The 'apple principle'
Bridgman, MI—It is apple time in Michigan. According to the Michigan Apple Committee, during the apple harvest season of 2022, more than 29 million bushels of apples will be gathered from about 770 family-owned farms in the state.
Michigan is third in the total volume of apples produced behind the number one state of Washington and the number two state of New York. There are at least 16 different varieties of apples grown in Michigan, each with its own unique flavor. The Honeycrisp Apple, developed in the 1990s, is the most popular apple in Michigan.
However, my favorites (which were also my dad's favorites) are the Cortland and Northern Spy, both of which are tart and crisp.
The history of the apple goes back to the Garden of Eden. But prior to the 1920s, apples in the U.S. were not grown primarily for eating, but rather for the production of hard cider and alcoholic beverages. All that changed with prohibition, which forced apple growers to creatively find additional markets for their product.
My father, Virgil K. Lewis, was born in Berrien County, Michigan, which is adjacent to the southeast corner of Lake Michigan. The county is known for substantial agriculture production, where variety and quality have attracted tourism and the food processing industry. Lake-effect snow facilitates great fruit-producing trees, and the apples from Berrien County have long been loved and appreciated by apple aficionados.
After my dad's father was killed by lightning when my dad was just two, his mother married Bill Shuler, a fruit farmer in Berrien County, who had developed a successful fruit farm with many kinds of apples.
My father grew up learning to appreciate the process of growing apples. In the spring, beautiful apple blossoms always added wonderful scents to the countryside and offered a foretaste of the delicious fall harvest to come. Of course, the story of Johnny Appleseed was folklore.
As an adult, my father was in the habit of eating apples every day and whenever we took a road trip, there were always apples in the car to enjoy. While my father would never litter, he believed in the legend of Johnny Appleseed.
When he finished his apple in the car, he would wait for a vacant spot of land along the road, make sure the window was open, and pitch his apple core far into the open field or plain, believing that one day an apple tree may develop. I can still remember the humor of an occasional misdirected throw, that, because his eyes were on the road ahead, would catch part of the window or door instead of the open pathway to the adjacent countryside.
As I was growing up, my parents attempted to instill lasting principles in me that would result in my success. Looking back on things, I had a low level of self-confidence and would usually approach things from a pessimistic perspective. My father, who had developed a real optimistic approach to life, frequently shared with me a story from his childhood that taught him (and then myself) a valuable lesson.
At the height of bumper apple season one fall, my dad and his brother, Leonard, were taken into town by their stepfather in a pickup truck full of baskets with freshly picked apples.
The plan was for the truck to slowly progress down a street. Leonard would take the left side of the street and my dad, the right side. Each brother would knock on a door and, when the resident answered, the boys would try to sell the home a basket of apples.
After the first street, Leonard had sold several baskets, but my father had not sold any. The completion of the second street had the same outcome, with Leonard selling several baskets, and my dad not a one.
So, Bill Shuler decided to follow Virgil up to a house to see his sales approach. After Virgil knocked, the lady of the house came to the front door and Virgil said: "Good afternoon, ma'am, you don't want to buy any apples, do you?"
Ah, this was the problem. A pessimistic outlook! It was corrected and my father began to express a positive belief in the product. Soon, sales were brisk on both sides of the street.
The lack of achievement that can occur in life with the negative outlook of "You don't want to buy any apples, do you?" became imprinted in my mind as an object lesson and has helped me many times when I have wanted to approach things pessimistically.
Successful turnarounds at Leland, Ft. Washington, Riverside and Parkview hospitals for me were all directly related to my believing positive outcomes could be achieved, and then conveying that belief to those I worked with. If we do not believe that something can be accomplished, then it will not be.
As a leader, believing a goal can be met is the first step toward success. Then spreading that belief to those we work with creates an infectious environment for successful achievement.
I will never forget how the apple-pitch lesson helped me overcome my pessimism after joining the SDA Clinic on Guam. Our attempts to recruit a top-flight physician trained by Loma Linda University Health and Kettering Medical Center seemed headed for failure.
Our compensation package was lower than other suiters, so we sensed that the doctor would not accept our offer. Given my defeatist attitude, I thought we did not have a chance. Then I thought of the "You don't want to buy any apples, do you?" principle. I sent the physician a picture of a beautiful Guam sunset along with a positive message on the merits of joining Guam SDA. It worked! The doctor took our offer and became a positive asset, not only to the clinic but to Guam as well.
Throughout life, this principle of how best to approach everyday challenges, big and small, taught to me by my father, has helped me countless times.
Whenever I am tempted to be overcome with pessimistic thoughts, I remember the story, "You don't want to buy any apples, do you?"
Theodore Lewis is the former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a healthcare consulting business in Bridgman, MI. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.