1989 Emmy Awards
Who doesn’t love Betty White? I’m a huge fan, first encountering her as the sugar-coated tough cookie Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. This past weekend I was reading an interview with White.
I was struck by the fact that her life has lessons to teach those of us who run personal history businesses. I’m not for a moment suggesting that we can all possess the good health and talent of a Betty White but we can certainly learn from her example.
Betty White has been working hard for over six decades. She’s done it all, constantly reinventing herself. She started out in radio in the 1940′s. Her first television appearance was in 1949 with Al Jarvis on Hollywood on Television which she later hosted.
Through the 50′s she created, co-produced, and starred in the syndicated comedy Life With Elizabeth for which she received her first Emmy Award. Through the 60′s and early 70′s she appeared regularly as a celebrity panelist on game shows.
Her big break came in 1973 with The Mary Tyler Moore Show where she was a regular until the series ended in 1977. Her next starring role, for which she received her second Emmy Award, was on The Golden Girls from 1985 through 1992.
Through the 90′s, White guest starred in numerous network television programs. She also lent her voice to a number of animated shows. Most recently she’s hosted Saturday Night Live and is starring in the comedy series Hot in Cleveland.
LESSON: Success doesn’t happen overnight. As a personal historian you’ll need to put in many years of hard work. You might have to take on a second job to pay the bills. Like Betty, who continually reinvented herself, you’ll need to learn new skills such as public speaking, book production, blogging, or workshop design. Doing all this with determination and a positive attitude will help you through the tough times just as it did Betty White.
celebrate your uniqueness
Betty White embraces her age. She makes no apologies for being old. From the Golden Girls to Hot in Cleveland she’s demonstrated that you can be old and still be funny, smart, outspoken, and sexy.
Receiving a lifetime-achievement award at the 2010 Screen Actors Guild Awards, she gushed sincerely about how lucky she’s been to work with so many in the room, and then seamlessly added, “And I may have had some of you, too.” Back on that podium again in 2011, she stroked the statuette’s bare bottom and smiled lewdly.
~ from the Globe and Mail The Betty White tornado
LESSON: Be yourself. As a personal historian, I bring decades of experience as a documentary filmmaker. I value my graying beard and wrinkles. I see my “advancing years” as a plus in this business. Age suggests experience and a life lived – all valuable and marketable traits for a personal historian. Look hard at what makes you special and unique. This will be a selling point with your potential clients who are not only looking for competency but also authenticity.
Embrace curiosity and learning
“You have to stay interested in things.” White said in her Globe and Mail interview. “There’s so many things I want to know more about that I’ll never live long enough to do. But it’s something to reach for.”
Betty White is a marvelous example of life-long learning. Starting in radio, moving to television, then becoming a producer, starring in feature films, hitting the quiz show circuit, and now releasing her fifth book If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won’t).
Given her six decades in the entertainment business she could have easily succumbed to its changing technologies and tastes as many did. But she rose to the challenges, got even better, and survived without any bitterness. As she says, “Sickeningly optimistic.”
LESSON: To survive in the personal history business we need to adapt or be swept aside by the the digital revolution. E-books, print on demand, social media, and HD video all require learning new ways of doing our work. Sure, it’s not easy at times but sticking our heads in the sand or complaining bitterly won’t work. Grab on to your inner “Betty White” and just do it!
Have you noticed that throughout her career Betty White always looks fabulous and stylish? She’s not afraid to show some flair and sassiness.
LESSON: Hire a designer to ensure that all of your marketing materials – business cards, brochures, and website are first class. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone to come up with a design that speaks to your uniqueness. And don’t forget your own appearance. Looks do speak volumes whether we like it or not. You want your business attire to read confident, impeccable, trustworthy, and appropriate.
Photo by Alan Light
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