Let Loss Propel You Forward

In our lives, we experience love and loss – it’s inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is the growth that can come from even the worst of times. It isn’t about suppressing our emotions when something unexpected happens, it’s about leaning into those emotions and using the momentum to find ways to learn and grow from the loss. I’ve recently experienced loss, and I thought I would share what I’ve had to go through to become a better person because of it.

My JBL Bluetooth speaker is gone.
It wasn’t by my choice, although I suppose my choices led up to the moment it was taken from me.
And now I can’t get over this feeling of loss…
Of despair…
Of regret…
Sure, I could’ve left it locked away in the trunk of my car, but a speaker with that depth of sound quality deserves to be free, to experience the world as it was meant to be experienced.
It deserved to left on top of my car to experience the feeling of wind, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the rain.
Something that beautiful should never be locked away.
You were small, but your sound… your sound was enough to fill a room.
And you played it all without question… because music was your life.
I want to hear you sing again.
To tell jokes again.
Hell, I want you to turn off on your own when I need you during a presentation again – you had a real habit of doing that.
But you can’t.
I just… I just want to feel your cylindrical  shape in my hand again.
I want to be in one end of my house with you in the other, singing away, making it feel like you’re right beside me.
I want to see “JBL Flip 2” appear on my list of Bluetooth options and know that my Macbook will connect to you since you’re within range.
You were unlike any Bluetooth speaker I had ever owned, because I had never owned another Bluetooth speaker.
You were the one – it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
But you were taken.
Stolen.
Who knows where you are now, or if you’ll even get this, but I miss you.
I stopped listening to music altogether.
When I hear other speakers, they just make me think about what we had, and I weep.
Dad says I’ll be okay.
He says you were “just a speaker.”
To some, sure.
But to me, you were more than “just a speaker.”
You were a part of my life.
And you know you never forget your first.
It’ll take time.
I’m not ready to get out there and try other speakers, so I just ordered a cheap Chinese replacement.
My mail order speaker should be arriving soon, but it won’t be the same.
I hope I’ll learn to listen again – and soon.
Listen, I know I’m better because of you and I should focus on that.
What you taught me in all of those audiobooks and podcasts… you’ve made me grow.
I learned so goddamn much from you, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
You’ll live on through me.
And together, with my new Chinese partner, our story will be told, and the world will be better because you were in it.

I’ll make sure of it.

When The Audience Doesn’t Laugh…

As a comedian, there are very few things that irk me more than when a comedian calls out the audience for not laughing at their joke. It makes me cringe – the audience wasn’t on your side to begin with, what makes you think yelling at them for not laughing is going to get them to want to laugh!?
Even if you hold a gun to my head, sure, I’ll “laugh,” but you better believe it’s not because you’re actually funny.
Saying something like, “That joke was funnier in my head,” is a good way to cut the obvious tension when you don’t get a laugh, but blaming the audience for being unfunny is a quick way to make sure no one laughs at your next joke.
I’ve made it a rule of thumb to never blame an audience when they don’t laugh at a joke because I don’t have control over what they think is funny. All I can do is rework the writing or performance aspect to make it funnier next time.
So what do I do when a joke dies in front of one audience with nary a giggle, but leaves another audience rolling the next day, even though I told it the same way (same wording, gestures, and timing)? It didn’t just make them laugh, I had to pause before continuing so everyone could compose themselves, I used it as a callback 40 minutes later and got another big laugh, and overheard audience members refer to the line and laugh following my performance.
My logic goes like this:
Joke bombs > rewrite joke/adjust timing and tone of joke > try new version
I’ve been telling the joke for a little over a year, and though it didn’t hit the first few times I told it, I followed my formula, fixed the set-up to make the punchline punchier, worked on my vocal tone, and adjusted my timing. For the last six months, the joke gets big laughs 8 out of 10 times, regular laughs 1 out of 10, and dies on the stage 1 out of 10.
If The Backstreet Boys were to put out a new album that everyone hates, they could still sing “I Want It That Way” at a concert and people would looooove it.
This joke is my “I Want It That Way.”
It’s my LeBron James on a team full of “I don’t know hims.”
It just works.
Until it doesn’t.
I wish I could say for sure why there’s a discrepancy.
I want to not blame the audience, but evidence is overwhelmingly pointed toward the fact that it’s a funny joke, so why is there the occasional audience that just blinks at me when I tell it?
I have so many questions.
Was there a difference in audience?
The joke I’m referring to is aimed at a human resources audience, and both days I was speaking to HR professionals, so the type of audience didn’t vary much.
Geography?
Located within 40 miles of one another.
Demographic?
I’m in Maine, so incredibly white.
Did I change anything?
I record myself every time I get on stage. Listening to the recording, I delivered the joke identically both times: word for word, pause for pause, and vocal variety for vocal variety.
What the hell, man?
Though I have no idea why the joke landed for one audience and fell flat for the other, it’s important that I remind myself not to put a gun to the audience’s head on this one.
All I know is that they didn’t laugh, and in the end, that’s perfectly okay. Sometimes people just aren’t on the same wavelength, and that’s not on them, it’s on you to say, “Well, that happened… what can I do with it?”
In this case, write a blog post, laugh about it, keep telling the joke, and that one time out of ten it doesn’t get the laugh, remember that I can’t win ‘em all and move forward. It’s a good reminder that variety makes things interesting.
Of course, there’s the ol’ stand-by of saying, “That joke was funnier in my head.” At least that will break the tension with a chuckle, and a chuckle is better than waving a pistol and yelling, “LAUGH, DAMMIT!”

