Where do you sit?
April 11, 2016
Public speaker Nick Morgan sometimes asks people in the audience to move to the front row if it’s empty. When they do? “The energy in the room always changes.”
The only time I’ve ever sat in the back of the room -- close to the exit -- was in my engineering classes during college. That should’ve told me something about the wrong path I’d set out on. I was longing to escape.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but I’d also occasionally whisper an observation (read: make fun of the proceedings) to the person sitting next to me. You just feel more detached from that vantage point.
One day I made an exception to my practice of sitting in back. I was wearing a new T-shirt, and I sat in the front row of a lecture hall. I leaned forward to take notes, as I always did. Dozens of guys -- it was almost all guys back then -- could see what was on the back of my shirt: “Makes getting clean almost as much fun as getting dirty.” I wondered if they were curious about what was on the front. Indeed they were. More of them than usual filed past me, later, to see…Mr. Bubble.
I spent more time in those days deciding what to wear to class than studying what was covered. The signs were everywhere: “You don’t belong here!”
Which reminds me of the slides our geology professor showed us one day. One was of a sign on the side of a mountain road that said, “Beware of falling rock.” No kidding. The sign was mangled from an avalanche.
I don’t remember much of what I learned in college. But I have stories!
Have you tapped the magic of being specific?
April 7, 2016
Saying goodbye to Katie sucks. We’re getting used to it, but it always sucks. Even though we know it isn’t going to be for very long -- well, except for her semester abroad -- it never gets easier.
The last time we said goodbye Katie gave me a present, a book filled with what she loves about me. I practically have it memorized because I read it every night. What strikes me is how specific she was. Dozens of pages filled with what, exactly, she loves. Can you imagine? Try it. Follow “I love you” with “because” and then a few dozen reasons. The person on the receiving end will never be the same.
Katie hit on not only who I am as her mom -- and her and Dad’s best pal and all that -- but on my work. She gives me the feeling she learned how to tear into the world with enthusiasm in part by watching me live.
Which reminds me of my wish on the stars every night when Kate was in China, that I’d one day have a life that -- while maybe not as exciting as hers -- wouldn’t feel like a death sentence if she was forced to swap. It seemed like a good thing to shoot for, a way to steer my life.
To hear her tell it, I’m on my way.
Can you stay loose?
April 6, 2016
When Darrell asked me if I wanted to hear a clip of Elizabeth Tryon’s music before we had her on the show I didn’t hestitate: “No, thank you!”
I wanted my reaction, whatever it was, to be unfiltered. Even if I could fake spontaneity, I thought it would mean more to her -- especially if I was awed, which I was -- to know she got my honest reaction in real time.
And, sure. The risk was I’d be underwhelmed and she’d be able to sense it. I knew the odds of that were approximately zero, though. I couldn’t imagine someone as ebullient as Elizabeth would be less than amazing when it came to her music.
I was right!
Have you forgotten how much fun you’re having?
April 5, 2016
It’s a high, that feeling I get when an interview sparkles. “As the show goes,” we started saying as a family early on, “so goes the weekend.” It’s almost impossible to have a bad time when work is this much fun.
The thing I’m most proud of? How intent I am on savoring that fun as it happens. Barbara Walters may have been my inspiration. I seem to remember her telling Oprah she didn’t have time to enjoy her career, she was that focused on the next “get” -- industryspeak for the interview everyone wants.
I didn’t want that. I want a life I have time to savor.
That’s why I often pause -- as my guest is talking or during a break in the show -- to think, “This is really fun.”
Once in a while I forget. I know this because Elizabeth Tryon’s excitement at being invited to join us was infectious. She’d read up on me. She’d told me how much she enjoyed my Huff Post piece about the stuffed animal silliness. She was almost giggly as we started the show.
And I thought, “Wow.” But then I remembered. “Oh, yeah. This is fun. My job at the moment is to get to know someone, to learn something, to have a conversation worth sharing.” Does it get better?
Not to me!
How can you challenge what you can’t see?
April 4, 2016
I’ll never forget the first time I was in a traffic jam with Darrell. Katie was six, we were in Los Angeles, and his will to live was draining with each new calculation of how much fuel was being burned to keep -- what? -- thousands of drivers captive in cars that barely moved for hours. Many years later, as we get to know Manhattan better all the time, we smile about this. Say whatever you want about that big city, it moves people efficiently. It’s relatively green from that standpoint.
