It's not often that a first-time author finds his fledgling book outselling Stephen King, but that is exactly what happened to Chattanoogan Gary Highfield earlier this fall.
His book, When Want to Becomes Have To!, held the No. 1, 2 and 3 positions at Barnes and Noble on Hamilton Place Boulevard Sept. 14-Oct. 14 and is “still selling in the top 10,” according to the author, who notes that, to date, over 600 of the books have already been sold, including via Amazon.com.
A local resident and corporate sales consultant who started climbing the ladder to success at Cellular One of Chattanooga in its infancy, Mr. Highfield has already seen the success of his book open doors for him to speak at colleges and high schools about his book's theme – “breaking chains” that hold back individuals from using the talents they have been given.
When Want To Becomes Have To! is actually the combination of an autobiography and a how-to book. On its pages Mr. Highfield candidly talks about the struggles of growing up without “a real dad,” being raised most of the time by his “hardworking” mother Sara and constantly moving. “We didn't stay anywhere for very long. It was six months here, six months there, and then we would pack up an leave again,” he notes, adding also on page 17, “There were stepfathers and others that drifted in and out of our lives, but I knew the relationships were not the real thing – not a true relationship.”
The author, who was born in Chattanooga and spent his teen years growing up in Tyner, writes about his frustration as a student and athlete in junior high and high school, having won the city's wrestling championship in his weight class but never receiving compliments from the coaches, who also coached wrestling and were angry with him for quitting football. He explains that he played football for a while, but because he had to walk five miles home from practice every evening on a route that passed right by a jail, he eventually grew more weary and fearful as the daylight hours grew shorter.
Back on page five, Mr. Highfield reflects on the biological father he saw only once in his life, when he was about one year old: “My aunt told me he came to my grandmother's house where mom and I lived and asked if he could see me. …He placed me on his knee, and I suppose he just sat there looking at me. Later he sat me on the floor. …I kept untying his shoes. …He only stayed a few minutes. He left and I never saw him again. Good Lord, why did he do what he did? …What would make a father leave his own son and never want to see him again? …Maybe in the next life he'll tell me what happened; they'll be no hurt feelings there.”
Then on page eight, the author laments, “I've only talked to my dad once in this lifetime. After I was grown and married, he called to say he was planning to come to Chattanooga to see mom and me. …But it never happened. I never heard from him again after that one and only phone call.” About ten years later, he continued, “I got a phone call from a cousin on my father's side of the family letting me know my dad had passed away.” He was only 57 years old.
Later in his book, Mr. Highfield writes about his early life after graduating from school, getting a job and getting married and then running into a brick wall in his pursuit to achieve a better life for his family as a blue-collar worker.
He explains that he was denied a $1 an hour raise by his employer, was turned down for food stamps because he made 33 cents a day too much to qualify, and was fired from his first job because he did it too well.
But, this seemingly bad thing was actually a good thing, he says, “Not getting the dollar raise or the food-stamps and being fired were all gifts. The worst things that never happen to me were the best things that ever happened to me.”
It was this frustrating experience, he further explains, that motivated him to overcome his fear of the unknown, his lack of professional job experience and his lack of marketable people skills.
Preceding every chapter in Mr. Highfield's book is a page titled “Some Thoughts for You to Consider.” At the end of each chapter is a page titled “Action Steps.” The pages both challenge and inspire the reader: “Find the good in your parents. There are some things they did or didn't do that you can use in your life. It will help you with your family. Write these things down and consider your life with or without their influence.”
Writing notes about good things has been a key element in the author's efforts to improve his success in business and in life: “First, I took notes on scraps of paper and put them in a shoebox every time for over twenty years. Then, I put those notes on a notepad. I misspelled 57,000 words, but 36 months later, my book is now for sale at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon.com worldwide. Anything is possible.”
A Christian, Mr. Highfield also includes in his book reference to how faith in God can break the chains of self doubt and produce faith in yourself to accomplish almost anything: “Confess to God your belief in what He can do. Open yourself up to what God has in store for you. Ask God for wisdom. Receive His gifts for you – even when they don't seem like gifts at the time.”
Then, he adds, “Write down your goals and build great relationships with great people.”
Great people can be great teachers, he says, referring to numerous quotations in his book from successful people that have proved especially helpful during his life and career journey.
On the cover of When Want To Becomes Have To, which was edited by Chattanoogan Bob Tamasy, is a photo of a pair of old, worn out work boots and a pair of new dress shoes. The boots are the ones Mr. Highfield wore for many years as a young man struggling to make ends meet; the dress shoes are the ones he wears today as a successful businessman.
His wish is for everyone trapped in old boots to be free and walking someday in shiny, new shoes.
“If you have any chains that you need to break, you need to read this book,” said Kelly Flemming, manager, Chattanooga Barnes and Noble bookstore, Hamilton Place Boulevard.