“Thirteen East Petain Street, Prichard, Alabama—that’s an important address for me. It’s where I learned everything I needed to know to succeed in life and in business—lessons passed on to me by the people who lived in this neighborhood that straddled the poverty line. I learned I’d have to be independent enough to do things for myself. I would have to be brave enough to take on things I’d never done before and didn’t know how to do—and would have to figure out as I went along. Not knowing how to do something never stopped my daddy from doing it. He didn’t know how to build a piano bench till mine broke.”
—from HOW TO BUILD A PIANO BENCH
“Don’t follow the crowd until you are sure you want to be where they’re going.”
Ruthi Postow Birch grew up on a red-dirt road in south Alabama without any idea of what she would become in this world. When her father built her a new piano bench, not knowing a thing about how to do it, he passed on an important lesson.
“There is always just one right next step—and you know it because it’s the only one that makes sense. Find that and do it. Then look for the next. If there is something you can’t do, figure out who can do it for you.”
Ruthi took that advice from Petain Street all the way to an office on K Street in Washington D.C., where she built her own successful staffing firm from the ground up. In a new book HOW TO BUILD A PIANO BENCH: Lessons for Success from a Red Dirt Road in Alabama (River Grove Books, March 2017, $16.95, ISBN 9781632991089), she chronicles her engaging and humorous journey, noting important tokens of wisdom she captured along the way.
Like most parents, Ruthi’s did what they could to provide everything she needed and to support her interests as a child. Still, Ruthi was uncomfortable in social situations and found that listening to other people’s stories can be more important than telling her own. From her childhood visits with her elderly neighbors on Petain Street, to her professors as a college student at the University of Georgia, Ruthi was an attentive and discerning audience—who remembered almost everything they told her.
Ruthi spent a considerable amount of time alone as a child, which may have contributed to some feelings of anxiety in group situations. In HOW TO BUILD A PIANO BENCH, she is completely candid about her social life in high school and college (or lack thereof) and admits to having had more first dates than seconds. In Ruthi’s world, most clouds had a silver lining that only added to her determination to make her personal dreams come true.
Whenever she was faced with a problem, she would forge onward and dig through to the solution. When she was in college and found that she couldn’t “learn” the way other students did and pass her exams, she created a plan that included writing down every last thing a professor said and adhering to a strict study schedule. When she had three children who she missed so much while at work, she made a steadfast routine that included an early start in the morning, a strict end time at work of 5:00P.M., two full hours with her kids at night, and more time to work before getting a few hours of sleep so she could hit the next day running in the same pattern.
Resourceful, tenacious, self-deprecating, and funny, Ruthi Postow has a wonderful story to tell with colorful characters and a rich life of listening and learning her way to success. Some people might classify HOW TO BUILD A PIANO BENCH as a rags-to-riches story, but from Ruthi’s perspective she was wealthy way back when, just from growing up in her tight-knit community.
“Whatever you’ve got can go. In the end, all you’ve got is your character,” said her parents. Her book is a testament to the strength of strong values, a work-ethic, and a lifetime of making dreams come true.
HOW TO BUILD A PIANO BENCH
Lessons for Success from a Red-Dirt Road in Alabama
By Ruthi Postow Birch
Published By River Grove Books, 2017
Trade Paperback / E-Book
$16.95 / $8.99