In 1987, Tina Lord found herself in quite the pickle. See, this gold digger made sure she married sweet Cord Roberts just before he inherited millions. But when Cord found out Tina loved his money as much as she loved him, he dumped her. Cord's mother Maria was thrilled until they hooked up again. So Maria hired Max Holden to romance Tina and then made sure Cord didn't find out Tina was pregnant with his baby. So Tina, still married but thinking Cord didn't love her flew to Argentina with Max. Cord finally figured out what was going on and rushed after them, but he was too late. Tina had already been kidnapped, strapped to a raft and sent over a waterfall. She and her baby were presumed dead. Cord was sad for a bit, but then he bounced right back with a supersmart archaeologist named Kate, and they had a gorgeous wedding until Tina, seemingly back from the dead, ran into the church holding a baby. "Stop!" she screamed. "Am I too late? Cord, I've come so far. This is your son."
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the soap opera "One Life to Live" introduced a love story that lasted 25 years.
Now, if you've ever seen a soap opera, you know the stories and the characters can be exaggerated, larger than life, and if you're a fan, you find that exaggeration fun, and if you're not, maybe you find them melodramatic or unsophisticated. Maybe you think watching soap operas is a waste of time, that their bigness means their lessons are small or nonexistent. But I believe the opposite to be true. Soap operas reflect life, just bigger. So there are real life lessons we can learn from soap operas, and those lessons are as big and adventurous as any soap opera storyline.
Now, I've been a fan since I ran home from the bus stop in second grade desperate to catch the end of Luke and Laura's wedding, the biggest moment in "General Hospital" history.
So you can imagine how much I loved my eight years as the assistant casting director on "As the World Turns." My job was watching soap operas, reading soap opera scripts and auditioning actors to be on soap operas. So I know my stuff.
And yes, soap operas are larger than life, drama on a grand scale, but our lives can be filled with as much intensity, and the stakes can feel just as dramatic. We cycle through tragedy and joy just like these characters. We cross thresholds, fight demons and find salvation unexpectedly, and we do it again and again and again, but just like soaps, we can flip the script, which means we can learn from these characters that move like bumblebees, looping and swerving through life. And we can use those lessons to craft our own life stories. Soap operas teach us to push away doubt and believe in our capacity for bravery, vulnerability, adaptability and resilience. And most importantly, they show us it's never too late to change your story.
So with that, let's start with soap opera lesson one: surrender is not an option.
"All My Children"'s Erica Kane was daytime's version of Scarlett O'Hara, a hyperbolically self-important princess who deep down was scrappy and daring. Now, in her 41 years on TV, perhaps Erica's most famous scene is her alone in the woods suddenly face to face with a grizzly bear. She screamed at the bear, "You may not do this! Do you understand me? You may not come near me! I am Erica Kane and you are a filthy beast!"
And of course the bear left, so what that teaches us is obstacles are to be expected and we can choose to surrender or we can stand and fight.
Pandora's Tim Westergren knows this better than most. You might even call him the Erica Kane of Silicon Valley. Tim and his cofounders launched the company with two million dollars in funding. They were out of cash the next year. Now, lots of companies fold at that point, but Tim chose to fight. He maxed out 11 credit cards and racked up six figures in personal debt and it still wasn't enough. So every two weeks for two years on payday he stood in front of his employees and he asked them to sacrifice their salaries, and it worked. More than 50 people deferred two million dollars, and now, more than a decade later, Pandora is worth billions. When you believe that there is a way around or through whatever is in front of you, that surrender is not an option, you can overcome enormous obstacles.
Which brings us to soap opera lesson two: sacrifice your ego and drop the superiority complex.
Now, this is scary. It's an acknowledgment of need or fallibility. Maybe it's even an admission that we're not as special as we might like to think. Stephanie Forrester of "The Bold and the Beautiful" thought she was pretty darn special. She thought she was so special, she didn't need to mix with the riffraff from the valley, and she made sure valley girl Brooke knew it. But after nearly 25 years of epic fighting, Stephanie got sick and let Brooke in. They made amends, archenemies became soul mates and Stephanie died in Brooke's arms, and here's our takeaway. Drop your ego. Life is not about you. It's about us, and our ability to experience joy and love and to improve our reality comes only when we make ourselves vulnerable and we accept responsibility for our actions and our inactions, kind of like Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks.
