4:40 A.M. ~ crescent moon is in upper right section of window

4:40 A.M. ~ crescent moon is in upper right section of window




"The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.  Don't go back to sleep!" ~ Rumi

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep!” ~ Rumi



Twenty-four years ago, I took Mom to a one-day workshop on writing nonfiction magazine articles.   The speaker began the session by asking how many specific suggestions participants would include in an article about The —#— Secrets of Success. While many in the group had ideas for five, eight, or even a dozen secrets for success, Mom had two.   1)  Greet each sunrise with a hopeful smile, and   2)  Keep moving.   In her experience, those two pretty much pointed her in the right direction each day.

During one of my trips to visit Mom this summer, I was sleeping in the guest room of her assisted living apartment, and for some reason I woke up at 4:40.  The sunrise was just a thread of light on the horizon.  A crescent moon and a single star glittered in one corner of the view from my window. 

I peeked in on Mom to see if it had awakened her, too. In a different time and place—maybe in the bedroom of her real home, and certainly before losing my dad to Alzheimer’s and now losing much of her own memory to dementia—I think Mom would have smiled as she watched the moon and star on the horizon, then taken a deep breath and gotten out of bed early to welcome the new day.

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.   Don’t go back to sleep…”   These two beginning lines, my favorites from a longer, well known poem by Sufi poet Rumi, are lines I’m sure would have struck a chord with Mom. For many of her 96 years, her favorite time has been in the quiet early breaths of a new day.  She would use that private time to work in the yard, read and write letters and poetry, pray and sometimes even bake.  Before the dementia took over, it was her first secret of success.

Her second secret of success was short and simple, but essential on many levels: Keep moving.  Regardless of obstacles, set-backs, illness, disappointments or worries, to keep moving meant staying focused on what had to be done, breathing deeply, singing or humming as she worked, and being grateful for the things she learned and noticed along the way.

One beautiful example of someone who kept moving is April Holmes, Paralympic Gold Medalist in the 100-meter dash. April was 27 in 2001 when, as a college track star, she lost her leg from the knee down in a train accident. Instead of giving in or giving up, she kept moving…physically, emotionally, hopefully and with full commitment. Against all odds.

I’m sure my mother had more than just the two secrets of success she used that day for writing practice at the workshop. She was a woman of faith, kindness, creativity and common sense, and she had an amazing capacity for love and trust. I wish now that she’d kept writing on that workshop exercise and written out many more of her success secrets.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and many forms of devastating memory loss plague families, communities and countries everywhere in the world.

But one day this month, Wednesday, September 10th, is “Swap Ideas Day.” This is an excellent opportunity for us to share our favorite Secrets of Success.   Do you remember poignant, funny, strange, or insightful secrets of success from your parents, grandparents, teachers, friends or motivational speakers?

Today, September 6th, is National Writing Date Day.   Make a commitment today to write some of your secrets of success and share them with us!

Bikers racing through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

Bikers racing through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

One Secret of Success for competitive cyclists is Mom's #2: Keep Moving.

One Secret of Success for competitive cyclists is Mom’s #2: Keep Moving.

One section of Garden of the Gods. August 4th was Stage 4 of the USA ProChallenge cycling competition. Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet high.

One section of Garden of the Gods. August 4th was Stage 4 of the USA ProChallenge cycling competition. Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet high.




Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations, writing exercises

57 responses to “TWO SECRETS OF SUCCESS

  1. Your mm’s secrets of success from 1990 still have a lot to teach us Marylin. They’re as fresh today as back then. Your stories about her have a lot to teach us too about the way a life should be lived with kindness, consideration and with optimism.
    xxx Massive Hugs as always xxx

  2. Before her dementia, she used to ask what writing exercises I was having my student writers do in class. Sometimes she’d do them, too, and send them to me…and have me do the same assignments and send them to her.
    I really wish, David, that I’d asked her to continue the exercise from that workshop and write more secrets of her success.
    Now, when I’m with her I get flashes of things she used to say and do, plus I find notes and drafts in her writing box. That’s the best I can do.
    Massive Hugs as always back to you!

