David Litt on The Moth Mainstage at Royce Hall

The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.

In this story, as told by David Litt, we hear a humorous tale about what it’s like to work in the White House, and to finally meet the President of the United States.

The details of the experience, both the settings and the conversations, give us a sense of what it must have felt like to work in the White House. But in a normal context that we can all relate to, it is also about wanting to excel in your career, while also dealing with imposter syndrome. We’ve all made blunders in our life, and looking back they can be much funnier than they were in the moment. You may have a story about an event that didn’t work as planned, but in hindsight, makes you laugh.


In 2008 I was one of those young people who became obsessed with Barack Obama. I was a senior in college at the time, and after I graduated I drove out to Ohio, and I worked on his campaign, and after the campaign I drove to Washington because – hope and change.

And two years later, the White House actually hired me. They hired me to write speeches. And people would hear about my new job and they would say, ‘wow, you must be really good’, and I’d say, ‘I don’t know, I hope so’. And they thought I was pretending to be humble but I was entirely sincere.

It’s not that I didn’t think I had any talent whatsoever, it’s just that I knew there are 300 million people in America, and some of them are babies, but a lot of them are adults, and it just seemed unlikely that I was the best ‘we the people’ could do. So everyday I walked through the gates of the White House absolutely sure somebody had made a mistake.

And while this was going on my friends and family were equally sure they now had direct access to the President of the United States. Like I’m sitting in my White House office, and I get a text from my sister Rebecca, and it says ‘how come the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have a mailing address?’

Now even in the best of circumstances this is a disturbing question to get from a family member, but if you work in the White House you want to know the answer to this kind of stuff, and I have no idea, and it’s like this with everything.

I mean suddenly everyone has a law that only I can get through Congress. Everybody has something wrong with Obamacare that I need to know about. Mostly, everybody has the same question. They all want to know – have you met him yet, have you met Obama yet – and I say no, I haven’t met him yet, and I get this look, and it’s a look I soon learn means, you may be 24 years old and working at the White House, but you’re still a disappointment to your family and friends. And I have to say I totally get it.

I mean everybody thinks that the White House is either like the TV show The West Wing where everyone’s hanging out with the President, or it’s like the TV show Scandal, where everyone’s having sex with the President. But if you’re looking for a Hollywood analogy, the White House is like the Death Star. What I mean by that is just that there’s thousands of people, they run around the hallways, they’re all just trying to make sure their little bit of their job works well.

And just because Darth Vader is the public face of the organization it doesn’t mean that every stormtrooper gets personal one-on-one time. So I try to explain this whole Death Star thing, and it doesn’t work, I still get that disappointed look. And frankly, nobody’s more disappointed than I am. I mean, nobody wants me to meet the president more than me. And there’s two reasons for this.

The first is kind of corny, but it’s true. I moved to Washington because I thought, I don’t know what it is, but there must be something I can do for my country. I want to be the kind of person where the President of the United States is just a little bit better at his job because I’m in the room.

And the second reason is I would really like Barack Obama and I to become best friends. And now I’m not saying that every White House staffer imagined that they would become buddies with the president. I’m just saying that none of us ruled it out. Like you would hear these stories you know somebody got a fist bump in the hallway, or someone else got invited up to play cards on Air Force One. And the moral was always the same. Any moment could be the moment that changes your life forever.

Now my first chance at a life-changing moment came in November 2011 when I was asked to write the Thanksgiving video address. I will say up front, if state of the union is all the way on one end of the presidential speechwriting spectrum, happy Thanksgiving America is kinda on the other side.

But as far as I was concerned, this was the most important set of words Barack Obama would ever say, and so I threw myself into this. I mean, I wrote, and I rewrote, and I made edits, and then I made edits to the edits, and finally the day of the taping came.

And I went to the diplomatic room which is one of the most beautiful rooms in the White House. It has this wraparound mural of 19th century American life. And the advice I always got was, you have to act like you’ve been there before. So I’m standing there, trying to act like I’ve been there before, and the woman behind the camera takes one look at me and goes, ‘this is your first time here isn’t it’, and I crack immediately. I’m just like, ‘yes I have never been here before, please help me.’

