Ernest Borgnine, who passed away last July, once said that he initially turned down the leading role on TV’s McHale’s Navy saying, “I’m a motion picture actor now. I don’t do television.” Borgnine had won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1955 for the movie Marty.

The next day a boy came to his home selling chocolate for a charity. The boy said that Borgnine looked familiar. Borgnine joking said that he was James Arness, lead actor of the then-popular TV show Gunsmoke. The boy said he knew he wasn’t Arness. So Borgnine said he was another popular TV star of the day. Again the boy said that he knew Borgnine wasn’t that actor. When Borgnine finally told the boy his real name, the boy didn’t recognize it.

Borgnine immediately called up his agent and accepted the role on McHale’s Navy.

Although I enjoyed Borgnine’s work over the years, I really became a fan of his when I heard that interview (watch the interview here). One reason was because of his charm and passion. The other reason was because of his down-to-earth demeanor and unpretentiousness.

Often times when people attain a certain level of success, their egos become over-inflated. They think that they are the guru who knows it all, has it all, is it all. They boast, brag, and show off. They become insufferable to others, yet ignorant of that fact themselves. If they’re lucky, reality will hit them in the face the way it did to Ernest Borgnine.

Reality testing is an important Emotional Intelligence skill. It’s the ability to correctly judge what’s happening in the surrounding environment. The degree to which one has the capacity for Reality Testing is the difference between what really exists (the objective) and what we perceive (the subjective). The more closely that these two elements match, the better our ability for Reality Testing.

Reality Testing is a continuum with neurotic-catastrophizing on one end and overly optimistic-egomania on the other end. On one end we think that everything is going wrong. On the opposite end we think everything is going right.

Both of these have their drawbacks. If you always see things as going wrong, then you lose hope, avoid new experiences, and can only see problems and never see the opportunities. On the other hand, if you see everything as always going your way you may avoid planning by thinking that things will always work themselves out.

Ernest Borgnine said, “It’s much better to be a character actor and be working forever.” Had Borgnine let his ego get the best of him and only done leading roles in movies then would he have been as well known and loved? Up to the end, Borgnine was still working, doing the voice of Mermaid Man on Spongebob Squarepants (not the role you would expect an egotistical “movie star” to do).

The capacity for Reality Testing can reap benefits for us the way it did for Borgnine. By being firmly planted on the ground and pragmatic, we can seize the opportunities around us. If we are ego-centric, then we let good opportunities pass because we think they’re beneath us.

Remember, success is a journey, not a destination. We achieve success along the road of life, we do not become successes. Once we rest on our laurels, we lose the opportunity to grow and become better people.

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