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

Feedback? More Like Needback

Do you want to get better at what you do?

Of course you do!

We’re all wired to want to be better, but sometimes it’s hard to see beyond our current situations.

“I’m good where I am.”

“I’m fine doing this the way I have been.”

“I’m so friggin good, I can’t get any better.”

Oh, honey…

Listen, we’re all biased. We don’t always mean to be, but it can be difficult to get a different perspective on ourselves when we spend 24/7 looking through our own eyes. To get better, however, that new perspective is necessary… Maybe a few new perspectives.

When I write a script, I never submit it without asking someone else for their opinion on how I can make it better. This is the first time that person is seeing this script I’ve read over and over for the last week, so chances are, they’re going to see it differently.

That’s the key benefit of asking for feedback.

A common misconception of receiving feedback is that you have to do what the other person suggests. If multiple people who aren’t in contact with each other have the same ideas, that’s definitely a sign you should do something, but if one person says, “Cut this line,” I always make sure to take a step back and ask myself:

“Is keeping this line making my script better?”

“Is it true to the character?”

“Does it advance the action or positively contribute to a joke?”

Whether I choose to keep the line or not, I was able to see the script through new eyes, explore new possibilities, and build my self-awareness, which are all necessary steps to create personal growth.

No matter what you’re working on and no matter what the person offering feedback says, he or she has provided you with a new vantage point and, from there, you can access a new level of self-awareness.* You now have new options and can decide whether to get other opinions, use the feedback, or ignore the feedback, but either way, be grateful to the other person for helping you glimpse a fresh perspective and contribute to your growth.

*Although if they call you an asshole and to never talk again, you may want to reconsider who you get your feedback from.

How We Can Learn from Our Evolution

Have you ever read a book, watched a TED Talk, or heard a quote that made you take a step back and ponder the meaning of your existence? Check out this excerpt from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari:

“The evolution of animals to get to where they are on the food chain took hundreds of millions of years constantly checking and balancing so that one species wasn’t dominant. Humans jumped from the middle to the top in such a short time, ecosystems didn’t get much of a chance to evolve along with them. Moreover, humans also failed to adjust. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savanna, we are full of fear and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes have resulted from this overhasty jump…”

If you’ve ever wondered why humans can be such dicks, it’s because we haven’t had time to mature yet! As a species, we’re still in the snapping bra straps, giving Indian rug burns, harassing people for being overweight phase of life while we’re at home worrying we’re not good enough, insecure about our own status as the cool kid. Still, that’s no excuse for the way we’ve been acting lately. We’re at the top of the food chain, and unless Earth is invaded by the Yautja species from the Predator movies, that’s never going to change… unless we decide to dethrone ourselves.

“Tolerance is not a trait of sapiens. In modern days, as simple a difference as skin color, dialect, and religion has been enough to prompt one group of sapiens to set about and destroy another group.”

Whoa.

We’re so worried about losing our spot as the coolest kid in class, we kill people who are different than us because they’re “threatening us.” It’s not politics, religion, or skin color that cause violent conflicts, these are surface issues. Deep down, it’s our evolutionary software telling us that everyone unlike us is trying to murder us.

The good news is that we reached the top of the food chain, not because we made weapons and killed all of the other predators, but because we developed a brain that allows us to learn from our mistakes and plan for the future, and we also learned to work as a team to overcome obstacles. Our physical adaptations worked against us so hard, that the only ways to adapt was using our brains to learn and plan and teamwork. Think about it:

· We have no fur to protect us from the cold

· We’re slower than most of our predators

· We can climb trees, but we’re not exactly great at it

· Our nails and teeth are barely butter-knife-sharp

· Our children aren’t self-sufficient until they’re basically teenagers, sometimes later

So how do we overcome our self-destructive behaviors?

Knowing that humanity is the greatest risk to humanity’s success is a great place to start. Whether it’s violence, greed, or a basic “I’m-better-than-you” mentality, these behaviors are a result of our hardwired insecurity. To overcome them, just like we overcame predators and unfriendly climates, we need to take full advantage of our evolutionary adaptations:

1. Learn from mistakes and plan for a better future

2. Work as a team to overcome obstacles

Though our insecurities lead to the differences dividing us, it’s these different perspectives, life experiences, and talents working in unison toward a common vision that will better our planet, better each other, and better our species as a whole.

IF WE CONTINUE ON THE “I’M RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG” PATH, HUMANS ARE GOING TO KEEP FEELING THREATENED, AND WHEN HUMANS FEEL THREATENED, WE KILL EVERYTHING.

That’s just stating a historical fact.

Let’s learn from our past, imagine a better future, and work together right now to start making that happen because there’s no reason to feel insecure; we’re the cool kids around here and we aren’t moving down the food chain anytime soon.

