What did you walk away with from your last annual performance review?
Or, for those of you who do what I do for a living, what do you remember from the comment cards at your last event where you spoke or entertained?
Here’s my bet: You forgot all about the great comments, the compliments, and you are obsessively focused on that one negative comment.
In the annual review it is that one thing your boss gives you to work on going forward.
In the realm of the feedback cards, it is that one negative comment. It is the one score of 2 in a sea of 5’s.
Why do we give so much power to the naysayers? Why do we not give equal ranking to those who love us?
I am certainly not immune to this. Why else would I be writing about it?
I am still stinging from the feedback from one particular performance in recent memory. There were well over 500 people in the audience. All I saw from the stage were smiling faces. There was much laughter. The applause was loud and long. After the show there was a long line of people for the meet & greet waiting for an autograph and photo opportunity.
And then it happened.
While I was packing up, the organizer shared with me that she had received “a few complaints”. I take this seriously. So, I pressed her for details. I encouraged her to share direct comments with me and to encourage people who were displeased to email me directly.
In the end, it was hundreds of people who were thrilled by the event, eager to find an opportunity to see the show again. And 3 people who were not. Three.
You know where my mind spent all of its time over the next several weeks. Not the 500+ who are new (and renewed) fans. No. Those three.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
What are you holding back from trying out of fear of even a single negative comment?
That. That right there. THAT is the true crime.
You have something amazing to share with the world. YOU.
I don’t know what it is. But, I’ll bet that you do.
And I’ll bet you’re afraid. Afraid someone might laugh at you. Afraid someone will say something negative.
So you continue to hold back, keeping your fantastic gifts to yourself.
I vow to continue to fight this battle. Won’t you join me?
Let’s do this together. Let’s agree that we will share our gifts with the world. We will put ourselves out there. Give what we have to those who appreciate them. And let go of the need for a perfect scorecard.
As I write this, we are in the throes of a polar vortex bringing record breaking cold temperatures across the midwest. Schools are closed. Community programs are cancelled. Even the Post Office isn’t delivering mail. Now that’s cold.
When I worked in an office, weather like this would often be an excuse for people to call in and request to work from home. Of course, sometimes that was more like “work” from home, meaning they would check their email randomly between chapters of the book they were reading, or getting up to put on a fresh pot of coffee.
When our kids were in school, a snow day meant an excuse to stay in bed.
How do you spend a snow day?
It doesn’t have to actually involve snow. This is more of a metaphorical term; a snow day is simply a day when all of your normal activities are cancelled. You don’t need to leave the house.
What do you do?
Do you celebrate? Or do you become filled with anxiety?
Do you view it as an unexpected holiday? Or do you freak out thinking of all of the things that you can’t get done?
As for me, I can go to either extreme, sometimes pegging the needle on both ends in a single day.
And I work from home.
I know people who take weather related delays, cancellations, and postponements as a personal affront. Some of these people are road warrior types who travel on a regular basis in their business.
You’d think that after more than a decade of life on the road you would have come to some sort of peace with it. And yet, some of my most hearty road warrior friends are the first to complain loudly over flights being cancelled, forced changes to their plans, etc.
This time around I witnessed numerous complaints from my fellow entertainers, especially those who do a lot of school programs.
I, too, was scheduled to do a program at a school on the coldest day of this latest weather front. We all knew it was coming. It was no surprise. The principal contacted me on Monday to discuss rescheduling the program scheduled for Wednesday. No big deal. Let’s shoot for Friday. If that doesn’t work, we’ll find another time. If we can’t? Again, no big deal. We’ll loop back for next year.
But, I will admit, that even with this calm approach to rescheduling of this one performance, I find myself wandering around the house, struggling to settle into doing something productive. I’d hate to waste this time that has suddenly appeared on my calendar.
My to-do list is enormous. Some of those items require working in the garage. Guess what? It’s too darn cold to be out there. Not just for comfort. The things I need to do out there require the temperature to be above a certain level, which simply isn’t possible to attain in that uninsulated space. They’ll have to wait.
So, while I can point out the inanity of complaining about how the weather affects business travel plans, I also find myself feeling frustrated by the impacts of the uncontrollable on my daily life.
