How to Make Optimism Work for You

Jane Brody in The New York Times:

OpMy recent column on optimism drew hundreds of comments from readers who testified to the value of living life as a glass half full. But one in particular — from a 90-year-old man living in Calabasas, Calif. — was especially telling. The reader, William Richmond, wrote that a phrase in the column, “Fake it until you make it,” summed up his long and very successful life.

His approach to life could serve as a battle plan for the millions of recent college graduates now searching for work in an unforgiving job market, as well as for older adults trying to re-enter the workplace after a long hiatus and those who lost jobs and must now reinvent themselves. In 1946, after serving nearly four years as a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps, Mr. Richmond said he returned to civilian life “certain I could conquer anything I went after.” After all, he’d managed to fly solo and safely land a Piper Cub after just six hours of training, then spent the next year learning to be a pilot. “Do it, then learn how — I guess if it’s good enough for the Marines…,” he wrote. Mr. Richmond loved jazz and, having been handed a drum to play in his middle school band in Rockford, Ill., he decided to go to Los Angeles to become a professional musician. “I wasn’t very good, but I could keep pretty good time and could look like I knew what I was doing,” he wrote. “In a few months I actually got a job in a downtown bar and in due time was playing in a big band.” But recognizing his musical limitations, he then enrolled in a music college to learn how to be a professional drummer, after which he worked almost nonstop for 15 years in big-name bands, playing for singers like Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra — and finally for Jerry Lewis. Noting Mr. Richmond’s ability to make people laugh, Mr. Lewis asked him up to write jokes, then a movie, “The Ladies Man” (1961), which was a success even though his collaborator, Mel Brooks, quit early on, leaving Mr. Richmond, a complete novice, to write it. After taking a class in screenwriting, Mr. Richmond wrote six more movies for Mr. Lewis, and followed that with 30 years as a professional comedy writer on countless TV shows before retiring at age 73. “The important thing,” Mr. Richmond said in an interview, “is to visualize what you want and go after it. Be ready for an opening — serendipity — all the time.”

More here.