Years ago, I stumbled across Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road on the shelves of the Santa Barbara Public Library. Although I knew nothing about the book, I soon discovered a kindred spirit. The book is a collection of letters written between Hanff, a struggling New York writer and booklover, and the manager of a London bookshop from whom she ordered books. As time went on, the letters became more personal as the two correspondents became great friends.

I adored the book, although it was a long time before I found out that the story didn’t end there. When Hanff learned that her friend had died (without them ever meeting), she gathered up their letters, thinking they might make an interesting magazine article. Eventually, a publisher saw her manuscript and suggested the letters be turned into a book. Not only did the book receive rave reviews, it became a favorite of Anglophiles and booklovers everywhere. A few years later, the story was made into a BBC production, then a stage play, and, in 1987, a movie starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

In her subsequent book, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, Hanff writes, “I tell you, life is extraordinary. A few years ago I couldn’t write anything or sell anything. I’d had my chance and done my best and failed. And how was I to know the miracle waiting to happen around the corner in late middle age? 84, Charing Cross Road was no bestseller, you understand; it didn’t make me rich or famous. It just got me hundreds of letters and phone calls from people I never knew existed; it got me wonderful reviews; it restored a self-confidence and self-esteem I’d lost somewhere along the way. It brought me to England. It changed my life.”

The editors of the original Contest News-Letter used to remind their readers that the secret of winning sweepstakes was patience, persistence and postage. Seems to me those same qualities are the basis of Hanff’s success—and all sorts of other stories that inspire.

People tell me all the time that they have no role models around them. The truth is, they’re just not paying attention. Wonderful stories of success are everywhere, even if we don’t personally know the leading character. After all, it’s not so much a matter of finding role models as it is about recognizing them…and being smart enough to learn what they have to teach.

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. ~ Eric Hoffer