For now, though, I’ll end this time of writing and go put on a fresh pot of coffee. After all, I get to “work” from home.
How about you? How will you spend your day when you are given the gift of cancellation of your previous plans?
Our family has never been huge TV watchers. But, we have had our share of favorite shows over the years.
Remember when you had to tune in at a specific time if you wanted to watch a particular show? (Yes, kids, that really used to be a thing.)
One of my favorite inventions is the VCR, and later the DVR. It made a big change in our family dynamic when we had the option of watching our favorite TV shows at a time that was convenient for us, rather than whatever time the broadcast network decided to air them.
Now, even the need for a DVR has largely gone by the wayside. Missed your show? That’s OK. You can probably find it on Hulu, YouTube, or even the broadcast network’s own on-demand streaming service.
We get spoiled by this power to watch things whenever we choose, and to pause, rewind, or rewatch bits as we desire
The other day, as I was driving down the road, I was listening to the local radio station as I often do. I was mostly concentrating on the road, only half listening, when I caught the end of something they were saying that struck me as interesting.
My first response? Reach over for the pause and rewind buttons.
Oops. You can’t do that on radio.
Then I started wondering, how many times do I drift off while being with people I love? How many times have I not been fully present, because in some part of my brain, I have been trained to think I can just hit pause, back up, and play it again?
Life has no pause or rewind buttons. We get one chance to experience what is happening around us.
Leave binge watching to episodes of your favorite series on Netflix. When you’re with those you love, be present, in the moment, tuned in. Experience the moment as it happens.
Do you have the right tools to do the job ahead of you?
One of the many hobbies I have enjoyed is woodworking. I love to make things. This hobby started like many of my hobbies: I couldn’t afford to buy the stuff I really liked, and was stupid enough to think I could make it myself.
So, I started making stuff. My goal was to build furniture as well as I could for as little money as possible. It was a fun challenge.
I started with a few simple tools and straightforward projects. It’s amazing what you can do with a hand saw, a couple of chisels, and a lot of time.
As my confidence and enthusiasm grew, I started adding to my collection of tools, tackling ever more complex projects. The first major purchase was a table saw.
I was living in an apartment at the time, with limited space and budget. So, I got a small, portable table saw designed more for a construction job site than a fine furniture making shop. But, with care and some creative shop-made accessories (called “jigs”), I was able to do what I needed. It was a big step forward.
Several years later, finally in a house, and with a bit more disposable income, I made the leap to a more substantial table saw. Wow! The difference was amazing.
It’s not that I could suddenly do things I couldn’t do before. But, that everything was easier. What used to take 30 minutes to set up a convoluted series of supports and guides to make a cut now took 30 seconds.
The more I used this new toy (ahem, tool…), the more I kicked myself for not making this investment sooner. And the more I laughed thinking about the gyrations I used to go through to make what was now a simple pass through the saw.
Have you had this experience?
Perhaps you like to bake. Once you move from a hand-held wooden spoon to a KitchenAid stand mixer, everything becomes so much easier.
What are the tools you use every day? Where are you going through complicated gyrations to make it work?
What if you decided to make the investment in a better tool? What would it save you in time and frustration? What additional joy would it bring you every time you use it?
Go for it. Invest in good tools. You’ll be glad you did.
What are the little things that bug you every day?
3 1/2 years ago, my wife and I moved into our empty nest home. We love it. Smaller house, bigger yard, lower taxes. And no more split level.
We loved our previous house. It was our home. We raised our 3 daughters there. Lots of great memories. So, why move? Minor annoyances.
The biggest annoyance? Stairs. After nearly 20 years, we were both getting tired of the need to go up or down stairs to move around anywhere in the house. Granted, being a split level, the stairs were short, each section being only half of a full flight. But, by the end of the day, those short flights really add up.
As we contemplated the move, we created a list of things that a new place had to have. And, just as important, what it must not have. Top of the list was that it had to be a one-story house. No more stairs.
Sometimes eliminating a minor annoyance requires great effort. Moving from one house to another is certainly not a trivial thing.
Sometimes eliminating a minor annoyance requires very little effort. So little, that once you’ve made the change, you wonder why it took you so long to get around to it.
