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

2017 Lesson 2: Expand Your Horizons

2017 was an incredibly rewarding year. Why? I decided to go outside of my comfort zone on several occasions, and man am I glad I did. The one thing I did that really stretched me was a cross-country road trip from Cleveland to Boise and back. Driving cross-country was something I’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to because:
· “I don’t have the money”
· “I don’t have the time”
· “Where would I stay?”
· “I don’t know anyone”
· “I don’t know if my car can make it”
One day in March, I decided to say, “Fuck those fears. I’m doing this.” I reached out to several human resources associations, chambers of commerce, young professionals groups, leadership conferences, and nonprofits about speaking at upcoming events, not sure whether or not they’d throw my email in the SPAM folder or actually listen to what I had to say. Thankfully, out of the nearly 100 emails I sent, I got a few responses, but none of them could afford to cover my full travel expenses. Sure, I was offered a few hundred dollars, but driving over 4,000 miles was going to cost quite a bit of coin. Gas, lodging, tolls, and food on top of my usual bills without really getting a paycheck over two weeks was going to set me back financially, and though I was hesitant, I decided I would figure it out.

Holy shit am I glad I did.

Instead of focusing on why I wouldn’t be able to afford the time on the road, I shifted my focus to what I could do to make it happen and how rewarding of a trip it would be. I ended up booking three speaking engagements (Twin Falls, ID, Emmett, ID, and St. Louis, MO), none of whom could cover my expenses, but dammit I was going to get this done. As far as lodging, I ended up meeting some cool people online via CouchSurfing, a social networking community of people sharing their couches in exchange for meeting new people and hearing their stories – something I really value. My 2010 Honda Accord, Rachaeloaoeoioe (Pronounced “Rachel.” All of the extra vowels are silent), was exchanged for a brand new 2016 Accord, Schoaoeoioeron (Pronounced “Sharon.” Again, all of the extra vowels are silent), at only a small increase in my monthly car payment – definitely manageable. Now that I had destinations, knew where I was going to stay, with people I knew (through the internet), in a car I trusted not to explode on me, it was time to go.

I won’t bore you with the moment-by-moment details of the trip, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I:
· Met new people and made new friends in Iowa City, Boulder, Twin Falls, Boise, St. Louis, and Indianapolis.
· Learned all kinds of new things from someone who travels to Jordan to teach English as a second language, an opera singer who would rather be the roots of the tree than the leaves (a valuable lesson), a psychology major who left the comfort of her 9-5 to open a hostel and meet travelers from around the world, a financial planner focused on expanding his network and providing support to entrepreneurs and “gamechangers” in Boise, a teacher with a new perspective on how to look at problem students, and a dude who really loves craft beer.
· Meditated miles away from other humans beneath a sky filled with stars in the deafening silence of the mountains of Idaho, and had a serendipitous shooting star experience confirming to myself spiritually that I was in the right place at the right time.
· Witnessed an event so funny and out-of-the-ordinary, it immediately inspired me to write a comedy sketch about it, did, and ended up shooting and releasing it last month: https://youtu.be/T9iJ-yMaIBs
· Gained an appreciation for how infinite life and the universe is and how insignificant our problems really are while driving through the sheer vastness of the mountains, plains, and desert of Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, and Kansas.
· Booked a fully paid presentation based off of my presentation in Twin Falls and ensured a second trip cross-country next May.

…All of this because I chose to expand my horizons. The next time I start feeling fear when it comes to doing something new and risky, I’ll always remember what I felt before taking this trip. Now, the fears seem so insignificant compared to what I gained from choosing to expand my horizons. Because I made that choice, I expanded myself as a person when it comes to confidence, spirituality, and emotional strength, in ways I couldn’t imagine beforehand.

What risks are you afraid of taking? Is there something you want to do this year that you’ve been hesitant about? Take it from me, it’s way more worth it to say, “Fuck those fears, I’m doing this,” and then focus on what you can do to make it happen instead of what’s stopping you from doing it.

2018 Prediction #2: There won’t be a Babe 3

Sorry, Babe fans, but it’s been 20 years since Babe: Pig in the City and the demand just isn’t there. Sure there are underground cults worshipping the first two films and hoping that one day a reboot will resurface, but that little pig just doesn’t have the drawing power of a Jurassic Park, Star Wars, or – oh, for fuck’s sake – ANOTHER TRANSFORMERS MOVIE!?
Anyway, I’d bet all of my bacon that Babe isn’t making the comeback we all hoped. Sorry to smoke your sausage.