Lessons For Life. – Review

Lessons For Life. – Review – book review

Ted Kreiter

A leading American businessman shares the profound lessons he has learned on the way to fame and fortune.

Hope From My Heart: Ten Lessons for Life by Rich DeVos 120 pages, J. Countryman, $13.99

A few years ago, it looked as though Rich DeVos would not live to see the year 2000. The odds were stacked heavily against the then-70-year-old businessman and entrepreneur. With a failing heart following a stroke, a heart attack, two bypass surgeries, and an almost fatal staph infection, his only hope was to have a heart transplant. And the chances of getting one were slim because DeVos had a rare blood type, was in ill health, and near the upper age limit for transplant consideration. He also required not just any heart, but one with an enlarged right ventricle.

What happened next is recounted in DeVos’ small but elegant new book, Hope From My Heart: Ten Lessons for Life. The story of his miraculous transplant and recovery is only one of the inspiring personal accounts DeVos includes in this book, which is actually a primer of “practical wisdom” learned during his rise to fame and fortune as cofounder of the Amway Corporation.

“You cannot go through the experience of a heart transplant–and survive physically, psychologically, and spiritually–without a deep examination, or reexamination, of what is important in life,” DeVos writes. “My heart transplant tested the strength of my own personal faith and values.”

Those values he has distilled into ten lessons: hope, persistence, confidence, optimism, respect, accountability, family, freedom, faith, and grace–each illustrated (sometimes humorously) by stories and incidents from his own experience.

When in their early 20s, DeVos and his partner, Jay Van Andel, purchased an old Nova Scotia schooner and set out to sail from the U.S. East Coast to South America. Neither had sailed before. The leaky tub made it only as far as Cuba and then sank in the middle of the night in 1,500 feet of water. Undaunted, the unsinkable pair continued their journey as deck hands on a tramp tanker and enjoyed a “once-in-a-lifetime adventure.” The moral of the story is to have confidence, lesson #3 in Hope From My Heart.

“That trip changed my life,” DeVos writes. “I had learned to take risks and to rise above defeat.” The trip inspired his favorite slogan: “Try or Cry.” “Confidence will come in the doing,” he says. In another lesson, the author reveals his most important key to success–persistence. “If I could pass on one character trait to young people in the world–one single quality that would help them achieve success in life–it would be persistence,” DeVos writes. Persistence, he stresses, is “more important than intellect, athletic ability, good looks, or personal magnetism…. Never underestimate its power.”

Some of DeVos’s most profound insights are found in his lesson on respect. The “hero” in this chapter is a garbage collector whom the business leader met during a summer vacation. He was “the best at his job I’d ever seen,” DeVos writes. “You could set your clock by him…. He worked quietly and discreetly, a meticulous man who made a physically demanding job look easy.” When DeVos went out one morning to tell him he appreciated the job he was doing, the man told him that in 12 years of hauling garbage, no one had ever said a kind word to him, including his boss.

“That man had self-respect,” DeVos declares. “Self-respect is vital for having respect for others, and respect, not love (as the song says), is really what makes the world go round.”

DeVos’ “chapter on respect is alone worth the price of the book,” one famous American entrepreneur has declared. And I agree.

One value that has fallen on hard times in America, according to DeVos, is accountability. “The notion that each of us is responsible for what we do–and that good behavior should be rewarded and bad behavior punished–is so fundamental that it was never seriously challenged until the middle of the 20th century,” he writes. Unfortunately, some of the worst examples of accountability have come from our national leaders.

“We live in a time when our national leaders seldom admit sin–even when caught red-handed,” De Vos writes. “Rather than ‘fess up, we cover up.” His conclusion? “We never do anyone a favor by shielding them from the pressures of accountability.”

In his lesson on faith, DeVos takes up the question of wealth and responsibility. “Nothing convinces a person of the inadequacy of money or power quite so fast as having some of it!” he writes. “Many people live their whole lives laboring under the illusion that if they had only had enough money or power, then all their problems would disappear. Yet if those same people were to acquire a fortune, they would quickly discover just how few problems money can solve! It can’t buy you peace of mind. It can’t heal broken relationships. It can’t give meaning to a life that has none. Money won’t soothe a guilty conscience or mend a broken heart. Genuine wealth comes from the hand of God.”

There is much down-to-earth wisdom in DeVos’ book. Unlike some books that are read and then put on the shelf, never to be opened again, Hope From My Heart is the kind of book you can put in your desk drawer and pull out on those frequent occasions when you need inspiration.

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