Don't let adversity get you down

Columnist Harvey Mackay says starting over can lead to great things.

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In 1914, Thomas Edison's factory in West Orange, New Jersey, was destroyed by a fire. Much of Edison's life's work went up in flames. At the height of the fire, Edison's 24-year-old son, Charles, searched frantically for his father. He finally found him, calmly watching the fire, his face glowing in the reflection, his white hair blowing in the wind.

Charles' heart ached for his father. Edison was 67 at the time, and everything was gone. When he saw his son, he shouted, "Charles, where's your mother?" Then he said, "Find her. Bring her here. She will never see anything like this as long as she lives."

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The next morning, Edison looked at the ruins and said, "There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew."

Leaders always look for the positive, even in the direst of circumstances. This story from "Bits & Pieces" about the inventor is a prime example.

As daunting as it may seem, you can start anew. There doesn't have to be a fire, and it doesn't have to be the beginning of a new year. Think about what you really want. Some things are hard to let go of, to leave behind. But letting go need not be the end of the world. Think of it instead as an opportunity you can't pass up.


Author Marsha Petrie Sue said, "Every day is a new beginning. Treat it that way. Stay away from what might have been and look at what can be."

The world is full of people who changed their lives or jumped to a new career and started anew.

Reid Hoffman began his professional life in academia, but soon caught the entrepreneurship bug. After working for Apple in the '90s and attempting to set up social networking for the company, he formed another social networking platform called SocialNet in 1997. After that company went bankrupt, he applied all his knowledge to what became the world's premier platform for career networking: LinkedIn.

Brad Pitt at one time chauffeured strippers to and from bachelor parties. He also worked as a furniture mover and dressed up as a giant chicken mascot for the restaurant chain El Pollo Loco. He enrolled in acting classes with the dream of a movie career. Within seven months, he signed with an agent and today is one of the most famous and recognizable superstars in the world.

Pope Francis went from being a bouncer at a Buenos Aires nightclub and working as a janitor during the day to becoming pontiff (with a few stops in between). He proved that big leaps, even unusual or almost impossible ones, are worth taking.

The husband-and-wife team of Tim and Nina Zagat behind the popular dining surveys of the same name were corporate lawyers when they first started printing their restaurant guides. The guides became so popular that the 51-year-old Tim left his job as corporate counsel for Gulf & Western Industries to manage the business in 1986. Nina left corporate law to work on the dining surveys as well.

Mick Jagger, lead singer for the Rolling Stones, worked at a psychiatric hospital as a porter to pay for his education at the London School of Economics. He dreamed of being a journalist until he found joy in playing in a band.

Bernie Marcus was the chairman of Handy Dan Home Improvement Centers when he was fired in 1978. I learned in interviewing Bernie for my book "We Got Fired! ... and It's the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Us" that the following year, he and Arthur Blank decided to open a huge home-improvement store called The Home Depot. Today, Home Depot is the largest home-improvement retailer, with more than 2,300 stores.


Lady Gaga dropped out of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts to pursue her music career. The major label Def Jam Recordings let her go after only three months, requiring her to start all over again. The rest is history.

Whitney Wolfe Herd was co-founder and vice president of marketing for the dating app Tinder when she was forced to leave the company after filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against her boss. Herd moved on and created Bumble, which allows women to make the first move in matchmaking. Today, Bumble has more than 35 million users.

From inauspicious beginnings to dreams come true, these stories are repeated every day all over the world. There's no reason why the next big story can't be about you.

Mackay's Moral: Starting anew is the beginning of a new you.

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached at , by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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