The following article was reprinted with permission from the author, Captain George Burk, USAF (Ret), Plane crash, burn survivor, motivational speaker, author, writer. Visit his website at www.georgeburk.com or contact Captain Burk at gburk@georgeburk.com.

Steve Allen, a well-known (at least to many of my generation in the 1950’s and 60’s) television host, writer and musician passed away several years ago. His humor, writings and music will be missed by many people around the world. In many ways, he was a TV pioneer. His invention of the TV talk show had its roots in what seemed like certain failure.  It was the early 1950’s and TV was still in its infancy.  Many of you “older folks” like me probably remember the black and white Dumont Television. I can still hear him yelling, “smock, smock,” and Don Knotts replying in a quick, high, pitched voice “No!” when asked by Allen if he was “nervous” on the “Man on the Street” segment.

In 1947, at the age of 26, Steve Allen was out of work after his coast-to-coast comedy radio show was canceled.  Reluctantly, he took the only job offer he had at the time: as a disc jockey at a Los Angeles radio station.  A few months later, he started to tinker with the format.  Within two years, he changed the series into a popular one-hour comedy talk-show.

That program led to a variety-talk show on the CBS television network from 1950 to 1952 and then a late-night talk show on NBC’s flagship station in New York.  That show became so popular that NBC sought a counterpart to its “Today Show,” placed Allen on the network, renamed the show “Tonight” and let him create the format.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Johnny Carson took over from Allen and hosted the show for almost 30 years (“And now, heeeere’s Johnny!”).

Steve Allen’s four year stint as host of the “Tonight Show” from 1953-1957 became the spring board for his fifty year career built on perseverance and ingenuity.  Allen’s secret was he “didn’t waste time,” and what he was doing gave him so much pleasure that there wasn’t any time for something called a “weekend.”

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to meet a number of people — a few I met while a patient in the burn unit –who overcame the severest type of injuries any human can experience.  After their release from the hospital, they didn’t choose the path with the least resistance because they didn’t want to think or act like a victim. They sought to forge their own path in life.  Adversity was seen as a “gift” to help them grow and improve; a temporary road block on their life’s journey.  For example, a man who overcame a deformity and taught himself to dance; an artist who learned to paint after she lost her vision; a man who lost his face in a plane crash in Vietnam and started a burn camp for children several years after his release from the hospital.  There are literally thousands of other examples of personal courage, compassion, humility and perseverance.

I met Steve Allen. It was circa 1975 on a Continental Airlines flight from Kansas City, MO to Wichita, KS. I sat next to him for the 45 minute flight. I didn’t intrude on his privacy because he was working on some papers and reading. But I did take a moment to share how much I enjoyed his television shows. I ended my brief conversation with “Smock, smock.”

He smiled and thanked me.

Steve Allen – comedian, author, lyricist, composer, jazz pianist and playwright – built his career on several principles and so did many of my friends.  Here are a few of them:

When dealt a lemon, get creative (make lemonade).

The star of a dozen TV series, Steve Allen never let a cancellation notice faze him.  When his prime-time NBC variety series was given the “ax” in June 1960 after four years, he came back the next year on another network.  He never stopped his creativity and always found ways to put to use the talents he had at his disposal.  Many of the people I know and have met don’t spend a lot of time whining; they choose “winning” and concentrate on what they have, not what they don’t.  Improvise; find a way.  When the “tree of life” is filled with lemons, pick a few lemons and make lemonade. Like much of life, it’s a choice!

“I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade…And try to find somebody whose life has given them Vodka and have a party.” Ron White

The first time you choose to make ‘lemonade’ is a challenge. How ‘large’ is the ‘lemon?’ You need help to ‘squeeze’ the ‘lemon?’ What about the ‘seeds?’ How much ‘raw sugar’ to add to ‘sweeten’ it? The second time you make ‘lemonade’ and each time thereafter, you know the ‘ingredients’ and how much of each to use; the ’lemonade’ becomes ‘sweeter’ easier to ‘make.’

“Never stop learning, growing, or giving up.  One hand is better than none!”

Get out of your own way. 

