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Kurt Ellis
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The secret to success

30 April 2014, 10:43

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” – Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp. 1977

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." -- Western Union internal memo, 1876.

"I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper." -- Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in "Gone With the Wind."

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." -- Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

"Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax." -- William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, British scientist, 1899.

These people, experts in the relative fields were adamant that they were correct, but we now know that they were proven woefully wrong in the end.  Don’t let anyone tell you, you cannot do it. That it can’t be done. “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” -George Bernard Shaw.

Dreams can and do come true. The success you desire is within your grasp. You just have to believe, be determined and be disciplined to achieve it. And I am evidence of this…

My story began in 1993. I was in Standard 3 (Grade 5 now) when my English teacher called in my parents. I thought I had done something wrong. Instead, he instructed them to buy me a typewriter, as I was going to be an author. That day, a seed was planted. A dream. I always enjoyed the creative writing classes, but now I dreamt of one day, walking into a library and seeing a book with my name on the shelves.

I grew up in a place that was rife with gangs, drugs, alcohol abuse and the other evils that are associated with the world of the “don’t haves”. But I still wrote. I still believed in this dream. In 1998, I began writing a novel I called Time To Say Goodbye after the untimely death of my cousin. I wrote it by hand as my parents never did get around to getting me that type writer, as we did not have the money. I completed the story by the beginning of 1999, and filed it away with my collection of poems, songs and short stories I had written, not sure what to do with it. I also decided in 1999 that I did not want to grow up in this environment of squalor and violence, so I decided I would try to study in Johannesburg.

After matriculating, I received a bursary to study English Literature at Wits University. So I packed my bags and took a taxi to Mzansi. Only to be told that although res was included in my bursary, due to an administration mix up, there was no space for me. So there I was, alone and homeless. Too proud to reach out to my family for help, partly knowing there was little they could but tell me to come back home. I was sleeping in the basement at the University, having a cold shower in the gym before going to class. This went on for a week or two until I found a job working evenings in a Sales Call Centre. The first thing I did, was to embarrassingly ask my brand new boss for a salary advance, with which I used to put down a deposit on a room to let in someone’s flat. My daily schedule was then, leave for university at five, catch two taxi’s to get to campus. Attend lectures. Then when my classes were done, to get another taxi to work. Cold call people to sell them insurance policies they did not want until eight at night – (I was working on commission only as well, so no sales, no salary). I then had to try and catch the last taxi home. Should I miss that taxi…then it was a long, lonely and scary walk. But it was what needed to be done. It was not all sad times though, as during this time, I won the Harry Oppenheimer Creative Writing Award in my first year. That award reminded me of Time To Say Good Bye, so I took out those hand written notes, and began to type them into MS word. I then changed the title to Our Story, and sent it to a publisher with confidence that they would publish it. Months went by, without a word from this publisher. During this time, the financial challenges and stress got too much for me so I stopped studying and began working full time.

A year or so passed, and still no word back on my manuscript. So I reviewed the work myself, added some new chapters and re-wrote some old ones. I then sent it back to a whole list of publishers. I received no responses.  To say I was disappointed, would be an understatement. I felt humiliated. I felt like an idiot for ever believing I would be published. I gave up…but that dream still would not die. A year later, I re-wrote and sent it off again. This time, one of the publishers were kind enough to send me a rejection letter. The next year, I did the same. And the year after that. And the year after that. In the time since I first sent out my manuscript, I have been a sales manager of some of the largest insurance companies in South Africa, had two failed businesses of my own, been under debt review, fought to hold onto my home and car, fallen in love and fallen out of love. At different times, I felt as if I had the world at my feet, and at other times, the world on my shoulders. But every year, I stuck to my formula of discipline and belief. Of re-writing, and re-sending. Re-writing and re-sending. Re-writing and re-sending. For fifteen years. Re-writing and re-sending, until August last year.

I finally received a response from Human and Rousseau Publishers that they have accepted my manuscript, by now retitled By Any Means. After fifteen years of hearing ‘nos’, I finally received a ‘yes’. I was, and am, ecstatic. On the 15th May, 2014, this year, a book with my name will finally be on the shelves of major bookstores. Dreams do come true.

Many people have asked me how I did it. How I managed to persevere for fifteen years, and I tell them all the same thing. Each rejection was not a bad thing. As Thomas Edison is reported to have responded to a journalist who once asked what kept him going. What kept him motivated in trying to make a light bulb work after failing over 10 000 times. His response was “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10 000 ways that won’t work.” Like Mr. Edison, I was not rejected for fifteen years. I was given fifteen years to make my story better. And to be honest, when I look back at my original Time To Say Goodbye manuscript, I cringe. It was not good enough. It needed these fifteen years to be made better, and I believe it is much, much better. Besides, if I gave up after the first rejection, then clearly I did not want it that bad, now did I? Don’t get me wrong, rejection hurts. Failing hurts. The disappointed and depression I felt was immense, but I kept telling myself that each rejection was a good thing. Each failure only makes that fruit of success that much sweeter. Although I had evidence to the contrary, I convinced myself to keep going. That it would happen. And I worked at it. Working longer hours, redoing stuff I have done at least a thousand times before. Belief, discipline and determination, and on 15 May 2014, the fruit of fifteen years will be ripe.

I am no one special. Some of you have had a much harder life than I, and some a lot easier. But we all are born with the same tools required to make our dreams a reality. Belief, discipline and determination. Some people might not need fifteen years to make their dream a reality. Some would need only one year and others twenty. But remember, belief, discipline and determination. Until you have achieved your goals, never give up. Never give in.

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