Praise Harper Lee for What She Didn’t Do

There is hope though for those who, like Ms. Lee, have something genuine to offer, yet do not feel comfortable shouting it from the rooftops every five minutes

Harper Lee.

Harper Lee. (Photo: Getty Images)

Reading the copious tributes, generated by the death of 89-year-old Pulitzer Prize winning author Harper Lee, makes it even more infuriating to live in our self-promoting-of-the-non-accomplished world.

Lee wrote the quintessential book of the twentieth century yet never parlayed her “fifteen minutes,” a la a Real Housewife, into a multi-book deal, where she churned out whatever (The Mockingbird CookbookHow To Eat Like Atticus, or Southern Fashion: Rock Your Overalls With Scout.

Her work spoke for itself.

Unfortunately, because so few people create anything that noteworthy, we listen to them speak—non-stop—for themselves about what little they have to offer.

Whenever there’s some high-profile breakup, talk shows drag out someone deemed an expert, because he or she wrote a book about how every relationship they’ve ever had failed. This a specialist makes?

Someone cracks an egg for a movie star on location in the middle of nowhere and so begins their rep as a celebrity chef.

Taylor Swift and Megyn Kelly go head-to-head with powerful men (Kanye West and Donald Trump, respectively), suddenly making them golden girls in their chosen fields.

This past summer we lost another real deal, Donna Karan, this time to retirement. The award-winning designer said her decision to step down was based on a desire to focus on her Urban Zen line and philanthropies. Honestly, if I were her, I would have bailed way back when Monica Lewinsky declared herself a handbag designer.

There is hope though for those who, like Ms. Lee, have something genuine to offer, yet do not feel comfortable shouting it from the rooftops every five minutes.

Ms. Karan graduated Parsons School of Design, worked her way up at Anne Klein and took the risk to start her own company with “seven easy pieces” that changed the fashion world. I can envision her throwing those pieces in the air, not like Mary Tyler Moore did with her hat, but out of frustration that being a fashion designer has lost cache since anyone with some money or fame can start a label. As she surveyed the landscape of her industry, I can picture the look on Karan’s face mirroring that of Reese Witherspoon’s in Sweet Home Alabama when Melanie Lynskey’s character mused, “That Jaclyn Smith sure knows what she’s doin’.”

But let’s not lay this all on the well known. How many of us endure the workday with those who sharpen a pencil and talk it up as though a cure for cancer is in the shavings?

There is hope though for those who, like Ms. Lee, have something genuine to offer, yet do not feel comfortable shouting it from the rooftops every five minutes. Introverts of the world are starting to have their day with the help of Susan Cain, author of The New York Times bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Perhaps the most inspiring part of the book is introduced to successful introverts, who just as the “Mockingbird” author, broke through in our extrovert-as-ideal culture.

On Ms. Cain’s website, quietrev.com, The Quiet Revolution Manifesto offers:

  • There is a word for “people who are in their heads too much”—thinkers.
  • Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.
  • The next generation of quiet kids can and must be raised to know their own strengths.
  • Sometimes it helps to be a pretend-extrovert. There is always time to be quiet later.
  • But in the long run, staying true to your temperament is the key to finding work you love and work that matters.
  • One genuine relationship is worth a fistful of business cards.
  • It’s okay to cross the street to avoid making small talk.
  • “Quiet leadership” is not an oxymoron.
  • Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.
  • “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” —Mahatma Gandhi

Perhaps she might consider adding to this list:

“People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.” ― Harper Lee

Praise Harper Lee for What She Didn’t Do