Andy Andrews, an American motivational author, grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. When both of his parents died when Andy was nineteen years old, he found himself homeless and living on the gulf coast of Alabama. He began to search for the answer to the question – are there choices one can make to direct his future?
To search for the answer, Andy went to the library and read over 200 biographies of great men and women to find out how they became the people they were. He finally determined that there were seven characteristics that each person had in common. He studied these seven common denominators and began to harness them in his own life. They became known as “The Seven Decisions,” and were used by Andy to carry his life in a different direction.
Andy’s book, The Traveler’s Gift, became the first book in American publishing history to make the best-seller list in six different categories simultaneously – at one time, it made the New York Times’ best-seller list in fiction, the Wall Street Journal’s list in non fiction, Publishers Weekly’s list in religion, Barnes & Nobles’s list in self-improvement, Amazon.com’s literature list, and USA Today’s general content list.
Andy and his wife Polly have two sons and they live in Orange Beach, Alabama. His latest book, The Noticer, was released on April 28, 2009.
Andy spoke with Our Prattville on June 10:
Hello Andy, it’s a pleasure to talk to you. I’d like to get just a little background information, if I could. You were born in Birmingham, Alabama, correct?
Yes, I was born in Birmingham and we’ve lived all over the state. My dad was a minister, so that was kind of like being in the army. We lived in Birmingham and then Montgomery; then Dothan, and back to Birmingham, and then Columbus, Mississippi. By that time I was out of high school.
I was born and raised in Montgomery.
Yes, my dad was a minister at the Eastern Hills Baptist Church there.
My husband went there as a youngster.
He may remember my dad… his name was Larry Andrews. We were there until I was in the 2nd grade.
Did you grow up in Birmingham in the 60s?
I didn’t… I was in Dothan, Alabama, during the 60s. Dothan is a great small town to grow up in.
I was going to ask you about the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham in the 60s.
Really I was too young because by the time the 70s started I was still only 12.
Do you remember your parents talking about the church bombing?
Oh yes. My dad kind of caused a stir. When Wilma Rudolph came through Birmingham (she had won a Gold Medal at the Olympics). my dad was one of a couple of white ministers that ate lunch with her so that was kind of a… it caused a stir.
Was he criticized for that?
You know, my dad had a way of making people laugh and so he avoided a lot of the mean type of stuff. But, he was definitely criticized for it.
Do you have any siblings?
I have one sister who is five years younger and married. They’ve raised four daughters and she lives down here near me.
You live in Gulf Shores now?
Yes, in Orange Beach… you know, the other side of Gulf Shores. It’s a real pretty area.
Tell me about the time you ended up homeless down there…when was that?
It was 1983-84. My parents both died in 1979-80, right around in there. Mom died in 1979 and dad died shortly thereafter. It was a crazy time and I made a bunch of bad decisions… none of them had anything to do with alcohol or drugs, I just kind of ran out of money. I didn’t have a lot of sense with it.
I tell people now… you know there is a lot of people now living in these tent cities and they aren’t the chronic homeless. They aren’t mentally ill and they aren’t there because of any addictions, they are just going through a rough patch. And that was kind of my situation at that time. I really identify with these people at this time right now.
Did you have any contact with your sister during that time?
Yes I did. We talked on the phone and she even came down occasionally. When mom and dad died, I moved her in with our grandmother who had Alzheimer’s, or at that time was just getting it. Back then we didn’t know what was wrong because that was about 30 years ago. Of course, she just got worse and worse. But, she was living with my grandmother about two hours north of here so I saw her occasionally. She wasn’t totally aware of what was going on with me.
I had a trailer that I bought after mom and dad died with my part of the insurance money which was like $2,500. And, so, you make some bad decisions and you start getting your gas cut off and your electricity cut off. I had to sell the trailer to pay off the people who helped me with the gas and electricity. And then you run out of that money and then I was living in a tent in the Gulf State Park campgrounds. Well, one night I just got tired of taking down that tent and paying $5 to set it up, so I dug under the pier and that was kind of where I stayed for a while.
