The Blog

What, exactly, do you do?
November 13, 2013

Washington Square ParkSomewhere in the process of writing my first three books it hit me -- what, exactly, that meant: “I write down what other people say.”

Seriously.

My first two books were memoirs -- one of a former marathon runner, one of a former soldier. My third book was a collection of mini memoirs of fifty other people I’d interviewed over the years. In each of those fifty-two cases, I transcribed every word of every interview. Then I rearranged the material, put some structure around it, and sprinkled in some of…well, me. But over and over I was congratulated for telling someone else’s story in his or her own voice.

So at its most basic, that’s what I did. I wrote down what other people said -- and I stayed true to it.

Only recently I realized what I’m up to with the talk show. I think the point of life is to have fun and to learn a lot. The most fun way for me to learn is by having a conversation with someone who’s interesting. The radio show’s just a way of sharing those conversations with you. I’d do it if I was the only person listening, though we probably wouldn’t call it Doing What Works. It would just be me, yacking.

This blog is another way to share what I’m learning. Katie still edits it, and I love reading her comments on the next set of posts. When she lived at home she pretended to begrudge me the approval. Now that she’s at NYU she commits her observations to the screen -- and seeing those in my inbox is the best part of my workweek.

If you look at all of life as a classroom, which I do, wouldn’t you long for someone with whom to pass notes back and forth? Katie’s been that for me almost from the moment we met. Sometimes I wonder what I did before she came along. Oh, that’s right. I had another good talk with Mr. Step in the Right Direction. But you know what I mean.

The longer you live the more it occurs to you, “I think I’m getting better at this!” And it’s natural, I suppose, to want to share that. Katie makes sure there’s a point, something helpful -- or at least, amusing -- to what I write.

I’d do it if she was the only person reading.

And in case you’re wondering where the point of this post is, here goes. Are you doing what you do for the love of the work itself? The world may never bestow on you the recognition you crave or deserve. But if you’re having fun it won’t matter. You can still put it in the win column.

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

It always amuses me when people get impatient in lines, or traffic. With an infinity of things to daydream about? You’re kidding.

“Know why I like the number 13 so much?” I asked Katie one morning, thinking the question might enchant our little math whiz. The expression on her face suggested I’d guessed wrong, but it was also clear she’d humor me.

“Because when you put the 1 and the 3 together you get B. Which is my favorite letter of the alphabet because, you know, ‘Be…’ I also love the letter B because it reminds me of the symbol for infinity -- all things are possible -- but standing up straight with its back against the wall, because you’re not going to live forever.”

Darrell piped in at this point and saved me from the awkward silence that followed. “That’s one reason we love Mom,” he said. “She thinks about these things. She asks, ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ Versus I’m more like, ‘Squirrel!’”

And Katie? What was her take?

I’d like to think there was more than a little affection behind a look that -- if we didn’t know each other better -- pretty much dripped with, “You interrupted Imgur for that?”

I fancy myself a quick study. I’m forever stumbling on examples of the opposite.

For years, and I mean years, Darrell and I would come home from a hard run over the lunch hour and take baths afterward. Darrell’s version of a bath amuses me. How can he crawl in and not want to linger, to soak, to float away in a sea of steaming hot water and heavenly scents?

I make a little ceremony out of it.

And when I’m finished -- after the hard run and the hot bath and the lunch -- I find it difficult to function without a nap, chased by a strong cup of coffee.

Which messes but good with my ability to fall asleep that evening at a reasonable hour.

How long did it take to save the bath until bedtime, when I stop working for the day?

Don’t ask.

My friend Steve Feinberg from Speedball Fitness says how you finish is how you’ll feel.

Darrell and I warm up to the hard part of our run -- with a ninety-second jog. Then it’s thirty seconds of going all out. We repeat that twenty times, for a total of forty minutes. After the last thirty-second surge we don’t stop. We keep going for another two minutes.

It’s a better workout than we used to do -- maintaining a steady pace for an hour or so -- and it’s a whole lot easier on the knees.

The last long surge amounts to a quarter mile of quite the burst, and when we finish it takes a few minutes to recover.

And then, the calm.

How we finish is how we feel for hours.

Terrific!

Does your underwear make you look better from behind? If so, it’s likely you have Sara Blakely to thank for that. Or rather, her dad.

Sara’s dad used to quiz her and her brother at the dinner table about what they’d failed at. He was disappointed if they couldn’t come up with anything.

Can you imagine?

Sara was eager to report one evening she’d tried out for something and was horrible at it. That got her the all-important high five from Pops.

That, to me, is the definition of a perfect parent -- one who knows resilience is among the best things you can model for a child.

It reminded me of giving Katie a present -- not because it was a Tuesday, Dad teased us, or that she’d taken another breath -- but because she’d gotten a B instead of an A. Now granted, a B isn’t failing -- but when you aspire to perfect it can feel that way.

Speaking of perfect, how about giving your son or daughter a book this Christmas? It’s by Anna Quindlen, and it’s called Being Perfect. Trying to be perfect, Anna says, is like carrying a backpack full of bricks.

Anna thinks perfect is impossible. Even if you manage to get close you’ll probably annoy everyone who notices.

