My oldest daughter is going to roll her eyes and laugh when she sees who this article is about, because he has dominated my YouTube playlist for days, and she has already teased me about that.  I know she’s going to say I’m obsessed…and maybe after looking at my YouTube history, she might be right.  I’m okay with that, though.  It’s like reliving my own youth, when I was her age.

Over and over again, I’ve been listening to songs off the Slippery When Wet and New Jersey albums…and I can’t believe it’s been almost 30 years since those songs took MTV and my generation by storm…and I can’t believe that they’re still every bit as good today!  While my teens giggle and snicker over the huge hair and the outlandish costumes, they’ll still rock out alongside me when Bon Jovi takes to the airwaves.

Anyway, I digress.  There is a point to this article, other than a nostalgic stroll down memory lane.  During one of my marathon Bon Jovi playlist sessions, I watched a bio of Jon Bon Jovi, and I discovered that there is a lot more to this man than his charming, boyish grin and his greatest hits.  As I listened to him talk about his life and others speak about him, I found myself thinking that my kids could learn a lot about all of the things that this blog is about from this rocker.  So, I started taking notes.  Then I watched another bio/documentary about him with my pen in hand.

And without further ado, 12 Things Jon Bon Jovi Can Teach Your Kids About Success:

It Doesn’t Matter Where You Come From

John Bongiovi Jr, Richie Sambora, Tico Torres, David Bryan, and Alec Such all came from working class neighborhoods in New Jersey.  None of them were born with silver spoons in their mouths or rock and roll royalty in their blood.  

The only mention of attending college that I could find was in David Bryan’s past; he briefly attended Rutgers University and Juilliard before getting the call from Jon that he was putting the band together.  “I didn’t go to college,” Jon said during a recorded session of Oprah’s Master Class.  “My college was on the streets of, the shore of Manhattan.  You know, hustling around trying to write songs and get a record deal.”

The world is full of people who never manage to escape their beginnings.  Maybe they grew up in poverty. Maybe they were raised by a single parent. Maybe there were drugs, alcohol, or abuse.  Maybe their schools were the worst in the country.  Whatever the circumstances, there are always going to be those people who will let those circumstances imprison them.  They’ll blame those circumstances, and never bother to find the people who refused to be enslaved by humble or tragic beginnings.  Those people are out there, though.  If you can’t meet them, you can read about them or watch documentaries about them and absorb their lessons that way.

Have a Single-Minded Focus on Your Goal

Contrary to conventional wisdom that tells us to diversify and get a broad, liberal arts education, people at the pinnacle of success focus all of their attention and resources on one thing: the object of their passion.

While Jon was still a teenager in high school, he began playing the local bar and club circuit.  His father recalls many nights when Jon would fall asleep with his guitar still in his hands.  After he finished high school, he went to work as a go-fer at the New York recording studio, The Power Station.  When Jon wasn’t working, he’d go into the studio early, hoping to find a sound engineer willing to work with him.  He spent his commute on the bus writing songs.

When asked about this period in his life, he mentioned this idea of a single-minded focus twice.  First, he said, “One thing I did have was a single-minded, laser-beam focus that there was nothing going to distract me from being a better singer, a better writer, and a better player.”

In another interview, he said, “I was so single-minded at the time that all I ever dreamed about was getting up on a stage and making a record.  I didn’t know what that meant, but that’s what I was going to do.”  

Not everyone has what it takes to channel this kind of focus into achieving a goal.  I don’t know if everyone ever even finds something that ignites the kind of fire that’s required to become single-minded.  I think self-directed homeschooling helps, because it gives children (and us parents too) the freedom and the flexibility to keep exploring what interests us without the entanglements and distractions of the things that don’t.

Be Willing to Pay Your Dues

This one goes hand-in-hand with having a single-minded focus on your goal.  Bon Jovi released Slippery When Wet just days after my 12th birthday.  They weren’t playing on my radio one day and the next day – BOOM – their songs were dominating the playlists.  To my young self, Bon Jovi was an overnight sensation.  I had absolutely no idea of what dues they had paid in the years before they reached commercial success and the dues they would continue to pay in order to promote their albums.

Their dues started as individuals, years before the band formed.  Hours of practice.  Stints with garage bands. Playing local bars and clubs.  Hauling equipment around themselves in the back of a station wagon.  Sending out demos to all of the recording companies they could find.  Enduring rejection after rejection before finally catching a break.  The break leads to a nomadic existence within a relentless touring schedule, jet lag, exhaustion, damaged vocal chords, and broken marriages left in its wake.  All because, as Richie Sambora said during an interview, they wanted a career.  They didn’t want to be one-hit-wonders.