Well, I know you didn’t have it easy. But, you had said that you could at least get a little food and drink if someone would leave their garage door open. That really wouldn’t happen these days, would it?
No, it sure wouldn’t and a town would not tolerate it. It was a different place and time for sure back then, but the one thing that was great… and I didn’t do a ton of that… but what I did do a ton of was cleaning fish on the pier and catching fish and selling them and selling bait and there were several restaurants… chief among them was Sea ‘n Suds down here. The owner, Nancy, would actually (for a dollar) fry whatever fish I had and then give me hush puppies and iced tea. So, I ate there a lot.
Your first career was in stand-up comedy?
Yeah. I always wanted to speak, but I knew… it was one of those kinds of things that you know instinctively in your 20s or early 30s that nobody really wants to hear what you’ve got to say. So, my way of getting on stage was comedy. I had always been able to make people laugh in school, so I really developed that and worked on it and I got pretty good at it and it turned into a career.
I toured with Joan Rivers and Kenny Rogers and I did a fair amount of television as a comedian, but ultimately what I really wanted to do was to talk about those 7 Decisions that I had learned while I was under the pier and kind of spread that word and encourage people. I wanted to speak. So, I turned into the kind of speaker who is funny so I guess that’s a good thing. I tell people that I’m not necessarily any good, it’s just that there is nobody like me. I just promise you will not be bored.
Do you ever miss doing the comedy act?
I really don’t because what I’m doing when I’m doing my speaking engagements is that I’m delivering serious material with humor. So, instead of delivering humor without a particular point other than to entertain people, I’m delivering comedy in a serious way. So, if people have the humorous side of it, they remember it better and they’re able to sit there longer and they are more engaged.
You said that one of your heroes was Bob Hope.
Yep, Mr. Hope actually took me under his wing there for a while. I worked with him and he was just an awesome guy. I did some shows with him and spent some time with him. He was getting up in years at that point but it didn’t matter how old he got he was still Bob Hope, right?
Absolutely. Did he ever call on you for any help or just to talk?
On toward the end of his life we had some conversations and one time I actually had to call and ask his forgiveness for something so that was a great object lesson for me. I had talked about him on television one day and I didn’t mean to say something that would offend him.
But, what I said was that he was really amazing and very cool and very sharp… and obviously he’s very old. Well, he didn’t like that and I guess it’s your life and of course you’re free to like and not like things. I heard through the grapevine that he wasn’t too happy about it. I thought, “Oh no,” because I wasn’t trying to be malicious.
So, I called him at his house, talked with his wife a few minutes, and then asked for Mr. Hope (he was always Mr. Hope to me). When he got on the phone I said that I understood through the grapevine that he was upset with this and he was like, “Well, yeah, it wasn’t… ” He just basically let me know that he was upset about it.
So I told him that I was so sorry – he was the last person in the world who I would ever hurt and I told him that I did not mean to do that and that I am so sorry. “I can only just ask you to please forgive me for that.” Well, he just went into a different gear at that point and said, “Oh, absolutely, if somebody understands what it’s like to say something on TV they wish they hadn’t said, I certainly do.” He was just very cool and an awesome example for me.
Let’s talk for a moment about #1 of the 7 Decisions: The Buck Stops Here.
Yes, that is responsibility and about how we take responsibility for our lives. We’re not in a blame area, we’re not in a making people feel bad area, we’re in a hope and control area because when you take responsibility for your life you have hope for a greater future that you actually control. Your choice is control.
You say, “I’ll not let my history control my destiny.” How does that reconcile with someone who had an abusive childhood?
You know, an abusive childhood is one of those things that obviously… there are things in our lives that we can’t control. And all we can control is how we react to those things. Certainly an abusive childhood… you can say, “Hey I didn’t choose this.” This was not something I chose and it was not something that was good.
And so, at some point there is a lot of that that you look at and you say, “Man I couldn’t change anything, I couldn’t control anything, I was a kid.” All I can do from this point is to make the choices that are for me. It’s not so much a taking responsibility for the abuse, it’s the taking responsibility for your life from that point. You know, not allowing your life to be defined by something that happened to you when you were a kid.
