The Cliched Meaning of Life.

Here it is in text format:

Have you ever seen a performance so inspirational, gone through a breakup so challenging, or had a milkshake that was so delicious . . . you started to contemplate the meaning of life? The essence of our existence? The significance of our sentience?

I don’t know; it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately—the meaning of life. But the more you read, the more confusing it all seems. Maybe the meaning of life is money . . .

As they say money makes the world go ’round . . .
Yet they also say the best things in life are free.
So do you live free or die hard?
Cuz to make ends meet
You have to start rollin’ in the dough.

But doe, a deer, a female deer . . .
Is nothing when the buck stops right here.
And I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger,
But mo money mo problems,
So you better check yourself before you wreck yourself,
Because money can’t buy happiness.

But don’t worry, be happy,
And live happily ever after
In a land far far away
Where there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
And to pass with flying colors,
Don’t color outside the lines
But think outside the box.

I don’t want to go off on a tangent
But things don’t add up
If it’s the thought that counts
And it’s better to give than to receive
Then sharing is caring.

But Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care,
Because crack is whack
And it’s hugs not drugs,
So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

But do you just say no
Or do you just do it?
If impossible is nothing,
Then a mission impossible
Ain’t nothing but a g thang, baby.
So stop, collaborate, and listen.

Because maybe the meaning of life isn’t money; maybe the meaning of life is knowledge.

Because knowledge is power
And with great power comes great responsibility,
So don’t just drink responsibly, but think responsibly,
Because I know what you did last summer.

And knowing is half the battle.
But is it a battle of the wits
Or a battle to the death?
Is the pen mightier than the sword,
Or is it a sword in the stone,
That can break my bones, when words will never hurt me.

Because I’m rubber and you’re glue, so whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you
So speak now or forever hold your peace.
And don’t judge a book by its cover,
Because beauty is only skin deep.
And if looks can kill
And I wear my heart on my sleeve,
Then I’m armed and dangerous.

And home is where the heart is
And there’s no place like home,
Sweet home, Alabama.
But that’s just my state of mind
In this state of denial
Of the status quo.

I say carpe diem
If it’s quid pro quo
Get yourself tit for tat,
And break me off a piece of that.

So eat great, even late
Because if you’re hungry, why wait?
Except patience is a virtue,
So don’t stop believin’ but
Stop, in the name of love.

Because maybe the meaning life isn’t money or knowledge; maybe the meaning of life is love.

What’s love got to do with it? (Got to do with it?)
Well, love conquers all,
And even if you’ve lost that loving’ feeling,
Know that it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.

Because there are plenty of fish in the sea,
And when Love is in the air
You’ll be walking on cloud nine.
But when it rains it pours,
And if you’re under the weather
And can’t see through the fog
We may not see eye-to-eye.

If love is blind
And hindsight is 20/20,
Then is love at first sight
Really meant to be?

Or not to be? That’s the question.
And if you’ve got question, we’ve got answers,
If you can do it, we can help,
Because when you’re here, you’re family,
And family matters
As you step by step
Through the wonder years.

Because what goes up, must come down,
What goes around, comes around.
There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.
To live and learn
You have to crash and burn,
And the only failure is quitting.

So what are you waiting for?
To have the time of your life.
You have to find the time
To live a life worth living
So stop, hammertime.

Maybe the meaning of life isn’t money, knowledge, or love. Maybe the meaning of life is to find meaning in life. Or maybe it’s milkshakes; I don’t know.

TEDxEast. by Keith Bendis

I attended the 2012 TEDxEast event last week and I was blown away–the variety and quality of the speakers was incredible. Here are my notes from the awesome event. You can also check out some pictures on the Humor That Works Facebook Page.


The Other Side of Separation (Keith Yamashita)

Keith Yamashita, a business innovator and consultant, talked about surviving separation after a loss and what it means for how we live now.

  • On the other side of separation is connection.
  • Life is what we choose. Fear or love.

Titan: A World of Both Strange and Familiar (Oded Ahronson)

Planetary Scientist Oded Ahronson shared the story of the Cassini mission to Titan.

  • Titan–a moon around Saturn.
  • Create a test to find out if there is water underneath Titan’s ice surface by reapplying spinning egg test of soft or hard boiled egg.
  • Life in the Universe? The Drake Equation

The Golden Ratio (Matthew Cross)

Business Consultant Matthew Cross introduced the idea of the Golden Ratio.

  • Also known as Phi and the Divine Proportion.
  • The ratio: ~1.618:1.
  • Camera Awesome App — uses golden ratio to frame picture.

Unlikely Targets of Modern Day Vaccines (Dr. Kim Janda)

Dr. Kim Janda presented his work on using vaccinations for more than the “typical” diseases.

  • First lab vaccine came from Pasteur, came about by chance because of an extended vacation.
  • Addiction isn’t a moral failure of the individual but a brain problem.
  • Trying to find vaccines for drug addiction. The vaccine works by blunting the rewarding effect (no pleasure from using the drug)

The Muslims are Coming! (Dean Obeidallah)

Comedian Dean Obeidallah gave a stand-up performance and discussed his work using stand up comedy to counter Islamaphobia.