Jobs: Created for Surviving, Updated for Thriving

Why do we work?
Why do we wake up and, day-in, day-out, put ourselves through a routine of boredom, stress, and putting on a nice face for other people? Even if you love your job, why do you do it?
We go through school in order to graduate college with a degree so that we may get a “good job,” but do we ever consider why?
Allow me to take you back to a time before jobs as we know them.
Human beings were pretty new on the scene and they were trying to figure things out. They wandered the wilderness, looking for food with the odds stacked against them. They were slow, uncoordinated, weak, fearful, and unnecessarily violent with one another.
Then, between 17-13,000 years ago, people began to communicate with one another, and it was within this communication that we brought to reality something that had never existed before: imaginary concepts. Not once before the dawn of humankind had any other creature come up with a conscious idea, and it was within the use of our newfound tool of imagination that people took a leap forward on the food chain. In this newfangled world, humans began communicating ideas back and forth on how to make survival easier, and in doing so, invented jobs.
Some of us weren’t so good at hunting, but could tell a mean story about the hunt and keep morale up.
Some of us couldn’t whittle a spear to save our life, but we could tell the difference between good and bad mushrooms.

(Have you ever seen a movie where the villain gives a glass of wine to a lowly servant to make sure it isn’t poisoned? I wonder if there was a group of people whose job it was to figure out which foraged foods were okay to eat…)

The idea of having a job was brand new, and people ran with it. Hunters, gatherers, builders, inventors, shamans, storytellers, and telemarketers (who knew?) soon populated communities, and they knew their role and the purpose of that role: survival and the survival of their families and communities.

Fast forward from this world of scarcity and struggle to survive to a world of abundance and on-demand TV.
We go to work to get paid so we can support ourselves and our families, so while it feels like we work to survive, we live in a world with abundant resources, so focus can be shifted from simply surviving to thriving.
How?
We live in a world dominated by an imaginary currency, imaginary companies, an imaginary internet, and imaginary beliefs on what it means to live a good life. If humans disappeared, none of these concepts would survive because we created them (hence “imaginary”). Since large-scale human cooperation was based on imagined concepts such as these, we have the power to create new concepts and ideas to transform our current jobs into tools that can be used to further the capabilities of people. All we have to do is share these concepts with the people around us, make this cause one that they can believe in, and hope that they share with the people around them too.
What if we looked at work as an opportunity to advance humankind and make the world a better place for our children?
I don’t know about you, but that’s way more exciting than working toward retirement.
No matter your job, you have an opportunity to create for others.
For example, when I started speaking, my focus was on getting more gigs so I could entertain, educate, and inspire more people, but it felt like something was missing. Now that I realize the value of being a creator, my focus has shifted to creating a better experience of reality for those I have the opportunity to serve. I want to create excitement and energy in others so that they use their position, whatever it may be, to create excitement and energy in even more people. By focusing on this, I get more excited and energized and work becomes more than just getting booked – it becomes a daily opportunity.
Added bonus: the more excited and energized we are, the better work we do.
What do you do for work now?
What product, service, or experience do you sell?
How does your product, service, or experience help other people thrive?
What would it look like if it helped even more people or helped the people it’s already helping even more?
How can you use your talents, skills, and the tools already at your disposal to make this a reality?
We have the power to share the idea that all of our jobs, no matter what they are, exist in order to further humankind, not to simply earn a paycheck and maintain the status quo.
Maintaining status quo breeds stagnation, and stagnation breeds disease.
What do you want to create in the world with your work? Stagnation or energy?
What do you want to inspire in others? Stagnation or energy?
It all starts with the story you tell yourself about your work.
We work to create opportunities for ourselves and others to thrive.
Pass on this story, because without sharing it, sure, we’ll survive, but what’s the point of just surviving when we have the power to elevate ourselves and thrive?