Now, after a great run as CEO, Howard stepped down in 2000, and Starbucks quickly overextended itself and stock prices fell. Howard rejoined the team in 2008, and one of the first things he did was apologize to all 180,000 employees. He apologized. And then he asked for help, honesty, and ideas in return. And now, Starbucks has more than doubled its net revenue since Howard came back. So sacrifice your desire to be right or safe all the time. It's not helping anyone, least of all you. Sacrifice your ego.
Soap opera lesson three: evolution is real. You're not meant to be static characters. On television, static equals boring and boring equals fired. Characters are supposed to grow and change. Now, on TV, those dynamic changes can make for some rough transitions, particularly when a character is played by one person yesterday and played by someone new today. Recasting happens all the time on soaps. Over the last 20 years, four different actors have played the same key role of Carly Benson on "General Hospital." Each new face triggered a change in the character's life and personality. Now, there was always an essential nugget of Carly in there, but the character and the story adapted to whomever was playing her.
And here's what that means for us. While we may not swap faces in our own lives, we can evolve too. We can choose to draw a circle around our feet and stay in that spot, or we can open ourselves to opportunities like Carly, who went from nursing student to hotel owner, or like Julia Child.
Julia was a World War II spy, and when the war ended, she got married, moved to France, and decided to give culinary school a shot. Julia, her books and her TV shows revolutionized the way America cooks.
We all have the power to initiate change in our lives, to evolve and adapt. We make the choice, but sometimes life chooses for us, and we don't get a heads up. Surprise slams us in the face. You're flat on the ground, the air is gone, and you need resuscitation.
So thank goodness for soap opera lesson four: resurrection is possible.
In 1983, "Days of Our Lives"' Stefano DiMera died of a stroke, but not really, because in 1984 he died when his car plunged into the harbor, and yet he was back in 1985 with a brain tumor.
But before the tumor could kill him, Marlena shot him, and he tumbled off a catwalk to his death. And so it went for 30 years.
Even when we saw the body, we knew better. He's called the Phoenix for a reason. And here's what that means for us. As long as the show is still on the air, or you're still breathing, nothing is permanent. Resurrection is possible.
Now, of course, just like life, soap operas do ultimately meet the big finale. CBS canceled my show, "As The World Turns," in December 2009, and we shot our final episode in June 2010. It was six months of dying and I rode that train right into the mountain. And even though we were in the middle of a huge recession and millions of people were struggling to find work, I somehow thought everything would be OK. So I packed up the kids and the Brooklyn apartment, and we moved in with my in-laws in Alabama.
Three months later, nothing was OK. That was when I watched the final episode air, and I realized the show was not the only fatality. I was one too. I was unemployed and living on the second floor of my in-laws' home, and that's enough to make anyone feel dead inside.
But I knew my story wasn't over, that it couldn't be over. I just had to tap into everything I had ever learned about soap operas. I had to be brave like Erica and refuse to surrender, so every day, I made a decision to fight. I had to be vulnerable like Stephanie and sacrifice my ego. I had to ask for help a lot of times across many states. I had to be adaptable like Carly and evolve my skills, my mindset, and my circumstances, and then I had to be resilient, like Stefano, and resurrect myself and my career like a phoenix from the ashes.
Eventually I got an interview. After 15 years in news and entertainment, nine months of unemployment and this one interview, I had an offer for an entry level job. I was 37 years old and I was back from the dead.
We will all experience what looks like an ending, and we can choose to make it a beginning. Kind of like Tina, who miraculously survived that waterfall, and because I hate to leave a cliffhanger hanging, Tina and Cord did get divorced, but they got remarried three times before the show went off the air in 2012.
So remember, as long as there is breath in your body, it's never too late to change your story.