Allen always cautioned people that at the moment of creativity, I call it an “Epiphany”, don’t second guess yourself.  “The editing, the revision, the improvement can come at a later point, but at the moment your original idea is flowing, just let it go.  In other words, get out of your own way,” he said. The approach works.  He wrote 53 books, six musicals, four plays and 52 record albums. Key: Have a concept of what you want to do, believe in yourself and then begin to pursue your idea(s) and dream(s).  You can always find “99 excuses” not to do something; all you need only one reason to act.  Don’t procrastinate – create.

“One may understand the cosmos but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.” G.K. Chesterton

 Don’t get bound by limitations (yours and others’).

Steve Allen wrote more than 7,200 songs yet he couldn’t read a note of music.  The 1985 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records lists Allen as the “most prolific composer of modern times.”  His hits—-including “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” and “Picnic” have been performed by more than 80 artists, including Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and Lionel Hampton. Other examples include people who ski, swim and compete in marathons.  They never let their “dis-ability” become a “lie-ability,” or “can’t -ability.”

“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitations. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.” Richard Bach

Keep going, no matter what.  As an author, Allen received more than his share of rejection slips as has many other authors.  Yet, “just about everything I write does seem eventually to get published,” he said.  One of his tricks was variety.  He’s written everything from murder mysteries to books on comedy and religion.  Obstacles can’t be seen as stop signs but as detours; a gift that’s telling you maybe there’s a better way of doing things.  You’ll experience token naysayers who may try to discourage you from pursuing an idea; perhaps they have a hidden agenda — they didn’t think of it first —or try to disparage you or your idea in front of others. Let them deal with their deep-seated insecurities and low self-esteem.

You: Have a dream, believe in yourself, know what you want to do, and don’t let anything or anyone deter you from accomplishing it.  To paraphrase William Shakespeare, “Know thyself and to thine own self be true!”

“Don’t watch the clock. Keep going.” Sam Levinson

Live up to your expectations – not down to others’.

To think small never got anyone anywhere.  Remember, Michaelangelo didn’t paint the “Sistine Floor” and Orville and Wilbur Wright knew that they would find a way to make an airplane fly.  How many other stories have you heard about people who kept trying and trying until they succeeded—from proving the world wasn’t flat, to finding cures for malaria, chicken-pox, typhoid and polio; the peanut and its many uses, electricity, the light bulb,  telephone, automobile, space flight and the computer chip.  Examples are almost endless.

“Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performances. Raise your performance to meet your expectations.” Ralph Marston

Our brain is a computer too; instead of zeros and ones, it uses electrical impulses.  But to be effective any computer must be programmed with good data.  If you input garbage, you get garbage out (GIGO).  If you “program” your mind (computer) with positive thoughts and good information, positive things will happen.   Establishing high expectations (programming the computer) is an important first step.                  

Benchmark.  You’ve undoubtedly heard this many times before, but it bears repeating.  It’s when you identify precisely what you want to improve; determine who does it the best and then study them. The term “benchmark” is usually applied to organizations and it’s an important tool to help improve a specific business process.  The principle has far-reaching applications for personal improvement, as well.

To be really effective, (you’re really committed to change, right?) the benchmark principles must be applied sequentially; that is, inside – out; personally, then outside in, professionally.  Regardless of what it is you want to improve, to make the commitment to change personally is the first and most important step.  That’s why many 12 Step Programs begin with the person acknowledging publicly that they have a problem and…they can’t accomplish their goal(s) without Divine intervention. Without this important first step, true healing and meaningful change can’t begin.

If you are truly committed to becoming a better speaker, writer, leader, boss, husband, father — human being, the first step in your journey starts with the admission that you want to change. The second step is to determine who does what you want to improve the best and then study them.  Watch them, read about them, ask people for positive, constructive feedback, accept the feedback as a gift….and then use it!  If you want to change and improve bad enough, you’ll find a way.

We’re not here very long –the blink of an eye in cosmic time – and we can choose to make this web called “life” stronger by right actions and right words or weaker by negative thoughts and negative words.  We can build up or tear down; make those around us feel like heroes or goats.  The next time you’re shaving, brushing your teeth, or putting on your make-up, take a moment and look in the mirror.  Who do you really see?  What’s that “inner voice” say to you…and us?

Remember that life (and success) is a marathon, not a sprint.  Never give up.  And laugh often.

Humor will get you through just about anything.  Believe me!!

“A sense of humor…is needed armor. Joy in one’s heart is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life.” Hugh Sidey