Here's the Bright Side: Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce, and Other Bum Raps


Do clouds truly have silver linings? Betty Rollin answers with a resounding yes in this wise, moving, and funny book about the surprising upsides to life’s most challenging, painful, and seemingly insurmountable low blows. Rollin has been there. After being diagnosed with breast cancer more than thirty years ago–and again nine years later–she managed to find an astonishingly bright side to the darkness. She shares her often zany and unpredictable personal experiences of turning the worst into the best, and shows ...
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Do clouds truly have silver linings? Betty Rollin answers with a resounding yes in this wise, moving, and funny book about the surprising upsides to life’s most challenging, painful, and seemingly insurmountable low blows. Rollin has been there. After being diagnosed with breast cancer more than thirty years ago–and again nine years later–she managed to find an astonishingly bright side to the darkness. She shares her often zany and unpredictable personal experiences of turning the worst into the best, and shows how others have done the same–thriving in adversity to a remarkable degree and coming to recognize their various blessings in disguise.
Steve Jobs describes how being fired from Apple, the company he founded, was one of the best things that ever happened to him. Homemaker Sally Fleming made a better life for herself and her family after a fire. Only when workaholic CEO Eugene O’Kelly was diagnosed with a terminal illness did he really begin to live his life to the fullest. Bill Clinton, Charles Colson, and others describe life changes after adversity.
Rollin reveals the science behind the theory of adversarial, or post-traumatic, growth. This paradox is not about denying hardship but about finding a way to benefit from it. Seeing the bright enables us to find the good, whatever form it takes, within the bad and proceed from there.
Poignant, timely, universal, and inspiring, Here’s the Bright Side proves that amid life’s struggles and losses, there is much to be gained–wisdom, strength, and, perhaps most important, gratitude. “Try feeling gloomy and grateful all at once,” says Rollin. “You can’t. Gratitude picks you up and puts you in a place where gloom cannot thrive.”
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Rollin's aggressively upbeat, humorous and reassuring ode to finding strength and optimism when life deals such bum raps as cancer, divorce and loss of a loved one is winningly brought to life thanks to Ward's brisk, authoritative delivery that may remind some of Linda Ellerbee. Rollin's pep-talk about finding an upside to every low blow is persuasive because she reveals her own anecdotes about surviving two bouts with breast cancer, a divorce and loss of a beloved parent. As Ward's can-do narration reminds, "There is power, mountains of it, in humor," but it also warns that illness is no joke: "A good attitude is always a good idea, but don't count on it to cure disease." Rollin doesn't buy into the idea that the strong will win and the weak will lose. "I now know, as I didn't before life nearly skidded to a halt, that, no matter what, there is usually a bright side up for grabs," Ward intones. "One needs only to grab it." This is an ideal gift for anyone facing hardships. Simultaneous release with the Random House hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 1). (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Acknowledging that one cannot control the painful events that naturally occur in life, the authors of these two books offer empathetic encouragement for not only getting through but also thriving. Best-selling scribe Rollin (First, You Cry; Last Wish) maintains that when people survive the bad and find the good, they discover resources and strength they didn't know they had. Having beat cancer and undergone two mastectomies, she eschews Pollyanna-ish advice for personal examples and research findings on people who've endured tragedies, weather-related upheavals, and aging issues. Rollin urges readers to live with a sense of gratitude and paves the way for doing so. In the same vein, Stephens (One Size Fits One), California state senator Jackie Speier, documentary filmmaker Michealene Cristini Risley, and television host Jan Yanehiro (Women of Vision) share their experiences, friendship, and tools for coping with life's curveballs. They speak honestly of the joys and sorrows inherent in families, relationships, and the workplace and encourage readers to deal honestly and courageously with their own issues. Quotations from well-known women are sprinkled throughout, as are action plans and exercises geared to provoke action. Both books are excellent. While Rollin's book tends to focus on cancer, the other is multidimensional. Both for public libraries. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786170517
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/2007
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 1 MP3, 176 minutes
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Betty Rollin is a writer and an award-winning TV journalist. A former correspondent for NBC News, she now contributes reports for PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. Once a writer and editor for both Vogue and Look magazines, she has written for many national publications, including The New York Times. She is the bestselling author of six previous books, including First, You Cry and Last Wish. She lives in New York City with her husband, a mathematician.
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Read an Excerpt