Assuming you’re not so tired you can notice them noticing!

Do you encourage your child to fail?

 

 

Does your underwear make you look better from behind? If so, it’s likely you have Sara Blakely to thank for that. Or rather, her dad.

 

Sara’s dad used to quiz her and her brother at the dinner table about what they’d failed at. He was disappointed if they couldn’t come up with anything.

 

Can you imagine?

 

Sara was eager to report one evening she’d tried out for something and was horrible at it. That got her the all-important high five from Pops.

 

That, to me, is the definition of a perfect parent -- one who knows resilience is among the most important things you can model for a child.

 

It reminded me of giving Katie a present -- not because it was a Tuesday, Dad teased us, or that she’d taken another breath -- but because she’d gotten a B instead of an A. Now granted, a B isn’t failing -- but when you aspire to perfect it can feel that way.

 

Speaking of perfect, how about giving your son or daughter a book this Christmas? It’s by Anna Quindlen, and it’s called Being Perfect. Trying to be perfect, Anna says, is like carrying a backpack full of bricks.

 

Anna thinks perfect is impossible. Even if you manage to get close you’ll probably annoy everyone who notices.

 

Assuming you’re not so tired you can notice them noticing!

The biggest surprise in five years of doing the talk show, besides how much more fun it gets by the week, is how many people want my job.

We’re talking about people who look for all the world to have everything. Their own exciting careers, big bank accounts, great families -- all the trappings. But after we finish recording and are comparing notes on how soon I’ll be sending a link to the podcast I can almost guarantee you they’ll ask: “How can I get a gig like yours?”

From the minute we got our second affiliate for The Career Clinic -- what recently became Doing What Works -- I imagined what it would feel like to have a hundred stations on the network. It feels tired! But it also feels like, “Keep going.”

I knew how I wanted to celebrate. I invited our affiliate relations manager, Skip Joeckel, on the program -- the way the host of another program he represents did when that show hit a big milestone.

Talking with Skip was a blast. It reminded me how much more fun it was to read books about labor and delivery after Katie was born. Before the big day? Too scary. After? Yep. We did it!

We still have a ways to go before I feel qualified to give advice to people who aspire to their own talk shows. But Skip’s the master. Just ask anyone in the business.

He joined us for the last installment of The Career Clinic. I didn’t plan it that way, the same way I couldn’t have planned getting to the hundred-station mark by then. But what a sweet way to wrap up that chapter.

Now when someone asks me for advice I don’t have to fall back on the old standby, “Heck if I know. Do you mind if we get back to you when we figure it out?”

Now I can say, “Heck if I know. But there’s someone who does. Would you like to listen to the podcast?”

“Where does time go?”

How many times have you heard that question?

I’ve heard it enough over the years to inspire a determination to be able to answer it. That’s a big reason I started taking notes. You take notes in chemistry classes so you can remember things you’ll probably never use again in your entire life. Why not take notes on things that matter, so you can go back and review them once in a while -- and remember the fun you had learning those lessons?

Maybe I’m typical in that I tend to remember things about myself in an unfavorable light. As time goes by I wonder if I tried all that hard in a job I got laid off from, or really spent hours a day playing with Katie to the exclusion of even daydreaming about something else.

A quick check of my notes, and there it is. The evidence.

It’s such a bonus, to ask myself where that time went -- and to know the answer.

When Katie was little we didn’t always have meals together as a family. We spent most of every day together. I worked while Darrell and Katie bonded. Then Darrell worked while Katie and I had fun. Sometimes we kept working late into the evening -- and continued our sweet little tennis match of kid fun. More often we’d call it good for work, and spend time together -- as Kate used to put it -- "with no one working." We'd go on a walk at the middle school, then come home to dinner and a movie.

But breakfast and lunch? It’s what I’ve heard called parallel play. Katie watched cartoons, Darrell did a crossword, and I transcribed another interview.

If you happened to look through our dining room window at lunchtime you might think, “Why are they not eating together? Don’t they realize how fleeting this time together is?”

I bring it up only to admit I know exactly nothing about what goes on in the homes of a couple of people I want to tell you about. But I’m going to do it anyway.

A young woman walked by our house the other day, pushing a little girl in a stroller. The child -- all blond, blue-eyed, and bouncy -- turned around to look at Mom, ready to engage. Maybe she’d spotted a puppy. Maybe a butterfly. Mom will never know, because she was on her phone and hadn’t noticed.

A career consultant friend doesn’t count this as going on a walk with your kid. He calls it “doing the walking thing.”

We stopped at a Wendy’s on our way to New York this summer, where a little boy attempted to get his mother’s attention. He’d squished a hamburger wrapper into what looked like a miniature baseball, and he was lobbing it at his mother. Over and over he tossed it at her face.

She didn’t look up. Not once. She growled at him a few times, but she never made eye contact with him -- at least not while we were there.

So I indulged one of my favorite hobbies. I watched Katie taking this in. She ached for the little boy, you could just tell.

When I was growing up I had to compete with seven brothers and sisters for the attention of my parents. No big, I suddenly realize. Because not once did I have to compete with a phone.
 
I know there are people texting right this very minute about matters that are life or death.

Are you?