Why Does This Keep Happening?

When you turn on the news, how do you feel?

When you think about how a human being can do something so barbaric, how does that make you feel?

When you hop on your social media and read people’s comments, what feeling does that create?

When you hear stories about the kindness, generosity, and heroic sacrifices of others, what do you feel?

Which of those feelings do you want to feel more of?

Is this going to be a blog post with only questions?

Allow me to answer that with a question: with so many people offering the same right/wrong, black/white, conservative/liberal opinions, wouldn’t it be nice to hear something different?

How can we bring more feelings of inspiration, love, abundance, joy, compassion, and meaning into the world?

What if each of us set out on our days to spread these feelings to others? What if we refocus our perspective of work, success, and life itself onto making the ultimate goal the spreading of those feelings?

What if, every day, we focused on bettering ourselves rather than being better than others?

What if, no matter the ideologies, opinions, and actions of others, we still responded with compassion and love?

How would your personal relationships be different?

Would your professional relationships become more personal?

What if we spent more time educating our children on kindness, working together, and understanding those different than us?

What if we were to measure our success by the number of people we serve?

What if we smiled more at strangers?

What if we accepted the imperfections of our humanity and laughed more at ourselves?

What if we looked at our differences in thought, belief, and action as opportunities to understand more about each other?

Would this make it easier to work together?

How could our different perspectives be combined to make the world a better place?

How would the world be different if we focused on solutions instead of the severity of problems?

If, every day, most people felt love, joy, compassion, abundance, inspiration and meaning, do you think they would want to inflict harm unto others verbally, emotionally, or physically?

What does that world look like?

How does that make you feel?

How can you share this feeling with everyone around you?

Can darkness exist where there is light?

Can fear, anger, bigotry, and hatred exist where there is love, compassion, understanding, and joy?

Does pointing out the faults of others show them how to grow?

Is fighting anger, hatred, and fear with anger, hatred and fear creating less anger, hatred, and fear?

What feelings does every human being strive for?

This keeps happening because we keep responding the same way. This has nothing to do with politics, being right or wrong, or even guns; it’s much more basic than all of these things. This has everything to do with being a human being, and the most human feelings we can feel are love, joy, compassion, understanding, freedom, kindness, and a desire to grow.

So what can you do to create those feelings within yourself?

What can you do, starting now, to inspire those feelings within others?

Start now. Share with others.

Let’s change the narrative and make the world and the people in it better together.

 

Word of the Week: Inspire

Inspire: (Verb) To fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence. (source: dictionary.com)

“Inspire” is much more than just a word; it’s a call to action. Most of our days are filled with self-gratification: going to work to get paid, going to dinner with friends to have fun, going to the bar to get lit, etc. With each and every interaction with another person, we have an opportunity to inspire them, but we often miss it because we have become conditioned to find what they can do for us. It’s awfully hard to inspire someone when you’re trying to get something from them. Don’t think of the word “inspire” as creating some magical moment where fireworks explode in the sky and choirs of angels belt out Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. To inspire someone can be as simple as inspiring them to smile or feel good about themselves. You need not give away your savings or spend an exorbitant amount of time or energy to do it; all it takes is a conscious effort to make someone’s day better. When I approach a new person, no matter what, I put a smile on my face. Even if they’re in a contentious state of mind, it will catch them off guard. Last night, I was at Starbucks, getting my late-night caffeine fix, but no one was behind the counter. After waiting five minutes, a frazzled-looking barista appeared from around the corner, apologizing profusely for making me wait, as if I was about to scold her. I smiled and said, “Don’t apologize, I’m good. Besides, waiting is a state of mind.” She smiled and I could see the tension in her shoulders subside. We went on to have a pleasant conversation about how cascara wasn’t the person who sang Everytime We Touch. What she didn’t know is that I snuck around the display case and took three cake pops, but it’s my hope that the next time she has to wait in line for something, she’s inspired to have patience. (I’m kidding about the cake pops, by the way… I took four).*

Because it’s a verb, when we tell ourselves to “inspire others,” we picture ourselves actually doing something to inspire them. In order to inspire, action must be taken and there is no limit to the actions you can take to inspire someone. My life’s purpose is to inspire others to see the bigger picture and laugh, which is why every day I’m working on learning more about how we use our minds, creating a new character, writing a new performance bit, making a video, or performing in front of others. I’ve made inspiration the purpose of my career, and I wake up every morning, excited to inspire someone else to be better. This mindset has completely changed the way I perceive work, and turned a job into my mission.

How did you feel the last time you inspired someone? Made them smile? Strengthened their self-perception? Built their trust? Inspired them to learn and apply something new? Remember how great it felt – that warmth in your heart, the flood of happiness in your brain, and the feeling of connection with the other person. We’re a social species – it’s arguably the most important trait we have, which is why it feels so good when we’re able to shine a light on someone else’s day.