When we moved into our new house, we did the usual haphazard unloading of boxes, thinking we’d adjust things over time.
You know what that means, right? Everything stayed exactly where we first put it. Including the kitchen. Glasses? They go over there. Plates and bowls? That shelf back there. Cutting boards? Down here, under the sink, lefthand side.
For most of these things, our initial placement has served us well. It’s a small kitchen and it’s just the two of us now.
Being a small kitchen, there are the typical issues of doors opening where you wish they wouldn’t. If someone is getting into the refrigerator, it blocks the path for anyone wanting to move through. When you are un/loading the dishwasher, there are two cabinet doors that you can’t access. One of those doors is under the sink, lefthand side.
And that is where the minor annoyance showed itself. In order to put the clean cutting boards away, you had to first take them all out of the dishwasher, close up the dishwasher, then open the cabinet door.
It’s a really minor thing. But, doing it every day, it became annoying.
Did I mention that loading and unloading the dishwasher is my job? I’m an engineer. These kinds of minor logistical things really bug me.
For 3 years, every time I did this I would mentally redesign the entire kitchen, thinking of how much better it would be if the dishwasher were “over there.”
Then it hit me. Why do we have the cutting boards on the lefthand side of the cabinet? If we put them under the righthand side, I could put them away with the dishwasher door open.
There was no good reason for them to be on the left. That’s just where they ended up during our initial unloading of boxes 3 years ago.
Voila. Simple change. Problem solved.
Why did it take so long to figure that out? I was trying to solve the wrong problem.
I thought the problem was that the dishwasher was in the wrong place. Moving it was going to be hard. The real problem was that the cutting boards were in the wrong place.
All it took was to look at the problem in a different way.
What are the little annoyances that get to you? What is it going to take to get you to do something about it?
Not all of life’s problems require moving to a new house, doing a complete kitchen remodel, or changing jobs. Sometimes, a minor change is all that is needed. Sometimes that can be as small as changing our attitude or perspective.
Are you trying to solve the right problem?
Reframe the question. Be open to a completely different solution.
As an entertainer, I am often asked that question.
My off-the-cuff answer? I have no idea. And I don’t care.
Let me explain. I don’t like numbers.
You might find that a bit odd, because I am an electrical engineer by training. The classic stereotype of an engineer is an introvert who loves numbers and hates people.
I hate numbers and love people.
For much of my career I worked in data center operations: specifically, network operations. If you think engineers love numbers, operations folks take that to a whole other level. They live by numbers. Especially people in network operations.
I was surrounded by people who loved numbers.
Our job was almost entirely about numbers. Yet, still, I didn’t care. I cared about the people.
Numbers are boring. People are fun.
When I went to meetings where I knew I’d be drilled about the numbers, I would take other people with me who could answer those questions.
Some of my higher-ups were OK with that. Others, not so much.
At least in that context, the numbers were relevant to our jobs.
Let’s say you are at the grocery store. You’ve filled your cart and you are ready to check out. Do you care how many people the cashier serves during their shift?
It might be an interesting side note. But, what do you really care about at that moment?
How quickly you are going to get through the line.
Are you going to make it out of the store and home before your ice cream starts to melt?
Will they put your bread on top of the bag, or bury it beneath heavy cans again like the last time?
The number of how many other people have gone through that particular checkout line is irrelevant to your personal experience when it is your turn.
When you go to a doctor, do you care how many patients he or she sees in a day? Again, you might consider that question while you are waiting. But, what do you care about?
Having the doctor’s total, dedicated, focused attention on you.
The only number that matters is the number ONE.
How many shows do you do in a year? It doesn’t matter.
The only show that matters is THIS ONE, right here, right now.
I also don’t care how many people are in the audience.
I care about the ONE person I can see who is having a good time. The ONE person who really needed to laugh.
That ONE person is why I am there.
Numbers can be important. I am glad there are people who care about numbers, love numbers, and deal with numbers.
For me, the most important number is the number ONE.
Have you ever said to yourself, “It doesn’t matter, it’s just … (fill in the blank)” ?
I perform at a wide range of events. In the past year alone I performed at a private party with 20 people, corporate events with hundreds, and a 2000 seat theater with huge projection screens (see photo above).