Gun Violence and the Solution That’s Right Under Our Noses

Last month, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hosted a roundtable discussion where they invited victims of school shootings to the White House to discuss their experiences and ideas for solutions. Regardless of your position on the president and Mrs. DeVos, this was a welcomed development in the debate over gun violence. Instead of debating, arguing, and the typical candor between politicians, real people came together to share solution ideas for a problem that has divided us for years. Not one to watch the news (or what I call “the noise” because I’m just so damn clever), I was transfixed. In a culture where we’re focused on who’s right vs. who’s wrong rather than “How can we come together to create a solution?” for once those in attendance had a common goal: create a culture of safety. Not five minutes after the meeting ended, came the hot takes from pundits and social media accounts focused again on who was right and who was wrong, why the president is an asshat, and his meeting notes, including a reminder to “hear” those voicing their concerns. We were right back to focusing on problems instead of creating solutions. In all this noise, we missed out on the solution to the problem that was offered during the meeting that doesn’t just take care of the symptoms like mental health reform, banning certain guns, or arming teachers: a cultural shift focused on how we see one another.
During this meeting, one person really stood out to me: Darrel Scott, father of Rachel Scott, who was killed in the 4/20/97 shooting at Columbine High School. This was the school shooting that brought the topic of gun violence into the national spotlight almost 21 years ago, and still, few solutions have been reached. In fact, mass shootings have only intensified, because in these twenty-plus years, Columbine has dropped out of the top 10 list for deadliest shootings (um… yay?). It’s time for new ideas, because the ideas we’ve been working with for over two decades are clearly not doing the trick. What Scott said struck a chord with me since I study and share how to create positive workplace cultures for a living. Scott has a brief opportunity to get to the core of, not only the issue of gun violence, but the issues of violence in general and the underlying lack of happiness plaguing the country. Scott isn’t just talking about it a solution, he’s actively doing something to fix the deeply rooted cause of violent behavior: a lack of human connection.
Since his daughter lost her life, Scott has founded Rachel’s Challenge,* a nonprofit on a mission to create a positive climate focused on making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect. According to Scott, the program has touched 28 million students since its founding in 1998, has prevented 7 school shootings, prevents an average of 150 suicides a year, and has seen improvements in the schools with whom they have partnered. According to the website, this includes gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate, as well as reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. While debates rage on over whether to arm teachers, ban automatic weapons, or apply stricter background checks when purchasing a firearm, Scott, a private citizen just like me and you, free from the entanglements of bureaucracy and politics, is, putting it bluntly, getting shit done.
Scott’s solution: “We must create a culture of connectedness. We must create a culture in which our classmates become our friends.” He goes on to explain how he has seen students connect with one another and makes a fascinating point: “Every single one of these school shootings have been from young men who are disconnected.”**
In his book, Flourish: positive psychologist Martin Seligman lists positive relationships as one of the five elements of human well-being.***

“Selfish-gene theory argues that the individual is the sole unit of natural selection. Evidence shows that the group is a primary unit of natural selection.”