  3. Your mother had good ‘secrets’, Marylin. I think mine would be:

    Never sell your integrity
    Assume good intent – trust people
    Work and play hard each day
    Never lose your curiosity. I always want to see what is over the horizon.
    Be humble
    Have a sense of humour

    I am not claiming I have 100% success every day but broadly speaking these have served me well for almost 60 years.

    • Thanks for sharing your secrets, Andrew. All of these are so much a part of your photography and writing, and the details you share on your blog. Especially your desire to always see what is over the horizon. That one really is apparent!

  4. The strangest thing is that I can’t remember success being discussed at all. One was just supposed to work hard and be good, which were somehow rewards in themselves. However, I do like your mother’s two secrets. 🙂

    • You know, Gallivanta, my parents said the same thing about working hard and doing our best. I had never heard my mom even discuss her “secrets of success” until we were at the writing workshop and that was part of the article writing assignment. I loved the two she wrote about.

  5. Jim

    I recently heard a simple suggestion for having a successful day from an “expert” on TV. I don’t remember the person’s name so I can’t give credit. He suggested starting every day by making the bed. Yep, that’s right–“make your bed.” That act gets us going for other successful tasks, like eating a decent breakfast, and may continue on into the work day. He added with a smile, “Even if the day turns out not very successful, you return home to a made-up bed.”

    Most of us would be thrilled if we could get our teenagers to do this one little task every morning. Who knows? Making beds could make the world a much better place in one generation. 🙂

    • Who would have thought that making a bed would have such an impact, but doing it first thing in the morning would get everyone up and moving. I’ll let you be the one to tell our grandkids that this is our new experiment to make the world better. 😉 Except they’ll think Grandpa has a great new idea, and will be glad to try it!

  6. clsudia

    Love early mornings alone on deck. Now it very.dark even as late as 6:30. Another season turns. I do try to keep moving too but getting herder!! I agree with your mom’s points vompletely.

    • It does seem that the sunrise is later, Claudia, and there’s definitely an evening chill in the air, at least here in Colorado. No changing leaves yet, though. But no matter what season, Mom was always up early–and she immediately made their bed–and once Mom started moving, she kept moving.

  7. I remember years ago my aunt quoting the Queen Mother Mary with something like your mother’s Secret # 2: Keep moving; when you stop you’re done, quite like a slogan I’ve heard on TV: An object in motion tends to stay in motion. Good advice, of course.

    But this brings up a “secret” I’m working on right now: Take time to renew and re-charge. You will lose your edge if you are always moving. I would add this tidbit to yours and Andrew’s lists.

    You have much to treasure from your mother’s vast store of wisdom, including her poetry and workshop exercises. I’m sure you cherish them. Oh, how I miss my own mother. I am continuing to mine her wisdom too.

    • I thought of that ad, too, Marian. I think it was for arthritis medicine, to help the body get back in motion.
      But I really like your “secret” about taking time to re-charge…how constant moving can actually make us lose our edge. Both sides in moderation is a good approach, I think.
      I can only imagine how much you miss your mother, Marian, and I’m so glad you continue to mine her wisdom. We both were blessed to have exceptional mothers who made such a difference in our live.

  8. I am like your mom, the early morning hours are precious to me. I remember many years ago when my dad would take me on rides on his tractor early in the morning . It was a very special time. I had totally forgotten about this. Reading your posts brings back so many memories. Isn’t that something Marylin, you help us readers bring back memories by journaling your mom’s dementia .

    My secrets are:
    Keep on working (so German )
    Be kind to yourself and others
    Smile, smile, smile,
    Try to understand
    If life gives you a lemon make lemonade

    Thank you Marilyn and a big hug

    • And a big hug to you, Gerlinde. If this post reminded you of memories, then it was a success! I love all your “secrets”–so wonderful!–but I especially enjoyed your description of your dad taking you on early morning rides on the tractor. Such a precious father-daughter tradition!

