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Reagan's Journey
Lessons from a Remarkable Career

Ronald Reagan decided to go to college.

 

He got a summer position as a lifeguard, worked odd jobs throughout the year, and started saving. His father explained to him and his older brother Neil that he couldn't help them finance their education. At the time college was for the fortunate few; only 7 percent of Americans continued their education past high school. Neil, convinced college was out of the question, finished high school and went to work as a laborer in a local cement factory. Ronald Reagan, armed with determination and persistence, pursued a different path.

 

Fresh-faced and eager, he graduated from college in 1932 and ran head-on into the worst economic downturn in the nation's history. Unemployment hit an all-time high of 24 percent that summer, but rather than look for whatever job - if any - might be available, he drilled down on a life-defining question: "What do you want to do?" The answer focused him on a career path that led to extraordinary success.

 

Though one day he would be hailed as the Great Communicator, Reagan was fired from his first job as a radio announcer for being "plain awful" at reading a script. Downcast and discouraged, he confided his troubles to a colleague who counseled him to find another line of work, "I can tell in five minutes whether a fellow should be in show business or not." Then he shook his head.

 

At that first career setback at radio station WOC in Davenport, Iowa, fate stepped in to give Reagan a reprieve when a conversation with a friend snapped him out of his "mental block." Four years later, he moved on to an acting career in Hollywood. There the stardom he sought remained forever, tantalizingly, beyond his grasp. In the next phase of his career, after eight successful years as corporate ambassador, he was unceremoniously dumped by General Electric, with scarcely a moment's notice. When success finally found him, he rejected it out of hand. He had no interest in politics. As he put it in his 1965 autobiography, "The hat didn't fit."

 

In the course of his sixty-year career, Reagan faced challenges and hardships. Four times his life slammed into a brick wall. He was heartbroken by his divorce from Jane Wyman, the collapse of his long-standing relationship with Warner Bros., the termination of his eight-year association with General Electric, and a hard-fought loss to President Gerald Ford in the 1976 primary campaign. Yet after every disaster, he picked himself up and kept moving forward.

 

How did he do that? How during his wilderness years - when his movie career was on life- support - did he manage to stay in the public eye and keep going? How did he handle the hurdles involved in transitioning from actor and union leader into political star? What can we learn from the way he muscled through adversity, maintained his focus, and achieved his goals? What traits did he possess that helped a young kid from America's heartland become one of history's most influential leaders?