Resolving the Health Care Crisis (T. Colin Campbell)

Dr. T Colin Campbell discussed his take on how the health care system in the US could be improved.

  • Whats missing from our health care? Nutrition.
  • 80-10-10 diet is the best diet in his view (80% carbs, 10% fat, 10% protein).

Gillian Grassie. By Keith Bendis

Musical Performance (Gillian Grassie)

Gillian Grassie, a singer / songwriter / harpist, gave the background of the inspiration for one of her songs and then performed it.

You Are Not an Ape (Jon Marks)

Dr. Jon Marks discussed evolution and racism.

  • Decades ago we distinguished between what we are and what we were.
  • You are not your ancestry, nor are your DNA. Your genetics are simply who you were, not who you are.


The Creation: Plus 40 (Carmen deLavallade)

Dancer Carmen deLavallade performed a piece titled The Creation: Plus 40.

Between Art, Architecture, and Monument (Maya Lin)

Maya Lin, an artist and architect, talked about her creative process and her current projects fusing art and architecture. See more of Maya’s work on Artsy.

  • There is tension between the straight and the curve.
  • Her work is a tripod of all three, can’t have one without the other.
  • Memorials are between art and architecture
  • “I do research for months, years, then put it away and try to create.”

The Gap (Julian Crouch)

Keith Yamashita interviewed Designer / Director Julian Crouch about his work.

  • Success is tricky because people want you to repeat THAT success (the same thing you already did).
  • Failure can be an amazing cleansing.
  • Be yourself more. Do the thing you loved when you were 8.

Nix, Nada, Nameless (Peter Wegner)

Artist Peter Wegner talked about his work and projects.

  • Zero, Nameless, Speck are all real towns in the US.
  • What makes the buildings possible is the “city in the sky” (buildings made of sky in the space between 2 buildings on the street.)
  • Making the invisible visible.

How to Pass, Kick, Film and Run (Charles Atlas)

Charles Atlas, filmmaker and video artist, shared how he captures dance on film.

A Public Place (Oskar Eustis)

Oskar Eustis, an artistic director, talked about his work on Angels in America.

  • Change can feel like death.
  • You have to give time and space for creativity (like blocking downfield for a running back).
  • Art and creativity is not a commodity. One way to keep something from being a commodity is by making it free.

Meet Wendy (Matthias Hollwich)

Architect Matthias Hollwich shared the process of how he created his most recent project.

  • Creativity is about an exhaustion of ideas… and then one idea after that.
  • After generating a list ideas that didn’t work, went back through them and selected what they like about each idea. Molded them together into something new.

The Song Makes a Space (Michael Friedman)

Michael Friedman, composer and lyricist, talked about his creative process and shared a song from his upcoming musical.

  • Fortress of Solitude, the telling of a story told through pop songs.
  • Which comes first, the music or the lyrics? Both. Neither. Depends.
  • Why is this person singing? (Its not good enough to say, “because its a musical.”)
  • Make it simple, not simplistic.


Excerpts from Beauty (Jane Comfort)

Jane Comfort and Company, a dance company, performed excerpts from an upcoming performance.

Estranged Labour (Samantha Sleeper)

Fashion Designer Samantha Sleeper shared insights from her clothing line and explained why she uses local labor.

Musical Performance (PS22 Chorus)

The boys and girls choir from PS22 sang a collection of songs.

PS22 Chorus

Biology of the Mind: Who We Love (Helen Fisher)

Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, talked about the biology of love.

  • 2 aspects of personality: nurture and nature; estimate 40-60% decided by nature.
  • 4 groups of personalities: explorers, builders, directors, negotiatiors.
    • Explorers: Dopamine/Norepherine, sensation seeking, live in big cities
    • Builders: Serotonin, conventional, numeric creativity, “more close friends”,
    • Director: Testosterone, analytic, rule based, direct. Use “Real”
    • Negotiators: Estrogen/Oxytocin, big picture, empathetic, indecisive, unforgiving
  • Love: Explorers and Builders want people like themselves. Directors and Negotiators want opposites of themselves.

Defining Photography (Antonio Bolfo)

Photographer Antonio Bolfo shared his worked and discussed the importance of perspective in art.

  • How do we make photos stand out? Finding a personal perspective.
  • Perspective is the key to photography. What did the photgrapher want you to believe?

Be Your Own Superman (Cassandra Lin)

Cassandra Lin, a 13 year-old social entrepreneur, shared how she was able to impact change in her community.

  • Steps to getting things done: 1) identify your allies; 2) Find adults to the work; 3) make sure everyone makes money; 4) keep it simple.
  • Do things for people (create the first draft, start the project, etc) instead of asking them to do it from scratch.

Dirty Minds (David Pizarro)

Psychologist David Pizarro talked about the emotion of disgust.

  • Disgust is one of the easiest emotions to elicit.
  • When something disgusting touches something clean that thing becomes disgusting (not clean).
  • Thus it can be used for politics and linking disgusting things with your target.
  • Signs reminding of washing hands increases political and moral conservatism.