  9. I love your mother’s secrets for success, Marylin. Living with health issues since my early 20’s, I’m all about “keep moving.” There were times when I wasn’t able, so I cherish every day I’m able to get out of bed and live.
    I remember when I was little, I called the crescent moon, the fingernail in the sky.
    A few of my secrets:
    Thank God every morning for a new day
    Give at least 3 compliments a day
    Be grateful
    Listen more, speak less

    • Jill, your “secrets” are obviously working; your happy, hopeful and healthy attitude is such a joy! All four of these secrets are excellent. Thanking God each morning for a new day, and giving at least 3 compliments are precise and specific, while being grateful and listening more/speaking less are general awareness. Such a powerful blend, and a tribute to your improved health. Thanks for sharing these.

  10. juliabarrett

    Your mom and I are in agreement. I think the secret is simple – live each moment. Each individual moment will never come again – there will be a sunrise but not ‘that’ sunrise. Not much to ask.
    Yes, your mom and I are soul mates.

    • Oh, I have not doubt about it, Julia. If you’ll remember, she responded to some of your poetry I read to her, and she was also so touched by your experiences as a hospice nurse. I also have made some of your recipes for her during my visits, so you two are very much in tune.

  11. I love your mother’s secrets and those lines from Rumi. Like Gallivanta, there wasn’t so much a focus on success when I was growing up, instead I was always told to just ‘do your best’. Too often as an adult, I think, I chased achievement for the sake of it and I still find it difficult to do something without feeling as though I have to do it perfectly, so my secret to success is to pursue what you love and remember that perfection is stagnation.

    • Your wording is amazing, Andrea: Pursue what you love…and remember that perfection is stagnation. Beautifully written.
      I was always told to “do my best,” too, and my parents never stressed success. So when I read my mother’s 2 Secrets of Success for the workshop practice writing, I was surprised and delighted.

  12. Marilyn, you have a gift of spreading wisdom on the net. What two wonderful steps to success that you’ve cited her, those of your dear mother’s. Greet each sunrise with a hopeful smile and keep moving. I love the mornings, when everything is fresh. I’m in awe of what our world has to offer. Keep moving is good one for many reasons. I was at a memorial this afternoon for someone dear. I didn’t know her well but we played badminton together and before she left our earth at 44 years, she had given a lot of love to everyone she touched. A woman of tremendous strength, courage, kindness and generosity, she lost her fight with breast cancer. Whether it’s Alzheimer’s or any other life-sucking disease that greets us unexpectedly, it’s still good to savour the sunrises and keep moving.

    • I’m so sorry about your friend, Diana. Losing two friends from high school was my first breast cancer loss; one was in her early 30s and the other was in her 50s with growing daughters. They both made a tremendous difference during their short lifetimes.
      You’re so right; whether it’s Alzheimer’s or any other life-sucking disease, it’s still good to savor the sunrises and keep going while we can.
      Thank you for sharing this wonderful comment.

  13. “The quiet early breaths of a new day” – you write like an angel, Marylin! That line is so poetic and I just love it!

    Secrets of success in my world – simply put : faith, hard work, determination and dedication.

    Have a wonderful weekend!


  14. Your secrets may be simply put, but they’re also powerful, Robyn. Faith, hard work, determination and dedication–they all show in what you do with your photography and writing. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, too!

  15. I love your mom’s words of wisdom. My Dad’s secret to success was “be true to your word.” He also always said, “You make your own luck by working hard.” My secret to success is, “Never give up on your dreams”

  16. We were always advised never to go to bed on an argument; always believe that we can do anything we put our minds to; that family is all important. Old fashioned I know, but I think those words of parental wisdom, although not secrets or even particularly original, have stood me and my siblings in good stead. The one I repeat frequently to my son is that he can do anything … And he often proves me right 🙂

    • Hey, if those are old fashioned, Jenny, then we should be doing everything possible to bring back old fashioned values and goals!
      Having parents who taught us these things encouraged us to become the parents who would encourage our own children with good advice, too.
      It’s an ongoing win-win! 🙂

  17. Hudson Howl

    ‘Two secrets’ and ‘to success’, you had me wriggling ‘like a fish on hook’.

    It would seem our current posts are on the same tracks, heading in the same direction, though at opposite ends.

    ‘Secrets of success’, not sure if I prescribe to anything helpful for another. There just are no guarantees in this ‘thing’ we call life, recent headlines tell me so.

    That said I will quote myself from the last tinkering, “roll roll roll, tuck deep & roll “.