As you would expect, the budget for each of these events was significantly different. A friend of mine, a fellow entertainer, recently asked me, “What do you do differently?”
The answer? Nothing.
That’s not a complete answer. Sure, there are differences. They’re different audiences with different tastes. I custom tailor every show to the specific event. And, different levels of events require different amounts of behind the scenes efforts leading up to them, which is where most of the differentiation happens.
But, my overall commitment to the event? My delivery in the moment? The same.
It wasn’t always this way. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that.
I used to segment the events based on the fee. The most visible aspect to this segmentation was in what I would wear for the performance. I went from casual pants and shirt, to dress pants with dress shirt, to jacket. In my mind a script played out, “Well, for that much, you don’t get the suit,” as if the client would notice or care. Worse, I delivered a different level of performance.
My friend was incredulous. “Seriously? You do the same show?”
I totally get where he was coming from. We have this sense of fairness. How can it be OK to deliver the same product for a client who pays $X as the one who pays $10X ? How is that fair?
That is a valid and interesting question. But, it is not what I am primarily writing about.
Without going too far down this rabbit hole, consider the pilots flying a commercial airline. Economy tickets and first-class business tickets are priced vastly differently. Both will get you from point A to point B. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to fly first-class, you know the experience can be quite different. But, from the pilots’ perspective, all passengers are the same once the cockpit doors are closed. They do they’re job the same way, regardless of how much each individual passenger paid for their ticket.
The real point I am heading toward here is not the pay, or issue of fairness to the client, but rather our own attitude as we approach the task that is ahead of us.
What I have discovered is that it is better for ME to deliver my best possible performance each and every time, regardless of the previously agreed to paycheck. I am the worker in the field from the parable. Sometimes I am the one who went out first thing in the morning to work the whole day. Sometimes I am the one who was standing around idle until 5 in the afternoon.
When I show up at the end of the day and collect my pay with gratitude, having done what was agreed to up front, I am happier.
Naturally, by extension, it is better for the audience when I deliver the best performance I am capable of delivering. Ultimately, that is what it is all about.
When I mentally delivered a different product, begrudgingly holding back at events I knew were not paying as much, it affected ME. I became resentful. I’m sure that resentment showed through in the performance.
When I released that, separating the money from the event, and put all of my energy into delivering the best possible performance for that audience, feeling blessed to have the opportunity to share the gift of laughter with those people at that moment, it filled me with joy and gratitude to be able to do what I do for a living. I know for a fact that that joy shows through in the performance. It is the most frequent comment I hear after a show. “You look like you are having so much fun!” And I am. Every time.
The other interesting thing that I have discovered is that it is actually MORE work for me to deliver a lesser performance.
Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever noticed how much effort it takes to complain about a task and NOT do it, where simply doing the thing would have been so much easier?
How do you go about your daily work? Are there tasks that you begrudge having to do? Are there aspects of your job, or you life, where you feel resentment? Perhaps you feel that the task is below you, or you think, “I’m not being paid enough to do that.”
Catch yourself when you feel that resentment welling up inside. Change your thinking. Not for the benefit of whoever is asking you to do the task, but for yourself.
Act from a point of gratitude.
Is this a task at work that you dislike? Try being grateful for the big picture. You have a job. You’re being paid. It beats sitting in the unemployment line.
Is this a household chore you dread? Again, look at the bigger picture. You have a house.
There is a saying in the entertainment world, “There are no small gigs, only small performers.”
Treat every gig like a big one. Treat every audience like they deserve the best performance of your life.
It is mid-December as I write this. A season of giving. A time when many are making last-minute mad-dash scrambles to the shopping Mecca of their choice (including online retailers), trying to find just the right gift to show their loved ones how much they love them.
Is that what it takes?
Allow me to suggest an alternative.
When is the last time you sat down with your spouse, your child, your parent, or even a close friend, and gave them your full, undivided attention? No checking your watch. No glancing at your mobile device. Total, focused, connection with the person sitting across from you.
How long can you go? 5 minutes? 10? An hour?
For many of us, we can barely last as long as we can hold our breath under water. 30-45 seconds. 60 seconds tops.
