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Home > Columns > The Write Life > MY MAN JACK: Lessons Learned from LaLanne

by Rebecca Forster

When I was eight years old I spent the night with my grandmother, a handsome woman who, as I look back, was probably younger than I am today but looked 10 years older. She was a German lady who wore housedresses and pin-curled her grey hair. She was proper, punctual and particular but when I woke up the morning of our sleepover, I found her holding onto the back of a chair, shoeless and enthralled by the man on the television. His name was Jack Lalanne.

Jack held onto the back of a chair, too, but he wore a skin-tight jumpsuit that showed off his muscles – all of them. I had never seen a man dressed like that. Even at eight, I knew I was watching something extraordinary – maybe even a little naughty. Watching my grandmother lift her leg ever so slightly, put her arm over her head like a ballerina, bend from the waist so that I could actually see the backs of her knees was awesome. Grandpa was gone. The doors were locked. The only sound was Jack’s voice encouraging my grandmother to do things I never thought she could do. I was privy to something I had no word for and I never told anyone about grandma’s morning with Jack.

Almost twenty years later, I met Jack Lalanne for real. I was an account executive with a major advertising agency and Jack LaLanne Health Spa was my client. Though I didn’t know it then, I was working on an account that was the forerunner of a social and health phenomena of fitness clubs, spas and specialty gyms. Before 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox or day spas there was Jack Lalanne.

We met during a commercial shoot. My job was to make sure we stayed on budget, on schedule, on message and that the client was happy. To this day, I don’t know if the client was happy. Jack, dressed in his iconic black jumpsuit,  stood apart and managed only a distracted hello.

He was perpetual motion as he waited for his call: flexing, stretching, moving. And, most interestingly, he talked to himself. Eventually, I realized he was rehearsing his line. He only had one but the man was nervous and that made me curious.

How could a man who inspired my grandmother to take off her shoes and exercise, a man who spoke to people on TV every day be nervous about delivering one line? It took me many years and my own journey as a writer to understand why, that day on the set, Jack LaLanne was sweating. It was because he was not a pitchman, he was an advocate. Jack LaLanne sold best when he sold in his own language and with his own message. That man not only inspired people to exercise but to be their best in every aspect of their lives.

A few days ago, I woke up and found that Jack LaLanne had passed away. I doubt he would have remembered me but I will always remember him. I will remember him as a part of my childhood but I will also remember what he taught me about being a creative person. So, here you go. The lessons I learned from Jack.

Write, compose, draw, speak, work with love and focus.

Always exercise: your mind, your imagination, your skill.

Be consistent. Be a brand. Craft your own “black jumpsuit” so that when people pick up your book or see your picture or hear your song they will know what they’re getting.

Plan your career, do not calculate it. Eventually, calculation will override passion and you will lose your “voice”.

Do not worry about how many people read your work. Creating something that is meaningful to one person is more important than having thousands know your name but not remember your work.

Share your passion. If you have a chance to inspire, to coach, to encourage, do it. Do it with abandon. Do it with energy. Do it without concern that sharing your knowledge will take something away from you. It won’t.

Thank you Jack. I was inspired by your energy, your abandon and your goodwill. I will pay it forward and, when I do, I will think of you.

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