How I Sacrificed Everything This World Calls Secure For Success in Life
A little over ten years ago, a dear friend gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received, if in a near cryptic and daunting manner.
“Herbie,” he said, “I’d rather see you move back to Los Angeles, work your ass off, strive to be the best you could be, sacrifice everything you’ve ever known, and never succeed, then stay in Rochester and rot.”
I told you it was cryptic and daunting.
But it was also eye-opening, sincere, motivating and smacked of the truth.
At the time, in January of 2009, my Mom had passed away a few months before. I had served as her caregiver for more than 13 years, after the death of my father, for whom I also served as a caregiver in the last stages is life. He succumbed to lung cancer in April of 1995. My Mom died from complications of Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
It was all horrible. As any caregiving relative or friend will explain, watching those close to you slip away on any consistent basis, whether physically or psychologically, is heartbreaking and exhausting on every emotional and practical level.
And let me be clear: there were no massive financial stakes at hand here. There was no estate to inherit, no annuities, no dividends, no homes, no cars, no diamonds, no jewels. I cared for my parents because I loved them; because they did the best they could for me; because, even though they never had any money, they somehow spoiled me rotten.
Like the time I wondered…
Like the time I wondered how I was going to commute to a local college in a family of three drivers and one car, only to have my Dad rectify that issue by pulling up in front of our townhouse with a new car for me to drive.
Things like that.
Or how my Mom would bless me with her rosary beads each time I visited or left her apartment. She’d stand by the window when I would leave, push back the vertical blinds, hold her hand up and make the sign of the cross with that rosary in her hand.
I remember telling that to my dear spiritual friend, who later gave me that daunting advice, and he said, “Herbie — those blessings were as real as any from Heaven.”
And I believed him — and I still do.
I know that both my Mom and Dad are blessing me from Heaven to this day, in ways there were unable to do so on Earth.
But back to making a decision to return to Los Angeles and re-commence my career.
I always wanted to be a “star.” Who doesn’t, right?
I was gifted with many creative talents. I can’t play basketball, and I can’t count, among many other inabilities. But I can sing, dance, act, and write, or anything else that has to do with the worlds of entertainment and publishing.
For one reason or another, namely, caring for my parents, I never fully pursued that stardom. Some say I have may have used caring for my parents as an excuse not to succeed; or that I never gave it my all.
I say, “Maybe.” But in the process of caring for my Mom and Dad in their later years, I ultimately returned to my hometown of Rochester, after going back and forth to L.A. for years.
After my parents both died, specifically my mom in 2008, I questioned if I, then in my late 40s, could summon the courage to begin again in L.A. at that stage in the game.
The answer arrived, of course, from my Mom.
I remember sitting in my then-new apartment in Rochester, where I had moved just before my mom died, and feeling torn.
I was surrounded by all the new furniture I had purchased for my Mom. My apartment now mirrored hers. She was gone. And all I had left were memories and the furniture I had purchased for her. Again, that’s all I had inherited. My own financial investment in my love for her had now come back to me.
I would have rather had my Mom — and my Dad. But they were gone.
I was 48, with no to show for my accomplishments except my accomplishments. I was then the author of a few books about classic TV shows, which I was given the opportunity to write because my parents allowed me to move back into the room I grew up in to do so.
I know there are many writers out there who work full-time jobs, raise families, and still, somehow find the time to write. But I have never been that prolific and talented or blessed with that kind of stamina.
I needed my parents. And truth be told, I wouldn’t have been able to have achieved what I have had it not been for them.
So, call it whatever it needs to be called; co-dependent; Peter Pan complex; whatever. I did what I did to survive, but mostly out of a very deep love for my parents.
I cared for them in their elderly years because there was no other choice. I was compelled to care for them; I could not abandon them. And I never felt that Heaven would abandon me — and Heaven has not, especially with my Mom and Dad there now, routing for me from above.
As when I “heard” my Mom answer me that day in my apartment when I wondered if I could find the courage, the strength, the gusto to return to L.A.
Is it possible?
“Is it possible, Mom? Can I do it?”
That’s the question I asked her, looking over to the sofa on which she situates herself to one corner; the sofa that was now in my apartment. I envisioned her sitting there, and saying, “You can do it, Herbie J. Go!”
And so I prepared to leave. I started selling furniture to make money for the move. I started borrowing money for the plane fare and the miscellaneous tasks that were required for the cross-country journey that I had made so many times before.
And even when I still questioned if I could do it, after deciding that I could, my Mom answered me once more — in a very timely way.
I had lost my watch, and temporarily, I was wearing my Mom’s.
In gathering various clothes to keep or toss, I found my watch in a coat pocket. As I removed my Mom’s watch from my wrist and replaced it with my own, once more, I “heard” her voice.
“It’s your ‘time,’ Herbie J.”
And so I left.
Looking Back, Moving Forward
In the now-over-ten-years that I’ve been back in L.A., I write five books, formed a nonprofit organization, and starred in my own TV show. None of my books have ever made to the New York Times Best-Sellers list, and I am considering closing my nonprofit, and my TV show may move forward with a second season or a spin-off. But the point is, I moved forward. I didn’t rot in Rochester, which, by the way, is one of my favorite places in the whole world, and I may one day return there and retire.
But leaving it when I did was wise. And staying there when I could have would have more than likely stifled me.
For all of those times when I did return to Rochester, with her my tail beneath me, or to care for my parents, I remember more sound, spiritual advice I received, if not from another spiritual friend, but a very close relative.
That was my cousin Evie, who is also now gone (much too young, I might add). At one point, in some by-gone year, I asked Evie if I should stay in L.A. to try and succeed, in part so I can buy my parents everything I always wanted to buy them?
“Don’t you think they’d rather have you?” she said.
Another stunning piece of sound advice.
“Yeah,” I replied. “They would.”
And they did, and in doing so, they left me everything that money or success can’t buy.
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