I know some Christians wonder why God is not mentioned in the 7 Decisions.
Well, what I do is I write books that Christians can give to their non-Christian friends. You know, I was not called to be a preacher. I am a speaker who is a Christian. I’m not a Christian speaker. I’ve got friends – Dennis Swanberg and Andy Stanley, and a lot of friends who are Christian speakers. They are preachers and I was called for a different thing.
I understand that what I am to do is to be a bridge between the people who would never set foot in a church in their entire lives and people who would like to get them there. And so I write books that Christians can give to their non-Christian friends that they will actually read. We can all give our friends a Billy Graham book and as much as I like Dr. Graham, I know I’ve got friends that won’t ever read them. So people will read books about a guy who goes back in time or a guy who is living under a pier… I mean, they will read books like that. So, what I am to do is to get conversations started between those people and you.
So that is why you don’t actually have the word “prayer” in any of the 7 Decisions?
Well, God is mentioned in The Traveler’s Gift. And as far as the 7 Decisions go, they came from God. You know, God is not mentioned in parts of the Bible either.
You’ve been called a “modern day Will Rogers.” What do you think about that?
That’s amazing, isn’t it? And it’s partly amazing because so many people don’t know who he was. It’s flattering, but I don’t take that to mean that I’m as good as him. The reason they said that is because when I’m speaking or when I’m writing, sometimes I’m funny but it’s often with a serious point. And that’s what he did. I don’t think anyone will ever be his equal but I think it’s certainly flattering that they said that.
After I read The Noticer, I really had the feeling that Jones was Jesus. Was that intentional on your part?
I’ll tell you what I intended and people are free to interpret this however they want. And this is just my opinion… but, Jesus is Jesus. So, I’m not sure I’d get into the business of making somebody into Jesus. That’s just me.
I actually meant it in an allegorical sense
I understand, but you know some people would get mad if I did. But, here is kind of what I think. First of all, the first chapter is true. Jones was a real person to me. Now, the rest of the book is fiction and I don’t really know what happened to him. But, I don’t want to say that a lot because it’s almost like it destroys the fun of the book. It’s like going to see a magician and then going backstage and finding out how he did everything. It’s just no fun anymore.
But, to me… and I don’t mind saying this… Jones is the representation of how the Holy Spirit works in human beings to encourage other human beings. Anytime God wanted to reach people he always used people to do it. So, anytime the Holy Spirit wants to reach other people, it is always through people. To me, Jones is the embodiment of that. I mean, I didn’t know why this old man was spending so much time with me.
Did Jones actually bring you the biographies from the library to read?
Yes, he was the one who got me started. That part was true, too. The stories later in the book were fictional. I just wrote what I thought he would have said if he had met up with these people. I wanted to create a book for people at whatever stage of life they were in. I wanted something… like if a teenager was reading this because he was interested in the part where Jones talks to teenagers, he’d also read the other part of the book.
What we have found is that a lot of people, after they’ve read the book, are going back and telling two or three people that they should read it right now because of different things they are going through. So, that has been very neat for me to see people use this because I obviously put a lot of time and a lot of my heart and prayers into it.
Well, I can personally relate to the married couple.
Thanks, I kind of could, too. When I started learning that, I thought “holy moley!” You know, my wife is a canary and I’m a puppy dog and they just don’t talk well to each other.
Do you think that the reason, though, is that men and women are basically different when it comes to communicating?
Oh, I definitely do, but then again I have found ladies who were puppy dogs and I found men who were canaries. And so, there seems to be that sub-group, although I do believe in a lot of ways men and women do think differently.
I had to laugh aloud when I read “don’t sweat the small stuff” because I say that to my husband almost daily. And, really, I thought if you did “sweat the small stuff,” it would surely lead to an ulcer.
You know, I think there is a way of looking at it both ways. I think people have taken that to mean, “don’t care.” When we say it, most of the time what we mean is let’s not worry too much about this, let’s just worry about getting it taken care of. But, let’s not let it give us an ulcer. And yet I think people have taken that to the extreme to where our country has not “sweat the small stuff” for about 30 years and now we’ve backed away from something and we go, “I’m not sure this is what we intended.”
