The Blog

I remember it as if it happened yesterday. The first day of kindergarten, and my teacher wants to know if I’d be able to read my name if she wrote it on a box of crayons.

I nodded. I didn’t mean to mislead her. I was optimistic, as optimistic as you can be on your first day of school when everything from riding the bus to finding the bathroom feels terrifying. But I knew how to read my own name, for crying out loud.

A while later the teacher told us to retrieve our crayons. I looked up at the shelf where the boxes were lined up, and panic set in. I saw a sea of letters that may as well have been written in Chinese, that’s how foreign they looked.

Did I play it cool? Did I stand off to the side and wait for everyone else to retrieve his box and grab the one that was left?

Are you kidding? The thought didn’t occur to me. I was five years old. “This is an emergency!” I decided.

I really believed that. My first test on my first day of school, and I’d failed. It didn’t bode well for the rest of my life.

Except really, it did. I was careful about what I promised from that point forward. Not too careful -- or so I’d like to think -- just careful enough.

And that’s a good thing.

When I was in high school I decided to go to the University of Colorado. Why? I thought it would be dreamy to attend a college nestled in the mountains. The most time I spent on that campus, as it turns out, was a few years later when I went to a football game in Boulder. I was a student at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln by then, and our Cornhuskers were playing the Buffaloes in a stadium that was indeed dreamy.

Silly as it sounds, the scenario plays out all the time -- at least according to Bonnie Snyder from Kerrigan College Planning. Bonnie says aspiring students choose a college by finding a campus that looks nice, wander around for a couple of years taking introductory or general education classes, and then -- when told to choose a major -- ask, “Well, what do you have?” They choose something off a list as if it was a cafeteria menu, and a couple of years later they wander into the campus career center wondering what they can do with their degree.

“It’s exactly the reverse of what they should be doing,” Bonnie says. “First they should decide on a career, then decide what major will best prepare them for that career, then choose a college that excels in that major.”

And sure, it’s a lot to expect of a seventeen-year-old to know what he wants to do for the rest of his life. Except he’s not doing that, is he? He’s making his best guess, and building a plan around it. He can change his mind. Deciding on a course of action and adjusting as he goes is an important life skill.

If a prospective student truly has no idea what career would interest him, Bonnie suggests he choose an affordable college where he can explore his interests. “The more vague the plan,” she says, “the more affordable the degree program should be.”

It might sting to watch some of your high school classmates go off to Harvard or Stanford or the University of California in Berkeley. But by resisting the temptation to go into a lot of debt over what’s -- at best -- an uncertain financial future, Bonnie says you’re developing another life skill. You’re making decisions the person you’ll become can be proud of and can live with more easily.

“Learning is its own reward,” Bonnie says. “It’s something you do, not something you buy.”

What do you make?
July 7, 2014

140707 5“One acre of soybeans can make eighty-two thousand crayons.”

Someone told Darrell that during an interview for his farm show, and I was enchanted. Suddenly I could imagine being in the cab of a tractor -- on purpose! -- making another pass through the field, thinking of this year’s crop of kindergarteners opening new boxes of crayons on the first day of school.

If I was a farmer, that image would infuse my work with meaning. Oh sure, making money from soybeans so you can feed your own family while feeding so many others is a dandy reason to get up in the morning. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other, does it?

Money or meaning. I’ll take both, please.

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

I’ve never been much for resumes. Even before I started talking with experts in the field of career planning, who almost always insist resumes are used to screen you out, I didn’t really see the point.

When I discovered a post by Seth Godin on this subject I thought, “That’s it! That’s why I feel the way I do about resumes.”

I love it when that happens.

The biggest surprise in six years of doing the talk show is how touched my guests are to get a handwritten thank-you note. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t get a thank-you note back! It’s as if no one in the history of the media ever thanked anyone for anything.

I make it easy to get those notes in the mail as soon as we finish recording. I address and stamp them the night before. I don’t usually even have lunch until the letters are written and sealed and ready to send. It’s rare they don’t go out within a few hours of the conversation.

Getting the notes ready is as much a part of show prep as reading up on my guests or getting their phone numbers or making sure I have current bios. It’s part of my job.

I would be nothing without my amazing guests. Wouldn’t it be a shame if they didn’t know how much I appreciate them?

“My job is one-hundred percent client selection.”

