The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel set in Jackson, Mississippi, where the author grew up, is this summer’s hottest success story.But perhaps more important is the rest of the story. Do you know it?
The film’s tag line promises: “Three extraordinary women are about to take an extraordinary step…” Indeed they did and the film is delightfully full of heart. Well worth your time. But one extraordinary woman obsessed with success birthed this extraordinary tale. Stockett’s achievement is a profile in modern courage we should all emulate.
Despite enduring 60 rejections over three years, Stockett persevered. Result? The Help has held a top best seller spot for more than 31 weeks. The #1 hit movie grossed more than $70 million dollars–in the first two weeks of its release.
Perhaps along the road Stockett wondered whether she’d become too obsessed. Maybe others said, “Come on, Kathryn. How much can one story, among the millions of stories out there, possibly matter?”
Yet, Stockett refused to quit. She pressed on until her dream became reality. I, for one, am glad she did. How about you?
Mom and I saw The Help at a restored classic theater on a perfect August afternoon not quite as hot or oppressive as Jackson, Mississippi, circa 1964. We laughed and cried with the women who were portrayed by supremely talented actors. Afterward, we discussed those tumultuous times. Mom shared her contemporaneous experiences as a young wife and mother, tales I hadn’t heard before, might never have known, but for The Help.
Thank you, Ms. Stockett, for the chance to share experiences with the women of my mother’s generation, a chance that might have been lost without your story to spur our conversation.
I don’t know Kathryn Stockett. I’ve never met her and perhaps I never will. But here’s what I think fueled her success:
Faith in herself, her work, her talent and her story. Lots of us have that level of faith and it’s absolutely essential. Without belief in herself and her project, nothing could begin, let alone succeed. But such faith alone wouldn’t have put The Help in so many readers’ hands and on movie screens around the country. More was required.
Vision, of course. Stockett knew what she wanted to say and where she wanted her work to go and why it mattered. She saw her story’s potential, even when others did not.
Grit. Lots of grit. Perhaps like Steve Jobs, others believed Stockett was demanding and mercurial and stubborn. No matter. She cast those judgements aside and never gave up.
Some derisively label this trait “obsession.” Perhaps it is. A long list of Trailblazers obsessed with success have benefitted the world in ways even they could not foresee. Maybe you disagree?
Be honest. When you’re enjoying anything wonderful — amazing technology, a good read, astonishing sports achievements, or a revealing exchange with your mom spurred by a summer movie — you don’t think, “Gee, that Stockett woman was obsessed. She could have lightened up a little and produced something a little less perfect.” Do you?
Words of wisdom. Obsession can sometimes be a good thing, because perserverance pays. I always tell hopeful writers that you have to believe in yourself, because there will be plenty of times when no one else will.
Exactly, Mike. When the going gets tough, sometimes we have only ourselves to rely on.