The Blog

A few years ago I got in touch with someone I knew many years before that to see if he’d join me on the show. I remembered him being hilarious. It wouldn’t matter what we talked about. We’d think of something, I was sure. Anyone with that much energy? What could go wrong?

You can guess where this is going. Nowhere. I forget what we talked about. I forget how I justified it. I forget everything about the conversation except how bored I was.

Had I really changed that much in all these years?

Maybe.

Is that why those of us who attend our high school reunions show up? To see how much we’ve changed?

Maybe.

You don’t have to live in the past. But once in a while it’s fun to visit! It might lift your spirits to take that occasional glance back and realize just how much you’ve grown (up).

How do you play the game?
September 27, 2016

I have eight photographs on my desk at the moment. Most of them are of Darrell and Katie and me. But one is of a squirrel that ate out of Katie’s hands on the UC Berkeley campus, and the other’s a selfie Katie took with a billionaire.

The billionaire photo is meaningful for reasons too plentiful and personal to share, except for this -- how he got started in business. At age three, believe it or not. Yeah. This gentleman started his first business when he was three. He traded charms. That story’s as embedded in our collective memory as is the setting in which we heard it -- right smack-dab in the middle of Midtown Manhattan, with almost-blinding sunlight streaming through the windows.

The man had apparently been taught from birth that money’s a game, he could learn it -- and it’s fun.

Is that what you learned about money as you grew up? Cash Matthews doubts it. He’s a financial advisor (of course he is -- his name’s Cash) who wanted to inspire kids to better manage their money so fewer of them, believe it or not, would need his help as grownups. Graduates of his Vacation Business School complain when their parents use credit cards, which delights him.

Cash has a seven-year-old whose fondness for toys exceeds her allowance -- so Cash makes that a game, too. “You want a four-dollar toy?” he’ll tell her. “Fine, but I’m going to need a nice poem -- and a picture.” She pays him back in a way that’s meaningful to both of them, and learns that (1) everything has a price, and (2) paying it can be fun.

If you’re looking for an aspirational adverb, a way of moving through the world that’ll make you more fun to be around, how about playfully?

You don’t have to be so serious, you know.

What would a bully do?
September 26, 2016

Someone who works for you is a bully. It’s time to confront the person before he inspires other people to leave.

How do you do it?

Here’s an idea. Ask the bully what he would do. Take him into your confidence. Tell him there’s someone in the company who’s a nightmare to work with, who’s making it difficult for the others to stay.

Andrew Faas had that question posed to him many years ago, before he realized how obnoxious he was being -- before he realized his boss was talking about him.

“I’d fire the guy,” Andrew said!

That was an interesting conversation. Andrew didn’t get fired. And eventually he atoned for his mistakes so thoroughly he now helps others create psychologically healthy workplaces.

Makes you think there’s no better person to put in charge of a problem than the one who created it!

Are you really so unusual?
September 22, 2016

coffee in SwitzerlandIf you ask Darrell and Katie to name one way I pamper them the most consistently, it’s with coffee. Darrell didn’t even like coffee until I came along. But our coffee rituals make him feel cherished, to say the least. And Katie? You should see what I whip up for her! Why trek to Starbucks when you can have this melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness at home?

The other day I noticed Darrell’s mug had more coffee in it than the last time I reheated it. How was that possible? Worse, I’d noticed the same thing a day or two earlier. And maybe a day or two before that.

“Do I not realize how full his mug is?” I wondered. “Am I that distracted?”

The next time I fetched his mug I made a point of noticing how full it was. Sure enough, more full than I’d remembered. “Are you adding water to your coffee?” I asked him. He burst out laughing. “I was wondering when you were going to notice that!” he said. I keep his coffee so consistently hot -- what can I say? I’m never going to balloon up because I sit at my desk for too many long stretches -- that Darrell seldom has a window where it’s cool enough to drink. We’re both surprised he didn’t use the water bottle fix a long time ago, but whatever.

What’s fascinating to both of us is what a flogfest I’d subjected myself to over supposedly not paying attention to the task at hand.

Is there nothing so trivial I won’t use it as an opportunity to feel worse about myself? But you know what? The more I get to know some really cool people -- people who are making big things happen as I type -- they’re just as hard on themselves.

I’m no longer surprised by all the violence in the world. If you’d crack open any random stranger’s head -- and to quote Dave Barry, I’m not for a moment suggesting that you should -- you’d probably find an angry mob inside.

Let’s all try to go a little easier on ourselves, shall we?

It took me a while to find people whose interviewing prowess impressed me enough to study how they work. Now that I have, I’m enjoying those conversations so much! Sometimes you don’t want to carry a conversation, after all. Sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy one.

What strikes me is how worth it the time feels when -- out of a whole hour -- I get even one insight. It’s worth it if I think even once, “How interesting! I never thought of it like that.”

On my show it’s always the goal to have those insights coming at you so fast it’s as if I left the top off a popcorn popper.

The lesson isn’t necessarily to ease up on that -- it’s a fine goal, to be sure -- but to ease up on myself!

I love road trips. I love the time to daydream. I remember tooling along a highway with Katie in tow when she was little. It was early in the morning, and we passed by some condos where people -- still in their bathrobes -- ducked out their front doors to fetch the newspaper. “What would my ideal day start with?” I remember thinking. The first thing that came to mind was getting my workouts over with right away.

Even in the life of your wildest dreams you’d still have to work out, right? You can’t pay someone to do that for you.

Maybe that’s why we’ve been doing our workouts earlier and earlier these days. No sense delaying the inevitable. We do what’s most difficult first. Everything’s easier after that. Maybe you’ve heard it called eating the frog. We gobble up those frogs, day after day, and now it’s automatic.

Staying in shape is almost a bonus of working out at this point. Being able to trust ourselves to do right by ourselves, daily? It’s the best (mental) health insurance money can’t buy.

Maybe you’ve heard the same stories we have. Lottery winners who lose it all and then some. Were they uncomfortable with a fortune they hadn’t earned? Maybe.

When I won a Minnesota Book Award for Left for Dead: A Second Life after Vietnam, I felt no guilt. I wasn’t sure I deserved to be honored more than the authors of the other books in my category, granted -- and I knew how subjective these things can be. But I also knew how hard I’d worked, and I couldn’t be sure I didn’t deserve it. When I walked to the stage to give my acceptance speech, I didn’t think about who deserved it the most. It was more like, “I’ll take it.”

When Darrell ran his first road race this summer (my idea) (he had a blast!), he told me how uncomfortable he felt getting applauded by spectators: “It was just a workout, for crying out loud.” He eventually found something to look at besides the faces of people who thought this was a bigger deal than he did.

Interesting.

Me? I used to imagine -- during my runs at the high school track when Katie was little -- the bleachers were filled with people cheering me on! I didn’t have to pretend during the race I ran with Darrell. And it helped. It really did. At that moment I was working out and those other people weren’t. Had the situation been reversed I would’ve been the one extending my hand for a high five. It’s what you do.

Life can be a slog. Nothing wrong with giving each other a tip of the hat for hanging in there!

sunset photoI can’t help it. Sometimes I wonder what my life will be like thirty years from now. What if I can’t get around as well as I do now? What if I’m confined to a wheelchair or even a hospital bed?

It happens.

The other morning it hit me: “I’d probably just read my journal.” Which was quickly followed by, “There are worse fates!”

It’s a great story. Someday I’ll get around to sharing more of it than you see here. Not yet, though. I’m working hard on this chapter.

It’s the same for each of us, isn’t it? To make sure we’re living a story we’d be proud to read.

What a gift to the old people we hope we get the chance to be.