Jackie Gingrich Cushman discusses new book

By Brittney McKenna

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Author Jackie Gingrich Cushman has co-written a book, “5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours,” with her father, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Mrs. Cushman was to have held a book signing Friday in Chattanooga.

Was there a specific event in your life that inspired you to write “5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours?” Or was it something that came to you gradually?

A specific event -- my dad and I were talking about 2 years ago and my children, Maggie and Robert, who at the time were 5 and 7 and now are 7 and 9, started noticing that he was on TV and that he was the former Speaker of the House and they started asking questions. It was really important to me that they understand that creating a successful life did not happen overnight and that there were certain principles. It wasn’t like he woke up one morning and was speaker of the house. So dad and I were talking about that and he goes, “Well you know I have these five principles for life.” He had been using those when he did inspirational speeches for people, but I had never heard those because when he started using them, I was already in college. So I was not familiar with labels that clear and I was like, “Oh, those are really good!” So we were chatting, and we decided it would be fun to write a book. His stories are in there and my stories about him are in there. But we also decided to add to that and we had research materials that we were using for statistical analysis and we also got 42 different contributors. So it ended up being a really fun project with lots of different angles on how to live life successfully.

This is the first book you and your father (former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Newt Gingrich) have written together. What was the experience like?

We’ve done op-eds together before but those are really quick, so it was really fun! Of course now with e-mail, he travels a lot and it was very easy to shoot things back and forth to have him review and edit them and have me add. It ended up being a really great project. It did evolve, because originally it was just the principles and our stories, then we added in the contributors and the research. So like all good projects, it grew and became better as we were going through it. I was talking to Arthur Brooks, who is president of AEI in D.C. and he goes, “I can’t imagine writing a book with a family member.” I was like, “Honestly, we’ve never had any problems.” It was easy, really easy. And maybe that’s because it is such a positive book and our goal is to try to lay out this playbook for success. I think we always had the same goal in each of our minds and I think that made the project a lot easier.

Did you learn anything about yourself while you were writing the book?

I did. One, I realized how important it is to have deadlines. In “Dreaming Big,” we talk about how when you have a big dream you have to have a deadline for it to become a reality. Otherwise it’s like, “I want to do whatever but I don’t know when.” That became evident when we were working on this. It was about six months into the project. We had gone pretty far but we hadn’t gotten to a completed draft and I realized we needed a goal, a deadline. Our first real deadline that completed the first draft was the completion of the “Learn, Earn and Achieve” program last spring in Fulton County schools. That’s a program that the Learning Makes a Difference Foundation ran that was based on the idea of my dad. I had worked with the kids down there and I realized it would really be great to finish the first draft in time to actually have printed copies to hand to these students when they finished the program. That really did give us a hard deadline to get up early in the morning and to work late at night and to make sure that we actually had something in their hands. And we did! So that was important. Another thing that I think I’ve really learned is how important it is to slow down and figure out who you are, because the last principle is to “be true to yourself.” I think the hardest part of that is that all through our lives, our parents give us expectations, our peers do, our siblings, and our spouses. Our employers give us what they think we are and what they expect of us. I think a lot of times we don’t slow down enough to figure out who we are really and what our talents and strengths are and what we can contribute to this world. I think thats really important for you to do because otherwise your chasing a dream you think is yours, but it really may not be.

So do you feel that one of the principles is more important than the others?

I don’t necessarily see one as being more important but I do think that there is an order. The way we laid them out was for a really specific reason. You really do have to “dream big” before you can “work hard,” otherwise you haven’t created a reason to get up every day and work that hard. When you’re working that hard, you have to “learn every day” because you dont want to repeat the same mistakes. Then if you don’t enjoy life you’re going to become exhausted and give up. In the end, what we talk about through the whole book which I think is so important is that life is not a point in time, it goes through time. We looked at this like we were creating a playbook for success — how to live a successful life, not how to be successful because that applies to one point in time or event. You have to look at the long-term view and what happens over time and really learn that, like everything else, life has its ups and downs. Ask yourself if you’re really living it as successfully as you can.

You mentioned 42 contributors. Did you have a favorite person to work with or a favorite story after finishing the book?

One of my very favorites, because I just think that she is the coolest person ever, is actually one of the persons that Maggie and Robert talked about getting and that is Jill Long. She goes by the name “Rags.” She is an Air Force pilot who is also their stunt pilot. She is just so cool. She has a great piece in the book. We actually saw her last year when we went to an air show and she was one of the stunt pilots. It was so fun to watch. Afterwards, the kids got to shake her hand and she gave them a picture. Her motto is to “live life on the ragged edge,” which I just loved. I think she’s such a great, fun person. She lives out her dreams as much as she can. She’s one of my very favorites.

What is one small thing readers can do to change their lives today?

I think the thing people do most often, and I have been guilty of this a number of times, is when things don’t go like they want or like they expected or hoped, they naturally become fearful. We become scared. We become fearful. And that shuts down our thinking. You can’t control it. Once we become fearful, the way we’re wired is we think about flight. The one thing I would say is to look around. There are so many small, positive things in life you can be grateful for — the sun shining, the fact that we have air to breathe, the friends we have, the family we have, a good night’s rest, or even the person who is nice and smiles at us. Look for those small things that can help you relax and enjoy life, which will in turn broaden your thinking and enable you to see more opportunities and options than you thought you had.