Author, The Happiest Man in the World: Life Lessons from a Cultural Economist
Jacob Petrovic was my friend. I knew him by his Americanized name, “Jim Peters.” He knew his life was limited and didn’t want to waste a single moment living someone else’s dream. He had dreams of his own, courage enough to follow his heart, and sufficient confidence to trust his seasoned intuition. Jim wanted to return to the unstable federation of Yugoslavia, but the civil war, the bloodshed, and violence made the political climate throughout the Balkans extremely tentative.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once advised, “Beware what you set your heart upon, for it surely shall be yours.” For over fifty years Jim had his heart set upon returning to his birthplace in Belgrade, Serbia. Jim was sitting in the audience where I had just delivered a presentation on my recent trips into North Korea and Iraq. He approached me: “You have been to Bagdad, Iraq; Havana, Cuba; and Pyongyang, North Korea; have you ever been to Belgrade, Serbia, in Yugoslavia?”
“No,” was my answer. “Why not?” was his rapid response. “Because Project C.U.R.E. only goes where we are invited,” I answered. “Then would you go to Belgrade if you were invited?” Three days later the two of us met in my office to discuss the possibility of traveling together to arrange for needed medical goods to be donated to the hurting people of Yugoslavia.
This was not the first time Jim Peters had followed his heart where there was no pathway to lead. But he had learned early that wherever you go it is necessary to go with all your heart, because the intuition of the heart has reasons that even reason does not necessarily understand. Jim had escaped Yugoslavia in 1944. Germany had wreaked havoc on the Balkans during the First World War. Then, during World War II, Germany, Italy, and Russia had exercised their special cruelty on the area.
Young Jacob Petrovic and his brothers were part of a prominent Belgrade family. They had joined up with the resistance movement to try to protect their homeland from the Nazis and Communists. When Allied pilots from America or Britain got shot down over Yugoslavia, the resistance group would try to get to the pilots first, and through dangerous and clandestine strategies eventually return the pilots back across the enemy lines to the safety of the Allied troops.
Jim and his friends had been able to save the lives of over 200 American and British pilots. But, eventually, the Gestapo closed in on them and they had to flee the country without even saying goodbye to their families. The soldiers had surrounded the family home. They were in the process of breaking down the doors to capture Jim and his brother with orders to bring them in as prisoners or shoot them on the spot if need be. Jim and his brother sought the help of a school girlfriend who was also in the opposition movement. She successfully hid them in her house. That night they escaped. They were able to slip from her house, jump fences, and run into the nearby forested hills. It took over two years for them to complete their escape by working their way eventually to Switzerland. Jim continued to follow his heart.
While in Switzerland, two of the American pilots whose lives they had saved, searched for them, miraculously located them, and brought them to America. They landed in New York in 1947.The very first day they arrived they found jobs and went to work. The pilots, whose lives had been saved, sponsored Jim and his brother through Columbia University in New York. Both graduated with MBAs in 1949.
Jim’s world was becoming as big as the dream of his heart that he was following. His talents were quickly recognized, and he was soon hired as an international representative for Singer Sewing Machine. From there he was able to leap-frog into an international position with RCA, and eventually, he moved to Denver, Colorado, and became the Senior Vice President for Samsonite Luggage in charge of all international business. After fifteen years with Samsonite, he retired and worked as an international consultant for Mattel Toys. He and his wife continued to make Denver their home.
But the burning desire of Jim’s heart was still leading him. He was going to go back to his homeland, and with the help of Project C.U.R.E., take help and hope to his relatives and needy countrymen. During all the years of his absence he had kept up on the events taking place in the Balkans. But as we tried to put the travel plans together we ran into difficulty. The U.S. had cut off all diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia. We were then forced to try to secure the necessary visas for our passports by going through the Yugoslavian Embassy in Toronto, Canada. That required our working directly with the Slobodan Milosevic officials.
Eventually, we were able to work our way through the international bureaucracy of Canada, NATO, the U.S., and the warring factions of the Balkans, and receive our proper paperwork. Only twice had Anna Marie cried when she dropped me off at the airport terminal. Once was when I first went to Baghdad, Iraq, and the other time was Sunday, July 16, when she dropped me off to leave for Belgrade. "When I see you walk through those airport doors I never know if I will ever see you again.” Then she apologized for crying. At the airport was where the rubber really met the road. There were no outside pressures making us do what we were doing with Project C.U.R.E. We received no money. It was truly a love gift to God. We were both totally a part of that gift.
Once we were settled into our hotel in Belgrade, Jim Peters wanted to walk and show me some of the history of Belgrade. He showed me where his boyhood friends used to live, and where he used to work, and the office buildings where his prominent family members ran their businesses. When we got to one intersection, he stopped and pointed out the old bank building where his father was once an influential officer. Just across the other street he pointed out where he spent his last night in the city of Belgrade in 1944.
Jim Peters had followed his heart. He had not let time, or the noise and static of others’ opinions, or inconveniences, drown out the inner voice of his own heart. He had found the seed that had been placed in the citedel of his own heart and nurtured it into a beautiful, living flower. That beautiful vision and lofty ideal had now become realized. Jim and I traveled a couple of different times together to Yugoslavia and spent enough time together in Serbia, Kosovo, and Montenegro to make all arrangements necessary to send millions of dollars’ worth of donated medical goods to hospitals and clinics all over that part of the Balkans. Jim had followed his heart.
Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life; live out the beauty of your own calling. Let your heart guide you. Your heart usually whispers . . . so listen carefully!
Dr. James W. Jackson often describes himself as "The Happiest Man in the World." A successful businessman, award-winning author and humanitarian, Jackson is also a renowned Cultural Economist and international consultant, helping organizations and governments to apply sound economic principals to the transformation of culture so that everyone is "better off."
As the founder of Project C.U.R.E., Dr. Jackson traveled to more than one hundred fifty countries assessing healthcare facilities, meeting with government leaders and "delivering health and hope" in the form of medical supplies and equipment to the world's most needy people. Literally thousands of people are alive today as a direct result of the tireless efforts of Project C.U.R.E.'s staff, volunteers and Dr. Jackson.