Conduct Your Life With Exuberance

Imagine being 80 years old with more energy and life than you had in your 40s, 30s, and even your 20s…

Seem impossible? Meet Benjamin Zander, the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, who will have you second-guessing your perception of age and energy from the moment you meet him. At the end of April, I will be hosting the Akron Symphony Orchestra’s annual charity gala, and one of the auction prizes is a visit to Zander’s home in Cambridge, a trip up the Charles River in his pontoon boat, and VIP treatment at a Boston Philharmonic concert. Since I was already in Boston to perform comedy, I decided to reach out to see if I could arrange a meeting.

The moment he swung open his front door, I knew I was in for a treat: “THERE YOU ARE!” he exclaimed in his sing-song British accent, arms joyously in the air as he wrapped me in a warm embrace. It was as though he was reuniting with a long-lost friend, and I went from being nervous to meet the world-renowned conductor, to feeling like we had known each other for years.

As we spoke with one another, his eyes sparkled, reminiscent of Sir Ian McKellen’s as Gandalf at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, and he smiled from ear-to-ear and nodded along as he listened to me talk about why I’m passionate about bringing more laughter to the world. Unsurprisingly, he shared my value of humor as he spoke about the fun he and his musicians have during orchestra rehearsals.

“Having fun at rehearsals is so important, even though the symphony is supposed to be serious,” he shared. “The world is much better off with more laughter.”

Though I only spent about ten minutes with the incredibly busy conductor, it felt as though time stood still, and we connected on much a deeper level. The zeal with which he approaches others is evident in his TED Talk, which I HIGHLY recommend watching – even if you’re not into classical music – because his message transcends music:

“I have a definition of success. For me, it’s very simple – it’s not about wealth, fame, and power – it’s about how many shining eyes I have around me… It really makes a difference what we say – the words that come out of our mouth.”

He goes on to quote an Auschwitz survivor:

“I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.” 

When I reach 80, I can only hope to have half of the spirit that Zander has, but he left me with powerful questions to ask myself: do you leave people with shining eyes? Are they happier and filled with more energy that they were when you met them? How can you leave every interaction inspiring others to live with energy and exuberance?

Ask yourself these questions every day and find that life becomes a little happier, more exciting, and  more fulfilling.

Check out Benjamin Zander’s TED Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion#t-1197578

Check out The Art of Possibility, the transformative book he wrote with his wife: https://www.amazon.com/Art-Possibility-Transforming-Professional-Personal/dp/0142001104/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+art+of+possibility&qid=1555090828&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Rejection is Feedback and Feedback is an Opportunity

“[We are] going to rescind our request to have you speak to [us].”
I stared blankly at the text of the email, mouth agape.
“This has never happened to me,” I thought aloud. “What did I do?”
I kept reading.
“Eight members of our chapter were in attendance and all were offended by your presentation,” the email continued.
“Offended? I was trying to make you laugh!” My fight-or-flight response had kicked in, but before I found myself going off on a tangent, I decided to continue reading to learn more.
“Specifically, you told a ‘dick’ joke.”
Ah… that’s fair. Using my character, Perspective Detective Dick Ransom’s first name strategically for laughs is admittedly juvenile, but it’s something that people remember. The premise of the bit is based around the fact that when we blame the circumstances or other people when we fall short of our goals, so we should “become a Dick” because “we all have a little Dick inside of us.”

Later in the email, he writes “I won’t comment on the rest of your presentation.” This is what hurt me most, not because they didn’t enjoy my presentation, but because once the Dick joke was on the table, they missed out on the message of the rest of the presentation.

That’s on me.

My talks aren’t your standard HR presentation because the current business climate is mired in complacency, so I take some risks – some pay off and some don’t, which I live with. The key, though is to analyze where I am and ask, “Is where I am better than where I was before this?” To get a more accurate answer, it’s vital to consider all feedback from other perspectives. I only have one way of looking at my reality – my own – so I admittedly have a bit of a bias. However, when other people say to me, “We were offended by your presentation,” that’s a sign that, instead of resisting their POV and getting hostile, I have an opportunity to consider another perspective.