And she says, ‘don’t worry.’ She explains her name is Hope Hall, she films the president all the time, she’s gonna take care of everything. All I have to do is wait. So I wait, and I wait, and I wait, and I wait. And just when I’m wondering is this whole thing a nightmare, is it a practical joke, somebody gets an email on their blackberry, and they say, ‘okay he’s moving’, and then there’s kind of a crackling in the air, and a minute later President Obama enters the room.

And he’s standing up, so we all stand up. And he sits down, so we all sit down. And he looks at the camera to start taping when Hope stops him, and she says, ‘actually, Mr. President this is David. This is the first video he’s ever written for you’, and President Obama looks at me, and he says, ‘Oh, how’s it going David?’

I had exactly one thought in that moment. I did not realize we were going to have to answer questions. And I have literally no idea what I said after that. I mean, I actually blacked out. Like I went home for Thanksgiving and my family was like, ‘so have you met him yet?’

And I was like, ‘yeah.’

And they were like, ‘what did he say.’

I was like ‘how’s it going?’

And they were like, ‘what did you say.’

And I was like, ‘I don’t know, I blacked out.’

And I get that disappointed look. And I can’t blame anybody, because if I’m gonna be the kind of person who makes the president a little bit better at his job when I’m in the room, I am going to have to deal with questions more complicated than how’s it going.

And at the moment there’s no indication that I can do it. But I make a promise to myself. I say, if I ever get another shot at a life-changing moment I am not gonna let myself down. And I didn’t know if it would ever happen for me, but in fact, it happened just a couple weeks later.

I was sitting in my office. I got a phone call from the chief speechwriter at the time, a guy named Jon Favreau, and he called me up, and he said ‘Betty White is turning 90 years old, and NBC is doing this special where different famous people wish her a happy birthday in these 30-second skits, and you’re pretty funny, and no one else wants to do it. Want to give it a shot?’

And I said, ‘absolutely.’ And again, I understand the State of the Union is over here, and happy birthday Betty White is over there, but this was my Gettysburg Address. And so we had one week to make it perfect.

We started off. John and I came up with a joke for the president. We were gonna have him fill out a birthday card, and then while he was filling it out you would hear his voice on a voiceover say, ‘Dear Betty ,you’re so young and full of life I can’t believe you’re turning 90. In fact, I don’t believe it. Please send a copy of your long-form birth certificate to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC.’

So we feel good about the joke ,but we still need a birthday card. So one day that week I go to CVS near the White House. It’s a half block away. I grab a birthday card that I think it’s gonna be pretty good. And then right when I’m about to leave, I realize we don’t actually need one birthday card, we need two identical birthday cards, because we have two different camera angles.

We don’t want anyone to know that the president has already written his birthday greeting. And I think, yes, this is how White House staffers are supposed to feel. I mean, I’ve saved the day. And so I walk back to that to that Hallmark rack and I get an identical card. And I ring it up, and I go back to my office, and I’m feeling really good.

And then the last thing we need, we need some way to end the video. And so what I come up with is, we’re gonna have the President put in headphones, and then he’ll listen to the theme song from the Golden Girls, which is Betty White’s most popular show.

So I find the perfect pair of headphones that go over the ear, they look great on camera, and I listen to the Golden Girls theme song on repeat just to get in the mood. And then finally, on Friday I get the call. Come on over. No here’s what they don’t tell you about having a meeting in the Oval Office.

When you have a meeting in the Oval Office, you do not just walk into the Oval Office. The first thing you do, you wait in this kind of windowless chamber. It’s a little like a doctor’s office, except instead of last year’s Marie Claire magazine, they have priceless pieces of American art.

And instead of a receptionist they have a man with a gun who in a worst case scenario is legally obligated to kill you. It turns out this little room is the perfect place to second-guess every life choice you have ever made. And so I’m sitting there with Hope Hall, the videographer, and I’m just thinking, do I remember how to explain the joke, are both of the birthday cards in there.

I check my pants pocket. Are the headphones still there. Are the headphones still there. Are the headphones still there. I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown when finally one of the president’s aides pokes her head out and says, ‘okay he’s ready for you go on in.’ To my credit, the first time I entered the Oval Office, I do not black out.

I can remember this very clearly. Right in front of me, I can see a painting of the Statue of Liberty that was done by Norman Rockwell that someone has told me is valued at 12 million dollars. And behind me, out of the corner of my eye, I could see the Emancipation Proclamation. Not a photocopy of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation.