Sure, I have read books in the field of positive psychology that re-affirm this, but it’s through my research in other fields like leadership, history, and, yes, even improvisation that have led me to go as far as to say that a lack of human connectedness is the causation of aggression, violence, and discrimination.
From Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last:

“When we cooperate or look out for others, serotonin and oxytocin reward us with the feelings of security, fulfillment, belonging, trust, and camaraderie.”

Humans are wired to get along, but we’re conditioned to covet personal gain, which goes against this biology, and costs us opportunities to make connections, become happier, and grow exponentially. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harrari wrote:

“Evolution favors those capable of forming strong social ties. In addition, since humans are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialized far greater than any other animals.”

To solve the problem of gun violence, we must create a culture focused on humans connecting with one another in order to make each other better and to make the world a better place, which is what Darrel Scott and his wife are doing with Rachel’s Challenge. I believe that the long-term solution is an overhaul of the education system where the goal is for students to learn to connect with one another and work together, rather than work separately for individual accomplishment. Until then, each of us can play a small role on creating a culture of connectedness in our own lives and circles. Though each of us as individuals has a small voice, we have an opportunity to come together and connect as a cacophony of voices on a quest to create safety, happiness, and love. It is in the pursuit of creating something we all believe in that can connect us, rather than arguing over who is right or who is wrong, which denies us the chance to create connection.
Darrel Scott is just one voice who has brought together a chorus of many voices to make a difference and bring us closer to a more human culture:
“The focus must not be just on unity or diversity, because if you focus too much on diversity, you create division. If you focus too much on unity, you’ll create compromise. But if you focus on relatedness and how you can relate with one another, then you can celebrate the diversity and you can see the unity take place. The focus really needs to be on how we can connect. That’s something our organizations have learned: how to connect students with each other, with themselves, with their teachers, and with their parents.”

Imagine the freedom of walking the streets without the fear of violence – with a feeling of confidence that every person you pass has your best interests at heart. We have the choice to focus on how this isn’t possible, which is what has been happening, or we can shift our focus onto how we can come together and create this culture. One thing you can do today is not to debate, but to listen to the ideas of others and remember that no matter who we are, we all want to feel safe and loved. How can you help make this happen and connect with others today?

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe in a friendly or hostile universe.” – Albert Einstein
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in looking with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
*Darrel Scott speaks at about 33:50 in this video:
https://www.denverpost.com/2018/02/21/darrell-scott-columbine-shooting-donald-trump/
** Learn more about Rachel’s Challenge and how a culture of connectedness is helping students all over the country build relationships with classmates, parents, teachers, and themselves.
***The other four are positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment.

Craft Be Cherished; Rules Be Damned

No running near the pool! Act normal when you’re in public. Thou shalt not kill the chimney sweep for getting ash on your new polar bear skin rug. These are rules many of us live by – some rightfully so – but did you know we also adhere to rules that we don’t even realize we set for ourselves? More than rules, these are invisible parameters dictated by our culture that we subconsciously follow for fear of looking foolish by disobeying them. By following these rules, we feel safe, but what we’re actually doing is compromising our mental and emotional freedom by remaining within these parameters.
Sometimes, I find inspiration in strange places. This week I found it on the bottle cap of DuClaw Brewery’s X10 Saison, which is a craft beer brewed with cantaloupe. It said, “Craft be cherished; rules be damned.” As I enjoyed the bottle, I wondered to myself, “How many times did this person’s cantaloupe beer idea get rejected?” Conventional wisdom says to stick to less ambitious flavor combinations, so even if they weren’t actually denied by other people, they definitely had to overcome some self-imposed expectations as to what other people would accept. Many times, these ideas about what will and won’t be accepted by others stop us before anyone else has a chance. Instead, the brewmaster damned the rules and followed their passion for their craft, and boy, am I glad they did (Definitely try that beer before summer is over).
These words of wisdom really spoke to me because I have chosen to follow my craft instead of following the “rules” and, since making that decision, I have found an inner-fulfillment that I have never felt before: I’m more engaged in my work than I ever have been, my self-confidence is at an all-time high, I’m achieving goals faster than I ever have, and I get to make people laugh for a living. It all came from the choice not to confine myself to fulfilling external expectations. If I had gone after a “realistic” career, I’d be sitting in an office interpreting case law and not dressing up like the pope and yelling at people to vote for me (which, among long walks on the beach, is one of my hobbies). Here are the reasons why cherishing my craft and damning the rules was the best decision I ever made:

