Change your life in 5 minutes a day

I try to avoid sensational titles, and I don’t mean for this week to be an exception. “Change your life in 5 minutes a day” is based on my own experience. Sometimes, it only takes me three minutes.

Ancient wisdom

I’m referring to keeping a gratitude journal. Each morning, the first thing I do when I wake up is to reflect on what made yesterday a great day, and what three things would make today great. It’s so simple it verges on trivial, and yet so useful I never miss a day. I’ve been writing in it for over a year now. I even take it with me when I travel, just for those few minutes each day. 

Ever since the advent of positive psychology in the late 1990s - "the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels” - there has been a wealth of research on the benefits of varying gratitude practices. (You can find popular summaries here and here.) It’s not a new idea, though. Practicing gratitude falls into the category of “ancient wisdom,” and has long been advocated by a wide array of sources.

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." - Epictetus

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.” - Meister Eckhart

“When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food, and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies with yourself." - Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief

“A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts to itself great things.’ - Plato

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. - Marcus Tullius Cicero

In The Book of Joy, practicing gratitude is listed as one of “the 8 pillars of joy” by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. In The How of Happiness, it’s one of 12 practices advocated by Prof. Sonja Lyubomirsky.

My own results

By the time I saw an ad for The Five-Minute Journal, I was convinced and ready to start, though it wasn’t easy in the beginning. I would forget to write in it, or find myself saying the same things a few days in a row. Then I put the journal in a place where I knew I would see it when I woke up, and writing in it gradually became something I looked forward to doing. It became a habit.

Over time, I became aware of certain patterns. The things that appeared on the list most often were particular people in my life, and the time I could spend with them. Searching for new things to write, I became more aware of just how many precious basics - good health, food, and shelter to name a few - I had taken for granted. The act of listing what I was grateful for day after day helped to shift my perspective from overly-negative to something more balanced, and that made me happier.

Writing down my intentions - What will make today great? - had a somewhat different effect. It helped me to focus my attention on what mattered at different points throughout the day, and that helped me to make better, more mindful, choices. When I reflected on a prior day, I noticed how doing what I intended always provided a sense of fulfillment or completeness. Instead of being buffeted about by things out of my control, I found I could “live intentionally,” and it proved to be extremely satisfying. 

I’ve found this simple practice so helpful that I included it as one of the five self-care practices in WOL-SC.

Getting started

You don’t need The Five-Minute Journal in particular to practice gratitude. Some of my German friends use Das 6-Minuten Tagebuch. (Though I do wonder why they need an extra minute.) A blank book will do, or even placing notes in a jar. 

You might also try DayCatcher, a more visual and creative way to practice gratitude which I started using just last week. At the end of a day, you choose a photo that captures one special moment from that day, and add a short note or caption. Doing this has already attuned my attention to look for my “catch” each day. It helps me to savor the best moments and be thankful for them right before I go to sleep. At the end of the year I can use it to create a beautiful album of memories.

Your mother or grandmother probably told you to “count your blessings.” And now science has caught up with her, explaining why the advice she gave was so good.

But do you put that advice into practice? Why not start today?

A short blog vacation (with photos)

With August comes the arrival of more holiday photos, fewer emails, and a short break for this blog. The next post will be in mid-September. 

Even vacations can be a kind of contribution. In Week 5 of a WOL Circle, there’s an exercise to share one of fifty facts about you. For those who find this challenging, I suggest they send me their favorite holiday destination and I promise to reply with my own. I want them to see how even something seemingly mundane can be the basis for a connection with someone else. That has led to me learning about beautiful places, and to many wonderful exchanges. 

Some of you may know that I’ve been in Japan this summer. I've written about my love for Japan before, and that love keeps growing with each trip. Below are some of my new favorite places that I’ll be sharing. 

Aside from exploring, I’ve also been writing - creating the new WOL-SC guides, finalizing the WOL Circle Journal, and drafting additional material for the second edition of the book. So for me August also brings with it a mounting anticipation of things to come.

Wherever you are in the world, I wish you well. Enjoy.

Iriomote, Japan

Nuno, Japan

Nuno, Japan

Nuno, Japan

Naena Falls, Niigata, Japan

Togakushi Forest, Nagano, Japan

“Thank you for saying that"

It was such a simple exchange and yet it left an impression on me. I was sitting in a crowded food court, working on my laptop. It was lunchtime, and there was the usual din of people eating, laughing, shuffling chairs.. Amidst all the office workers, I noticed someone on the maintenance staff wiping down tables after people left, getting them ready for the next group.