And I can feel the message that this document is sending through the room. And that message is, ‘I’m here ’cause I freed the slaves, what are you doing here?’ And I look across the desk at the President, and I realize he may also be wondering what I’m doing here. But I feel great. I mean, I’ve spent an entire week just practicing how to explain this one joke to the President.

So I step up. I look at him. And I open my mouth. And what comes out is like I’m trying to ask for directions but in Spanish. Like the nouns and the verbs are there but there’s nothing in between them. I just say, ‘Betty White, video, NBC very funny, everybody laughs, está bien.’

And the President gives me kind of a confused look, and Hope, the videographer, jumps in and explains everything and rescues me, but I’m a little concerned, because I am here to show the President how professional I am, and in my professional opinion, we are not off to a great start.

Still, I’m not that worried, because I have that second birthday card in my pocket. And so I’m gonna get a chance to show President Obama how I saved the day. And as soon as Hope is finished filming, even I am surprised by how confident I sound when I walk up to the desk and I put my hand down and I say, Mr. President, I’m gonna need to take that birthday card and replace it with this identical birthday card because we don’t want anyone to know you’ve already written your birthday greeting.

And President Obama looks up at me and he says, ‘we’re filming this from all the way across the room?’

And I say, ‘yes, that’s right.’

And he says, ‘so no one’s gonna see the inside of the card.’

And I say, ‘yes, that’s right.’

And he says, ‘so I can just pretend to write in the card? We don’t actually need another one?’

And I say, ‘yes, that’s right.’

And I put the card back in my pocket, and it’s strike two. But I’m not giving up yet, because I made that promise to myself, and besides, I really do feel good about the the ending with the headphones. And so the moment Hope is done filming her second camera angle I walk back up to the President, and I reach into my pocket, and I pull out what looks like a hairball made out of wires.

I don’t really know what happened. I guess somewhere in that waiting room I have just worried this thing into a hopeless tangle. And now I don’t know what to do, so I just hand the entire thing to the President the United States. Now, if you work in the White House, you will hear the phrase, there is no commodity on earth more valuable than a President’s time. Which I always thought was a cliche, until, I watched Barack Obama, untangle headphones, for 30 seconds, while looking directly at me.

And he untangles and untangles, and when he finishes he looks at Hope and just goes, ‘shoddy advanced work.’ And he does it in this way that lets you know that A. he’s only joking, and B. he is not even a tiny bit joking. And I’ll tell you, my heart just sinks. I mean, this was my third chance to make a second first impression on the President, and I let myself down. And all I want to do is get out of there.

And President Obama says something like, well would it be funnier if I bob my head in time to the music. And I say, ‘yeah that would be funnier’, but my heart isn’t in it. I mean, I know I don’t belong there, and the president looks into the camera to tape this final scene, and then suddenly he stops, and he says, ‘well wait a second, if I’m going to bob my head in time to the music, I need to know how the music goes.’

Does anyone here know the Golden Girls theme song? And President Obama looks at Hope. And Hope doesn’t say anything. So I look at Hope, and Hope doesn’t say anything. So President Obama looks at me. And suddenly I know exactly what I can do for my country.

And so I’m standing there in the Oval Office, with the Emancipation Proclamation right behind them, and I look our commander-in-chief in the eye, and I say, ‘bump bump bump bump thank you for being a friend, bump bump bump bump travel down the road and back again, something, something, you’re a pal and a confidant bump bump bump.’ But he looks kind of amused, so I keep going. So I’m like, ‘if you threw a party invited everyone you knew’, and that’s when he gives me a look that’s like okay, President’s time.

But it works.’ President Obama bobs his head in time to the music and Betty White gets her card, and NBC gets their special, and I leave the Oval Office that day with my head held high knowing that the President of the United States was just a tiny bit better at his job because I was in the room.

And people still ask me after that, they still say, have you met him yet, have you met Obama yet?’ And I can finally say, ‘yeah actually I have’, and then just to myself I think, not to brag or anything, but technically, I’m thankful he’s a friend.

Thank you very much.

[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]

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Phyllis Bowdwin on The Moth Portland Mainstage

The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.

