If You’re an Introvert, You Can Bet That Limits Will Liberate You
Limits Set Boundaries—and Boundaries Set You Free
Shortly after The Cat in the Hat came out in 1957, Theodor Geisel’s publisher at Random House, Bennett Cerf, came up with a seemingly foolproof way to take 50 bucks off his old friend Ted—whom the rest of us know, of course, as the inimitable Dr. Seuss.
Geisel had struggled to complete The Cat in the Hat. He’d been asked to write the book by another publishing executive, William Spaulding of Houghton Mifflin, who’d wanted Geisel to create “a book children can’t put down”—i.e., the antithesis of the deadly Sally, Dick, and Jane books that were widely in use at the time.
But there was a catch to the Cat in the Hat assignment: Geisel was limited to a list of 225 approved words for the book, words that would be familiar to young readers and therefore easy for them to say and understand.
It took him a year and a half, but Geisel eventually succeeded in writing The Cat in the Hat. But he needed 237 unique words, not 225.
So Cerf, over at Random House, thought he’d wring some easy money out of those extra dozen words and the blood and sweat that had led to them.
He bet Geisel $50—a little over $500 in today’s money—that Geisel couldn’t write an articulate, entertaining children’s story using only 50 unique words.
Months later, Cerf sat in his office dazed and shaking his head as Geisel triumphantly read to him the text of … Green Eggs and Ham—which clocks in at exactly 50 unique words.
(If you’re anything like me, you just have to know what they are. Here you go: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.)
I don’t know whether Dr. Seuss considered himself an introvert. What I can tell you, though—with great certainty coming from my own introverted perspective—is that the creative spark Geisel harnessed to write Green Eggs and Ham can be summed up in a brief yet powerful statement.
I’ve come to know—and leverage—this counterintuitive principle firsthand.
Please join me im welcoming Peter Vogt to Beyond Introversion as our guest blogger for May. I met Peter earlier this year when he honored me with a review of my first book in his newsletter, Introvert Insights. Since then, I've discovered the dedication, wisdom, and passion Peter has for sharing stories, educating, and inspiring introverts around the world. Please enjoy his article and check out his newsletter and upcoming course.
12 ≠ 13
In college, I did an internship at the local daily newspaper. I covered sports, so part of my job involved going to games and writing about them for the next day’s edition.
I learned to write quickly, on tight deadlines.
I also learned, covering my very first game, that 12 ≠ 13.
When I’d arrived back to the office from the game, my editor had told me to write 12 column inches of copy because that was the exact size of the “hole” he had left for my article in the layout of the next morning’s sports section.
I foolishly wrote 13 inches, figuring “close enough.”