    I hold onto your mother’s first secret for the beauty of it and the stillness it brings. The second, is more denial as to there is no choice. Everything else in between, more like strategies put together on game day: they may or may not bring success. Buy into your mother’s two and you have the foundation in place.

    Happy Sunday and shtuffs

    • “Roll roll roll, tuck deep & roll.” I love it!
      I also agree that there are no guarantees in life–and yes, the recent headlines confirm that–but after watching my mother for many years before her dementia, I think her two basic steps really do at least set us on the right track. And the back-up plan is to roll, tuck deep & roll. 🙂
      Have a great week.

  18. Great post! two excellent secrets. I would add gratitude, creativity and wonder. 🙂

  19. Oh, yes: gratitude, creativity and wonder. My mom would agree, too, Sheila, if it weren’t for the dementia. But even though she often doesn’t know for sure who she is, she still has an amazing capacity to be grateful for all she does have. And that encourages me and fills me awe.

  20. I love those two strategies of success from your mother; and I believe them to be correct. I rise to greet the sunrise each morning and it always fills me with hope. I also believe in keeping on keeping on. Your Mum must have sent her inspiration across the seas to me. Have a great day 🙂

  21. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Thanks for the extra motivation, Marylin. I think I’ll just second your mom’s two suggestions! 🙂

  22. A positive attitude and a keep going no matter what life throws at you stance will take you a long way. Your Mom’s credo is one we all need to follow.

    My favorite time of day, when I was in high school, was early in the morning. I loved to see the sun rise outside our kitchen window. One day, just like in Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” the whole countryside was awash in gold until the sun edged up just a tad more on the horizon. It was a beautiful, unforgettable sight. I wrote about it for my English class and got an “A.” It sounds like your Mom knew how to make the most of that golden opportunity.

    Blessings to you and your Mom. 😉

  23. Thank you so much, Judy.
    Your description of the sunrise made the line from Frost’s poem so vivid. When I read S.E. Hinton’s THE OUTSIDERS, “Nothing Gold Can Stay” had a sad connotation because of the situation, but your morning view made it hopeful again.

  24. Marylin, what a good post. I have been trying to Keep Going with my events business and stay positive. Thank you for the motivation. I love your photos and one of my favorite things in life is to greet a sunrise. It just sets the tone for a happy day. 🙂
    xo Joanne

    • For 30 years of teaching high school, Joanne, I was up by 5:00 and on the road by 6:15 because my first class began at 7:05. During the fall and winter months, I left home in the dark and arrived back home as it was getting dark again.
      So on the morning I awoke at 4:40 in my mom’s apartment and saw the moon over the beginning horizon, I was reminded that the best mornings do start very early, and I needed to get up and enjoy them.
      Your events business keeps you busy, but also creative and happy, Joanne, and I’ve seen the beautiful pictures of some of your results. Enjoy those stunning sunrises to keep you motivated!

  25. Ahh Marylin, what a beautiful quote by Rumi. I just read it out to my husband who is an early riser, always has been. He was moved by it. What struck me most of all by this post is the image I have of you rising at 4.40 am when the ‘sunrise was just a thread of light on the horizon.’ I can just imagine you looking out of your window up at the crescent moon and the star in that moment of peace and quiet as you pondered so many things and then walked over to check on your mom…
    Because of the relevance of the date for this post, I will mention that September 10th is my birthday. I almost wasn’t born due to mum’s complications during her pregnancy, but I suppose I must have fought hard so no surprise that I remember my mum telling me as well as ‘do your best’ to ‘never give up’. Whereas my dad always told me to ‘keep smiling kid!’ But it was a man I once worked for as a PA when I was 21, in Los Angeles who told me that it was fine to make a mistake so long as I didn’t make it a second time. Nobody else wanted to work for him as they were intimidated by him but I loved working for him. He taught me a lot about life, lessons I’ve never forgotten. Thank you for reminding me of that 🙂

    • Happy Birthday, dear Sherri, Happy Birthday to you! 🙂 (imagine that with music.)
      My birthday is in 20 days, and due to my mother’s complications I was suddenly taken by C-section more than a month early, and back then that meant my lungs were weak. My first case of pneumonia was when I was 3 1/2, and I was in this old hospital, and the nun/nurses gave me huge shots. My mom held her breath each time, hoping I wouldn’t comment on their full habits with the “flying nun”-type headdresses (or whatever they were called).
      We both have our memories, and some of them not easy ones, so I like your dad’s “keep smiling, kid!” advice. Again, Happy Birthday, Sherri. The world is a better place because you’re here!

