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Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! You're Still You-er Than You

Turning what YOU might call “play” into your life’s work could be the icing on the cake for a non-linear career choice or re-purposing directions throughout life. Who knows, your inner wack-o might just be the genius streak that lights up the sky for the rest of us.

A great example of changing the world by “sticking with wacky”, no matter what, is the story of Dr. Suess. His birthday is today….he would have been blowing out 118 candles! Even with the recent controversy that’s sparked the removal of 6 of his books from school libraries throughout our country, his popularity and legacy live on.

For many of us, childhood wouldn’t have been the same without him. He used to talk about how hard he tried to do the “normal” thing. Aren’t we glad he did NOT succeed in being “normal”?

He was born Theodor Seuss Geisel in 1904. His parents, strict Germans and devout Lutherans had big expectations of their son. Rather than intimidating him into submission, their overbearing perfectionism and rigid nature “tripped my silly switch”, as he would later report. He took pride in being the class clown.

While a student at Dartmouth, young Theodor was caught throwing a drunken brawl. That might seem all too “normal” now, given what we have come to expect from “higher education” but this was during Prohibition when all alcohol was illegal. Uh-Oh. Even though he was not expelled, he was barred from participating in all other extra-curricular college activities.

The activity he loved most was working for the campus humor magazine, writing commentaries on life, and creating his “strange” illustrations. Determined to get around the scrutiny of the campus authorities, he began using the pen name “Seuss”. He also altered his drawings substantially so he would not be found out. It was out of his desire to continue “no matter what”, that he created the style of illustrations that the world recognizes as uniquely his, today.

Always desiring to please his parents, he was accepted and attended Lincoln College, University of Oxford, England to pursue his doctorate of literature. But, oh dear, he soon returned from England with a new wife and no degree. All the while, he continued drawing and writing his whimsical works, “because he had to”. That’s when he decided to add “Dr” to his pen name, as an ironic “tribute” to his parents.

Geisel was deeply moved by a 1954 LIFE MAGAZINE article that exposed a growing trend of illiteracy among young children. It seemed they actually resisted learning to read because they were bored to death with the materials being used to teach them.

He decided that this was a problem that he could correct with his “wacky” style and words, set to verse. He was convinced they would inspire children everywhere. The passion to correct a problem was the motivator, not a desire to be famous or to become a children’s book author. He thought his “wackiness” just might “fix something that needed fixing”. The result: The Cat in The Hat, published in 1957. It still ranks in the top ten children’s books of all time…with 650million copies sold through 2020.

Dr. Seuss’s writing was not readily received by publishers. His work was deemed “too weird” and “bizarre”. Cat was initially rejected by 23 publishers. But, he became relentless to “help”. He ardently believed that the very things that made him goofy and different was his innate gift. After the 24th publisher agreed to “take a chance”, 6 million copies were sold in the first year. Sixty more books were to make up his “wacky” collection, not only creating a surge of joy in the world of childhood learning, but also setting into motion a serious new look at the ways in which children could be inspired to learn.

In spite of tragedies engulfing his own life….his recurring, prolonged illness, and his first wife’s suicide, Dr. Seuss remained remarkably positive….always encouraging others to “throw a blanket over “normal”.

What can we learn from the life of Dr. Seuss?

Let’s take a look at the facts about him.

++ He never was a “doctor”.

++ He never had children of his own.

He told parents...”You have them. I’ll entertain them.”

++ He suffered rejection throughout his life—-from his parents, his peers, and publishers. But with each rejection, he became more determined.

++ He did what he loved…..anyway.

* What “ridiculous thing” might light up your life right now? * * Is it time to not care what “they” think? * * What “silliness” of yours might solve a problem for others? * * What “wacky method” of delivering your innate talent might move the world in a new direction? *

When YOU DO YOU…..OH, The Places You’ll Go!


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