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

What the Cavs Championship Taught Me About People

Sports!

Just mindless idiots trying to put a sphere into a circle while the other mindless idiots wearing a different colored shirt are all like, “I don’t want you to put that in there,” while thousands of mindless idiots watching are all screaming “We want you to put that in there!” Right?

Not so fast.

I grew up watching, playing, and getting emotionally invested in sports. I’ve always loved sports, but I’ve recently expanded my perspective of them and grown a bit more distant.

“What’s the point? It’s not like you have any control over what happens.”

Maybe not, but if this is your worldview on sports, you may want to take a step back and reconsider your perspective. It’s not the athletes, gameplans, deals, performance, or even the sport itself that’s so important; it’s the group mentality in pursuit of one thing: a championship.

When the Cavs won, thousands of people took to the streets of Cleveland in celebration, hugging, high fiving, chanting, and screaming with joy in the face of complete strangers without getting punched in the face. Being a witness to this completely shifted my perspective. We can learn something here that has a further reach than any sports championship could ever reach:

Togetherness.

When people have a common goal and believe in the achievement of that goal, they come together. In the case of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it took a combined effort from the team itself, the coaching staff, front office, trainers and equipment managers, and ownership to reach their collective goal. As for the fans, while only a few thousand could cheer their team on in the arena, the rest took to the internet, packed local bars, or sat around their TVs, sending their positive energy in hope of reaching this collective goal. When the goal was achieved, there was such a sense of joy, love, excitement, and positive energy, that people who would never associate with one another were high fiving and hugging in celebration. Then, a few days later, over one million people packed the streets of Cleveland to share their appreciation for the team.

Looking down on the celebration in the streets after the game from a rooftop bar, I couldn’t help but think: “What if this collective effort and togetherness were to be re-directed toward creating positive solutions to other problems? What if companies came together as one cohesive unit to solve financial issues, rather than just the board making cuts?” (Although a celebratory parade might be a bit extreme: “Come join us for the Hazen, Hazen, & Hazen-Hazen Law Firm Victory Parade for the New Break Room Soda Machine!”) A collective mindset is more likely to create a collective solution. Whether it’s in the workplace, with family or friends, or even with the government.

“What if this collective effort and togetherness were to be re-directed toward creating a better life for each of us?” Looking at the major issues facing the world with this upcoming election, what if we looked at issues like immigration, not as Democrats, Republicans, rich, poor, Christians, Muslims, Latinos, or even Americans; but as fans of living peacefully. That’s what we all want. It’s our NBA Championship; our collective goal.

If so many people from different walks of life can descend upon a city in pursuit of the common goal of a sports championship, what can we do to come together in pursuit of the common goal of a higher quality standard of living?

What if we looked, not at our differences, but at our similarities, and embraced those?

People would be high fiving, hugging, and sharing their joy with strangers. Sports has nothing to do with mindless idiots. Quite the contrary, in fact. It’s a microcosm of life and what happens when people come together in pursuit of a common goal.

 

Yeah, But What DO You Want?

“What kind of salad dressing does everyone want?” Asks James as the salad bowl makes its rounds around the table.

You and a group of your friends have gathered for a weekend dinner. A smorgasbord of food packs the middle of the large rectangular table, from brisket and mashed potatoes, to brussels sprouts and bottles of wine. The aroma of garlic, onion, herbs and spices fills your nose. Put simply, this dinner is about to be legit.

“Do you have Hidden Valley ranch?” Responds Melissa inquisitively.

“Yeah, would you like it?”

“Ew, no way!” Melissa shoots back with a disgusted look on her face.

“Okay, what would you like instead? I have balsamic, caesar, raspberry vinaigrette, or sesame ginger.”

“Not Hidden Valley ranch!”

“Yeah, I got that. But what other dressing do you want?” His arm tiring, he sets the bowl down on the table.

“How can you even have Hidden Valley ranch? I thought my friends were better than that.”

Not sure if Melissa is being serious, James smiles to test the waters. Melissa’s face remains firmly entrenched in a scowl.

“I… I mean, I don’t use it that often. Mostly for dinners like this when I have guests over.”

“Who in the world likes that stuff??”

Sara raises her hand from the other side of the table, “I like it.”

“Well you’re an idiot for liking it and you’re an idiot for even having it.” Melissa rises to her feet. “Do you know how many GMOs are in there?? You’re basically killing yourselves, and when you do, I’m not coming to your funerals!”

“This balsamic vinaigrette is homemade and organic. Take your pick.”

“You’re so naive – all of you! What if someone who works for Hidden Valley ranch infiltrated your house and contaminated your dressing? It happened with e.coli at Chipotle, and it’s going to happen again with you!”

With that, Melissa spikes her cloth napkin onto the table and storms out of the room leaving everyone dumbfounded.

“Could somebody pass the ranch?”

When someone asks you if you want to go bowling or to the zoo, you don’t rip on going bowling if you don’t like bowling. You simply say, “Let’s go to the zoo,” because you like more things about the zoo, and, out of the two choices, that’s the one you prefer. By making this choice, you just made progress. Good job!

Which brings us to this presidential election, which has been incredibly amusing because I’ve noticed the “Not Hidden Valley Ranch” mindset over and over. Understandably, we all have candidates that we don’t like, but if all we focus on is not wanting that candidate to be president, it takes the focus away from what we do want instead. At a recent Donald Trump rally in Wisconsin, protests formed outside of the venue, mostly of people hating on Donald Trump’s hateful message. If you hate Donald Trump because he’s a hater, all you’re doing is drawing focus onto the hate, generating more hate, and making the situation more hatey. Case in point: one of these protesters was pepper sprayed by a Trump supporter, and, unless you’re part of a really weird family, you don’t pepper spray people you like. At the same rally, a man went around offering free hugs with the message “Make America love again.” Although Trump’s supporters weren’t feeling very huggy, this is a much more powerful message than one that is anti-Trump.

Love is the opposite of hate, and if we don’t want hate, let’s stop focusing on being anti-hate, and focus more on being pro-love.

Homemade balsamic vinaigrette is the opposite of Hidden Valley Ranch, and if we don’t want Hidden Valley Ranch, let’s stop focusing on being anti-Hidden Valley Ranch, and focus on being more pro-homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

The more we focus on the negatives of the presidential candidates we don’t want, the less we focus on the positives of our own.

If you don’t like Trump, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Hillary, stop focusing on what you don’t like about her and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Cruz, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Bernie, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Kasich, stop focusing on what you don’t like about him and focus on what you do like about your candidate.

If you don’t like Hidden Valley ranch, stop focusing on what you don’t like about it and eat another salad dressing. If not, you’re just holding up dinner for everyone else.