Sunday, August 20, 2017

If I Were Talking with Chris Hardwick

I used to hate “talk shows” when I was younger.  I still do hate most of them.  But more and more I find that I enjoy watching certain people ask questions of people that I know the work of (be that musical, cinematic, or what-have-you).  I have some vague thoughts on why that is, which will perhaps become its own blog post one day.  Today, though, I wanted to chat briefly about one such certain person, mainly to use that as a springboard for a whole ‘nother topic.

This certain person is Chris Hardwick.  So far I’ve watched every episode of his new show, titled simply Talking with Chris Hardwick.  I didn’t actually expect to enjoy it, but I figured, I loved @midnight, and I enjoyed Talking Dead (and the far more occasional Talking Preacher), so why not give it a try?  And I’ve actually liked it quite a lot.

This has a huge amount to do with the fact that it’s Chris Hardwick asking questions.  I enjoyed Jon Stewart interviewing people, and I continue to enjoy Stephen Colbert doing the same.  Once upon a time I was really into Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton, and I’ve even listened to quite a few episodes of Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  What all these people have in common is the ability to ask interesting questions, the sort of questions that you wish you’d asked.  Often the sort of questions that you didn’t even know you wanted to know the answer to before it was spoken aloud, but now that it has been you’re really desperate to hear the response.  And they’re all interesting people themselves, people who can interject their own stories without taking over the conversation, which is a tricky thing to manage.  An interviewer who talks about themself too much instead of letting the guest talk is annoying, but an interviewer who just asks question after question without throwing in their own 2¢ every now and again is boring.  It’s a delicate balance, and these are the folks who get it right, at least for me.

One thing that Hardwick does that reminds me (fondly) of Lipton is that he ends each interview with the same format.  In Lipton’s case, it was the long-form Proust Questionnaire.  Hardwick takes a simpler approach, and just asks a single question: what’s one piece of advice that has always inspired or helped you, that you might want to pass on to other people?  He rearranges the wording every show, but that’s the gist of the question, and I think it’s a good one.  His guests have had some interesting answers.

And, to once again quote Bill Cosby,1 I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

Sometimes when I watch or listen to one of these shows, I imagine how I might answer the interviewer’s questions.  I’ve come up with answers to Lipton’s whole list, at various times.2  So, the other day, after watching eleven episodes of Talking, I started to wonder what my answer to this question would be.

Of course, I couldn’t have a simple one-line answer.  Like everything I write, or say, or think, the full answer is more complex.  But, if I had to boil it down to a one-liner, it would be this:

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Now, this is generally attributed to Confucius, but that’s mainly because all quotes in the history of man were either spoken by Confucius, Voltaire, or Mark Twain, and which one your quote was spoken by only depends on how old you’d like to pretend it is.3  But it doesn’t really matter who said it; it’s a pretty little nugget of wisdom regardless.

It reminds me of something I read on Bruce Campbell’s website.  Now, if you visit his site today,4 it’s all slick and commercial and bleaugh.  But once upon a time it was all dorky and stripped down and black and white and blue, mostly consisting of big walls of text and looking like he slapped it together himself.  (Which I suspect he did.  For the record, Mr. Campbell, I liked it better before.)  But it had some cool shit on it.  Like this quote, which I immediately stole for my quote file:

I just love acting.  I can never understand why more people don’t make their hobby into a career.  Sure, it’s unpredictable, but no job is 100% secure these days anyway.

    — Bruce Campbell

Ain’t that the truth.  And it perfecty dovetails with my personal experience: I ran my own company for years, and it was not always fun, and it was never easy, but I loved it.  I loved what I did, and I loved all the people I did it with,5 and I loved being able to set my own schedule, and I loved being able to say “no” to work if it offended my sensibilities, or if the customer skeeved me out, or whatever.  I loved being the conduit for other people coming to work every day and loving it.  I loved being in charge when I wanted to be and making other people be in charge when I didn’t.  And, even after I stopped running my own company and went to work for someone else, I still loved it.  I’ve had pretty decent luck picking great companies who respected me and trusted me and gave me freedom,6 and I tell computers what to do for a living, which I find to be creative and satisfying.  I love my job, and I think I’ve had success and happiness because of it.

But it also occurred to me to contrast the Bruce Campbell quote with another quote from another screen star—in this case, Mike Rowe, famously of Dirty Jobs.  And here’s what he had to say on this topic:

The idea that there’s a perfect job is really comforting ... but dangerous, in the same way that there’s a perfect soulmate. The guys I met on Dirty Jobs, and the women, by and large, were living proof that the first thing to do is to look around and see where everybody else is headed, and then go in the other direction. The second thing to do is embrace the thing that scares you, frightens you, or otherwise makes you blanch. The third thing to do is to become really really good at that thing. And then the final thing, the thing that makes really happy people happy, is to figure out a way to love it.

    — Mike Rowe, Ask Me Another, 5/20/2016

Now, I have to tell you that, at first, I hated this quote.  It seems to be saying the exact opposite of what the Bruce Campbell quote was saying.  Instead of “follow your passion and turn that into your career,” it says “find a career that nobody else wants and then learn to love it.”  That didn’t feel right to me ... at first.  But then I realized: it really is the same thing.  Either way you get there, you arrive at loving what you do.  In the end, does it really matter which route you took?

So I think this is the heart of the advice: love what you do.  Whether that means to take what you love and do it for a living, or whether it means to throw yourself into what you do so hard and so thoroughly that you come to love it, the point is that, when you love going to work every day, you’re a happier person.  When you dread it, it’s hard to be happy with everything else you have in life.  If your work makes you miserable, you’re going to be miserable, and also you’re going to make everyone around you miserable.  That’s no way to live.

But when you love what you do, every day is like a gift.  Oh, sure: you don’t always love every dayyou don’t always love every gift you get either.  There will be bad days among the good, sure.  Days when you come home and you’re just tired, and you don’t want to think about anything.  But those are the exceptions.  Most days, you get to work and you see a bunch of people that you like (or at least ones that you don’t mind tolerating for the bulk of your day), and you sit down at your desk (or whatever workstation your job demands), and you do something fun.  And even when it’s frustrating, or it pisses you off, or it makes your brain hurt, it’s still fun anyway.  And one day you wake up and realize it’s been years, and that you’re still happy, and then you think about what it might have been like if you’d just done a job all those years for nothing but a paycheck, and you’re glad you didn’t have to find that out.

So, Chris Hardwick: that’s my piece of advice, the thing that inspires me, that I think would be useful for other people.  Love what you do.  It’s always worked for me.


1 Who has become a much more controversial figure since the last time I used this quote.  To the point where some may say I should not continue to use it.  Obviously I’ve decided to do so anyway.  Not because I’m a Cosby apologist—on the contrary, I’m quite disgusted by the whole situation—but rather because I don’t believe that the bad that people do erases the good.

2 For the record: I’ve decided my favorite curse word is “fucksticks.”  But it’s a tough choice.

3 For an excellent breakdown of the possible origin and certain popularization of this quote, the excellent site Quote Investigator will hook you right up.

4 No, I won’t link you to it, as I didn’t the last time I mentioned his website in a footnote: see my open letter to Wil Wheaton.

5 I mean, of course I did: I hired ’em all.

6 Which you may recall is, according to me, the 3 things that employees want.

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