It’s fairly simple: people don’t remember what you say or do, they remember how you make them feel. Leave everyone you encounter better off than you did when ran into them. How can you inspire someone this week? When interacting with others, ask yourself, “Am I inspiring this person with my actions?” At the end of each day, write down at least one way you inspired a coworker, boss, customer, family member, friend, or stranger and keep looking for opportunities to do so. When we set out to inspire, we give our lives meaning by working toward something bigger than ourselves, we engage our minds, and most importantly, we inspire others to inspire others. Pretty inspiring, eh?

*Disclaimer: No cake pops were stolen in the writing of this blog.

Get It? Got It? Good. Now Give It.

It doesn’t seem like it’s been almost two months since my last blog post, but the internet never lies,* so it has to be true. Time has absolutely flown by and I can’t believe I’m sitting here sipping on an iced latte because it’s June; I can’t drink hot lattes in June because I don’t want to contribute to global warming.

What have you been up to?

Wow!

That sounds great!

Me? Oh, I’ve been doing some traveling, speaking, and I’m doing my best to ignore gorillas. I recently had a pretty funny tweet about sex and balloons too (follow me on Twitter @THEdavidhorning).

Oh yeah, and I’m working on my first book, Find the Funny, for which you’ll see plenty of shameless plugs on my social networks over the next couple of months. I’ve been doing a bunch of reading lately and couldn’t help but notice the unmistakable connections between psychology and many of the basics of creating sketch comedy. Another thing I have noticed is the fact that in utilizing these principles, I have gone from being a political science student who couldn’t stand politics, to the producer of a sketch comedy show in Times Square, to a professional motivational speaker.

Why am I writing a book now?

Because another thing I have noticed is that very few people out there are aware of the power of humor and how it can grow us, expand our perspective, and bring us joy. Not everyone can see me speak, but everyone can download or buy a book. I didn’t leave New York to become a motivational speaker in pursuit of financial abundance (although that’s a big reason why I went there), and that’s not why I’m writing this book. There is a need for humor and perspective in the world. When we turn on the news or read an article, the objective of the network or author is to impact our emotions and tell us how to think. Why do you think the media uses buzzwords like “Horrible tragedy” or “Gruesome”? They’re manipulating our feelings so we make comments condemning anyone who believes otherwise, and click on links to other stories that support our emotional attachment. Believe it or not, we can perceive events, no matter how “tragic” or “gruesome,” however we want. It is within these perceptions that our feelings are created and our actions follow suit. I was called away from a great opportunity with very funny, genuine people in New York City to share with others that OUR PERCEPTIONS ARE OUR CHOICE AND WHEN WE CHOOSE ONE THAT EVOKES POSITIVE EMOTION, WE’RE MORE LIKELY TO CREATE POSITIVE RESULTS.

Because we have been groomed in a society that values the pursuit of getting rewarded for our actions, we often forget that our jobs are all designed to serve others in some way. To work in order to get something is completely missing the point of why we work. While getting a job as a staff writer on a TV show, getting 1 million video views, or getting paid six figures would all be great achievements, these must serve as the means to an end and not the end itself. If we focus on how we can use these rewards as stepping stones to serve even more people, we will have an engagement and meaning in our lives that fill in so many gaps that exist as a result of the pursuit of reward as an end.

We are meant to serve.

True, I charge over $1,000 to speak for 90 minutes. True, my book is going to make me money, but the money itself isn’t the goal in either case. The financial reward is a tool to improve production value and hire help so that I may reach out to even more people and introduce them to a perspective that can change lives for the better like it has changed mine. Each of us has a gift to give in order to leave this world a better place than it was when we got here. If we’re focused on what we can get, it becomes a lot harder to focus on how we can use our gifts to serve. Not only that, but by giving, we inspire others to give and, before we know it, we will have left a legacy that lives on long after we’re gone. That is the real reward.

What are your gifts?

How can you use them to serve others in what you do?

When it comes to reward…

Get it: What are your goals? What actions can you take to keep moving forward?

Got it: Congratulations, you achieved a goal!

Good: Because you received reward from the completion of your goal, that means you were able to serve others well enough that you got something for it. Now it’s time to take another step and

Give it: How can you use the rewards you’ve received to serve even more people?

When you’re engaged and your life has meaning in the service of others, bouts of boredom will be few and far between. Not only that, but the external rewards will pale in comparison to the internal fulfillment you’ll live with knowing that your work is inspiring others.

Thanks for reading. Now, back to either my book or tweeting about sex balloons (Which is what I call condoms. Which is probably why I’m single).

*Correction: the internet lies sometimes