Lessons from Dolly Parton

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

One of my birthday presents last week was a book from my daughter-in-law Kinsey titled “What Would Dolly Do?” Before reading it, I assumed it was a collection of Dolly Parton quotes wrapped around problems. Much like the What Would Jesus Do books that use scripture to give guidance in dealing with today’s issues.

The book does some of that, but it is so much more. The author, Random House’s Lauren Marino, acknowledges on the first pages that Dolly Parton had no direct input into the book. The quotes and stories Marino uses are taken from the thousands of interviews and speeches Dolly has given throughout the years.

What Would Dolly Do? by Lauren Marino

Those WWDD words of wisdom are sprinkled throughout the book in categories such as appearance and beauty, work, career, love and marriage, money and business, people, charities and so on. Marino quotes Dolly and recalls Dolly stories, then puts together lists of WWDD based on those thoughts.

For example: WWDD to create and maintain a successful career?

  • Be a professionalist: be punctual, be prepared, keep your commitments.
  • Respect your coworkers, partners, employees and audiences.
  • 9 to 5 is an easy day – have a strong work ethic.
  • Be the Queen of Reinvention to stay relevant.
  • Have a five-year plan.
  • Diversify your career and your investments.
  • Invest in yourself.

The book would be mildly interesting if that’s all there was to it. But the WWDD lists are the fruits of the stories being told in the book, and those are the good parts. If you are a Dolly fan, nothing will surprise you in the book, but it is a fascinating way to see her thoughts, words and philosophy put together.

I was most inspired by the first part of the book about dreaming. Dolly’s famous quote “I’ve always had more guts than talent” may not be exactly true – as there is a lot of talent in a lot of different areas in Ms. Parton. But the fact that she sees “guts,” i.e.  courage, determination and willingness to take a risk, as a partner with talent is encouraging to me.

The inspiration I pull from Dolly – even now, at my new age of 66 – is that you have to always have a dream. But the dream is just what comes first. What follows that dream has to be the work, the determination, the hardships and the refusal to give up. Dolly says, “There wasn’t ever a time I thought I wasn’t going to make it.”

She was a dreamer, and she followed that with being a doer.

Final words? When you’re looking for moral and spiritual guidance, still take your cues with What Would Jesus Do? But if you want a quick lesson in reaping the rewards of hard work and a positive attitude, give Dolly a listen, too.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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