The question you have to ask yourself is, how badly do I want this?  When I was a teenager, I wanted to write soap operas.  That was my dream.  But, once I started thinking about what it would actually take, the sacrifices I’d actually need to make, I realized that writing soap operas was not a goal that I was willing to focus like a laser-beam on.  I wanted a family, and I wanted to be home to raise my kids.  That was something I was willing to sacrifice for, so I abandoned that pipe dream of writing soap operas.

Be Teachable

In 1980, Jon was 18 years old.  He was in New York City, working as a go-fer at The Power Station.  He hadn’t yet figured out how he was going to make it big.  He only knew that somehow he would.  In the meantime, he was earning $50 a week at The Power Station and had been “given the opportunity to look, listen, and learn.”

Later on, as Bon Jovi’s manager sent them out on a tour of Europe and Japan to promote their debut album, Jon was quick to appreciate the importance of being teachable.  “You’re learning what it means to tour the world.  You’re learning what it means to perform in front of audiences.  Big audiences.  Small audiences. Foreign speaking audiences.  You have to learn the rapport and how to master that part of the job description,” he said.

Jon Bon Jovi was forced into a very short learning curve after the smash success of Slippery When Wet. Fame and fortune create new problems and expose all of the holes in knowledge and skills.  Somehow, he had to learn how to be the CEO of a major brand.  If I had the opportunity to interview him, this is what I’d ask him about.  I’m curious about what he did to fill all of those holes in his knowledge and skills in order to become confident in the role of CEO. Did he hire experts to do things for him?  Did he hire experts to teach him what he needed to know?  What was the process of learning all of the things he needed to know like for him?  How did he balance that with the demands of touring and of being the band’s frontman?  

The simple fact of the matter is that no one achieves success completely on their own.  The uber-successful never want to be the smartest people in the room.  They want other people smarter than they are in other areas of expertise as part of the team.  They want to learn from those other people.  Many very successful people are willing to guide and mentor other people, as long as they aren’t wasting their time.  It’s tremendously important to be teachable.  

Stay Humble

Of all the things that Jon could have said about his time at The Power Station, where he was doing things like getting coffee for music’s biggest stars, what he actually said surprised me.  The most valuable lesson that he learned was: “The bigger the star, the nicer the person.”

What?!  That goes completely against the stereotype of the affected celebrity.  Unfortunately in our society, the rich are often vilified.  They’re greedy. They’re snobbish.  They’re materialistic.  They’re out of touch.  They use and abuse underlings.  The bigger the star, the nicer the person?  Yes.  I mean, of course there are exceptions.  But, by and large, when your living is dependent upon building a connection with other people, you have to be a nice person.

In my dreams, this blog will grow into a powerful and encouraging force for change in the way we view education.  In my dreams, I’ll get to partner with some of the greats in education, entrepreneurship, success, charitable giving, and financial literacy to help bring the messages that resonate so strongly with us to other people.  When that happens, I’ll still be a mom who homeschools her children.  I’ll still be pounding out my articles the same way I do now. I’ll still put my pants on one leg at a time.  

My son is poised right now to begin seeing absolutely incredible opportunities coming his way.  He began paying his dues a few years ago.  He’s doing the same sort of grunt work in a different field as Jon Bon Jovi did at The Power Station.  When the floodgates open and Jarrod’s living his dream, I still expect him to be true to his values and his roots.  I expect that he will pay it forward one day.  I expect that he will always, no matter what position of power or prestige that he holds, remember that he must remain humble.  And when my girls are old enough to follow suit, I will have the same expectations of them.

Be Tenacious, Resourceful, and Think Outside the Box

Without Jon’s tenacity, resourcefulness, and willingness to think outside the box, there wouldn’t be a Bon Jovi. “I didn’t have a band at that time.  I didn’t have a manager.  I didn’t have anything,” he recalled during an interview.  “I had an idea, that single-minded naivete and romantic vision and version of what the music business was…”  That idea and that single-minded focus drove him forward.  He sent demo after demo to every record label he could think of…and kept getting rejected.

Jon didn’t let that pile of rejection get him down.  Instead, he dug in more.  Instead, he began thinking outside of the box.  If contacting the labels wasn’t working, what else could he do to create his break?  Who else could help?  And that’s when he decided to take another long-shot.  He contacted the late night DJ, the so-called “loneliest man in music”, at the Long Island radio station, WAPP.  He convinced him to give his song, Runaway, some airplay, which led to that song being included on a compilation album of local talent….which broke huge and led to that coveted record deal.

Think about huge success as the tip of an iceberg in the ocean.  You can see that success.  What you don’t see is the rest of that mammoth iceberg under the surface.  Real success takes tenacity, resourcefulness, and a willingness to think outside of the box.  Each of those traits are characteristics of self-directed homeschooling.  We’re not confined to the rules and boundaries of authority-driven, structured classroom learning.  We’re freed from doing what someone else says is important to do or learn, so we can harness the full power of tenacity.  No board of education dictates which resources are acceptable to use, so we can evaluate all of the available options.  We’re not beholden to anyone else’s syllabus or tests, so we can think broadly outside the box.  The question to ask isn’t, “Can it be done?”  The question I want my kids asking is, “How can it be done?”  