I’ll never forget executive coach Marshall Goldsmith saying that at dinner one evening many years ago. We’d been invited -- Darrell and Katie and me -- to a conference where Marshall would be sharing the stage with Dick Bolles, a family friend and the author of What Color Is Your Parachute? I listened intently as Marshall explained that motivated clients were more likely to take his advice, making the process easier on everyone.

It sounds simple, and it is. But it took me a while to realize something similar on the talk show. My job is one-hundred percent guest selection. The ideal guest has discovered something that might make your life easier, and can’t wait to tell you about it -- with so much energy you feel energized yourself. You can’t stop listening.

When I find those people the difficult part of my job is finished. Now all I have to do is show up, listen intently, and let them shine.

The better the guest, the better I do. From a high-powered Washington lobbyist to the entertainer John Tesh to Harvard-trained consultants, the more intimidated I feel beforehand the more likely I am to look back and be happy with my part of the conversation. When I accidentally book a dud, I don’t sound very good myself. You can almost hear the disappointment in my voice as I reach for the sparkle that won’t materialize.

I’m not proud, just honest.

I seem biologically incapable of not matching the energy of my guest. An acting teacher I had on the show noticed that, and told me it’s a good thing.

It can be. Make the right choice of companions -- in work and in life -- and everything gets easier, doesn’t it?

When I started having contractions the afternoon Katie was born, I wondered what I bet a lot of first-time moms do: “I don’t know if I’ll survive this.”

Then I thought, “Wait a second. That’s no good. That’s no way to get through a day, even this one.” So I did what I’d done before when something was boring or painful or both. I made a game out of it. I decided to see how many contractions I could get through without Darrell realizing I was having one. He was in the chair next to my bed, reading. I’d feel a contraction coming on, and as it hit I’d count to ten or fifteen or whatever it was -- by thousands, to slow it down -- because I knew the worst would be over by then and I could relax for a little while.

Darrell was impressed. So were the nurses. “You make this look easy!” they said.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about the last couple of days as I’ve tried to distract myself from hunger.

For a long time I’d read about the benefits of an occasional fast -- and thanks to an article my friend Alex Lickerman pointed to by way of Twitter, I went from “this might be good to do” to “I’m doing this.”

Saturday just before noon I had my last bit of food for the next forty-eight hours. From Saturday noon until today at noon I had lots of water, lots of coffee, one aspirin, and -- weird as it sounds -- a few licks of salt over the course of Sunday evening, to take the edge off a little.

Here’s what I can report. As the day went on Saturday I was distracted. I’d think, “Oh! Time for some popcorn.” And then, “Oops. Not today…” That kind of thing. Nothing too problematic. I didn’t know how difficult it was going to be to hang on until Monday at noon, but uncharacteristically I didn’t worry about it.

Sunday was sweet. A great day. I had lots of energy and I got a lot done. I felt good -- not just because I was keeping a promise to myself, but because my body was apparently enjoying what I can only guess felt like a reboot.

The discomfort came in waves. I’d get really hungry and I’d think, “I’m really hungry.” Then I turned my attention back to whatever I was doing, and it passed. I was at peace with it. I was reminded what I’d heard once: “Hunger is not an emergency.”

Shortly before bedtime Sunday I was ravenous, and my hunger pangs were so loud I thought they’d keep Darrell from getting to sleep.

This morning was as difficult as the previous forty-four hours had been easy. I felt weak. I barely had enough energy to work.

But the hardest part, by far, was not telling Darrell or Katie what I was up to until after I’d finished. That’s another thing I loved, though -- doing what felt like the right thing, and not talking about it.

Until now.

For now I’d like to report I feel wiped, but clear-headed. Like after a really hard workout…or childbirth!

140411 3 for the blog -- newSome of my best decisions are made on impulse.

I was corresponding with a publicist when Katie sent me a few of her doodles. On a whim, with “comic relief” in the subject line, I sent them to the publicist.

She loved them. Kate was horrified. Well, sort of. Until those drawings made their way into the hands of Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution. We’d just interviewed Sunni -- and even more recently had watched her appearance on the CBS News show, Sunday Morning. Suddenly Sunni’s calling attention -- on Twitter! -- to Katie’s talent, and our sweet little nineteen-year-old has a brand-new reason to feel even better about herself.

That was close!

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson