Not long ago I was preparing to give a presentation over the phone to a large group of clients, agency partners and other interested people. It was a complicated presentation – a lot of strategy and thought processes that we’d been working on for months that needed to be condensed into two hours. I give a lot of presentations, but even I was a bit intimidated. It’s hard to talk that long with no physical feedback, no bodily cues or clues from your audience, so I wasn’t nervous, but I certainly had my senses on high alert.
Less than an hour before the call, I got a note from an agency partner who I really respect and who has a lot more experience with this particular client. He was giving me some feedback on the PowerPoint and offered a tip – watch my energy level, don’t get too excited.
Admittedly, I get pretty excited about the things I talk about – in presentation or with friends. It’s a coping mechanism. If I weren’t excited about the material, I might get nervous about being in front of people. Excitement, effusiveness, these things help me walk into a room full of strangers – whether in Cincinnati or New York, Japan or Brazil – and deliver my message. I’m not bouncing off the walls, mind you, I just lose myself in the subject matter and get excited by the possibilities the material presents.
So the feedback from the agency partner, while probably exactly right for the audience, took me by surprise and threw me off my game.
Around the same time, I was talking to my son, Dylan, about Star Wars. He was a little low because his older brother, Jack, had agreed to play with Legos with him, but Jack had all the vehicles and spaceships and Dylan was left with just figurines to do battle.
“Then use your imagination!” I told him. We talked about how imagination and creativity, excitement and passion will beat any Star Destroyer, fell any enemy no matter how well armed.
I wanted him to lose himself in his imagination. I wanted him to be excited by what he came up with. I wanted him to be effusive.
So what happens between childhood and the professional stage of our life where the very thing that makes us who we are is seen not as an asset, but a liability?
Robin Williams is one of my all-time heroes. His legacy as a comic is without question, but it is his personality that makes my soul resonate. Get on YouTube and watch some interviews with him on talk shows. His energy was always up – some might say manic – but more than anything, he seemed to love life, love the work he was doing, love small moments in big ways.
While it was not a hug commercial success, I find myself watching his last TV series – The Crazy Ones – over and over on Netflix. In it, he plays an advertising Creative Director with a larger-than-life personality. The plots are okay, but it is his small moments that inspire me. When he pitches a McDonald’s client on memories. When he talks to his daughter about finding a work-life balance. There is so much beauty in his passion – even if it was scripted – and I find myself inspired.
Robin Williams never grew up. Well, of course he did. He became an adult, an addict, an actor and a professional. But he never seemed to lose that lust for life, that ability to lose himself in a moment so completely as to capture your attention and inspire your imagination.
I realized when I was talking to Dylan I was talking about being like Robin Williams and the reason the agency partner’s feedback threw me for such a loop was that it went against what I aspire to be.
I am not Robin Williams. I am not that funny, that quick, that manic. But I love the work I do. I get lost in it. It inspires me. And that inspiration brings me energy, it drives me, it sparks passion.
Sometimes being an adult means putting a lid on our inner Robin Williams. Decorum, presence, circumstance – there are times and reasons for calming things down. But be careful not to seal that lid. Be careful not to concentrate so much on being a professional and an adult that you forget how to be a kid, how to radiate, how to be effusive.
Because it is in that version of you that your real self exists. It is your energy that makes you who you are.