Musical Performance (Julie Reumert)

Opera Singer Julie Reumert performed with an orchestra.

Julie Reumert

City as Platform (Beth Coleman)

Dr. Beth Coleman shared her dream of engaging strangers in urban areas.

  • Turn your city into a playground.
  • How do we use technology to be heads up (aka interacting with each other and the world) instead of head down (consumed in our personal lives).

Visual Anonymity (Sam Gregory)

Sam Gregory, a human rights activist, talked about the importance of anonymity in a world with social media.

Poetry of Misunderstanding (Ross Martin)

Creative SWAT Team Leader Ross Martin shared how the understanding and misunderstanding of poetry is important to creativity.

  • The best we can hope for is not to be understood, but to misunderstood by great minds.
  • People will not receive your work the way you anticipate it.
  • The world moves forward by creative minds using things in ways beyond our intention.

Prodigious Serendipity (Jeff Carter)

Jeff Carter, an innovator and creative, discussed how radical change occurs.

  • The audacity of self identity. I am who I say I am.

GERM that Kills Schools (Pasi Sahlberg)

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg shared what is helping schools Finland rank among the top in the world.

  • 3 reasons why Finland schools are doing well: 1) open to learn from other countries; 2) have never wanted to be #1; 3) take teachers seriously.
  • GERM — Global Educational Reform Movement
  • Accountability is what is left when responsibility is taken away.

Mahmoud Natout

How I Improved my Iteracy (Mahmoud Natout)

Educator / thinker Mahmoud Natout talked about the linear and nonlinear representation of life.

  • When presented with ambiguity, we project our feelings.
  • A refreshing bio would be about presenting our failures in addition to our successes. Do this?
  • We represent our life linearly. Why? 1) linear is predictable, clear and comfortable. 2) education told us to.
  • Linear representation leads to linear values (they are binary, either succes or failure).

There you have hit. Some ideas worth spreading from TEDxEast 2012.

8th Floor Improv

The day started like any other day of my sophomore year at The Ohio State University. I woke up at 10am after hitting the snooze button 2 or 300 times, went to my engineering classes after eating a champion’s breakfast of S’mores Pop Tarts and Dr. Pepper, and then went to study for my major at the time: Halo (the videogame, not the yet-to-be-released Beyonce song or the hat angels wear).

As we entered our third or fourth 3-hour game of Capture The Flag against opponents down the hall, my best friend, Nate (and incidentally the only person that could consistently beat me at Halo), said something that would change my life.  Of course I didn’t know this at the time, it just seemed like something to talk about while we beat the pants off Nate’s residents (did I mention we were both Resident Advisors?).

Nate was (and still is, but we’ll keep things in the past tense for the sake of continuity) a stark contrast to me, and that’s probably why we’ve gotten along so well since we first met in the seventh grade back in Cincinnati. He was a Psychology major, I was a Computer Science & Engineering major with a minor in Business. I took four years to finish a typical five year program, he took five years to finish a typical four year program. He was naturally charismatic and when he spoke, he got people’s attention. I was naturally awkward and when I spoke, I got pained looks from the people listening. I was white, he was black.

But the biggest contrast was that he usually said the funny things, I usually said the smart things. He’d make people laugh, I’d make people think. Of course there were times where one of us would occasionally steal the other person’s thunder; I was occasionally funny and he was occasionally brilliant.

On this day, he was occasionally brilliant.

With the score 2-0 in favor of the good guys, we were resting pretty easily as we continued to “lay the smack down” on the freshmen down the hall. The four of us in the room (two other friends, Chris and Moran, whose lives also changed that day and the other 2 people on our 4-person team), were joking around as we normally did. Chris and Moran were opposites just as Nate and I were. Chris was a large, brooding white man. Moran was a skinny, hilarious black man. Moran could talk his way out of just about any situation even if he had no idea what he was talking about. Chris could barely talk his way into any situation, even if he knew exactly what he was talking about. Chris was an incredibly intelligent person trapped in an awkward socializer’s body. Moran was a incredibly funny person existing in a ball of fun.

With a click of Moran’s trigger and a toss of Chris’s grenade, we won the game. Moran sniped any defense the other team put up and Chris flipped the jeep foolishly trying to escape with our flag, and I escorted Nate and the other team’s flag back to our base for the final point.  We celebrated, we laughed, we mocked our inferior opponents (in a sportmanslike, definitely-appropriate-for-being-their-RA’s manner.

And then it came. As the laughter died down and the four of us sat in the tiny dorm room given to RA’s, narrow enough to touch both walls at the same time, Nate said the
words that would change our lives.

“We should start our own improv group.”

Disappointed? Surprised? Expecting something profound and quote-worthy? The sentence itself was nothing profound but the concept, and what would happen as a result, was.

Prior to this sentence, I was on a path to computer stardom.  Until this point, I had never done anything theater related and was always the nerd in school. I graduated in the top 1% of my high school class, got a full scholarship to attend Ohio State and was working towards those engineering and business degrees so I could become the next Bill Gates (or at least an entrepreneur or corporate executive working in the tech field). That sentenced changed that, but like I said, we had no idea at the time. We had no clue what we were getting into, we just said, “Yes.”

