The Blog

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!


photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

I take a lot of notes.

That means I also spend a lot of time deciphering those notes. As I jot things down I start writing left to right, top to bottom -- the way people read -- but soon I’m branching out in several directions, all over the place. If you looked at a page of my notes you’d think, “What a mess.”

It makes transcribing difficult -- so I put that off, which makes it more difficult.

Why do I drive myself crazy this way?

Oh, but I’m not. The Doodle Revolution author Sunni Brown says brains don’t work left to right, top to bottom. “The brain is spatial,” she says. “Your notes reflect ‘a healthy, creative brain.’”

It’ll probably always be a project, Sunni agrees, turning my notes into stories I can read -- and share. But that’s what learning is. A project.

Looking with compassion at the way I work has inspired more compassion. I used to beat myself up on Fridays, with two hours of the talk show to record on Saturdays. Why was I doing dishes and folding laundry, for example, before tackling show prep? Because those distractions are anything but trivial, that’s why. And I probably do more creative thinking tidying up than I do in front of a screen, trying to force it.

Let’s just call it show prep prep!

You’re talking. The person you’re talking with starts to doodle. Does that bother you?

The Doodle Revolution author Sunni Brown hopes not. She defines doodling as “making spontaneous marks to help yourself think.” Research shows people who doodle retain twenty-nine percent more of what they hear than those who don’t.

Doodling helps you quiet the parts of your brain that might be tempted to wander off. It helps you focus. And you don’t have to doodle with a pen and paper. “You can doodle with a musical instrument,” Sunni says, “or by gesturing.”

Is that why Katie embroiders while she watches TV, or I go after my nails while I wait for someone to finish his thought? Sunni thinks so.

Well, then. I feel better already!

Next up, one way I thought I was driving myself crazy -- only to have Sunni explain I’m actually keeping myself sane.

Have you heard the advice to hang back in meetings until you’ve been at the company a while? To make sure you know what’s going on before you open your mouth?

Read This Before Our Next Meeting author Al Pittampalli disagrees. Who’s in a better person to ask why things are done a certain way, after all, than the new guy? Why not take advantage of one of the best things about a new hire, her fresh perspective?

I can guess what you’re thinking: “I’ve done this, and I’ve been shot down.” Which is where diplomacy comes in, Al says. You don’t have to ask questions recklessly, or take issue with the fundamental purpose of the organization.

Al says people like to be asked good questions. You can prepare them for those by asking permission to ask. I know. It sounds redundant, and unnecessarily polite. But Al says it works. If you ease into a question you’ll get less resistance.

I believe him. When Darrell watches me edit a post I’m more likely to welcome his reverie about a keyboard shortcut if he prefaces it with, “Would you like a suggestion?” Al can relate. That’s another reason he’s fascinated by meetings and their impact on productivity. “They’re a window into an organization,” he says, “and an opportunity to change the culture.”

You can’t change anything, Al says, if you don’t speak up.

If you do that nicely and the people you work with don’t appreciate your contribution, maybe it’s time to ask for another meeting -- with someone at a different company, who’s eager to hear what you have to say and will hire you to keep saying it.

My friend Brooks Palmer is a psychic. Clutter Buster is his official title, but I think he’s psychic. The last time I had him on the talk show I told him what a minimalist I am. I thought it was a good thing, and it can be. But Brooks offered -- after we’d stopped recording -- he’d sensed a sadness in my voice. “I want a bigger life,” I heard myself admit.

I’ve been working on that, and Brooks could tell. After we recorded the most recent show, he said I sounded better. Looser. More free.

That was one report card. The other one was during the interview. I’d asked about people who are mean, and he knew I wasn’t asking for a friend. He knew I had some of those in my orbit.

It had been my choice, I’d reasoned, to let people vent. They weren’t mad at me, after all -- which they were quick to reassure me after cooling off. They always felt better, but I never did.

Brooks wasn’t surprised.

If you’re pals with people who are mean to you, he says, it’s like taking punches. Especially if they keep at it after you’ve told them how much it hurts. Especially if they don’t respond with an apology and a change in behavior. Most definitely if they blame you for “making too much out of it” or “being too sensitive.”

What if the person who’s the toughest on yourself is you?

Brooks helped me see that recognizing it is a great first step. Pay attention to that little voice inside your head, and notice when it isn’t being very nice.

I haven’t yet broken the habit of beating up on myself.

But I’m trying not to beat myself up for that!