1. I get to base my choices on my own experience, not someone else’s

Would you recommend getting financial advice from the person who just had their home foreclosed on? Would you recommend getting relationship advice from someone who just divorced his third wife? Would you ask the drunk guy who was just forcefully removed from the bar how much he likes the bouncer? Most people wouldn’t. Why? Other people form their beliefs based on their own experience. The self-established parameters they live within determine their perspective. Anyone else’s opinion of what you do is based on their story and not yours. Write your own story. If you want to base your decisions on the fears of someone else, so be it, but realize you’re sacrificing your craft to adhere to the rules that someone else lives by. Take action based on what you want instead of on someone else’s rules. Face defeats. Let them tell you “no” or that you can’t. We aren’t confined to a 16-game season; one win can immediately overcome many losses.

2. I get to pave my own way

There’s this idea out there that there can be a “next” someone. For example: LeBron James is the next Michael Jordan. Really? So you mean that LeBron failed to make his high school basketball team, played college ball at North Carolina, was drafted by the Chicago Bulls and averaged 28.2 points per game in his rookie season? This may be a very specific example, but my point is that there is an infinite number of ways we can achieve our goals. No one did it like Jordan before, and no one will do it like him ever again. When we confine ourselves to a specific path because someone else did it that way:
-We eliminate any room for error, which opens us up to lots of frustration
-We may not enjoy that specific path because it may not play into our interests or strengths
-We compare our performance to others instead of focusing on performing our best
Sure, we can base our craft on those who came before us, but copying someone identically just confines us creatively. As long as we remain focused on the goal, stay rooted on enjoying the present moment, and continue taking action, no matter the detours we may encounter, we’ll reach our destination.

3. I can be comfortable in my own skin

Treat others the way you want to be treated, don’t show off the tattoo on your genitals at a children’s Birthday party, don’t slowly deflate a helium balloon in the middle of the moment of silence at a funeral. Most people can agree that these rules are pretty much universally accepted, but because everyone else is acting a certain way doesn’t mean we have to act that way, especially if it goes against who we are as an individual. We are each a unique person, unlike anyone else who has ever existed, yet we confine ourselves to being someone we’re not in order to fit within the parameters of external expectation. I used to behave this way, but have found much greater joy living outside of these parameters. While growing up, I heard a lot of, “Do you always have to try to be funny?” “Stop showing off!” and, “Stop slowly deflating that balloon at this funeral!” Adhering to these demands shoehorned me into a personality type that wasn’t me, and it compromised my happiness. By trying to “belong,” I lost my sense of belonging. Now, I get to be funny for a living, I’m comfortable with sharing my feelings and perspectives, and I’m not afraid to open myself up to judgment and ask lots of questions. Life is much more fun when we accept who we are and show that off, as long as we’re not hurting anyone or being a blatant idiot. If you aren’t happy in the career you chose because you can’t express yourself, remember that it’s your choice to follow the rules and stay within those parameters you set. Cherish the craft that is being you. If others stop accepting or loving you for it, it’s because they value the rules more than their craft and, by doing so, are uncomfortable with your authenticity (either that or you slowly deflated a balloon at their mother’s funeral).

Instead of trying to feel safe by living within parameters set by others, cherish your craft. Be you, follow your passion, share your thoughts openly, set your own parameters, create your own comfort zones, and make your own choices. We all have the opportunity to follow our craft, no matter what that is, and it begins with the choice to damn the parameters we set for ourselves based on what we’re conditioned to believe is acceptable. Brew a cantaloupe saison while everyone else tells you that if it’s not Budweiser, no one will like it. Go skydiving even if your mom wouldn’t let you ride your bike with your friends on the “busy road.” Craft be cherished; rules be damned. It’s the best advice a bottle of alcohol has ever given me (by a long shot). The next bottle cap that I read said, “Bud Light.” I’ll be back with another blog as soon as I interpret the meaning of that.