To fill in some much needed detail, Nate had done some theater work back in high school, and as part of his classes, he did improvisation–exercises based on making things up in the moment. At Ohio State, he found a college group that did improv shows. He joined the already hilarious cast and had some very funny shows with the group.

Our sophomore year, Chris and I auditioned for the group. Chris got in based on his far too vast referential knowledge, and I did not (I do want to point that I was invited to callbacks but had to miss due to my responsibilities as an RA, and that’s the reason I didn’t make it. Or at least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself).

While Nate and Chris enjoyed performing in the group, they realized something was lacking, something could be better. The group, funny as they were, only met a few times a month and only averaged a show once a quarter. What was missing was more–more practice, more performances, more time doing this thing called improv.

Nate came up with the idea that we could start our own improv group. We, with the collective experience of about one year of improv (Nate’s year plus a quarter’s worth from Chris; Moran and I had no improv experience), decided that day to say “Yes.”  We summoned the help of two other friends (neither with improv experience) and started practicing in the basement of the residence hall where I was an RA.

Two and a half years and countless hours of unguided practices and some good and some not-so-good shows later, the group was celebrating their 50th Show in front of a 200+ person crowd at a theater off-campus. The original founders graduated and left the group in the hands of the very capable members left in the group. Each year new members come in as old members graduate, and The 8th Floor Improv Comedy Group still exists today, performing sold-out shows every month. They’ve been featured on-screen in-front of the 100,000 fans at Ohio Stadium during Buckeye games and perform to thousands of incoming freshmen at orientation.

As for us, Nate moved on to Chicago where he took classes at iO and Second City and is now a house player at iO and working in various shows at Second City. Chris stayed
in Columbus, started his own graphic design company and continues to improvise throughout the city. Moran moved to Chicago, is engaged with a child (he’s not engaged to a child, he’s an engaged to a wonderful woman and has a child) and taking improv classes when his family-life allows.

And me, I’m living in NYC working for a Fortune 20 Company as a Project Manager and self-proclaimed Corporate Humorist. I’m taking classes at The Magnet and Upright Citizens Brigade performing improv and stand-up across the city, and blogging/consulting/training on humor through my company, Humor That Works.

And all of it is a result of a simple, non-poetic, sentence from a best friend my sophomore year of college.

“We should start our own improv group.”

5 of the 6 founders, 2007. L->R Moran, Chris, Nate, Damon, Drew

February 11, 1984–a day that will live in infamy… at least for me. It was the day I was born; a day that would change my life forever.

I don’t remember much about the day, or anything actually, but to be fair I didn’t even have a fully formed skull yet. Still, the day is perhaps the most important of my life (and perhaps my parents’ lives as well, depending on whether or not I’m their favorite…).

Since then, I’ve learned a lot.  A ton, even.  Yes, I’ve learned at least 2,000 pounds of knowledge (or 2240 if you’re in the UK) in my lifetime so far. And each new year has brought new challenges, new experiences, and new things to learn.

Below are some of those lessons I’ve learned, broken out by year, and in reference to a significant life event for that year.  Hopefully you’ll learn something from what I’ve learned. I know I have.

Lesson #1: No one has done it alone.

Birth (1984) – I’m going to have to say that the most significant event of 1984 for me was actually being born.  For the first time, I was outside of the womb, breathing my own air, and digesting my own food (sorta). I guess you could say that it was the beginning of my becoming an independent person.

That whole ordeal, from conception to birth, has taught me a great deal, but the most important thing being born has taught me is that no one has done it alone. No one is just spontaneously born, it takes at least two people to bring you into this world.  That doesn’t change after you’re born; every successful person has had help along the way, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Lesson #2: Extraordinary people do the ordinary extraordinarily.

Talking (1985) – The first word I ever coherently said came out when I was a year old, and ever since that day, I’ve been talking.  In fact I’ve probably spoken every day since then. I’ve given speeches to hundreds of people, orated for groups of ten, exchanged dialog with another person, and have talked to myself.

In all of that talking, I learned that while a majority of people can speak, not all of them do it well.  And among those that do it well, there are those whose speech evokes laughter, tears, or action–something an ordinary person can’t always achieve.  That’s because extraordinary people do the ordinary extraordinarily.

Lesson #3: Our own thoughts can become our own biggest enemy.

Ghostbusters (1986) – There were two movies I used to watch over and over again–the Goonies and Ghostbusters. Both involved incredible adventures, great lines, and started with the letter ‘G.’  And while The Goonies is memorable, Ghostbusters is more of a classic for all ages, filled with messages that stand the test of time (or at least 20+ years).

The message that sticks out most to me is that our own thoughts can become our own biggest enemy. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was created from the thoughts of Ray Stantz and was more than just a giant marshmallow of destruction.  He was also the physical manifestation of the fact that often our own self-doubts are the biggest critic and barrier to success.

Lesson #4: You can say a lot with humor.

The Berenstain Bears (1987) – I picked up my love for reading from my mom who used to read a variety of books to us kids.  One of my favorite collections was the Berenstain Bears, with their interesting and usually informational stories.