I can’t possibly follow through on all feedback given to me, but I can at least listen, appreciate the fact that someone is willing to take a risk to even give me the feedback, and consider what to do next. My aim is to always improve in some way after every presentation I give, and in order to do that, it’s important to listen. This is as true for me as it is for all of you – even if no one approaches you and says, “Hey, here’s my feedback,” if you listen to the world around you by
-evaluating where you are vs. where you want to be
-paying close attention to the nonverbal clues of others
-considering the perspectives of those who do offer explicit feedback
you’ll learn more than you ever would simply looking through your own eyes.

Though another group approached me after the presentation about speaking at one of their upcoming meetings because they enjoyed the presentation and felt motivated (proof that multiple people can see the exact same thing but get something completely different out of it), my aim is to leave everyone feeling better when they see one of my talks. I don’t expect everyone to leap out of their seats and change the world when they leave, but at the very least, I want people to have laughed and felt good. To have not been able to do that for one group leaves me in a state of self-examination where I realize that “I too have a little Detective Dick in me,” now it’s up to me to figure out how I can do better next time, and it’s all thanks to feedback.

“Rejection is just feedback designed to show you how to be better.”

What if YOU’RE the Douchebag? (And How to Stop)

“I don’t understand why people are being such douchebags to me today. It’s pissing me off!”

I work a couple of nights a week at a restaurant and last night, one of the servers came up to me with a scowl on his face with plenty to say about how he felt he was being treated by a table.

I get it; sometimes we have to deal with some downright miserable people who snap at us to get our attention, who use sarcasm when sarcasm isn’t necessary, or who are just downright rude. Truth: they all exist and we’re sharing the world with them, but guess what? You have no control over their douchiness, but you DO have control over yours.

“But I’m not a douchebag. I’m a good person!”

Do you think the people being douchebags refer to themselves as douchebags?

Of course not! They think they’re good people. In fact, maybe they think YOU’RE the one being the douchebag.

“But THEY’RE the one being the douche! Not me!”

I understand. I’ve been there too. But because our focus is so stuck on THEIR doucheliness, it makes it harder to realize the impact of our own behavior. Maybe they started it, but it’s our response that determines how the situation plays out.

I used to think other people were douchebags, but this made me angry, and I don’t like it when I’m angry. Instead of becoming hostile, I accept their douchism and respond with calm, understanding acceptance. Okay, so they were rude to you, but getting pissed off about it only adds more douchiness to the world. If you don’t want other people to get their douche on you, do your part and don’t spread YOUR douche around.We’ve all had bad days – at one point or another we’ve all been the douche – so realize that something happened to evoke this douche-tastic behavior when someone else is douching everywhere, and let the douche spew roll right off of you. What they need is an understanding smile and the realization that you’re on their side, not a reason to turn up the douche.

After all, we can only control how we respond, so think about it in this way:

The next time you think “What a friggin douche-turd! He shouldn’t be such a douche to me,” re-frame the thought to put yourself back in control of your response.

  1. I shouldn’t be such a douche to myself
  2. I shouldn’t be such a douche to him

Now think about the opposite of douchiness: kindness.

  1. I should show kindness to myself
  2. I should show kindness to him

The person may continue to have a douche-gasm, but remember, you can only control YOUR response and their behavior has no control over you unless you allow it to happen.

If someone else is having a bad day, don’t get in their way so you have a bad day too – maintain self-control, and have some understanding that we’re each doing the best with what we know. Unfortunately, all some people know is how to be a douchebag.

Don’t be that person.

