How do you define “value”?
“Adding, not subtracting. There are so many people whose whole life is devoted to subtracting. Their whole reason for being is to poke fun, embarrass, humiliate – or try – I don’t think that’s adding value. I can’t imagine saying to your parents: ‘I want to grow up and embarrass other people.’ I mean, some negative you got to have, just not all of it.”
What separates you from others in your field?
“I had a rule, started by Oscar Wilde, a great Irish writer, and he said: ‘Never write a sentence you’ve already read.’ I read that at about 25 years old and said, ‘That’s it. That’s the key.’ If you sit there and have on your computer screen, ‘He was fast as lightning.’ Well you’ve heard that a thousand times, maybe ten thousand. But if you sit there and go, ‘He was faster than rent money’ or ‘he was faster than Rosie O’Donnell on a water slide.’ I mean, if you sit there and try to think of a new way to say something, then the words are going to pop off the page. When I notice bad writing now, it’s because people don’t take the time or are too lazy to see the clichés that they have just piled into their pieces. Just take another hour to take all those out and write it in a new way.”
When was the last time you were down and out and how did you overcome it?
“I mean, in this business, there are lots. Especially with social media, all kinds of stuff can go wrong – and fast. This guy thinks you’re an idiot, this guy thinks you’re a hypocrite, this guy thinks you misquoted him. How did I deal with it? Well, I try to be honest, I try to be accessible, I try to face up to my mistakes, and the number one thing is, I say ‘I’m sorry.’ If I’m wrong, I try to say ‘I’m sorry’ really quickly. And not the kind of apology where you say, ‘Well, I’m sorry it happened,’ or ‘I’m sorry, but…’. As my friend Andre Agassi says, ‘No true apology comes with the word but in it.’ It has to be, ‘I’m sorry, and I’m an idiot.’”
What advice would you give someone trying to provide value in their job, profession, or field?
“There’s this great rule in meditation; live from the inside out. It means, I start with me. If I’m proud of the work I’m doing, if I’m giving as much as I can, if I feel like my work is honest, if I feel like I am doing my best; then that’s all that matters. If you live from the outside in – you base your self-worth on what others are saying about you. Start from the inside. If you’re happy and you respect yourself, now that’s done. Now go outside and see what you can do out there. Whether that’s business or charity work or writing or telling stories. Start seeing some of the problems other people face. What problems are out there that you can help with time or money or a letter? That’s one thing I try to do.”
“It’s great fun being done; having created something when there was just a blank screen. And then having people say, ‘Oh, that made me cry, we buried that column with my dad in his coffin, my buddies and I laughed until beer came out of our nose because of that line, every week my dad and I would call each other and talk about your column and it was a great way to connect with him.’ I just love those kinds of stories. That was motivation; to hear more stories like that.”