Here's the Bright Side

Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce, and Other Bum Raps
By Betty Rollin

Random House

Copyright © 2007 Betty Rollin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781400065653

Chapter 1


To defeat despair can not only make you giddy, it can make you proud. It’s the high of being in an athletic event of sorts and you’ve won. You feel more powerful than before. You take more power than before.

I am reminded of a career power story: a friend of my husband’s, a mathematician, failed to get tenure at a college in New York. That’s never good news. Failure to get tenure means not only that you didn’t get what you wanted but that other people—people whose opinions matter to you—didn’t think you were good enough. My husband’s friend took it very hard. He stopped eating. He couldn’t sleep. He could barely speak. Then he did some kind of mental backflip and decided to leave mathematics and enter law school. Today he is a brilliant and successful lawyer and, I think, no one has ever enjoyed being a brilliant and successful (did I forget to say rich?) lawyer more than this guy. His failure in mathematics laid the groundwork for his joy, his sense of renewed power over his life.

By the same token, many people could (and do) learn about the bright side of divorce. When you are enduring the misery of a breakup, you cannot imagine that someone else is out there. (I know ofsome terrific first marriages, but now that I think about it, I know of more terrific second marriages.) Even less is it possible to imagine that not being married will suit you to a T—sitting on your own front porch at the end of the day, drink (and/or novel) in hand, with no one to hassle you about dinner. For some, that’s loneliness; for others, it’s freedom. Either way, the first-marriage misery, in retrospect, may seem like the best thing that has ever happened to you. Of course, it doesn’t turn out that way for everyone, but it often does.

Sudden aloneness, even when sad—and I think it is almost always sad at first—can ultimately be empowering. I know a widow whose husband was in charge of all financial matters in their household. After he died, she had to take over. To her surprise, she became not only a financial whiz but a thrilled-with-herself financial whiz. There she was, doing something she had dreaded and feared, having fun! Making money! (Okay, sometimes not making money, but still it was fun.) The point is that as she mastered the money matters, the mastery felt good to her. A feeling of new power. This was one of those great marriages, and my friend has never gotten over her husband’s death and probably never will. But here, at least, was a bright side. Only a side, a small side, but bright nevertheless.

A woman I know in Boston, now seventy-six, talks about her parents’ divorce in 1945 as if it were last week. “It was more of a catastrophe than it might be today because divorce was so rare. There was such a stigma. Particularly because my father fell in love with another lady. It was just awful, not only losing a parent but seeing our mother so sad.” Then she adds, “A year or two later, we emerged from the cloud, and I must say that I remember something very pleasant. We began to have such relaxed dinners. We’d talk about anything; my brothers and I had friends over; if the milk carton was on the table, it didn’t matter. My father was so rigid. With him there, dinners had been so formal and tense. It was a wonderful change, really.”

One of my favorite divorce-empowerment stories is about a woman who had a big job as a magazine editor (I’m changing some facts to hide her identity, as she wished me to). She had a marriage that she thought was fine, and two nice children, and a pretty house in the suburbs. When her husband became ill—some kind of heart disease—she quit her job to take care of him. He stayed ill for more than ten years, and still she remained at his side, as nurse, cook, housekeeper, and constant companion, not to mention single parent, in effect, to their children. When he got well, which he did rather suddenly, he upped and left her for another woman. Whom he married as soon as he and his caregiver wife were divorced.