When he cleaned the table next to me, I offered my appreciation for what he was doing. He nodded, smiled awkwardly, and kept wiping the table. A few seconds later, he walked by me, leaned in, eyes averted, and quietly said "Thank you for saying that."

I think it was the earnestness in his voice that struck me. It was as if my simple comment was something especially valuable to him, something rare.

 Hudson Eats: A local food hall & my sometimes office 

Hudson Eats: A local food hall & my sometimes office 

A simple test (and the worst blog title ever)

Almost two years ago, I wrote a blog post with the odd title of “The Corporate Bathroom Test.” I wanted to describe how exchanges like the one I had in the food court could be part of your Working Out Loud practice, helping you “gradually build a capability and a mindset of deepening relationships through generosity.”

“Some of the most powerful gifts you have to offer - contributions that are universally valued - are recognition and appreciation. The point of this post is that even mundane interactions are opportunities to practice offering these gifts…Each time you do it you gain subtle insights into your motivations and reactions.
Today, as you meet someone you might normally pass by, say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ Be mindful of how that makes you feel. Watch how it makes the other person feel.”

Sparks of joy

Since I wrote that, I've continued practicing offering appreciation to people throughout the day. I’m careful to do it without expectations of a reply, and I try to be mindful that they’re busy and may not be in the mood to talk. (After all, I’ve taken The Generosity Test too.) Usually, it's people I notice working - restaurant workers, landscapers, crossing guards. It's a way of saying “I see you and I appreciate what you're doing.”

A woman serving food at a corporate event whispered, “You are very kind” simply because I thanked her and offered to help her move a table. When I asked a flight attendant how she was doing, she was genuinely surprised at the question. “Thank you for asking,” she said. “That’s very nice of you.” A taxi driver and I had a long talk about his home country of the Dominican Republic, and we shook hands after the ride.

The truth is I’m not especially kind or generous. I just practice paying attention to people around me, putting myself in their shoes for a moment, and offering sincere appreciation. Many people are hungry for such a gift, and in return I get sparks of human connection - even joy - throughout my day. “The Corporate Bathroom Test” is now an additional exercise in Week 2 of the WOL Circle Guides. I hope you’ll try it.

“The more you practice, the more comfortable you become offering small gifts in a variety of circumstances till, over time, it becomes a habit that makes you happier and more effective.”

 

That time we all sang “Ode to Joy” in German

It began like any other annual offsite meeting. Three hundred of us from our division - “the top management” we called ourselves - gathered to experience lush accommodations, good food and wine, and lots of presentations. The mood, as was typical for these conferences, was a strange cocktail of cynicism and feigned enthusiasm.

Then they announced the guest speaker: Ben Zander, conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and author of The Art of Possibility. I had just finished the book and it helped me see that the lenses I used to view the world could change everything. (It’s still one of my favorite books of all time.) I wondered what he would say.

“Shining eyes”

He played the piano as he told us stories, connecting his experiences as a conductor with leadership lessons in a beautiful way. 

"Now, I had an amazing experience. I was 45 years old, I'd been conducting for 20 years, and I suddenly had a realization. The conductor of an orchestra doesn't make a sound. My picture appears on the front of the CD —
(Laughter)
But the conductor doesn't make a sound. He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful. And that changed everything for me. It was totally life-changing. People in my orchestra said,"Ben, what happened?" That's what happened. I realized my job was to awaken possibility in other people. And of course, I wanted to know whether I was doing that. How do you find out? You look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you're doing it. 
Right. So if the eyes are shining, you know you're doing it. If the eyes are not shining, you get to ask a question. And this is the question: who am I being that my players' eyes are not shining? We can do that with our children, too. Who am I being, that my children's eyes are not shining? That's a totally different world.”

The room was quiet. You could almost feel each of us “top managers” reflecting on whether people in our organizations had shining eyes, and whether we were the kind of leaders who could make that happen.

“Ode to Joy”

Then, as a means of having us experience something we wouldn’t think possible, he said he was going to have all 300 of us sing “Ode to Joy” in German. Nervous laughter rippled throughout the room as he handed out the lyrics, written phonetically so we could all pronounce them. We shot embarrassed glances at each other like school children trying to avoid the teacher’s gaze.

He began conducting us, and a few people mumbled the first words. He immediately stopped us and had us try again, and again, exhorting each of us to reach deeper. Soon, infected by his energy and enthusiasm, we gradually shed our egos and fears and self-imposed limits. We let go - and we sang.

