In January 2006, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life by Indian-American Kaavya Viswanathan hit the book stores.  Little, Brown & Company, the oldest and most prestigious of American publishers cut a deal with Viswanathan. At age 17, she was the youngest writer the agency had ever taken and she received a $500,000 advance on a second book. By the time How Opal Mehta Got Kissed was published, Viswanathan was a sophomore at Harvard but within months, amidst indelible proof of plagiarism her book was withdrawn from sale and copies destroyed. Her second book never saw the light of day.  Still, I LOVE the book and continue to use its premise and lessons in columns and speeches.

As the book jacket reads:

Opal….is a young woman with a laser focus: getting into Harvard. Since her birth, (her parents) have raised their only daughter with Harvard emblazoned on her pajamas, her walls, and her brain. Everything she does is meant to add up to the perfect Harvard application. There have been flow-charts, diagrams, and endless checklists. At seventeen, Opal is valedictorian, president of three honor societies and founder of the Science Bowl team. She even took welding classes to appear well-rounded. With SAT and AP scores to die for, getting in looks like a sure thing. But at her interview with Harvard’s Dean of Admissions, he sets aside her resume and asks Opal the single question she never prepped for:

 “What do you like to do for fun?”

 For once, Opal is at a loss. She cannot for the life of her answer the question nor give the Dean the names of two close friends. The interview screeches to a nightmarish halt. Opal is deferred from early admission at Harvard and will be reconsidered with general admission applicants in the spring only if she can show that she is more than just another ‘perfect’ student.

The rest of the book follows Opal and her family as they attempt to ‘find her a life’ and her ultimate return to the Dean’s office for reconsideration.

June signals the end of another school year and the beginning of vacation season. It’s a great time to ask yourself, “Do I need to get a life?  Am I so stacked up and wrapped up in my job (or job search) that I have/make/take no time for really living life?” Perhaps you are in transition from one job, to no job, to a new job. Nearly everyone has the need right now to hit a ‘RESET’ button to refocus and redefine life as we know it. No need to put joyful living on hold while waiting to see what’s on the horizon.  Give yourself a break! Start a new life.


I used Opal’s example last month at Clemson University’s Department of Research & Economic Development retreat in a keynote entitled, “A Life of Purpose.”  Dr. Chris Przirembel, vice-president of the department retires this month after an incredible 30-year career at Clemson. Despite a life filled with accomplishment, reward and distinguished recognition, Dr. Przirembel remains a student of life.  He sat on the front row at the retre at taking copious notes  to formulate a plan for his new  life at retirement.

Dr. Przirembel and his family arrived in America when he was a young child. Immigrants from Czechoslovakia, they spoke little English but were anxious to begin a NEW LIFE. And what a life of purpose Dr. Przirembel has led, expanding Clemson’s research programs, generating more grant funding and developing key research facilities, such as CU-ICAR in Greenville, SC and the Advanced Materials Research Lab in Anderson, SC.

Even with his jam-packed schedule, Dr. Przirembel continues to lead by example. He acknowledged and honored the importance of taking time away with his department with a retreat to reset and refocus on the future. Staffers wept as he gave final remarks at the retreat’s end, reminding them that they do live in the land of opportunity, a fertile bed for invention, innovation and discovery. And, even in the face of  this nation’s economic challenges, he is living proof that the United States is a magnificent country in which to get a (new) life.

Stay tuned for The C3 Connection’s next blog:  HOW to Get a (New) Life!

From the desk of Becky Morlok ~

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