Things Are Gonna Be Okay
By: Kristen Snider and Jenna Bluemlein
Living your life with "tenacity" and "gratitude" is essential to following your dreams in Henry Winkler's opinion. What does this mean exactly? Tenacity is perseverance or never giving up despite the challenges that slow you down. Gratitude is appreciating the things in life that keep you grounded. Henry Winkler has gotten to where he is today by keeping these two words in his mind and in his heart.
Pursuing his career as an acclaimed actor, producer, director, and author, Winkler is widely known across the nation. Although his journey to becoming who he is today wasn't easy, he managed to succeed. One of the things Winkler is most famous for is his character "Fonzie" on Happy Days. He also starred in The Waterboy, Scream, Memories of Me, and The Lords of Flatbush. But what would someone this famous be doing at the AMLE Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky? His main purpose was to enlighten us with a poignant message that inspires people of all ages: to live their dreams despite the obstacles.
"Things are gonna be okay." This is the advice Mr. Rock, Winkler's music teacher, gave him that he "kept in his heart." Living with dyslexia, Winkler felt as if no one believed in him. His parents were very smart and had expectations he didn't think he could meet. For example, Winkler's father wanted him to take over the family business of selling wood, but Winkler didn't agree. Winkler wanted with all his heart to be an actor. He applied to 26 different colleges but was accepted into only two. He attended Emerson College but later graduated from Yale University School of Drama. His battle with dyslexia inspired him to send a message to other people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, letting them know that they are capable of extraordinary things.
Not only did Winkler struggle with learning disabilities, but his three children did as well. When he was a kid, he didn't have anyone at school to support him, so he tries his hardest to help his own kids. As they were growing up, Winkler's message to his kids was that as long as they tried their hardest, it was good enough for him. He also said, if they didn't try, "they wouldn't drive until they were 70." Realizing that each child is different, Winkler encouraged his own children to find their own ways to focus and learn.
Winkler encourages kids with learning disabilities to "look for your personal power." Everyone is talented at something. While someone "may not be good at spelling," they may be good at something else like carpentry or dancing. He also advises to be "true to yourself." For children who dream of one day becoming an actor, Winkler advises to "major in English" and "minor in theatre." "Acting is not all about being a star" but creating something that "moves people." Typically, when people think of acting they think of being a "glamorous" star, but Winkler argues that the idea of being a star is "manufactured." He thinks being a star is a "drag," compared to the "fun" acting part.
Curious, we questioned Henry Winkler to imagine his life without dyslexia. His response was the total opposite of what we expected. Winkler doesn't believe he would be where he is today if it weren't for his learning disability. It made him stronger and more willing to accomplish his goal. Because of his love for children, he pictures himself having worked with children, possibly as a psychologist, if he had not become an actor. Creating a "strong self-image" for children is very important to Winkler.
Not only is Henry Winkler an actor, he is an author. He wrote the popular Hank Zipzer series for children. In the books, Hank struggles with dyslexia like Winkler himself did. Winkler says he receives letters from children who tell him he's not alone with his learning disability.
Henry Winkler has several upcoming projects that include two books and a movie. One book, Ghost Buddy, comes out in January and is intended for children. The other book is directed toward adults and is called I Never Met an Idiot on the River. It's about fly fishing for trout, his passion, and includes breathtaking pictures he shared with us from his smart phone. Another exciting project coming in 2012 featuring Henry Winkler, along with Kevin James, is a humorous movie titled Here Comes the Boom. Remember when you're watching this movie or reading his new book that tenacity and gratitude are what pushed him to achieve his dreams.