It was perhaps these wee little bears that first taught me you can say a lot with humor. The Berenstain Bears may be cartoon bears, but they have still passed down a lot of wisdom in their books, shows, and games.  Just because it’s not written in a serious tone, doesn’t mean it’s not a seriously message, ain’t that right Papa Bear?

Lesson #5: Sometimes learning means un-learning.

Speech Therapy (1988) – When I began speaking regularly, my Mom and brother could understand me perfectly.  The problem was that no one else really could–my brother and I had developed our own pseudo-language: Tarvinga.  The subsequent therapizing of my speech taught me more than just how to say “crayon” correctly (note it isn’t “crown”).

Speech therapy helped me realize that sometimes learning means un-learning. To start talking normally, I had to unlearn some of my bad habits I had picked up.  Sometimes that’s what it takes to get to the next level, to let go of what you’ve learned in the past so that the lessons of the future can actually sink in.

Lesson #6: Knowledge is personal.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989) – As a kid, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I always thought of myself as the Leonardo of my friends, though they would probably tell you I was more like Donatello.  The TMNT toys were my favorite action figures for a long time. I still remember how angry I was when I found out my older brother had drawn all over my Leonardo figure using a Sharpie. I also remember the shame I felt when I got caught “borrowing” an unmarkered version of the toy from a friend… Clearly those toys meant a lot to me.

One of the things I learned from those toys was that knowledge is personal. If you asked someone born in the 50’s what they thought of when they heard the names Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael, they’d probably say painters. Ask someone who grew up in the 90’s, and they’ll say anthropromorphized turtles that eat pizza.

Lesson #7: No one bats 1.000.

Cincinnati Reds (1990) – Growing up as a sports fan in Cincinnati isn’t easy. Since my birth in 1984, the professional teams in Cincinnati (the Bengals in the NFL and the Reds in MLB), have gone 2230-2339-5 or .488, with only one national championship.  That championship came in 1990, when the Reds beat the Oakland A’s in 4 straight games to win the World Series.

I realized while watching the Reds go wire-to-wire that no one bats 1.000. Ty Cobb holds the highest career batting average in Major League Baseball, with a .366 average.   The mean (as in average, not as in angry) batting average in the league is around .260.  That means people who are considered that best at their game successfully hit around 1/4th of the time.  No one never fails; it’s the people who keep getting up to bat who succeed.

Lesson #8: The majority of your education takes place outside of the classroom.

First Grade (1991) – My first venture into schooling (kindergarten doesn’t count) primed me for the remaining 15 years of my formal education.  Along with the normal first grade lesson plan, I also learned a few things about life.

Number one was that the majority of your education takes place outside of the classroom. The majority of what I learned in the first grade wasn’t from my teachers, but from the other kids in the class.  They influenced me more than what my textbook said, and made me realize that those around us can be the catalyst to our success or our failure.

Lesson #9: Good friendships are worth the effort.

Moving (1992) – The first time I moved with my family was in 1990, but I was only in kindergarten at the time and was relatively unaffected. We moved again 2 years later and it was a much bigger ordeal, with much bigger lessons attached.

Each move I’ve made since then has only re-affirmed what I learned: good friendships are worth the effort. Some people tend to be “out of sight, out of mind.”  The truly good friends  are worth the additional effort of staying in touch with, even if it means taking the time to give them a call (or at least write on their Facebook wall).

Lesson #10: Simple can be beautiful.

The Far Side (1993) – Gary Larson is one of my favorite “creators” (lumping together artists, actors, writers, etc) of all time.  His single-paned cartoon strip has had a huge influence on my style of comedy and outlook on life.  In addition to all that humor The Far Side brought, it also threw in some important life lessons.

Aside from some of the great lessons individual cartoons have taught me (no matter how smart you are, sometimes you try to pull a door you should push), his entire series taught me that simple can be beautiful. Larson didn’t need an entire page to make a joke; he could use a single paned cartoon with just a picture and a few words to say everything he needed.

Lesson #11: Success comes from challenging yourself.

Handwriting (1994) – Fourth grade is the first grade of schooling that I remember well. I don’t remember it because it was my first year in middle school, or because I turned 10 that year, or even because it was the first year I had a “girlfriend” (I’m not sure you can really have a girlfriend in the fourth grade, but that’s what we called the 2-week relationship).

The reason I remember it is because I missed being placed in the “advanced” classes by a single point on a reading test.  Because of the slower pace, I often finished my assignments early, so I filled my time learning to write with both hands.  Instead of being satisfied with good grades in the class and goofing off, I spent my idle time pushing myself to become ambidextrous, setting my own standard of accomplishment.  Being able to write with both hands hasn’t made me successful, but learning to always challenge myself has.

Lesson #12: You have to learn how to learn.

Report Cards (1995) – I got the lowest grade I ever received on a Report Card the first quarter of the Fifth Grade–it was D- in spelling. Prior to that point, the lowest grade I had ever received was an A-.  After that quarter, I got my act together, graduating 4th in my class with a GPA of over 4.0, and earning a scholarship to The Ohio State University. And yet, that Report Card with the D- will be the one I always remember.