Our version of LA Story felt more like The Ice Storm, though. Which reminds me of blowing what was once our entertainment budget for the month on renting the latter. We both thought it sucked, and it had been my idea. I still get this little pain in my shoulder thinking about it.
When I settle into a hotel room I like using the ice bucket for, well, ice. It’s nice to have ice water to drink or even splash on my face before I freshen my makeup. It’s a little treat.
Not to Darrell. You use energy to create ice and keep it frozen, the same way you use energy to keep cars creeping along on the freeway. So he wanted reassurance I was going to use all the ice. I wanted reassurance I’d heard him right.
Newlyweds! Well, sort of. But you know what I mean.
This was tricky, because neither of us had any idea we were mismatched when it came to energy use. I guessed that since ice was included in what we’d paid for the room, we were good. To Darrell, waste is waste. We’d made so many assumptions about energy and about each other we didn’t know why things got a bit chilly for a few minutes.
If everyone was as exacting as Darrell, the planet would probably last another however many billion years. “But would the inhabitants enjoy their time on it?” I tease him.
The thing that makes challenging assumptions so difficult, as my friend Al Pittampalli points out, is that you don’t know you’re making them: “They’re like air.”
You might assume -- since Darrell’s such a sweetheart about letting me dissect what’s interesting about him -- I don’t have him beat in that department.
I would not make that assumption if I were you!
Are you letting people do what you hired them to do?
March 31, 2016
If you’re a manager, you’ve probably heard the advice to hire people who are smarter than you. The trick, I think, would be to let them do what they were hired to do -- be smarter than you. Because you’re the boss, right? You’re supposed to know more than your people, right?
Persuadable author Al Pittampalli sees this all the time. He liked the workaround I suggested, which is to put a little distance between yourself and the person who makes the brilliant suggestion.
Buy some time. “That’s really interesting,” you could say. “Let me think about that.” Make sure the person with the idea sees you jotting it down. That’s flattering. It also happens to be a great way to reassure someone you’re giving him proper consideration.
Go for a run, then. Go to lunch. Go home for the evening. Do whatever you need to do to get some distance. It might help you see things more clearly -- that while you weren’t the one who came up with the idea it’s still the right thing to embrace.
There’s a reason this works. Things get blurry up close.
It’s just science.
Who deserves the spotlight?
March 30, 2016
Why are older couples who hold hands and act like they’re still in love so adorable? My guess? They’re rare.
My friend Al Pittampalli wonders why, at football games or whatever, you so often see a fifty-year anniversary couple featured on a Jumbotron. “They might have the worst marriage ever,” he says.
Which reminds me why I find it difficult to relate to people my age who seem hopelessly into their own birthdays. So you lasted another year. So what?
Darrell and Katie and I make a point of congratulating people who aren’t in the limelight but are beacons nonetheless. The dad who takes his kid on a walk but leaves his phone at home. The kid who takes a punch on the playground but doesn’t hit back because he knows how that feels -- and doesn’t want to hurt even a bully. I’ve actually sprinted out of the house to flag down and thank a guy who’d cleaned up after his dog, given how few people appear to think that’s necessary. He looked at me like, “But of course.” You could tell he appreciated the sentiment, though.
Life can get boring sometimes. Why not see how much magic -- as opposed to mischief -- you can spread? Catch sweethearts in action and tell them you noticed. I suppose it’s possible something could go wrong if you did.
But I doubt it!
Are you interesting?
March 29, 2016
When I worked in sales at a radio station in St. Paul I became friends with a gal who shared my lack of enthusiasm for the gig. I quit, started interning at the Minnesota News Network, and had difficulty containing my glee. Elaine quit, took another sales job, and explained herself: “I want a nice life.”
“I’m glad I got that out of my system,” I thought. “I want an interesting life.”
Barbara Winter has an interesting life. She helps people make a living without a so-called job, and she loves it. People tell her she meets the most interesting people. “That’s because you’re interesting,” I offered.
Which reminded her how often someone told her husband -- when they were married -- he had an interesting wife. She thought, “I want an interesting life.”
Barbara designed a life that holds her interest. No wonder she has so much credibility with clients who who want the same!
And yes, Barbara noticed how much we used “interesting” in that exchange.
What matters is whether you’re still excited about your story. That matters a lot!