. However, I did eventually sell seven sets–not thru my efforts as much as Collier’s carefully constructed pitch. On my days off Les and I hung out together. We went to the beach, East Harbor State Park, talked mostly about girls and drank a little beer. Back then in Ohio you could drink 3.2% beer at 18.
Les always seemed to me so average–not athletic, not tall, average features, average grades. But Les had more; he had great self-esteem, I didn’t. Les’s pop was an attorney, mine wasn’t. He came from an intact normal family with siblings, I didn’t. I was a pathologically shy teen. Les also had an older brother, Doug, who was everything he wasn’t–handsome, charming, athletic–but it didn’t seem to bother him.
Enter the goddess Sandi. She was the cousin of a mutual friend of ours. Les and I met her one sunday afternoon when we drove over to our friend’s house. Sandi lived in Michigan and was down staying with her cousin for the summer and working at one of the area resorts. She had just finished her freshman year at one of the state universities in Michigan. Sandi had been sunbathing in the back yard and when she came inside passed within inches of me. I almost had a seizure–my body went limp and my legs trembled. I tried to speak but my mind whirled and no words came out. I had never been so close to someone so attractive. I guess our friend Jeff introduced Les and I to Sandi. I can’t really remember; I was in shock. I do remember that the following week I couldn’t get her out of my thoughts. One 15-min exposure and I was totally, deeply in love. I had met the girl of my dreams–being a shy 19-year old guy is not a pleasant experience. It is living within a state of pretty much ongoing torment.
Les and I both agreed that Sandi was gorgeous–possibly the sexiest girl we had ever seen–far better than any centerfold. She was tall, had light sandy-brown hair and a great figure. She was the girl from Ipanema. She was the subject of our conversation for several weeks. I kept wondering if I ran into Sandi again would I be able to speak? What could I possibly say to impress her? It was all beyond me; heck, normal social interactions were beyond me. I was only able to hawk the encyclopedias because I had memorized the pitch. My thing for Sandi seemed utterly hopeless.
A week or two later Les decided that he was going to get a date for the upcoming weekend. He had made a list of seven potential candidates. Being normal, being methodical, Les went down the list. The first girl was a no, as was the second. I marveled at his tenacity and courage. By the second turn-down I would have been reduced to a blob of inchoate protoplasm, and it would have been years before I’d ever ask anyone again to go out. Two turn downs and every thought I’d ever had about my inadequacy as a human being would have been confirmed. But Les persisted thru four more turndowns. I could scarcely believe his attitude; he was being slaughtered and yet he courageously kept on. The last name on the list was Sandi. Les had added her as an afterthought. And guess what, Sandi said yes. I couldn’t believe it; she was going out with a Mr. Average who was a year younger than her. Les hadn’t even been to college yet. Though happy for my friend Les, I was more than a bit jealous.
There was a lesson for me in the tale of Les and Sandi. I saw the value in persistence and in risking oneself. I also realized that whatever the “right stuff” was in the self-esteem dept, I didn’t have it. I have told this story to several dozen clients over the years. It is a great example of how goal-directed risk can bring success. It is also the perfect illustration about the fruits of good self-esteem. Les didn’t seem to care one iota that the first six girls turned him down. He seemed to instinctively know that the rejections weren’t about him, and even if they were, so what? I’m not sure what he told himself about the turndowns but he didn’t seem to be a bit bothered. I’m sure at least a couple were because the girls had already planned something else. But if I had been on the receiving end of the six turndowns, there would have been no doubt in my mind that it was because they thought I was a creep.
And so here I am five decades later wondering if anything has really changed. I am no longer pathologically shy, and I have had a few successes in life. I did spend nine years married to an exotically beautiful woman–Sandi was a pale shadow compared to her. But that was a long time ago. I know that to achieve great success one has to risk it all. If I really looked a bit I could probably find a Bible verse that supported that thought. And so here I sit with my “Les List” of seven potential risks. What the heck, I think I’ll have another glass of wine.