The traumatic experience Spelling gave me (and it was traumatic to me at the time), taught me the importance of learning how to learn. Education isn’t about learning specific details, such as how to spell the 100 words your teacher deems important.  Education is about learning how to learn, since it’s something we never stop doing.

Lesson #13: You remember how you felt.

Acting (1996) – The only play I’ve ever been in was when I was 12 years old when one of our 6th grade class projects was to write, produce and direct a play from scratch.  I was one of the actors, that experience, plus the acting I’ve done since, has taught me a few things that the art can teach us.

The biggest lesson has been about the importance of emotions.  One of the struggles I have with acting is showing emotion (we’ll leave the psychology as to why that is for another post), but emotions are so important because we remember how we felt–that’s what memories are. People don’t want to watch two people just talking back and forth.  There has to be emotion and meaning.  All of our memories are emotions that we had about a certain event, and acting reminds us that that’s what’s most important.

Lesson #14: Our own lives are more important than fictional ones.

No TV (1997) – By the time I entered the educational system, my mom had concluded that TV was the reason my oldest brother was a “C” student.  As a result, from Monday – Thursday, we weren’t allowed to watch TV or play videogames (the lone exception was Macguyver (I guess my Mom thought we could learn something from him)).

When you have that much free time growing up, and no preprogramming to fill it, you learn a thing or two.  You also learn that our own lives are more important (and luckily more interesting) than those on the small or big screen. While others talked about the adventures of Pete & Pete, I talked about the adventures my brothers and I had.

Lesson #15: You perform better when you’re relaxed.

Golf (1998) – During the 7th and 8th Grade, I played on the Princeton Junior High School Golf team–I know, Mr. Cool.  (Don’t worry, I got even cooler when I was on the Varsity Bowling team in high school.)  And while I’ve never been amazing at golf, I have always enjoyed it.  There’s more to the game than just trying to hit a tiny ball into a hole in a green, and a lot of it applies to more than just golf.

For me, the key to a better game was to not try too hard. It was tough for me to learn that by actually slowing down my swing and not trying so hard, I was able to hit the ball farther and straighter.  Sometimes we get too tense and don’t allow our natural abilities to take over and deliver results. Take a deep breath, relax, and get out of the way of your own success.

Lesson #16: The sky is the limit.

Rap Music (1999) – When my Mom first found out I was listening to rap music, she was not happy.  Her assumption was that all rap music was about sex, drugs, and money.  And while a lot of it is, there are some artists out there that use their wordsmithing abilities to teach us a thing or two.

Take Notorious BIG’s “The Sky is the Limit.”  Biggie raps that the sky is the limit to what we can achieve and if we keep pressing on we can achieve our dreams, whether they be to open up a pet shop or become a hip-hop superstar.

Lesson #17: What you do has an affect on other people.

Driver’s License (2000) – In 2000, I took the next step to my growing independence–I got my driver’s license.  No longer was I limited to places to where I could walk or my parents could drive me; I was now in control of my own destiny (or at least my own Ford Ranger).  But learning to drive is more than just learning how to parallel park.

For example, learning to drive means learning that your actions affect others. Giving someone the keys to a car is giving them a lot of responsibility: one misstep or wrong turn can cost someone their life, and even if it isn’t yours, it will change it forever.  We don’t operate in bubbles, our actions in life have an impact on other people; the question is if that’s impact is good or bad.

Lesson #18: Brains are rewarded over brawn.

Factory Work (2001) – My Mom works as an HR director for a small manufacturing company, which was great when I needed a job, but not so great when she needed workers.  Between my Junior and Senior year, I spent an entire summer working in a factory loading and unloading heavy shower doors in a warehouse and the education I received there was worth far more than $6.75 per hour.

Doing physical labor in the heat made it crystal clear that brains were rewarded over brawn. I have yet to work as hard as I did that one summer out in the factory: the day started at 6am, I had only an hour break all day, and I was moving over 500 lbs a day.  But that’s not rewarded in our society; right or wrong, being the one that can manage, sell and strategize earns more money (and has more responsibility) at a company than someone that can pick something up.

Lesson #19: Being an adult has nothing to do with age.

Senior Year (2002) – Senior year is the pinnacle of your high school career.  You’re finally a Senior–you’re in control of the school, you’ve gotten the education thing figured out, and it’s a year-long celebration of becoming an adult.  It’s also full of lessons that will stick with you for the rest of your life.

My senior year helped me realize that being an adult has nothing to do with age. When you turn 18, you’re “officially” an adult, but everyone knows that being an adult has nothing to do with how old you are, but in how you behave.  In many ways, I’ve been an adult since I was 14; in other ways, I’ll never really be one (because I’ll always love my peanut butter & jelly).

Lesson #20: Sometimes you need to rest.

Halo (2003) – Although I graduated with a degree in Computer Science and Engineering, my major my freshman year of college was Halo.  I played it non-stop.  In addition to getting really good at it, I learned that there are a lot of valuable lessons that can be learned from Master Chief and playing Capture the Flag until 4 o’ clock in the morning.