Who would you say in your life has been the most influential… or has had the most influence on you in a positive way?
I would definitely say Jones just in that period of time. But, since then, Andy Stanley is a guy whose stuff I read and I listen to him speak. He has certainly been influential. A guy named Bill Gothard is one… Og Mandino has been dead for 15 or 20 years but his works still reasonate with me.
Can you tell me exactly what The Noticer Project is?
The Noticer Project is a website and it’s kind of a grassroots… have you been on there and seen it?
Yes I have.
It’s kind of a grassroots thing that has happened. I didn’t do this and some people got together and said, “man, how many times do we only notice people at funerals… or at weddings or at family reunions occasionally, or at Christmas?” You know, there are tons of people you can think of who have made a difference in your life who you never know.
So, these guys have put together this project that is kind of an ongoing thing and it’s just going to keep going, I guess. And people literally from all over the world are logging on to this and writing a paragraph about somebody who made a difference in their life… or two or five paragraphs. They are writing about several people who have made a difference in their life.
Of course, the website is constructed to take that person’s email and send it to that person and say. “You have been noticed.” Then, take them by link back to that part of the website that they are written about and to see that recognition in an international forum.
The project will probably be helped along now with the Twitter technology.
Isn’t that amazing? Yes, I keep up on Twitter, too, and I see how many people talk about The Noticer Project and it is just shocking to me.
What would be the first piece of advice you would give someone who was unemployed right now?
Here is the advice – Do something. When you don’t know what to do, do something. I know you don’t know what to do and I know you can’t do everything right now, but you can do something. And what most people are doing is that they are spending their time sending out resumes, they are spending their time looking, and they are spending their time watching TV, and they’re spending their time worrying.
What Jones told me at my worst time was, “Son, you’ve got to do something. You have sat around here and worried to the point that you have begun to doubt the value that God has placed in your very life. It’s time for you to get out and do something. I’m not saying don’t search for a job, I’m not saying don’t do the work you got,”
“But, instead of this two hours of watching TV at the hotel lobby or this three hours of sitting under the pier and reading comic books or worrying about what you’re doing… what value do you have? Can you read? There are people out there who can’t read – go read to them. Can you mow grass? Go mow lawns. I’m not saying find someone and ask them if you can mow their grass and if I mow it will you give me ten dollars… I’m saying find weeds that need pulling and pull them.”
“You will begin to establish a value in your life, a value of your presence that you have forgotten existed, and other people will start to see not this bum who lives under the pier, but this kid who is always helping and always doing something that needs doing. They will begin to establish a value in your life, too. Let me tell you what happens to people who other people value. People who other people value get job offers, they get opportunities, and they get encouragement all because they are valued. So, who is valued? The people who are doing something, so do something.”
Take us through a typical day in the life of Andy Andrews.
Here is my typical day – I wake up early and the very first thing I do after I see if the boys are awake or see if Polly’s awake (which 95% of the time I’m the first one up)… I go and get a glass of water or cup of coffee or something and I go down to my office by myself. I read my devotions and I pray. I start every day off like that, making sure I’m where I need to be and thinking like I need to think.
At that point I probably check my emails and Polly will call me when they get up. I come upstairs and have breakfast with the family. During school, I’ll take the boys to school a lot of times. Now, this is when I’m home. When I’m gone, the only thing different is I get up and do my devotions and prayers and then I check my emails, get a shower and probably go speak.
But, at home, I do some interviews during the day and I write. I find that I have to keep at the writing… that’s something I have to keep doing because if I don’t it’s hard to get going again. Then evenings are with the family.
In the summertime we fish a lot. We read, we watch DVDs of Daniel Boone or The Andy Griffith Show. We don’t watch a lot of normal TV. I don’t really know much of what is on. At night we talk as a family before we go to bed and we pray… and that’s my day.
It’s a beautiful place to live. I could just watch the sunset over the water and be happy.
We love it… you need to come down and visit more often.
Interview by Melissa Parker
© 2009 Our Prattville. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.