Excited vs Grateful

I’ve had a gratitude practice for probably four years now—every morning and evening, I write down three things I’m grateful for. I’ve cycled through several containers for this—plain journals, gratitude-specific journals, and finally ended up with one that combined the gratitude practice with a fully functioning work journal. Bingo!

After a few years, though, I noticed I’d stopped paying attention to that journal, so I decided it was time for a change. I ordered up a new journal, which also had space to start the day with gratitudes. But beside that familiar list was another one. And, honestly, it completely stumped me:

I’m excited about

journal page showing blanks for "I'm grateful for" and "I'm excited about"

Grateful, yes, I can reel off a dozen things I’m grateful for: the people I work with; the little red dog I snuggle with; the yummy food I eat; the safe, warm, beautiful place I live. I can break that list down and find a good 25 or 30 different things for which I’m grateful. But “excited left me stumped.” And then depressed—because, after all, what is life without excitement?

But does my life really lack excitement? True, I’m not planning to board a rocket ship or surf Niagara Falls, but I do have  a TEDx Talk coming up in December. That’s pretty exciting. And I get to see my friends and go to the theatre and celebrate the holidays. All fun things that I’m looking forward to. (And when they happen, I’ll be grateful for them, too.)

I’m content with my life—I walk the dog, write, walk the dog, eat, walk the dog, sleep. Sometimes other events pop up to vary my schedule, and I’m happy when that happens. Perhaps daily contentment > occasional excitement?

What do you think? What are you grateful for and/or excited about this holiday season?

Thank You

“But Thanksgiving is over,” you say. Indeed it is.

What better time to express one’s gratitude than in the early December lull between holidays?

If you’d asked me a day ago, I would have told you 2018 was a sh*tshow. But this afternoon, I spent just 15 minutes writing out my accomplishments during the year and it turns out that the majority of the sh*t happened in someone else’s show. So I’m grateful for the 953 days of my old writing streak, and the five days of my new one. I’m grateful for the smart, creative people who’ve chosen to work with me. And I’m grateful for the beautiful writing I’ve had the good fortune to read.

In no particular order:

  • The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Shrill by Lindy West
  • The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
  • Maeve in America by Maeve Higgins
  • Okay Fine Whatever by Courtenay Hameister
  • Just the Funny Parts by Nell Scovell
  • Baseball Life Advice by Stacey May Fowles
  • Also—not a book but certainly as well-written as any on this list—Rachel Maddow’s podcast Bagman

Watch for the Alanis Morissette musical Jagged Little Pill, coming to a Broadway stage near you. I saw it in Cambridge and really liked it, despite knowing next to nothing about Ms. Morissette’s music.

And I’m grateful to have seen The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, in his Broadway engagement. The densely evocative language of the spoken bits elevated it far above the average “here’s a story about a song/now here’s the song” show. I don’t know why that surprised me, since Springsteen has built his career as much on his poetry as on his music. I splurged on a ticket as a birthday present for myself and it may be the best present I’ve ever received.

I’m also truly thankful for the millions of people across the U.S. who got out and voted this fall; and for the hundreds of thousands who worked for their candidates, knocking on doors, making phone calls, sending postcards or texts. And I’m grateful for the Parkland kids (we’ll have to stop calling them that soon) who turned anguish into action so effectively. Although I wish they hadn’t gone through the anguish—and I’m sure they do too.

Finally, thanks to everyone who creates, even for only 15 minutes a day. Your work may not change the world (or, who knows? it may), but it can change the way you view the world. So, er, “write on.”

Thanks, writers.

thanksYes I love my friends and family (and my canine assistant Fenway, too). But when I look through my daily lists of gratitudes, one word pops up more than any other: Writing.

I’m grateful that I get to do it—and for a living, even. So thanks to my clients, and to those of you who read what I write under my own name, here and elsewhere.

I’m grateful that I get to read it—so many writers doing beautiful, important, moving work.

  • If you haven’t discovered Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast, you have two seasons’ worth of glorious binge-listening ahead of you. Today would be a fine time to start.
  • And while I’ve always found Masha Gessen’s work fascinating, it’s become even more urgent (if depressing) as the country I love slides toward authoritarianism.
  • David Litt, a fellow speechwriter, made me laugh out loud with his White House memoir.
  • And Elizabeth Gilbert gives me hope. I don’t have a satisfying link for that; guess I’ll have to write about her soon.

And I’m grateful that I get to teach it. It’s a cliché that you learn from your students. But clichés become clichés because they’re true. My writers inspire me with their questions, their insights, their excellent work in a jaw-dropping number of genres. And their courage.

I’m grateful to everyone who writes and pushes their work out of the nest. Thank you for letting the rest of us share your ideas and wonder at your creativity.

So here’s a Thanksgiving blessing for you, my fellow writers:

May your desk chairs be comfy and your WiFi be strong.

I look forward to seeing what we all come up with next.

Need a jumpstart to get yourself writing? Mark your calendars for my next quarterly 5×15 Writing Challenge—December 26th-30th.