Playing Halo taught me that sometimes you need to rest. I don’t mean from the game (which obviously you do), I mean in the game (because of the advanced armor technology in the Halo world, you could live a lot longer by letting your shields re-charge after being hit).  Life is the same way–if you take the time to rest and re-energize, you have a much better chance of staying alive and getting ahead.

Lesson #21: It’s better to teach than to command.

Resident Advisor (2004) – My sophomore year was also my first year as an RA.  At the age of 21, I was responsible for helping 23 freshmen students navigate their way around one of the largest colleges in the country, all while still trying to figure it out myself.

My experience in those residence halls taught me a lot, but nothing has stuck with me as much as what I learned from my assistant hall director: It’s better to teach than to command.

My Assistant Hall Director was both awesome and super annoying.  Whenever I had a problem, I would talk to her about it.  Rather than tell me what to do, or even give me advice, she’d ask me questions that would trick me into solving my own problems.  It wasn’t always the most efficient way, but it definitely taught me a lot more than if she had just told me what to do.

Lesson #22: Treat other people like geniuses and they will be.

Improv (2005) – I can say, with no exaggeration, improv has profoundly changed my life.  What started as a fun thing to do in the basement of a residence hall has completely changed how I approach everything from the way I work to what I do on the weekends.  The rules that make improv work are the same ones that can make life better.

It’s hard to pick only one thing that improv has taught me (it was the inspiration for Humor That Works after all), but if I had to pick, it would be to treat other people like geniuses. When you treat other people like geniuses, you’ll often find that they are. Too often we look at what mistakes people have made instead of seeing what they’ve done correctly. When you look for the positives and build on successes, your team (or family) can achieve far better success both as individuals and as a group.

Lesson #23: Things don’t always go as planned.

College Graduation (2006) – The day you move the tassel to the other side of your college graduation cap marks your entry into the “real world.”  Your job is no longer to get good grades or get a diploma, it’s to start living a life devoid of some pre-defined mark of achievement.  Most people know they’re going to go to college but what you do after that is all up to you.

Graduating from college taught me that things don’t always go as planned. If everything worked out as planned, people would use what they learned from their major on a daily basis.  But the reality is that few people end up doing what their degrees actually suggest they will.  I know former engineers who are now writers, psyche majors who are actors and microbiologists who are program testers.  While you should definitely make plans, it’s important to be able to deviate from them and take advantage of opportunities as they come to you.

Lesson #24: The gift of laughter is one of the best gifts you can give.

Stand-up Comedy (2007) – Standing on stage making a room full of strangers laugh isn’t easy, but it’s amazingly rewarding.  Performing stand-up comedy has become a passion of mine that is both selfish and selfless at the same time.

The things a comedian learns are valuable for everyone to know, especially how important it is to give the gift of laughter. As simple as it sounds, making someone laugh is a great gift to give because with laughter comes joy, stress-relief, muscle relaxation, better health and a temporary break from the crazy world around us.

Lesson #25: You have to make your own luck.

New York (2008) – I’ve only ever lived in 3 areas my whole life–Cincinnati, Columbus, and New York City. The first two are 90 miles from each other and both in Ohio; the third is, as they say, the capital of the world.  Moving to the city that never sleeps has taught me a lot of things. And regardless of where I end up, my time here will always have a lasting influence on me.

The biggest lesson this concrete jungle has taught me is that you have to make your own luck. Even in New York, people aren’t just plucked from a coffee shop and made famous.  The people who make it are the ones who make their own luck by developing their own skills, projects, and luck.


25 Years (2009) – In 25 years, I’ve learned quite a bit.  From being born to dealing with report cards to living in New York, life has provided quite an education. And if I can give one tip that all of the above lessons have made me realize, it’s this:

Never stop learning.

For the last category of Personal Development Week, I’d like to talk a little bit about happiness.

The first thing I have to say is that if you take some of the steps (or at least the intentions) mentioned in this week’s previous posts (Goals and Discipline, Success, Wealth, and Health), you’ll be well on your way to finding sustainable happiness – happiness that isn’t just tied to small individual events, or fleeting emotions, but a happiness that answers the question “Am I happy?” with a resounding yes.

Happiness is a State of Being

It is important to note that happiness is a state of being.  You don’t feel happy – you live it, breathe it, be it.  And it is something you can control.  Though emotions are irrational, and you can go from happy to sad to angry in minutes, the general feeling of happiness can be sustained.  When it comes right down to it, happiness is a choice.

The funny thing is that before I started performing improv, I had this stigmatism against overly positive people as “hippies” or “free spirits” who were basically just weird.  But in improv, there’s really no such thing as a mistake because of the fundamental improv rule: Yes, And.

The Power of Yes And

The idea behind Yes, And is that you don’t negate offers or “gifts” (anything that happens in the environment), that you accept what is given and build on it.  Life as a whole can be treated in a similar way.

People sometimes ask me if I’m happy with some of the life-decisions I made (where I went to college, what my degree was, what job I took after graduating), and my answer for all of the above is yes.

In fact my answer would be yes for every life question you could ask me:

  • Are you happy you went to Princeton High School? Yes.
  • Are you happy you were an RA/RM for three of your four years at college?  Yes.
  • Are you glad you dated someone for 3 1/2 years even though it didn’t work out?  Yes.

