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The Flatlander

A Break Can Make All The Difference


“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of person-kind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.”

-Leo Buscaglia

Check out the music library on my phone and you’ll find everything from Hank Williams, to Kenny G, to Quiet Riot, to Demi Lovato, and the Mississippi Mass Choir. But country is my music genre of choice, probably because of all those years I spent riding around with a beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking dad who tuned in to stations that played Charlie Pride and Waylon Jennings and Glen Campbell and Loretta Lynn as we drove aimlessly through the Delta countryside. They sang about lost loves, getting drunk, going broke, and crying in the rain. Yes, listening to country music feels like home.

That’s why it was so interesting last year tuning in to Ken Burns’ expansive documentary on country music spanning nearly a century. The only thing more dramatic than the songs themselves, are the real-life stories about how each talented musician persisted and worked hard and played by the rules.

While every artist showed immense talent and all the qualities mentioned above, there was typically one, random thing that separated the break throughs from the never was-es.

Everyone who made it can look back on a “break.”

For each, there was a specific moment when the right person was in the right place with the right mindset, and could offer a scenario to help each performer. Oftentimes, I think, we make our own breaks by working hard and not quitting. Others are created by total random circumstance. Serendipity, they call it.

It may not put us on the fast track to stardom in the Ryman Auditorium, but just about all of us can look back with grateful memories for a break we got at some place and time.

My friend, Jerry Brackett a successful Arkansas architect and a mentor of sorts in my early adulthood once said this: “You never get anywhere in life without someone else’s help.”

That’s true enough.

It’s so easy talking about our achievements. Getting this job, winning that award. I challenge you to look at those things in depth without finding someone who helped you get there.

My first job out of college was at a newspaper in Melbourne, Florida called Florida Today. I got the interview on spring break my senior year because of a college professor who knew someone there. He opened that door.

My “dream job” came at 30. I was press secretary for U.S. Rep. Marion Berry. My boss at the time, the publisher of the Jonesboro Sun, had granted me a leave of absence to work on Berry’s campaign before the election and subsequent offer to work for him.

Had we lost, I’d have had a job to return to. John Troutt Jr., gave me a safety net, of sorts. It would have never been possible without him.

A friend in the right place at the right time helped me get an interview at Arkansas State University when I desperately needed a “family-friendly” job with more time off the road and at home.

In my first go-around with self employment creating a small publishing company a group of friends came together as key advertising support – enough to get us going that we got off to a great start without ever borrowing a dime.

Just last year, realizing I’d be spending more time in Mountain View, I wrote a quick note to my college friend, Lori Freeze, telling her if she ever needed any help, I was around. That was almost a year ago now.

Earlier this year in January, just when I’d given up on the dream of writing books in the traditional world of publishing, a well respected author I admire joined a literary agency I love to represent new authors in the non-fiction world.

I knew we had a mutual friend, whom I subsequently wrote a note to. His immediate response: “Let me make a phone call.”

Two days later, I was on the phone with agent Mary DeMuth. A month after that we signed a contract.

Would it have happened without the intermediary break? Maybe. But maybe not.

Maybe none of this at all would have happened without a break.

Everyone needs a break. Are you on the lookout today for someone to whom you can give a break?

See you in next week’s newspaper.

(Steve Watkins is a reporter columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at steve@stonecountyleader.com).


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