The Blog

Someone who’s following me on Twitter says #TheKaOfKatie is making him look at his fourteen-month-old in a new light.

And I thought, “That’s it! That’s why I do this work.”

Why do you do what you do?

Many years ago I read some advice to newlyweds that went something like, “The person who’s arguing the loudest is probably wrong.”

Have you noticed how often that plays out? The television evangelist who rails against infidelity, only to confess to it years later as his kingdom crumbles. The office gossip who spends so much time complaining she gives everyone else something to complain about. The parent who insists his kid take the big risks even as he clings to a life that’s boring him to death.

What’s the opposite of people like that? What would you call them?

I’d call them irresistible. They’re too busy making things happen to pay attention to whether you or I approve. Whether confronted with a naysayer or a cheerleader, they smile politely and say “thanks for the suggestion” and keep working.

Are the naysayers jealous or mean? Are the cheerleaders sincere? It doesn’t matter to these people. They don't feel a need to explain themselves.

I aspire to be like that, but it’s a process. It still registers when someone disapproves of my plans, and I’m often still tempted to defend myself.

I ran across a little gem I plan to keep handy, though: “I’m doing this because it is important to me. I’m willing to give up other things to make it work.”

Simple and true. Cool, huh?

Thanks, Chris!

“Constant chatter is an attempt at control.”

That’s still something else I learned at a What Color Is Your Parachute? workshop given by the author of that book, Dick Bolles.

Now when I find myself holding forth a little bit I ask myself what I’m trying to control. Then I try to wind down quickly.

I got my first performance review when I was an intern at the Procter & Gamble toothpaste plant in Iowa City. The person I reported to -- Frank -- watched as his boss told me what I was doing right, and what I could improve. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but apparently I wasn’t shy about sharing a few observations of my own. Nothing disrespectful, not at all. But when you’re being told how you can improve, saying anything sounds defensive.

That’s what Frank told me later. When someone gives you -- in corporatespeak -- feedback, tell him thanks. Then shut up.

Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith says feedback is a gift. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to agree with it. But it’s a gift. What do you do when someone hands you a gift? You say, “Thanks!” If you love the present, go ahead and elaborate. If you hate it or you disagree with it, stick it in the proverbial closet and dispose of it when the person who bestowed it isn’t looking.

What if you’re sure the advice doesn’t apply to you? What if you’re sure it’s misguided or mean-spirited?

It doesn’t matter. Anything, and I mean anything, beyond “thanks” is going to sound defensive.

Don’t be in a hurry to write off what you hear, by the way. I think some pretty cool gifts are wrapped in pain, but that’s difficult to see until the pain subsides.

Have you read the latest novel by Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed?

Here’s what it left me with. Sometimes you won’t know what your life means until it’s winding down, and that purpose might surprise you.

If you make time for reflection, which I highly recommend, you’ll notice patterns. What are people forever thanking you for? What are they getting from you they can’t seem to get anywhere else? The answers to those questions -- especially if they make you smile -- will tell you almost everything you need to know about your calling.

I heard from my former college roommate over the holidays the way I always do. She told me about something difficult she was going through, adding she learned a lot about how to cope from me.

It wasn’t the first time she’d told me something like that, and I don’t hold back when I tell her how much it means.

That’s my kind of gift exchange!

How do you find your mission in life?

You don’t.

That's according to career coach Barbara Sher, who says instead: “You discover it.”

Finding your calling is like the pursuit of happiness. Either one is likely to elude you if you make it the target. Just notice when you’re happiest, and keep filling your life with more of that.

Don’t worry about seeming selfish. Do you really want to get help from a doctor who hates her job? To send your ten-year-old to school if his teacher hates being one?

The world needs more people who are in it for the work itself. Then the world will need fewer babysitters (er, managers) to make sure those who claim to be stuck in dead-end jobs keep going through those motions.

I wrapped up a recent post with this line: “That’s just stupid.” That is, until my editors -- Darrell and Katie -- got a hold of it. The look on their faces confirmed what, at some level, I knew. I’m not in the business of calling anyone stupid.

I deleted the last line. I had to fix it. But how? My sweethearts wanted to move on with the rest of their evening. If I wanted the help I’d better come up with something quickly. I looked at the screen. And then I typed, “Why?”

That’s it! I could tell by the way they nodded and smiled, I’d done it.

It was straight out of City Slickers. How could those gentlemen possibly know what flavor of ice cream to pair with every meal? But they did.

No big deal? It was to them.

It never gets old. I’m on the spot. I have to come up with the right way to word something, and I have to do it quickly. When I do? What a feeling.

That’s another reason I love hosting the talk show. There’s no script and no rehearsal. You have to listen to your guest as if nothing else in the world exists at that moment, and you have to come up with the next question or quote or anecdote to keep the conversation sparkling.

Pay attention to those little moments when you love what you’re called on to do. Fill up your life with more of them.

You won’t be sorry.

You know the feeling. You’re stressed, and you need a fix. Maybe it’s a new sweater. Maybe it’s a few games of Tetris. For me it used to be a donut.

I’ve replaced donuts with stories. If I need a break -- a distraction, a pick-me-up -- I heat up my coffee and pull up a tab with Mona Simpson's eulogy for Steve Jobs…or a whimsical memorial to a former drill instructor for the United States Marine Corps, Frosty Westering.

Now it seems silly to treat myself with something that leaves a nasty aftertaste -- pounds creeping on, money wasted, whatever.

I curl up with a book by Steven Pressfield or a movie like The Family Man.

I get all of the fun with none of the calories.

People who coach people on better ways to solve problems are fond of asking, “How is this problem like other problems you’ve had?”

They have different ways of posing that question. Dr. Gay Hendricks suggests you ask, “How is this familiar?”

Do your best to solve whatever’s giving you fits. Go at it with everything you have. Then give it a rest. Take a shower, take a walk, take a vacation. But trust the territory may not be as foreign as it appears.

It would be a shame to reinvent a wheel you’ve already invented!