When you consider that, I either: a) am an amazing decision maker and always choose the right thing, or b) I tend to make the best of any given situation and grow from there.  Though I do have complete faith in my decision-making abilities, when it comes to why I’m happy right now, I’m gonna have to go with B.

What I Don’t Mean

Now I’m not saying that terrible things don’t happen, or that you have to be happy 100% of the time.  I’m also not saying that you just have to accept what life hands you and never work to change it, or even that you always have to say “Yes.”

I’m merely saying that once you make a decision, or once something happens, accept it as what happened.  There’s not much sense in dwelling in the past for any longer than it takes you to learn from the experience to make a different (not necessarily “better” which is such a subjective word) decision next time.

… and the Pursuit of Happiness

There has always been a large number of research and books geared towards finding happiness.  There are different viewpoints all offering up tips (whether it’s the new “The Secret” book, Covey’s 7 Habits, or plain-old religion).

And none of the viewpoints is necessarily “wrong,” it’s just that some of them aren’t for you.

If a belief in a “master plan” created by some supernatural being helps you survive life and be happy, then good for you.  If, instead, the “Law of Attraction” seems to make sense to you and has shown you some good resuts, the keep using it.

Regardless of what your belief is, as long as it’s making you happy and not harming others, who cares what it is – I don’t.  I just care about being happy.

Does It Matter Who is Right?

You see it doesn’t matter that there are multiple, often conflicting, views on life, happiness and our existence in general.  Just because some of these theories contradict, doesn’t mean they can’t co-exist.

One of my main problems with various religions is the idea that there can only be one “right” belief and that if you aren’t following that belief your S.O.L.  If we were to consider the example of God creating each of us in his “kitchen,” how could He expect to get everyone to align with the same “gospel truth” (for Christians – Jesus) when everything else about us is different and unique to our circumstances.

What does it matter that your “savior” came down by rocket ship or from a virin?  As long as you are using that belief as a boost to your overall happiness, then it doesn’t matter.

And some people might think that this is too naive of a view on life, that things couldn’t really be that simple.  While that may in all actuality be true, I DON’T CARE, because it’s a belief that I have found that works for me.

The key is for you to explore your own feelings and beliefs.  Once you’ve identified your beliefs, and fundamentally your purpose, you can start to build towards your end goal – which of course will lead to happiness.

The title for this category in Personal Development Week is an interesting one, because I’m sure many of you were wondering, “What do you mean by success?” The irony is that in order to be successful, you have to answer that exact question for yourself.

Everybody’s definition of success is going to be different – one person’s success may be another person’s failure.  In order for you to achieve success in your life, you have to know what it is you’re shooting for (hmm, sounds kind of like what I talked about with regard to goals and discipline yesterday…).

The Difference Between Goals and Success

However, unlike our goals from yesterday, it’s more acceptable to describe success in less defined terms (so long as you have goals that get you to where you want to be), because success is much more “spiritual” (not in the sense of religion, but more along the lines of your purpose or meaning in life).

To some people, success is raising a family and seeing their children grow up to become successful in their own right.   To others, it’s to achieve fame and fortune in the public eye.  Regardless of what it is, it has to be true for you – someone else can’t tell you what success is, it’s up for you to decide.

It’s amazing how seemingly simple concepts can be extrapolated into momentous declarations, but that’s exactly what defining success is.  When you are on your deathbed, recounting your life, and determining if you were in fact successful, it’s going to ultimately come down to comparing what you wanted to do with/in your life, and what you actually did.

Life as a Gift

I don’t want to get to involved in the “meaning of life” discussion because it often leads to religions arguments from ignorant people who are too naive to step outside of their sheltered world created for them by their parents, BUT, I will say Steve Pavlina made an interesting observation in one of his podcasts that asking “What is the meaning of life?”, as in what is life supposed to offer me, is the wrong approach.  Rather, ask, “What do I have to offer life?” (think “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”)

When you start to think about life as a gift, you start to shift your mentality.  “What is the meaning of life?” is passive, it’s saying, “Someone tell me this, what is life giving me?”  When you ask what you have to offer your life, you are being active, you are being the force of change – which brings me to my final, and possibly most important point.

Success Means Starting

You can’t achieve success in life without initiative.  Success comes to those who are willing to go out and take it.  The over-infatuation of all things Hollywood has given people the perception that they don’t have to work for something, that they will be “discovered.”

What people don’t realize is how much work goes into becoming an overnight success.  You have to be willing to put up with the sweat and tears to achieve what it is you’ve defined as success.  If you want to become a stand-up comedian, then go out there and get on stage as often as possible, network with everyone you can, put in the hours it takes to hone your craft.

If you want to be a stay-at-home Mom, work hard to find a job that will allow to take a sabbatical from work, or find a way to help your husband advance his career to a point that he can support the entire family.

What do you mean by success?

If you truly take the time to answer that question, take the initiative to go out and work towards that definition, set goals and follow them through with discipline, you will be successful – no matter what it is you wish to achieve.