Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Choice - Og Mandino

Og Mandino's self help books have sold over 50 million copies in twenty five languages. He also had a very interesting life before he became a self-help writer. Of Italian descent Mandino (1923-1996) had a normal childhood until he lost his mother when he was in school. After working at a paper mill he went and joined the US Army Air Corps as a bombardier and did 32 bombing missions over Germany in World War II - with the famous Hollywood star James Stewart as his fellow pilot. Returning from war he found no jobs and became an insurance salesman. He turned into an alcoholic, lost jobs. Soon his wife left him with their child. Mandino became suicidal and almost ended his life but somehow survived. He came upon motivational books, like them, devoured as many as he could, and finally wrote his own classic 'The Greatest Salesman in the World'. Mandino has written about 20 books and his name is up there with the best self-help authors of all time.

When I met Sreenath the other day (he was visiting Hyderabad from Bangalore) he suggested that maybe I might enjoy reading this book after he heard about my workshops. I decided to give it a go and got myself a copy. It looks slim and small and very easily readable but there is a lot of content and it does not get over as quickly as you think it would.

'The Choice' (162 P, Bantam Books) is the story of a successful sales manager Mark Christopher who is having a great life with a wonderful career, a happy wife and two sons. One fine day he realises that he is not spending enough time with his family and quits his job to take up writing. Everyone thinks he is crazy to give up everything - a secure job, a salary, a promotion, a fine house and lifestyle but he sticks to his guns. They sell off their house, move into the country, work hard as their savings dwindle, while Mark writes his book 'A better way to live' (a book that Og wrote). After a few rejections the book finds a publisher and soon hits big time as the biggest success book ever. Mark turns into a millionaire and is all over the television and magazines. Before a book tour he gets a note from an old self-help author whom Og admired and who had vanished from the world, to meet him. Mark meets him and the old author tells him that one of his family members is going to die and there is only one way to avoid that - at the height of his success, give up his life in exchange for his son's life. Mark has to make his choice clear on the day he addresses a huge gathering - whether he would like to be the replacement for his son or not.

The story is told is a thinly veiled fictionalised non-fiction voice which I do not much like. I either like fictional voices or non-fictional voices (though I have one such veled non-fiction on my mind for later) and the essence seems to come down to the final speech that Mark makes where he says that we are the chosen ones but we are always despairing, unhappy and all that. To change for a better life Mark says that everyone has a choice to have a better life and that making the choice is the key. In the speech he gives four pointers - 1) to be grateful that one if alive and live every minute with that gratitude since the moment one wakes up, 2) to be aware that happiness is within and that one can be content with what one has and share - happiness and knowledge and everything that one has to be happy 3) to do every bit of work and give more than is expected from one by throwing oneself into every chore however boring, 4) to take risks and persist and keep at them till one becomes a success. I will leave it to you to figure out what happens to Mark after the speech when you read the book. But that is not important - what is important is that Mark Christopher lives the life he preaches by taking risks, by doing things he likes to do and doing them well, by being grateful for his existence and by giving all he can to this universe. He shows the path and leaves it to you to take it or smirk cynically and go back to complaining which seems like a far more interesting pastime to most people.

Self-help is a big thing in the USA and even in India these days. Publishers are a lot more open to publish self-help books than fiction. This book must have been written in one of the early days of self-help and it shows. Simply written it addresses the main issues well. But now self-help books have added on a touch of philosophy, some amount of science, in the past decade or so and it is really a highly evolved market. But Og Mandino stays up there in the list, as one who has changed many lives, by changing his own and writing of his experiences. As Sreenath predicted, I could identify with Mark Christopher and his dilemma, his contentment - of course in a much smaller scale. Og Mandino has certainly steeled my resolve further to write my self-help soon. For the first time reader 'The Choice' would seem outrageous and would certainly open up the reader's eyes. For the one who has read several self-help books (including 'The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari' which is a lot like 'The Choice' in that the successful executive gives up everything there as well) it may not shock and thrill as much. But value there is of course, in abundance, as millions have already testified.

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