18 years ago today, January 4, 2000, the New York Times reported:
Today is the first day, after nearly half a century, that the daily comic strip ''Peanuts'' will not appear. Just why it would be funny to see a young boy lean his head against a tree and say ''I weep for our generation'' is hard to explain, but Charlie Brown and his creator, Charles M. Schulz, made it so. Mr. Schulz, who is 77 and ill with colon cancer, and the generation that grew up reading ''Peanuts'' may feel like crying too.
Over the years, ''Peanuts'' has been many things to many people -- an animated embodiment of the Christmas spirit, a stockpile of reassuring sentiments, a collection of fantasies lived through a beagle named Snoopy. But for a time between the late 1950's and the mid 1960's ''Peanuts'' was also something much, much more. It was, in the persons of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy Van Pelt and her brother, Linus, a distillation of modern childhood, an ongoing parable of contemporary American existence.
Charles Schultz published Peanuts daily since October 2, 1950--17,897 strips.
I appreciate the admiration but don't feel I deserve it. 2,826 is a lot compared to people who don't write that much or who give up on their habits. But if you want to achieve greatness, why compare yourself to people you don't want to be like?
Writing every day hasn't brought me greatness (yet), but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with my Inc. column (which came around blog post 2,500) and my book becoming a bestseller (shameless plug: Leadership Step by Step). I haven't sold as many books as Malcolm Gladwell, but almost no one else has either. I'm closer now than I was before I started writing.
Writing daily has brought me what I want most from it, beyond "just" book sales. It's helped me develop integrity, discipline, diligence, values, and other leadership skills that apply throughout life.
Choose your peers wisely
Who makes a good peer?
My 2,826 doesn't seem so much compared to Schultz's. I don't compare myself to the countless people who start writing to make a difference and then give up, nor to people who don't start, nor to people who don't understand why anyone would start.
I make people like Charles Schultz my peers. I never met him, but even before reading the details above about him, I knew people like him existed:
- Cal Ripken: 2,632 consecutive games played (next most Lou Gehrig, with 2,130)
- Brett Favre: 321 consecutive starts
- Muhammad Ali: "I don't count my sit-ups; I only start counting when it starts hurting because they're the only ones that count."
- Florence Nightingale: [in the Crimean War] "When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds."
Wikipedia summarizes Schultz's results, none of which came from his first few thousand strips. Peanuts
is the most popular and influential in the history of comic strips, with 17,897 strips published in all, making it "arguably the longest story ever told by one human being". At its peak in the mid to late 1960s, Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of around 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages. It helped to cement the four-panel gag strip as the standard in the United States, and together with its merchandise earned Schulz more than $1 billion. Reprints of the strip are still syndicated and run in almost every U.S. newspaper.
Peaking in the mid to late 60s means he worked over 15 years by then.
After my book, my next big passion is the environment. I like clean air, land, and water enough to change my behavior for it. Most people I talk to who claim to act on the environment say they pollute less than most Americans.
Americans pollute more than nearly anyone ever. Comparing yourself to them (us, I should say) is about the most meaningless, self-serving, fatuous comparison possible.
I suggest making your peers people who are happy and pollute less than nearly anyone. How about comparing yourself to Lauren Singer?
She sounds more self-aware, responsible, and happier than people who waste more. Her nonstop practice led her beyond the TEDx talk to start a company. Do you have any doubt she'll keep at it until she succeeds?
Now there's a peer!
People seem impressed by my emptying my landfill garbage bag once or twice per year.
With Lauren as a peer, even without having met her (though she went to NYU, where I teach), I still see my amount of waste as a lot. Generations for centuries have to live with the plastic I consume, even if it's less than most Americans'.
The external results come because whatever your values, others share them and respect you for living by them. My podcast, Leadership and the Environment, is based on living like Lauren: improving your life by living by your environmental values. It debuted at #38, featuring globally known luminaries.
Start a Sidcha
Anyone can do a sidcha. My site, Sidcha.com, offers ideas for how to pick yours. Keep Charles Schultz and Lauren Singer as peers and you'll succeed. If, like most, you kind of sort of plan to do it, and accept doing 90% of the effort and saying you deserve an A... well, enjoy appreciating those who do it from afar.
The result, ultimately, is integrity. Schultz could have hired people to help. Instead, the New York Times reported:
Mr. Schulz insisted on producing every aspect of the comic, making himself inseparable from his characters.
"I want it to be my words in everything I do," he told The Times in 1967. "I've thought of it -- hiring someone to help. Sometimes I think it would be nice. But then -- what would be the point?"
I haven't found a better statement of integrity than Vince Lombardi. What he says about winning applies to living by your values every day. Every moment:
Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.