Plus a story of belief about the star of I Love Lucy

In 1925, when Lucille Ball was fourteen, she began studying at the John Murray Anderson–Robert Milton School of Drama in New York City.

Her mother, Désirée Evelyn Ball, a single mom, had to scratch by to afford it (Ball’s dad died ten years before of typhoid fever).

But, to Désirée, it was worth it.

She’d done everything she could to coax Lucille away from her 21-year-old hoodlum boyfriend, Johnny DeVita. Exploiting her desire to be in show business seemed to be the only way to seal the deal.

But, for Lucille, following her dream wasn’t all rainbows and roses. Hailing from the sticks, Ball stuck out like a porcupine at a nudist colony.

“The other students at the drama school laughed at her country mannerisms,” James Altucher writes in his newest book Skip the Line, “and the teachers did not hesitate to tell her how awful she was. You aren’t good at acting, at dancing, at singing, and you’re not even funny, they would tell her. Lonely for her mother and other companions, she shrank into herself and became too introverted to perform.”

“All I learned in drama school,” Ball said later, “was how to be frightened.”

Lucy. I’m Home.

When Ball was 18, the Great Depression hit, during which time she took odd jobs she could find in the city, mostly modeling gigs, and tried her hand at showgirling (but was quickly fired on the account that she couldn’t dance).

After landing a job for Hattie Carnegie, an in-house model, she became ill with rheumatic fever and couldn’t work for two years.

In 1933, upon recovering, she got a few parts in small movies and made her way to Hollywood. For the next decade, she would appear in several movies, including one with The Three Stooges (Three Little Pigskins) and a role alongside Katharine Hepburn in 1937 (Stage Door).

In 1948, she was cast as Liz Cooper, a wacky wife in a radio comedy show for CBS called My Favorite Husband. The show was a hit and CBS asked her to develop it for TV. She agreed but under one condition: her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, would play her husband in the show. CBS turned her down. The American public, they said, wouldn’t believe her character would marry a Cuban.

“So,” says James, “she and Desi Arnaz tried a little experiment. They performed a vaudeville act of what would eventually become their show I Love Lucy. It was a hit and CBS agreed to do it as a television show. It was the number one show in the country for four of the six seasons that it ran, and when it stopped after 180 episodes, it was the first show ever to stop at the top of the ratings. (Only two others did afterward—The Andy Griffith Show and Seinfeld.)”

“You Can’t Do That!”

“Being on the outside was nothing new to her,” says James. “And being told ‘You can’t do that!’ was all she had heard her entire time trying to make it big in show business.”

Through tragedy… poverty… ridicule… humiliation… Depression… illness… and being told no at every corner…

Lucille Ball finally hit it big.

Through this journey, James writes, “She conducted experiments that would shape her entire career. We don’t know how many experiments she tried, but we know about the ones that created I Love Lucy and catapulted her beyond the ‘You can’t do that!’ messages she heard from her teachers, her parents, Broadway producers, and even CBS.”

Lucille Ball, despite being told she couldn’t, learned how to skip the line. And, says James, you can do it too.

In fact, you must.

Never before in history has this ability been more crucial.

What does it mean to “skip the line”? It means that no matter what circumstances arise, you have the ability to creatively adapt, find your passion, get good at it, make money from it, be excited about it, and thrive.

It’s being able to simultaneously embrace the uncertainty, take ownership of your destiny, and allow your journey to unfold as it will.

This, says James, is the key to skipping the line: “To constantly be curious but not threatened by what’s next. To live in the world where everyone else is scared but you are so comfortable with the land of not knowing that you can still navigate the rough waters. Not only do you navigate these waters, but you become a beacon. It’s foggy outside. Many people—some old friends, some new friends—are trying to find their way to shore on this foggy and windy, and rainy night. You are the beacon and the lights are on. You help them to shore.”

It’s never too late. Contrary to what the doomsters tell you, James writes, “This is not the end of the line. This is the beginning.”

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