Labels: The Real Enemy of Political Progress

 

I don’t see labels. I mean, I do because we were programmed to believe in labels, but (after pushing down my programmed beliefs), I’m able to take a step back, see a person, event, or thing and cut through the labels. Now, I view reality from a completely different plane where I can see it from so many different angles and it has, for the most part, freed me from the insidious absoluteness of labels. Labels like: good, bad, gay, straight, black, white, poor, rich, pessimistic, optimistic, boring, awesome, etc.; all work to confine our thinking within their parameters. Once you decide to label something and view it from a certain perspective, it becomes all too easy to miss anything that doesn’t fall within the parameters of said perspective.

Outside of the label lies opportunity after opportunity, but without perceiving something as “an opportunity,” there’s little chance of even noticing. Instead of saying something as absolute as “this” or “that,” what we should be learning is how to trash the labels and realize that things, people, and events just are. They exist, and that’s all we can know for sure. When you’re able to strip away the labels, it widens your perspective, and widening your perspective opens you up to so many new opportunities that were near impossible to see before. To look at an event labelled as “bad” (like war, climate change, or a break-up) as an opportunity actually activates our imagination and our brains begin to search for all of the potential opportunities lying beneath. If we keep seeing it as bad, our brains search for all of the reasons it’s bad, and our imaginations cherry-pick other aspects of the event that may not even be bad (or related to the event in the first place) and label them as bad too.

As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Basically, nothing means anything; things just are until we think about and classify them by using labels.

What about politics?

Modern politics is ALL about labels. From Republican or Democrat, pro or anti, to racial, socioeconomic, and religious labels, these labels confine, not only the policy makers, but anyone who identifies themselves, and others, within them. Labels are the primary reason why the political system hasn’t made significant progress in recent years: it has been confined, and now, must be freed.

Is the political landscape the best it will ever be? Not even close. There’s work to be done to improve upon what has already been accomplished over the last few millennia, yet today’s excessive labeling is holding back growth. In observing the behavior of politicians, political candidates, and the press over recent years, I have noticed an increase in labeling. They label other politicians, bills, political parties, etc., as and these labels create barriers to progress. These people are serving as our leaders and leaders lead by example, so, as a result, many people have been following this example and using labels to define their lives and their perceptions of others. Labeling is so, so destructive. My labeling of labeling as being destructive is destructive. Solving the labeling problem is tricky, but the first step is to identify that there’s a problem, and then work toward a solution. Over my next few blog posts, I’m going to refer back my experience as a political science major, combine it with the recent research I’ve done in human behavior and positive psychology to:

1.) Identify a label that’s confining the growth of politics

2.) Cut through the label and reveal the truth (that it means nothing)

3.) Predict what could happen if the label is replaced with an opportunity perspective.

Labels are something we have programmed into us from the day we’re born, so it might feel a little bit uncomfortable to imagine life without them. If someone tells you they got fired from their job because their boss is an ass, they probably expect you to respond with, “That sucks. He is an ass. I’m sorry.” They definitely don’t understand when you respond with, “That is,” or, “Is that really true?”

When I was a kid, I was told I was white, shy, happy, weird, Catholic, a Republican, middle class, straight, lazy, not athletic, nerdy, and many other things that I never challenged. When I realized I wasn’t born with any of these labels, that I just believed them and went through life applying them to myself, I picked the ones I wanted to keep and started to really come out of my shell. At first, it was uncomfortable and often difficult to shirk some of these, but since coming to the realization that I’m not my labels, I’ve found what I love to do, am pursuing a career doing it, and loving every minute of it! I realize that nothing will ever be “perfect” (another label) and my life won’t play out exactly how I have it planned, but every day is an opportunity to get better, no matter what happens. I have grown as a person beyond what I could have been if I stuck to what I was programmed to believe. Anyone can. I’m not white, shy, happy, weird, Catholic, a Republican, middle class, straight, lazy, not athletic, or nerdy; I’m David Horning and I am the way I am because I choose to be.

Over the next few weeks, let’s work together to break down the barriers that labels build in our lives and start growing into who we really are.