“FROY-NER SHER-NER GETTER-FOON-KEN”

We were…doing it! We looked at each other with amazement. We drew confidence from each other and sang louder. Whether or not we knew German, whether or not we were good singers, we were SINGING! 

At that moment an energy passed through us, a resonance of some kind. We were, perhaps for the first time as a management team, literally “in synch” and “on the same wavelength.” The cynicism melted away and the enthusiasm became genuine. We had tapped into the art of possibility - a sense of capability and wonder and joy. It was beautiful.

When the music stops

Throughout the rest of our conference, we talked about that moment. Then the meeting ended. We went back to our offices and our habits, and the feelings of common purpose and possibility faded. I was disappointed, but that image stayed with me, as did something Ben Zander said at the end of his talk.

“Now, we're all about to end this magical, on-the-mountain week, we're going back into the world. And I say, it's appropriate for us to ask the question, who are we being as we go back out into the world? And you know, I have a definition of success. For me, it's very simple. It's not about wealth and fame and power. It's about how many shining eyes I have around me."

Who are you being? How many shining eyes are around you? It’s taken me a decade to understand that you don’t change your answers to these questions in one magical moment, but with practice over months and years and for the rest of your life. .

That time we all sang “Ode to Joy” in German? It was more than a a nice way to inspire an audience. It was a glimpse of the way things could be. 

 Photo credit: Alexander Kluge

Photo credit: Alexander Kluge

A fire on the 23rd floor

I miss having a fireplace. Stacking the logs just right and inhaling the earthy smoke of the burning wood. Staring at the dance of orange, yellow, and blue as you bask in the flame’s warmth. Listening for the crackles and pops of the overheated sap.

But I live on the 23rd floor of a modern apartment building, and we don’t have a fireplace. So early one cold Fall morning, well before the sun was up, I had an idea:

I would project a video of a fireplace onto the wall.

I remember being pleased with myself immediately. Though I wouldn't have the warmth of the fire, I could enjoy the color and the sounds. Even better, there wouldn’t be any mess or smoke, and the projector could make the flames 9 feet high.

In the dark living room, I found a video of a Yule Log burning, and quietly set everything up. I sat down and luxuriated in the colors and sounds of a huge fire, still smugly reflecting on my own creativity and cleverness.

Until I heard the sirens.

My eyes widened. “No,” I thought. "Couldn't be." I went to the window and watched two fire engines turn off the West Side Highway, race onto our street, and stop short at our building. I quickly turned off the projector, and the room went dark.

Then the phone rang. “Mr. Stepper,” he said, “is there a problem in your apartment?” I hurriedly explained that I had been watching a video and that everything was fine. I sat down, embarrassed at having caused such a fuss so early in the morning, but glad the doorman was able to handle it.

The came the banging at the door. It wasn’t a knock, but more like a battering ram, the kind of sound you hear before the door explodes into the room in splinters. Still in my pajamas, I raced to open it and found myself facing a fireman in full firefighting gear, complete with a large ax.

“Hello,” I whispered, mindful that everyone was still sleeping. “Everything’s fine.”

“We got a call there was a fire,” he said in a loud, booming voice. “No, no,” I continued whispering. “I was just watching a video and someone from another building must have seen it and thought there was a fire. I’m so sorry.”

He looked at me with what I can only describe as a cocktail of disappointment, relief, and disgust. There were no people to save, and no danger to him or his crew. Just some idiot watching a fireplace video in his pajamas.

“A Yule Log video?” he asked, guessing correctly. He slumped away, equipment swinging and jangling. He didn’t even wait for my response.

Later that week, my son asked to watch a dinosaur movie on the projector. My wife looked at me, looked at the window, and looked back at me. She didn’t need to say a word.

We pulled down the shades.

Fire on the 23rd floor
Fire on the 23rd floor

The stories all around you

I must have walked by this gated section of the park over a thousand times. It’s at the bottom of Manhattan, right near Castle Clinton. You can see the World Trade Center from there, and the Hudson River. You’ll pass tourists lining up to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, and street vendors and performance artists vying for their attention.

The entrance to the park is marked only by an open gate and a worn path. This time, I walked inside.

battery-urban-farm

Once you cross the threshold, it immediately feels different. Quieter, if that’s even possible. Cloistered might be a better word.