How does one survive that kind of emotional assassination? Where’s the bright side there? Nowhere in sight until a couple of years later, when the woman had a book published—a book she wrote as a way of dealing with her grief, going into debt in order to write it. It became a humongous bestseller, from which she achieved fame and fortune (not to mention great reviews!). Soon after, she remarried, and to hear her tell it, she’s living happily ever after—with no bitterness, by the way, toward her first, rotten husband.

How often does happiness—all the more exalted when it is unexpected— grow directly from misery? Answer: More often than one might think. What is the old saying? A blessing in disguise? Exactly.

Take failure. Failure can feel like a near death, especially if it’s sudden—the sensation of dropping through a trapdoor without so much as a ledge to reach for. Ever been fired? It’s like that. I’ve been through that one. So have a lot of people. I guess there are those who never recover, but my hunch is that most do and then some.

When I was twenty-eight, I was fired from a job as associate features editor (which meant writer) at Vogue magazine. It was my first serious job. I loved it, and I loved and respected, even worshipped, the woman who hired and fired me, which, of course, made the firing worse. She summoned me into her office one day and told me to sit down on the straight-backed chair on the other side of her desk. “I have to let you go, dear,” she said, looking out from her round, red spectacles directly into my eyes. “You’re a good writer, but you don’t know anything.” I have no memory of what I said—if anything—or how I managed to stand and walk out of her office. I remember only that I did not cry until I got home.

Maybe that wasn’t the best turn in my professional life, but it came close. I wouldn’t have left Vogue on my own, and it clearly wasn’t the right place for me. I bounced around for a year or two and wound up at another magazine (Look), where I did not have to notice what the duchess wore to the opening of La Traviata. In the interim, I even managed to learn a few things.

And there was a sweet postscript: Ten years after I was booted out, Vogue ran a warm and laudatory review of my book First, You Cry— written by the editor who had fired me.

Annabelle Gurwitch is an actress who was hired by her idol, Woody Allen, to be in a play of his. After her having obeyed an assistant’s orders never to shake hands with or speak to Woody, “the accepted protocol when in his presence,” she says, one day, during rehearsals, he spoke to her: “What you’re doing is terrible, none of it good, all of it bad, don’t ever do that again.” She reports that she tried to soldier on, but when he later said, “You look retarded,” it was hard. Not that it mattered, because she soon got a call from the director of the theater telling her that Woody needed to rethink the role (showbiz for you’re history) and that Woody would write her a letter (which he never did). But Annabelle is a writer as well as an actress and knew instinctively that certain brick blows to the head might give you emotional concussions but that emotional concussions, to a writer, are Material. She promptly wrote a book about herself and other fellow sufferers called Fired! When I last saw her, she was on the Today show, successfully talking up her book.

A magazine editor friend, Katherine, was fired suddenly after fifteen years on the job, along with another editor who worked in a different department. (“Downsizing,” the managing editor explained.) My friend and the other editor (a gay man) walked out of the building together in a kind of daze. They decided to have a drink. As they talked about what had happened, they both realized that, aside from the insult of being fired, they were mainly relieved. It turned out neither of them liked the magazine or the job or the managing editor or the editor in chief. What started out as a sobfest turned into a celebration. Two days later they took in an afternoon movie and subsequently had early- bird dinners together. They became best friends.

One day, they strolled into a bar they sometimes frequented, and the lady bartender—“a peppy little Brit,” according to my friend—looked at them and said, “You know, I always like it when you two come in here because you always look so bloody happy!”

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, gave a commencement address at Stanford a couple of years ago and told his favorite firing story about himself—how he started Apple in his parents’ garage when he was twenty, built it into a $2 billion company with four thousand employees, how he hired a partner with whom, it turned out, he didn’t get along and who, with the board’s approval, fired him. “So,” he said to the graduates, “at thirty I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.”