What kind of labels do you use to describe yourself? The people around you? The events that unfold in front of you?

Words, Words, Words

*This blog uses language that is NSFW… or does it?

Fuck.

Just 4 letters put together to make a sound, given a definition by some shadowy council, and given meaning by anyone who uses it or hears it being used.

verb
1. Have sexual intercourse with (someone).
2. Ruin or damage (something).
noun
noun: fuck; plural noun: fucks
1. An act of sexual intercourse. A sexual partner.
exclamation
exclamation: fuck
1. Used alone or as a noun the fuck or a verb in various phrases to express anger, annoyance, contempt, impatience, or surprise, or simply for emphasis.

(I’m not going to include the Urban Dictionary definitions because it muddles the meaning of the word even more.)

Who decides whether or not a word is vulgar? Who decides whether or not they are offended by someone’s words? Who’s to stop me from re-defining the word in my own life?

“I’ve been fucking all day.”
“Watch your mouth, David!”
“What!? I didn’t get much fuck last night, so I thought I’d take a nap!”

Words are arbitrary. The number of definitions given to this word, largely considered profane, prove it. If someone says something that we may be offended by, it’s because of the meaning we give what was said, and not what was actually said that determines our response. Words mean nothing, yet. for some reason, such a high value is placed on them. One person could listen to a racially charged, profanity- laced tirade, get offended and try to get other people to get offended, while another could hear the same tirade, think, “What an idiot,” and move on. When we dwell on something “offensive,” we give the culprit power over our emotions. It’s not the words that cause the emotion from the listener, it’s the listener’s thoughts about what is said. In eighth grade English class, I used the word “dingus” in a sentence and the teacher and I got two completely meanings out of the word. The word “dingus” is used to refer to something whose name the speaker cannot remember, is unsure of, or is humorously or euphemistically omitting. Even after showing her this definition, she was still furious because she assumed I was referring to a penis and I was given two detentions.

Art is the same way: one person may see a painting of a bowl of fruit while another may be moved to tears because of their family’s history of scurvy. Or they’re offended by pears. While watching The Departed with my parents, my mom would gasp every time someone said “fuck,” and, in turn, hated the movie because she missed out on the story to count “fucks.” What we draw from an external experience depends solely on the meaning we give it. No one actually likes to be hurt by words – negative emotions don’t feel good – but it’s the thoughts we think about what was said that impact our beliefs, which determine our attitude, which generates our feelings, which influence our actions, which directly define our reality. People who use hateful speech aren’t worth your time – giving them attention by criticizing their words just adds fuel to their intended hate. If words really hurt, take action by softening the blow. How? Swear with character and cuss with kindness. Since words and their definitions are man-made, change their meaning. Redefine fuck. For example:

-When someone says, “Fuck you,” define it as, “You embody the person I wish I was.”
-When you’re called an idiot, look at it as an opportunity to learn how to do something better.
-When someone calls you a “motherfucker,” assume they’re using “motherfucker” in place of the word “friend”, give them a wave and a smile, and go on with your day. Even if they mean to accuse you of fornicating with mothers, they’re not worth your time. Sticks and stones, right?

You can do it with your own words too! For example:

-Say, “Your dick is showing,” if you see someone’s tag peeking out from their shirt.
-When you see someone wearing a cool hat, say, “Nice hat, asshole,” then flash him a smile. You just said, “Nice hat, handsome.” Now that’s polite!
-When you see a couple with a newborn baby, tell the parents, “Oh, what a cunty baby girl!” Of course their newborn daughter is beautiful, and you complimented them using an adjective appropriate for the miracle of childbirth because that’s what “cunty” means to you.

No one likes being angry or feeling offended, but these feelings are a choice based on our programmed thoughts about something external that really has no value until we apply value to it. There’s more than one way to view a situation, so why not attach the meaning that makes you happiest?

Fuck you (have a great day)!