I was alone. The first thing I noticed was a small vegetable garden, with eggplants and peppers and basil all lined up in neat rows. I later learned it's for school children to learn about food and farming.

A few more steps brought me into a sparse, open space. Amid craggy trees, there was what seemed to be a maze outlined by stones in the ground, filled with clover in between. There were a few empty wooden benches. Near one of them was a marker, badly weathered and barely legible, commemorating a gift from the Mayor of Jerusalem to the Mayor of New York City in the 1970s.

I walked around the edge of the maze, and something on the ground caught my eye. A small engraved stone. It looked as if it had just been placed there, at the base of a small tree that also looked freshly planted.

My heart sank as I read what was there. A story told in five words, a birthdate, and two tiny footprints. “139 magical days we shared.” I felt a sense of the parents’ love, joy, and anguish. The weight of their loss, and of a lifetime of remembering.

139-magical-days-we-shared

I wanted to know more. Why was it here? Who were these people? What happened to the child? I felt like I was intruding on someone else’s very personal tragedy, but I took a photograph anyway. I wanted to remember.

I walked slowly past the small farm and out of the park. Back among the tourists and the hum of the city, I wondered how many other stories I had passed by that day, waiting for the moment when I would be open to seeing them.

Discovering “Pathways to Possibility”

Have you ever read a book that you loved so much you read it several times? A book that made such a positive impact you bought copies for friends and recommended it many times?

For me, The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Ben Zander is such a book. I included it in a list of suggested reading in my own book, and wrote how it “freed me to be more joyful and more open to the wonders in other people”

When I learned Rosamund Stone Zander had just written Pathways to Possibility, I couldn’t wait to read it. I also couldn’t help but wonder, “How could she top that?”

Pathways to Possibility

Soulful

This post isn’t meant as a book review or analysis. I’m moved to write it because, as with The Art of Possibility, I want to share the book, to have other people experience what I experienced having read it.

It’s not a sequel or more of the same, but rather it stands on its own. She weaves together threads of psychoanalysis, Buddhism, mysticism, and even organizational consulting into a beautiful, soulful book. Reading it, I realized the promise of the subtitle: “Transforming our relationship with ourselves, each other, and the world.”

Three levels

A simple summary isn’t appropriate. The book is too rich and the stories are too well-crafted. I can only recommend you read the book yourself, slowly and with an open mind. I’m looking forward to giving copies to friends.

But I can highlight a few things that made me think differently. The three levels in the subtitle form the basic outline of the book, and each section gave me a different “pathway to possibility.”

Our relationship with ourselves

The first section, full of personal accounts and those of clients, helped me frame some of my behavior as a set of recurring stories I tell myself, and offered me tools to rewrite them.

“I ask you to take your critical mind off-line for a moment and accept the following claim…you are living in a story made up by a child. I ask you to imagine that stories made up by the children in us, or handed down to us by the children in others, have quite different qualities and are based on fundamentally different assumptions from stories created by our integrated adult selves…”

The ‘adult’ is aware that appearances are not fixed, but subject to the story she is telling. When things go wrong for her, the place she turns to look is not out there, but inside herself, to the assumptions that are governing the way reality appears to her. She accepts that the source of change and transformation is in her narrative, not in the world at large.”

The way she writes about self-compassion reminds me of Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chödrön. It makes change seems less like an indictment and more like a gentle invitation, and I started to be more curious about why I do what I do.

Relating to each other

The section on relating to others made me think of my own work with organizations.

“When speaking of an organization: is it the type that is characterized by a culture where people are afraid to express themselves and engage in hidden and polarizing liaisons; or is it the kind that promotes generous, responsible, flexible, and authentic adult points of view?”

So many of her stories of change start with a single person, people who began to see things differently for themselves and so were able to attract others to do the same.“Keep in mind that creating freedom around your own patterns is key to others’ liberation from theirs.” You don't change organizations, you help individuals change and that attracts others to do the same.

You and the world around you

The final section of the book talks about our interconnectedness, and how what we think and do affects others which in turns affects us. It brings together the many ideas in the book in a way that’s hopeful and also actionable.

“Stories truly are fields. They deal in probabilities or odds; they don’t operate in the certainty of cause and effect. They accomplish what they do by energetic interactions across space and time…The story we call possibility, in particular, creates a radiant, loving field of energy that facilitates an alignment between people and their circumstances.”

With this in mind, I decided to try one of the “open-ended games” she described towards the end of the book. You pick a quality and commit to making decisions in line with that quality over one to three days. I wrote about my “Three days of lightness.”

