My father found himself driving Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz to a dinner some years back when Holtz was to be the keynote speaker. It was a thrill for my father. He's an ND graduate, his grandfather taught English at the university and his youngest son, Peter, was one of Holtz's student managers at the time.
So when Holtz turned to him and asked out of the blue, "What's the secret to life, Gerry?," a lot was on the line. It was about as big and open-ended a question as one can get, and it left my father momentarily scrambling. When he answered, he did so with all the certainty he could muster given the circumstances: "It's attitude, coach," he said.
Holtz nearly fell from the car. It was the exact answer he was looking for.
I think of that exchange whenever I'm feeling a little lost because it reminds me that attitude really is paramount in life -- personal attitude, professional attitude, our attitude toward the world and others. Attitude colors everything. Walk into a batter's box thinking, "I'm going to get beaned by this pitch," and you're probably not going to do as well as the batter whose only thought is whether to hit the ball to left- or right-center. Think of today as your very last, and leaves on trees become more verdant.
History shows that the right attitude can make a collective difference, too. It can be contagious. John Kennedy gave confidence to a Soviet-wary nation when he boldly promised a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. Ronald Reagan taught us to believe in ourselves again after the hangdog 1970s, and Rudy Giuliani convinced a rattled New York City that it would be made safe again. What those leaders delivered more than any tangible accomplishment was a fresh can-do attitude, which in the end is what makes progress possible.
I can't help thinking that we're at one of those junctures as a nation where we need another attitude adjustment. A big one. We've been on our heels for a while now, seeing obstacles where we once saw clear lanes of opportunities. Maybe we're too busy assigning blame for what's gone awry to shake off the doldrums and start living confidently again. Maybe our energies are sapped by thinking up new categories of victimhood and aggrievement all the time.
Whatever it is, it's left me wondering these past few years what it must be like to be a young person growing up in America today. Do they see the country about the way my generation did, as a genuine land of opportunity? Or are they a generation lost to pessimism and self-doubt? Have we ruined their outlook?
Then I met the Guberti Brothers, a pair of New York wunderkinds. They turned any worries right on their head. You can't find two young people more off message with the gloominess of our times than Michael, 18, and Marc, 16, and they're attitude will be catching on if they have anything to say about it. Optimism is their living after all.
Michael and Marc run a growing online business called teenagerentrepenuer.com. It's a subscription site has more than 5,000 students from across the globe. In July, the Gubertis will run their second annual Teenager Entrepreneur Boot Camp at Fordham University. Three four-day sessions are scheduled; two are already sold out -- and they're not cheap to attend, around $500. (The Gubertis, who preach give-back, are providing 20 scholarships to local low-income students.)
The brothers are encouraging young people to "package their passions" at the earliest possible age -- and to monetize them. They are unabashed capitalists who see value in just about anything. "If you just took the SAT," Michael explains, "your experience is valuable to someone who hasn't yet taken it." They convincingly prosthelytize that passions are the building blocks to success. "Passions pull us toward our goals; once you identify and monetize them, there's no need to push uphill anymore." Theirs is a do-what-you-love philosophy with a digital age focus. Both say they see monetization as a vehicle to continue doing what they love, not an end result.
It would be easy to dismiss the Gubertis as a couple of precocious, wet-behind-the-ears kids. But they're clearly on to something: With 205,000 Twitter followers, Marc (@marcguberti) ranks in the top 5 percent of global social media influencers, according to Twtrland, a social media analytics company. He was named by marketing expert "Marketecture" as "one of the six social media experts you need to follow on Pinterest." Guy Kawasaki of Apple fame and social media thought leader Mari Smith are two others on that short list.
Michael has been featured in the Huffington Post, U.S. News and World Report, Yahoo Small Business Advisor, The Westchester Business Journal and other publications for his vision in starting the company. New York City's "Likeable Local" awarded him its Best Small Business Marketing Campaign of the Year award in 2015. Both brothers have published online books.
I scribbled the word "attitude" on a sheet of paper while speaking with the Gubertis. It's exactly what they've got, and it's the right one as far as I'm concerned.
"You choose your reality," Michael said. "That's the ultimate responsibility mindset for each of us."
Out of the mouths of babes, pertinent words for the country. I'm pretty sure coach Holtz would like them, too.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.