For more than a decade I’ve been reviewing books for USA Today’s Money section. There have been some really special books along the way–books that strike an inner chord with me, and I find myself jotting down passages to remember.
The spine of Sarah’s money memoir is her own money nightmare. She made gobs of money from her mega-bestseller, Simple Abundance. It was a fairytale every writer dreams about. After she appeared on Oprah’s show in March 1996, she could barely keep track of all the business opportunities that came her way. Thanks, Oprah!
She went from a freelance writer without a comma in her checking account to a millionaire entrepreneur with a staff of ten on both sides of the Atlantic. Royalty checks for more than a million dollars with her name on them began to land every six months.
She describes how she collected homes, antiques, investments, and, of course, Manolo Blahnik shoes. Then she married her third husband, an Englishman, her “soul mate” in 2003, who brought nothing into the marriage except his personal effects, sports gear, family photos and a car.
Ahh…guess what? Her world exploded. The marriage and the money went poof. It’s all gone.
To heal herself and hopefully climb back out of debt, Ban Breathnach (pronounced “Bon Brannock”), now 63, has written this book to help herself and maybe you too.
She’s not a financial guru of any sort. I like that. To educate herself about personal finance, she turns to some modern day money gurus like Suze Orman, but also to Miss Piggy, Mae West, Scarlett O’Hara, Auntie Mame, and advice from magazine and newspaper articles written during the Great Depression.
That’s where she learns about the power of being charming and how it can help you change your life–whether that change is your relationship with money and getting out of debt, or finding a job that gets you out of bed. She calls “charm courses–the original self-help movement–because they are so authentically upbeat.”
“Many writers have tried to describe charm, which is about as easy as describing the color pink,” Sarah writes. But she unearths some good examples.
Enid Haupt, who ran Seventeen magazine, the cheerful teen publication, from 1953 to 1970, described it this way: “One could even call charm a self-developed talent, for it reflects individuality, intelligence and warmth of spirit. Almost anyone can achieve charm–its ingredients are really only self-discipline and thoughtfulness.”
Old-fashioned, simple and sweet. It made Sarah smile. Me too.
Mrs. Eileen Ascroft, who in 1938 wrote a popular column in London’s Daily Mirror called Charm School, is another one of her etiquette gurus. She was, in essence, a life coach of her times.
“I believe that Charm is the magic key to happiness and success,” Ascroft wrote. “To be charming you must be at peace with the world, and still more important with yourself. For no woman who is at peace with herself will ever feel inferior or superior or self-conscious or affected in the presence of others… Charm is something that does not radiate from without to within, but something that glows from within…”
Sarah’s interpretation: “Charm is literally currency to get others to do what you wish in a win-win situation.”
Fabulous, isn’t it?
Arlene Francis, who wrote That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm, published in 1960, is next.
I never heard of the book, but do remember Francis from her long role as as a panelist on the CBS game show What’s My Line? hosted by John Charles Daly with her co-panelists Dorothy Kilgallen and Bennett Cerf.
My grandmother, Grammy, lived with us, and I remember watching it as a kid in the 1960s, alongside her in her room (where the TV was stationed in my house). When Francis died in 2001 at the age of 93, the New York Times wrote: “Ms. Francis dispensed upbeat charm and humor on the show, which made her a national star.”
Francis described charm as “enlightened self-interest, a development of one’s best self.”
Here are a few of the short-cuts to boosting your charm à la Miss Francis. These steps are, in my opinion, what it takes to truly reinvent not only your career, but your life.
1. Get Up Happy. Every day by some quirk of nature happens to be a new one. If you wreck it at the start, you’ve already set yourself back, and may never recover.
2. Get Organized. A great many of us try to plan too much for the day, and as a result get completely frustrated when we do not finish what we start out to do. It is better to realistically complete a small number of things than to be to nibble away at a large number of uncompleted jobs.
3. Make Sure You’re Well Groomed. No one can be serene and confident feeing scratchy and ill-clad. Your whole attack on the day is improved by the feeling of well-being that good grooming brings to you.
4. Face The Day Without Fear. Whether your fears are justified or not, you owe it to yourself to take a deep breath and say to hell with them. As long as you are doing the best you can, you have nothing to fear.
5. Break down your work into small bits. No matter how brilliant we are, it is impossible for us to accomplish more than one thing at a time.
6. Practice Looking at a Person Directly in The Eye and Concentrating Wholly on What He is Saying. This is one of the most important attributes of charm–and often the one most disregarded. Very few of us are good listeners.
7. Practice Laughing at Your Own Mistakes. Try not to defend your mistakes to others. Admit them graciously and apologize for them if the situation demands it.
8. Do One Special Thing for Someone Else as a Surprise. In doing this, you’ll be a lot happier.
Thanks for sharing, Sarah. For more about Peace and Plenty, please check out my conversation with Sarah in a column I recently wrote for SecondAct.com.