What did he do? He started over. “I didn’t see it then,” he said, “but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” During his exile from Apple, Jobs was far from idle. He bought another couple of companies, one of which, NeXT, was bought by (guess who) Apple, who promptly rehired Jobs, and as the world knows, he wound up back on top at Apple, newly powerful and, to hear him tell it, newly ecstatic.

Sally Fleming was twenty-eight years old when her house in Wilton, Connecticut, burned to the ground. Her husband was thirty; they had a three-day-old baby and a three-year-old child. No one was hurt in the fire, but they lost everything—things that were replaceable (except they were “way underinsured” and had no money to replace them) and things that were not, such as all of their family photographs plus Sally’s parents’ antiques, which they had stored in her attic.

“We hit rock bottom,” Sally says. Then they did what people generally do if they can: they started over. And then some. Slowly, over a year, they rebuilt the house, meanwhile living in various rentals, including one they shared with a family of mice. The apartment had no furniture to speak of, little heat, and a ceiling that fell in. “All the while,” says Sally, “I kept reminding myself that no one was hurt. And, as far as all the lost things were concerned, it gradually occurred to me that I was my own person and I didn’t need the trappings. I just needed to keep my head up and I knew I was going to be fine and I was and it was a wonderful feeling. I wound up stronger than before.”

Her parents were angry about losing their antiques, and for the first time, Sally says, she stood up to them. “It completely changed our relationship,” she says, “for the better.” Same with her husband. As she dealt with what had happened to them, Sally says, she developed a new sense of independence and confidence. “My husband wanted to leave Connecticut and go to Idaho and start a bed-and-breakfast. I said there was no way I was going to Idaho.” They stayed in Connecticut. Sally decided to go to graduate school, which she hadn’t thought she could handle before the fire, and got a master’s degree from Columbia University in social work. “Learning to deal with what happened to us made me want to help other people deal with their problems,” she says. “Really, the fire made me grow up.”

An awful disease is a failure in the body. Or so it seems to the body’s owner. This structure, which is you, which has always been there for you, has suddenly let you down. It’s hard to trust your body after it does that. On the other hand: One can’t help noticing how frequently one heals—how astonishingly the body asserts itself and makes itself whole again. I remember one small thing that impressed me about my own post-mastectomy healing. After surgery, even after several days, I couldn’t raise my left arm, and it felt as if I would never be able to raise it again. I was given an exercise to do, namely stand near a wall and try to go up the wall, finger by finger, straightening out my arm as I went. It hurt, but after a couple of weeks, I could go all the way up the wall with an almost perfectly straight arm and no pain at all. I felt very strong doing this. Restored. Powerful.

At no time did I have physical pain; breast cancer doesn’t really hurt and I never had chemotherapy. By rights, when it was all over, I had no claim for a medal. I gave myself one anyway. Other people gave me medals, too, in the form of looks on their faces of admiration, respect. All very good for the old self-image. Nothing like cancer to build self-esteem.

Patricia Spicer runs a breast-cancer support group on Long Island, New York. She tells of an elderly woman in her group who was worried about how her grandchildren would deal with her newly bald head, the result of chemotherapy. One evening the woman strutted into a meeting, pulled off her (hated) wig, and showed off her newly decorated head. With Magic Markers in hand, her grandchildren had drawn birds and flowers—plus a rainbow—from one ear to the other. She thought she would wash it all off afterward but decided, instead, to keep it, for purposes of showing it off, for at least a few days, until she had to wash her head—and then to have the children go at it all over again. Her plan, which she announced gleefully to the group at the next meeting, was to keep that up during the run of her treatments.

There is power, mountains of it, in humor. Cracking wise gets you through and pumps you up. After my first book, First, You Cry, was published, I got a lot of noticeably undepressing, often funny mail. One woman in Oregon wrote that she was doing fine until her dog ate her prosthesis. I laughed out loud and at the same time thought, Wow, this lady is a contender.


Excerpted from Here's the Bright Side by Betty Rollin Copyright © 2007 by Betty Rollin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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