I’m still struck by how simply picking a word affected my thinking and behavior, which in turn changed how my children behaved, which led to new interactions and possibilities with people around us.

Like all good books on change, there is no judgment or failure, only openness and learning. Reading the book, you may well have a different experience than me, and that would be fine. I hope you enjoy it. As she writes in the final section:

“May you travel far, if only deep into your own backyard.”

The Köln Concert

I have listened to the recording hundreds of times. It was the music that kept me calm and focused as I wrote a book. While I knew “The Köln Concert” was the best-selling piano album of all time, I only recently heard the fascinating story of what happened the day of the concert. How it almost never happened, and how a critical mistake shaped the music.

When I was in Köln last weekend, I made a trip just to see where it all took place.

Keith Jarrett playing the Köln Concert

Arriving at the Opera House

It was a Friday in late January, 1975. The concert was scheduled to start at 11:30pm, after an opera. Despite the late hour and that it would be the first-ever jazz concert at the Opera House, the concert was sold out, and 1400 tickets had been sold. Jarrett was 29 years old.

He arrived at the opera house late in the afternoon after a long drive. Suffering from back problems, he had to wear a brace. He was led into the auditorium by the concert promoter, Vera Brandes, who was just 17 years old. She had specified “a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand piano” to be used for the performance. However, the opera house staff mistakenly selected a much smaller Bösendorfer piano that was backstage.

“The piano they had was intended for rehearsals only and was in poor condition and required several hours of tuning and adjusting to make it playable. The instrument was tinny and thin in the upper registers and weak in the bass register, and the pedals did not work properly.”

A young woman’s plea

Tim Harford, in his TED talk, describes Jarrett’s reaction:

“Jarrett looked to the instrument a little warily, played a few notes, walked around it, played a few more notes, muttered something to his producer. Then the producer came over to Vera and said ... ‘If you don't get a new piano, Keith can't play.’"

Keith went outside and sat in his car, while Brandes scrambled to find a solution. But there wasn’t enough time to get another piano delivered to the hall. The concert was just hours away.

“So she went outside and she stood there in the rain, talking to Keith Jarrett, begging him not to cancel the concert. And he looked out of his car at this bedraggled, rain-drenched German teenager, took pity on her, and said, ‘Never forget ... only for you.’”

Playing with constraints

Because the piano was small and because certain registers didn’t have the right sound, Jarrett played differently.

“Avoiding those upper registers, he was sticking to the middle tones of the keyboard, which gave the piece a soothing, ambient quality. But also, because the piano was so quiet, he had to set up these rumbling, repetitive riffs in the bass. And he stood up twisting, pounding down on the keys, desperately trying to create enough volume to reach the people in the back row.

It's an electrifying performance. It somehow has this peaceful quality, and at the same time it's full of energy, it's dynamic. And the audience loved it.”

I still listen to the Köln Concert when I write, but it has a different effect on me since I heard this story. I see the creative act less as striving for perfection - as if you could even define that - than as making the most of what you have, using it in novel ways. When life hands you a bad piano, you can choose to walk away, or you can try to make art.

What Hamilton, an immigrant, thought of immigration

For a person as ignorant of American history as I am, reading the biography of Alexander Hamilton is like reading a thriller. I turn the page in rapt attention, unsure of what might happen next.

I was shocked, for example, when I read about the Founding Fathers' vicious personal attacks in the press; the passing of outrageous infringements on free speech (“the Sedition Act”); the jockeying for power and influence in the government from the very beginning, when whole departments might consist of only one man and his desk.

One of the most surprising things was Hamilton’s view on immigration, and how that view changed over time.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

In favor of immigration…

Alexander Hamilton was one of America’s most famous immigrants. He was born in Nevis, in the British West Indies, in 1755. Looking back, America was unimaginably small.

In 1790, there were only 32,000 people living in Manhattan. Today it’s about 500 times that. Two centuries later, over 50,000 people worked in the World Trade Center towers alone, with another 200,000 passing through as visitors. From 1790 to 1890, America’s population soared from 4 million to 63 millionClearly, America was and is a land of immigrants.

So it's no surprise that Hamilton, both as an immigrant himself and someone who foresaw the growth of America, fought for immigration. For example, in 1776, at the Constitutional Convention, there was a debate on limiting membership to Congress to native-born Americans. Hamilton opposed it - “The advantage of encouraging foreigners is obvious…” - and a residency requirement was put in place as a compromise.