Be Courageous and Take Calculated Risks

When you’re asking, “How can it be done?” you’re stepping outside the bounds of convention and into uncharted territory.  There’s an unavoidable element of risk in exploring uncharted territory.  That takes courage to face.    

With a record deal in hand, Jon Bon Jovi had to put his band together.  The first person he turned to was longtime friend and former bandmate, David Bryan, who had just worked harder than he’d ever worked in order to gain admission to the famed Juilliard School of Arts.  There it was: an invitation to take an enormous personal risk – with the possibility of amazing reward, but certainly no guarantee.  In fact, the odds were still stacked against them.  Still, David Bryan went all in.

Jon and the other guys went all in, too.  “Life’s too short,” Jon said in Oprah’s Master Class.  “You’ve gotta reach for that ring, man.  At least try it.  I’ve always said, even as a boy, I was going to be, ‘I did it and failed’ instead of a ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’.”  

Self-directed homeschooling is bucking the system.  It actually sometimes feels like a huge risk.  A calculated risk, mitigated in my mind more and more by increasing numbers of entrepreneurial and success gurus echoing the underlying beliefs in self education, nonetheless.  As I move forward along this path with my children, I am teaching them to be courageous and take these calculated risks.  We evaluate opportunities openly, together.  The pros.  The cons. And then we make the best decision we can make with the information we have right now.  What I’m finding is that each courageous decision my kids have made opens up even more opportunity that somehow takes us even more off the beaten path.  It’s exciting.   

Believe in Yourself

“If you don’t believe in yourself more than anything, you’re already behind the eight ball,” Jon warned in one of these interviews.  “You’ve gotta have that if you’re going to truly succeed.  There’s people telling you no every step along the way, and that takes a determination, a single-minded, unbelievable focus (to overcome).”

It was that belief in himself that kept Jon working doggedly toward his goal.  It was that belief in his vision and in themselves that brought Richie, David, Tico, and Alec alongside Jon to form Bon Jovi at enormous personal cost for some of them.  It was that belief in the band and the magic they made together on the stage that kept them going through the relentless worldwide touring and brought them back again and again to write more songs for each new album.

It’s interesting to me that Jon was playing the club scene in his teens, out late in a very adult environment.  He managed to make it to school in the morning, exhausted and disinterested.  He had thrown all of his eggs into the basket of music, and his grades reflected that, and yet his parents were still supportive.  Highly unusual inside of a traditional classroom setting, I think.  His father said, “I never stopped any of my boys from whatever they felt they had to do.  They had to live with it.”  Clearly that belief in himself started with parents who believed in him.

I want that for my kids.  I want my kids to know that whatever (so long as it is both legal and honorable) they are willing to define as a goal, whatever they are willing to work for with single-minded determination, whatever they are willing to sacrifice for and pay their dues to earn, whatever they are willing to step out boldly and courageously for, whatever they are willing to risk for – their dad and I will be their biggest supporters.  I don’t care what it is.  I don’t have any agendas of my own for their lives.  I want them to lead lives that are authentically their own.

Leverage Your Strengths

“I realized a long time ago that I’m not a scientist, so you can’t rely on me to invent the cure,” Jon said of his involvement in charitable giving.  “But I know that with effort, desire, my ability to partner with people, it just takes determination and dollars a lot of times.”

Jon Bon Jovi knows who he is, what he’s capable of doing well, what he’s capable of doing exceptionally well, and he focuses on what he does exceptionally well, leaving other people to do what they do exceptionally well. That’s a hallmark of highly successful people.  They don’t waste time doing what they do not do well.  It’s also a fundamental belief of the self-directed homeschooler.  Leverage your strengths and mitigate, accommodate, or eliminate your weaknesses.  

Jon’s friend, designer Kenneth Cole said something about him that I hope my kids will take to heart in their own lives: “Jon’s very much his own guy.  He has this real kind of sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, and he’s got great personal instincts, and feels a compelling need to do something meaningful with that.”

When my children are grown, if they are well grounded in who they are as people, comfortable in their own skin, secure both in what they do well and in what they do not do well, I will have done my job.  

Keep Challenging Yourself

Before I started watching these bio/documentaries, I knew of Jon Bon Jovi.  In my mind’s eye, he was the charismatic frontman of Bon Jovi whose voice got my body moving in time with the beat.  Yeah, he’s a singer.  So what?  Right?  Did you know that he’s an award-winning songwriter?  Did you know that he’s also an actor?  Did you know that he’s also an owner of an Arena Football League team?  Did you know that he’s the first ever Ambassador for Habitat For Humanity?  Did you know that he donates more than his money to getting homes built for less fortunate people?  Did you know that he opened up his own restaurant, where people who can pay for their meals pay what they believe the meal was worth and people who cannot pay with money for their meals pay with their time – either at his restaurant or another charity locally?  Did you know that he washes dishes and takes orders in that restaurant?   

