Inspiring Stories of Famous People
Who Achieved Their Dreams

Four inspiring stories of people who proved the naysayers wrong

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The Manager Who Couldn’t Write
By Gary Sledge

What launched Amy Tan’s career was not a big break, but a kick in the butt.

Before the million-copy sales of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Hundred Secret Senses, Amy Tan was a writer. A business writer. She and a partner ran a technical-writing business with lawyer-like “billable hours.”

Her role with clients was largely that of account management — but this daughter of immigrants wanted to do something more creative with words, English words.

So she made her pitch to her partner: “I want to do more writing.” He declared her strength was doing estimates, going after contractors and collecting bills. “It was horrible stuff.” The very stuff Tan hated and knew she wasn’t really good at. But her partner insisted that writing was her weakest skill.

“I thought, I can believe him and just keep doing this or make my demands.” So she argued and stood up for her rights.

He would not give in.

Shocked, Tan said, “I quit.”

And he said: “You can’t quit. You’re fired!” And added, “You’ll never make a dime writing.”

Tan set out to prove him wrong, taking on as many assignments as she could. Sometimes she worked 90 hours a week as a freelance technical writer. Being on her own was tough. But not letting others limit her or define her talents made it worthwhile. And on her own, she felt free to try fiction. And so The Joy Luck Club, featuring the bright, lonely daughter of Chinese immigrants, was born. And the manager who couldn’t write became one of America’s bestselling, best-loved authors.

 

“You’re Studying Dirt”
By Fran Lostys

Dr. Judah Folkman keeps a reproduction of a 1903 New York Times article in his archives. In it two physics professors explain why airplanes could not possibly fly. The article appeared just three months before the Wright brothers split the air at Kitty Hawk.

In the early 1970s, Folkman proposed an idea in cancer research that did not fit what scientists “knew” to be true: that tumors did not generate new blood vessels to “feed” themselves and grow. He was convinced that they did. But colleagues kept telling him, “You’re studying dirt,” meaning his project was futile science.

Folkman disregarded the catcalls of the research community. For two decades, he met with disinterest or hostility as he pursued his work in angiogenesis, the study of the growth of new blood vessels. At one research convention, half the audience walked out. “He’s only a surgeon,” he heard someone say.

But he always believed that his work might help stop the growth of tumors, and might help find ways to grow blood vessels where they were needed — like around clogged arteries in the heart.

Folkman and his colleagues discovered the first angiogenesis inhibitors in the 1980s. Today more than 100,000 cancer patients are benefiting from the research he pioneered. His work is now recognized as being on the forefront in the fight to cure cancer.

“There is a fine line between persistence and obstinacy,” Folkman says. “I have come to realize the key is to choose a problem that is worth persistent effort.”

 
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