In 1790, Hamilton foresaw the need to shift from agriculture to manufacturing, and how Britain in particular had experts and expertise that the US did not. It was clear to him that the best way to achieve industrial parity with England was “to procure from Europe skillful workmen,” and as Treasury secretary he successfully commissioned plans to do so.

…until he wasn’t

Yet as America grew, and as Hamilton's circumstances changed, his views on immigration shifted. And he wasn’t alone.

In 1798, as Hamilton’s Federalist felt it was losing power, the debates shifted to trying to preserve the current order. Once congressman declared America should no longer “wish to invite hordes of wild Irishmen, nor the turbulent and disorderly parts of the world, to come here with a view to disturb our tranquility.”

Hamilton went even further, and his biographer points out the striking irony.

“‘My opinion is that the mass [of aliens] ought to be obliged to leave the country’ - a disappointing stance from America’s most famous foreign-born citizen and once an influential voice for immigration…

He predicted that “the influx of foreigners” would “change and corrupt the national spirit.” Most amazing of all, this native West Indian published a diatribe against the Swiss-born treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin. “Who rules the councils of our own ill-fated, unhappy country? A foreigner!” Throughout his career, Hamilton had been an unusually tolerant man with enlightened views on slavery, native Americans, and Jews. His whole vision of American manufacturing had been predicated on immigration. Now, embittered by his personal setbacks, he sometimes betrayed his own best nature."

It’s that last sentence that has stayed with me. Hamilton never forgot that he was an immigrant. (He was repeatedly reminded of the fact in scathing articles in the press.) He saw the value and necessity of bringing in people from other places to help America develop and grow. Yet, “embittered by his personal setbacks, he sometimes betrayed his own best nature.”

Knowing a bit of history makes me view current events with a different lens than I might have otherwise.

Even a famous 93 year old man still talks about this

I grew up watching his TV shows, but I knew little about him until this week when an interview appeared on ted.com.

"All in the Family,” "Sanford and Son," "Maude," "Good Times," "The Jeffersons," "One Day at a Time.” Everyone I knew watched them. Forty years later, I still remember the opening song for “All in the Family”.

Norman Lear’s shows shaped American culture, “giving the underrepresented members of society their first prime-time voice.” I knew they were successful but didn’t realize he had seven shows in the top ten at one time. Combined, 120 million people were watching his content each week.

I didn’t know he produced and financed movies, including ”Fried Green Tomatoes," "The Princess Bride," "Stand By Me," and "This Is Spinal Tap."

I didn’t know he founded a political activist group called People for the American Way, or bought an original copy of the Declaration of Independence for $8 million so he could show it at schools and museums around the country during a three-year tour.

He was also married three times, and has six children. Such a life. So many chapters.

And yet in the interview, the stories he told most vividly were about his parents, and his lack of connection with them.

He recounts calling his mother to tell her he had been inducted into the newly-created Television Hall of Fame, alongside such names as Lucille Ball, Edward R. Murrow, and Milton Berle.

“I tell her the list of names and me, and she says, ‘Listen, if that's what they want to do, who am I to say?’ That's my Ma. I think it earns that kind of a laugh because everybody has a piece of that mother.”

At 9 years old, his father was arrested for selling fake bonds, and his mother sells the furniture, preparing to move to flee from the shame.

“And in the middle of all of that, some strange horse's ass put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Well, you're the man of the house now.’ I'm crying, and this asshole says, ‘You're the man of the house now.…And men of the house don't cry." And I look back, and I think that's when I learned the foolishness of the human condition, and it's been that gift that I've used.”

Then he tells a charming story about his grandfather, and how he used to write to the President of the United States, and take him to parades. It seems like a lovely memory. Until he says that he has told the story of his grandfather dozens of times and “This will be the second time I have said the whole story was a lie.” A few of the details were true, but

“all the rest of it, is a story I borrowed from a good friend whose grandfather was that grandfather who wrote those letters. And, I mean, I stole Arthur Marshall's grandfather and made him my own. Always.

When I started to write the memoir and I started to think about it, and then I -- I -- I did a reasonable amount of crying, and I realized how much I needed the father. So much so that I appropriated Arthur Marshall's grandfather…I needed the father.”

Relationships with our parents, our siblings, our friends, our mentors. So often it’s the relationships that we remember, that shape us, that frame how we deal with events.

Although I make my living now helping people build relationships, I’m just beginning to see how important, how fundamental, our relationships are to being happy.

By Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0