Of baseball and business (diversity edition)

Baseball Hall-of-Famer Monte Irvin just died. Never heard of him? He not only helped the New York Giants get to two World Series, he also mentored one of their up-and-coming players, an outfielder you may recall named Willie Mays. But Mr. Irvin played for nearly a dozen years before joining the Giants. Before that, he had been relegated to the “Negro Leagues.”

A couple of decades ago, I had a client named Irvin. He happened to be an African American and I knew he’d been raised in the same town as Monte Irvin, so I asked if they were related. Yes, indeed. He was surprised I recognized the name, but I’m a big baseball fan. So the elder Mr. Irvin made a guest appearance in a speech I wrote for his nephew. Here’s an excerpt; you can read more of it on my website:

Cultures change slowly. Let me remind you that nearly 50 years after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, there’s still not a single African American running a baseball team. And African American executives have been in the financial industry a lot shorter time than that.

My uncle was a major league baseball player—he played in the old Negro Leagues and later for the New York Giants. He could tell you that lots of African American players got hit by pitches—“accidentally,” of course—after the leagues were integrated. But it happened a lot less when a team had an African American pitcher on the mound.

It works the same way in the business world. The progress we make against racism in the workplace has a direct relationship to the positions that African Americans play on the team. As more African Americans take leadership positions and sit on Boards of Directors, more companies will stop throwing pitches at their African American employees.

Yes, it’s an old speech: the corporate world doesn’t throw pitches at its diverse employees anymore, not so blatantly. And it recognizes many forms of diversity, including LGBT people. But when it comes to leadership roles, are diverse professional relegated to the “farm team” longer than the majority folks in the pipeline? For some organizations, in some industries, the answer may still be yes.

Major League Baseball signed Mr. Irvin at the ripe old age of 30; the man considered perhaps the greatest pitcher in the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige, was 42 when he joined the majors. Mr. Paige pitched for nearly a dozen more years, but his best games were far behind him. So much talent, consigned to relative obscurity. And how many more potential baseball stars aged out of the game before the Major Leagues opened their doors to players of color?

There’s a lesson there, and not just for baseball fans. Talent deserves to shine. And it’s not an unlimited resource—businesses can’t afford to waste the talents of their people, no matter who they are. We’ve made progress since I wrote that speech. But I can’t help wondering how many Monte Irvins and Satchel Paiges the business world has lost: how many talented women and people of color never got the opportunities they deserved, the opportunities to shine—and to lead.

Words of Thanks

Words shape my life—whether I’m writing them or reading them. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d offer a list of some of the writers I’m grateful for this year.

Roger Angell: If you’re a baseball fan you probably already know he’s one of the most colorful and insightful chroniclers of the sport there is. And if you’re not a baseball fan, his essays will turn you into one—or at least teach you how the game works. Although my Mets lost the World Series this year, I’m grateful that The New Yorker gave Angell some of its digital real estate to write about it.

MB Caschetta: I spend most of my recreational reading time in periodicals (The New Yorker, Vanity Fair) or nonfiction. But when I had a few days to myself this summer, I plopped myself in a comfy corner and read Caschetta’s multiple award-winning first novel, Miracle Girls. Funny, evocative, and moving.

Lin-Manuel Miranda: I saw Hamilton at the Public Theater in February, having bought the last two tickets to that performance about four months earlier. Here’s a link to the video that convinced me I had to see it, Lin-Manuel Miranda performing the opening number solo at the White House. Amazing, right? But the fully staged production blew me away. At the end of the performance I attended—three days before the reviews came out—the entire audience leapt to its feet simultaneously. This was not one of those typical New Yorker “let me be the first to get to a taxi” standing O’s. It was not a “the people in front of me stood up and now I can’t see anything unless I stand too” ovation. It was—for me at least—an acknowledgement that everyone from the writer (Miranda, now a MacArthur-certified “genius”) to the performers (Miranda again, alongside a diverse cast of first-rate actor/singer/dancers) had conjured brilliance on that stage. And I would never be able to look at a musical the same way again.

Ron Chernow: I read his House of Morgan decades ago, so already I knew about his amazing power to bring the past to life. But after I saw Hamilton the musical, I had to read the book that started it all.

Lisa Kron: She’s made me laugh since I first saw her maybe 30 years ago in her one-woman show 101 Most Humiliating Stories. She’s made me cry plenty, too. And laugh-cry at the same time. What would that be, craugh? As hard and as lonely as it is to be a writer sometimes, Kron has kept telling her stories and this year her story-telling won her two Tony Awards—one for writing the book of the remarkable, ground-breaking musical Fun Home and the other for the score, for which she wrote the lyrics with Jeanine Tesori supplying the music. If you were one of the dozen people watching the Tony telecast, you didn’t see these awards—they were presented during the commercials. So here’s a video of her first acceptance speech. Press on past the obligatory thank-yous to the “I have had a dream” section.

If I may put on my speechwriter hat for a moment, that’s how you write an acceptance speech: tell a story, make a point. Change the world. Words can do that. It’s one reason I love them—and Kron—so much.

Whose work are you thankful for? Hit up the comment section below.