Jon Bon Jovi wasn’t content just to top the charts with his voice.  He wasn’t content to sit back on his laurels. He chose to continue to challenge himself. After he wrote the soundtrack for the movie, Young Guns II, he discovered an interest in acting.  “I was already successful (in music),” Jon said, “but I was starting all over again.”

And start all over again he did.  He approached a prominent acting coach, who was apparently unimpressed with his celebrity and told him that he’d have to audition for the opportunity to be his student.  Jon did, and then he spent five years honing his craft (and paying his dues) before his first feature film.  

“Anytime that you think you’ve hit the top of a mountain, the truth of the matter is that you’ve just reached another mountain and it’s there to climb all over again.  So I made sure I learned that early on because had I accepted – I don’t know – at 21 years old that a record deal was the top of the hill, that boy certainly wouldn’t talk to who I am now…” Jon recalled in an interview.  “Each step along the way is just a life’s lesson in humility and it gives you the ammunition to go on and be excited about the next day.”

Yes!  Yes!  Yes!   I don’t want my children to stay in what’s comfortable and easy for them.  The point of self-directed homeschooling is to let life as it’s being lived right now to keep preparing us for what we need to know next.  As long as we’re active participants in our own lives, life will do a good job of placing obstacles (of things we need to know or skills we need to have before we can reach the next benchmark) in our paths.  I’m learning things for this blog right now that I couldn’t have fathomed needing to know even a year ago!

Be Loyal and Love Well

What’s the point of success if you don’t have anyone to share it with?  One of the things about Jon Bon Jovi that impresses me the most is the value he seems to place on the people in his life.  He married his high school sweetheart in 1989, and they have four children together.  He speaks highly of his parents and brothers.  His band has been a brotherhood for over 30 years.

His mother, Carol, said, “My heart swells when I think about what makes me proud – the family man that he is. That’s what it’s all about.  Not the money. Not the mansion.  Not the cars.  Not the…whatever.”

When my husband and I were dating and I’d ask him what he thought I should do in any given situation, he always used to say, “Do what’s best for you…and when you’re thinking about what’s best for you, I hope that it’s the same as what is best for us.”  Since we were in this life together for the long haul, if it wasn’t good for us, I didn’t do it.  Period.  Family and friends are important to me.  I’ve tried very hard to live my life in such a manner that my family and friends know they are important to me.  If my children can say, as adults, that I always had their backs and that I loved them unconditionally, then I have done my job.  I hope that family, friends, and love are significant to my kids as well, and that they all put a premium on each of those things in their own lives.

Give Back Generously

“If there’s any opportunity for me to use my influence, money, or power to do good…if I can, I will,” Jon stated. While society seems to like to vilify the rich, making them out to be greedy jerks who have made their fortunes on the backs of other people, the truth is that the day of the compassionate capitalist has dawned.  There’s no escaping the mandate to create value if you’re going to be wildly successful in this life.

Those aren’t just empty words to him.  He walks his talk as the Ambassador for Habitat For Humanity, the founder of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, the founder of the JBJ Soul Kitchen, a partner with Kenneth Cole in the RSVP To Help clothing and fragrance line, and someone who has raised and personally pledged millions of dollars for all sorts of charities.  “I spent a lot of time thinking in my 20s and 30s I was going to try to build a legacy.  By my later 40s and now walking into 50, I’m just trying to leave one…You’re trying to live a full life and have some fun along the way,” he said.  “But I could walk out of here (the studio where he was sitting during Oprah’s Master Class session) and get hit by a car.  You’ve got to think, did you actually do something that made a difference?”

I’ve talked to all of my kids about the importance of giving back.  As a family and with our homeschool and church groups, we serve in our community whenever we get the opportunity to do so.  We’re richly blessed…so that we may go out and richly bless someone else.  We’ve been the beneficiaries of someone else’s giving and so when we can, we must pay that forward.

The irony of choosing a rocker (when the stereotype is a drug-addicted, boozing, womanizing, wild man with expensive tastes and a colossal ego) to profile for what I anticipate to be a series of posts to come about what we can learn about education, business, success, and life from famous people (maybe someday the interviews will even be my own, rather than just from research!)  is not lost on me.  My research into Jon Bon Jovi has left me energized and hopeful, though.  As a man, he uses his fame, fortune, and influence to make the world around him a better place.  As a band, Bon Jovi uses their platform to perform songs of empowering, positive messages that lift the spirits of those who listen – also making the world around them a better place. And that’s what this life is all about.  We’re all here to find our own ways to make the world a better place.


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