      • Ahh….thank you so much Marylin and I can hear you singing way across the pond, and it is a very sweet sound indeed! It’s nice knowing our birthdays are so close 🙂 I wonder, did you ever say anything about the nuns’ habits? Oh I hope your lungs grew strong as you grew…
        Your friendship is a great blessing to me… I hope you know that ❤

      • Actually, my mom said she was very proud of someone so young not making a comment or complaining, but she also said that while my bottom lip quivered during each shot, as soon as the nurse left I broke into tears and held out my arms for Mom to help me. Ah, the memories.
        September babies are very special, and you and I prove that! 😉

  26. I love your mom’s secrets! About success – I believe that if I have to get from point A to point B and I dedicate myself to accomplish this goal, I will. I might stumble, I might have to take a detour, I might face obstacles, however, eventually I will achieve my goal.

    May September bring you many, many beautiful moments with your mom.

  27. I can’t remember my family ever discussing secrets for success, but I love Mary’s. Your mom was a very wise woman Marylin.
    On second thought, my grandmother would often recite wise old sayings. The saying that I remember most vividly was, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I pictured some poor little kitty being skinned, but grandma assured me that it was another way of saying, there’s more than one way to get something done. So, I guess that might be considered a secret for success.
    A few of my grandma’s favorite sayings were:
    “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”
    “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”
    “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
    “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
    “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”

  28. Theresa, your grandma and mine shared the same wise sayings! Must be a Missouri thing, though probably Kansas, too, as many of my friends learned the same things from their grandmothers!
    Before the dementia, my mom was very wise. Our family didn’t really discuss secrets for success. We were expected to do our best. Until the writing exercise at the workshop, I’d never heard Mom actually refer to secrets of success; I think she wrote the article using her favorite two “habits” that worked so well in her life.

  29. I remember attending a management training session. The instructor said “If at first you don’t succeed, go suck another seed”.
    I think we are a little fixated on ‘success’. So before I can think about secrets of success I need to think more about what I mean by success. If I aim for how society generally understands success I can never be successful – you can never have enough. First I have to rid myself of the idea that success and failure are opposites. So rather than think of success I would prefer to think about fulfilment. From what I have read of your mother, she found fulfilment. Fulfilment for me is finding and living where my passions and talents meet in some way beneficial to the world (no matter how small). But I really like Andrew’s list for living.

  30. Rod, this is a thoughtful and inspiring comment. I had to get past the “…go suck another seed” because I didn’t quite get it, but after that you had my full attention.
    My mom didn’t focus on success vs. failure, either. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the assignment at the workshop, I don’t think she would have used that title. For her, it was what she did every morning to set her up for the rest of the day. She, too, found and lived where her passions and talents and in some way benefited the world.
    The next time you’re invited to give a sermon or “food for thought” talk, I think what you write in your comment–exactly as it is–would be wonderful.
    Thank you.

    • Serendipity: just received notice of a post by one of my other favourite bloggers David Lose, this one is titled How Do You Define Success? and points to a short clip from

  31. Serendipity is right, Rod. I’ll go there now!

  32. Jane Thorne

    Your Mum’s philosophy for life is a very loving one Marylin. Flowing loving kindness, calmness and love. When things get tricky I try and come back to something simple that calms or balances. I recall when my ex.husband was taken long term ill, he had just started a new business and Em was not very old…I would awake really early each day and in the stillness I would watch the moon in the early morning sky. I would write, organise and sometimes bake. My Great Granny always said ‘If you can’t be kind, be quiet’. I have found that when all around is falling down, if I can manage to make something that day, maybe just a cake, then that helped on so many levels. Your Mum has woven such a very special tapestry and her loving touch is still here, as is she. Huge hugs to you both. ❤ xXx

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