There is much chatter in the media and among our friends about the frenetic pace of our world today. Everything is moving so fast!
What is your threshold of attention?
As we celebrate the end of another year of busy-ness, I challenge you to make time for those you love. Be wholly and completely present. Enjoy the time together. Put aside worries for what is happening next. Tomorrow will come, whether we stress about it or not.
I have never subscribed to the philosophy that not winning is the same as losing.
Vince Lombardi said:
“There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that’s first place. … There is a second place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers.”
Don’t get me wrong. Winning is great. But, it is not everything.
My philosophy? There is a lot of money to be made in 2nd and 3rd place.
Look at the payouts for a pro golf tournament. Sure, first place takes a much larger purse. But, there are loads of players earning a darn good living despite never having won a major.
For example, Steve Stricker. Steve has never won a Major. However, according to Golf Monthly, as of December 2017, his career earnings were over $43 million. Still want to call him a loser?
To me, the greatest disservice we can do to our kids is to teach them that not getting the first place trophy makes them a loser. Yes, strive to be the best you can be. No, do not give trophies for showing up. But, learn to value yourself for more than a comparative ranking against others. The only ranking that matters is what you do vs what you are capable of doing.
Because of this predominant philosophy of you either win or you’re a loser, too many people stop trying. At some point you realize you’ll never get the first place trophy, so why even bother?
For some people, they never even start down a path. Others stop doing something that brings them joy because they don’t want to be viewed as a loser.
If someone told you their name was Jerry, would you insist on calling them Gary?
Probably not. And yet, that is exactly the scenario with the pronunciation of “GIF”. It is properly pronounced, “JIF”.
Before you click away, understand that this post is about a much deeper issue than the silly debate over a hard vs. soft G. Stick with me a moment. It will make sense in a few paragraphs.
But, first, back to GIF…
Knowing that GIF stands for “Graphics Interchange Format”, it is logical to presume that it is pronounced with a hard G sound. However, if you ask the inventor, Steve Wilhite, he will tell you in no uncertain terms that it is to be pronounced with the soft G.
That should be the end of the story. And yet, even knowing this, people still insist that it is pronounced with the hard G.
What is something about which you formed an opinion, based on your own first experience, only to find out later that you were wrong? Was it difficult for you to accept it?
A couple decades ago, long before the movies, my family read the Harry Potter books for the first time. My wife read them out loud to our kids. If you are familiar with these stories, then you know that one of the main characters is Hermione Granger. We had never heard that name before. We read it as, “Her Me Oh Nee”. We thought that was how it was pronounced. With every reading of the name out loud, we became more convinced that was the correct way to say it. When we saw the first movie in theaters, we were shocked to find that it was pronounced, “Her My Oh Nee”.
To us, this odd pronunciation was simply wrong. How could they do that? Don’t they know the right way to say it?
Can you relate? Have you had that experience?
What both of these examples have in common is PRECONCEPTION. We form an opinion that seems logical; one that can even be defended as being a reasonable conclusion to have drawn based on the evidence available at the time.
noun 1. a conception or opinion formed beforehand. 2. bias.
Which of you believes that the Earth is the center of the galaxy, that all of the other planets and stars rotate around the earth? Which of you believes that the earth is flat?
We laugh at these notions now, even scoff at those who would have believed such a preposterous thing. But, had it not been for the evidence presented by scientists who came before us, we could be among those who had it wrong.
First impressions, first beliefs, preconceptions, are extremely difficult to overcome. We might have to admit that we were wrong. Gasp!
What if, instead, we viewed it as being unaware? Does that soften the blow? We did not have all of the facts available at the time we formed our opinion. We were not wrong. We simply didn’t know any better.
The real problem comes when we hold to these preconceived beliefs even after being presented with information to the contrary.
We can have fun debating how “GIF” should be pronounced. But, we cannot debate how its creator intends for it to be pronounced. From a New York Times blog posting:
“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” Mr. Wilhite said. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”
What preconceived ideas do you cling to, even in the face of evidence to the contrary?
Actively question beliefs you hold to be true. Be willing to adapt when new evidence is presented.
Be kind to yourself. Chances are you weren’t wrong. You just didn’t know any better. However, once you’ve become educated, accept the truth and move forward.