In this story, as told by Phyllis Bowdwin, we hear about a time she encountered an abusive mime, and her decision to then cut this person – so to speak – down to size. In one sense, it’s a strange story, but the underlying theme of someone not being respected, and then discovering a new side of themselves during the experience, is a common one for personal storytelling.

Note the passion in her voice and the vivid descriptions that she offers. You feel as though you were there in the crowd watching the event unfold. Now, think of your own life. Was there a situation or event in which you discovered something different about yourself? Maybe a newfound strength that you could rely upon going forward. Such stories inspire others to ask that question about their life.


It’s 1979, and summer in New York City. That was 38 years ago, when I was being interviewed for a promotion from secretary to coordinator of daytime casting at ABC.

I wore my new silk blouse, matching slim skirt, and two-inch yellow sling back heels. I thought I was ready. Although there was some who thought I wasn’t tough enough to hold onto a job like that.

And somewhere in a tiny corner of my mind, there was a part of me that suspected there, that they might be right. I even had a secretary come up to me and say, “Phyllis, you’re too nice.” To which I responded, “Thank you.”

In any case, I was meeting a friend for lunch across the street before my two o’clock interview. And when I got there, I found hordes of people spanning the length and the width of the sidewalk in front of the building, three people deep.

But I found a gap, cut through it, and when I got into the center of this human oval, something came up behind me, grabbed me, prevented me from moving, pinning my arms to my sides. And I looked over both shoulders to see if I could find out what it was, but I didn’t see anything, so I started to struggle.

And the more I struggled, the tighter the grip became. And then I looked to the sea of faces for some clue, some information that would help me to understand what was holding me, what was going on, but they were just placidly chewing and eating their lunch and staring at me.

Suddenly, the pressure was released and a set of rough hands groped me in every part of my body and then pushed me in my lower back. I stumbled forward almost falling, but I regained my balance and I turned around to find a six foot mime leering at me.

He was in full dress with the beret, the face paint, the polar shirt, the suspenders, the black pants, and the very comfortable sneakers. He was beckoning to me and slapping his behind, inviting me to hit him, and I took the bait.

I wrapped the strap of my purse around my hand, and I went after him and I swung, and just as my purse was about to connect, he bounced to another side of the oval and leered at me again, and beckoned me a second time, and padded his behind and wagged it at me as an invitation to come and try again, and I did.

And this time, I swung so hard that when he darted out of the way for the second time, the momentum pulled me forward, and I almost stumbled and fell. And then the people started to laugh,
and I was feeling like a real fool.

So when he beckoned me for the third time, common sense prevailed. Slim skirt, heels, sneakers, I’m outmatched. “You got it,” I said, and I turned and walked away and tried to go up those stairs to get into the building when he rushed up behind me and grabbed my behind and squeezed it, and then darted to safety down further in the oval, and people started to laugh.

And I just stood there as waves of humiliation and rage ran through my body. And I’ve finally got myself together, got up the stairs, got into the building, got to the cafeteria where they was serving my favorite, turkey tetrazzini.

And I went through the motions, paid for my food and sat at the table, but I couldn’t eat or speak, I had just been blindsided, bullied and blatantly violated by a strange man in the street with the approval of hoards of other strangers.

And I was very sure that they had rewarded him handsomely for what he had just done to me. And the thought that I had no way to protect or defend myself, made me feel so powerless that I wanted to cry, so I just sat there.

Then I remembered something that I might have at the bottom of my purse that I bought from a 99 cent store 4 months prior as a joke. And I started digging down into my purse, and the minute my fingers touched that cold, hard canister, I realized that I might have some options after all.

I picked it up, I wrapped my napkin around and then I said, “Got to go,” and turned and got back outside to see if he was still there, and of course he was. And I worked my way to the front of the crowd, because it had swollen to five people deep, to see what he was up to.

And just as I looked up, a beautiful blonde in a pretty, red dress cut through the crap, just as I had, and just as she was about to mount this terrace, he snuck up behind her, and as she raised one foot, he insinuated his way between her legs and stood up, essentially mounting her on his lower back like a rider on a horse.

He reached under her dress, grabbed her legs and proceeded to gallop around the oval with this woman’s hair flying, arms flailing,
holding onto her purse while trying to keep from falling backwards. When he let her down, he promptly lifted her dress up over her head and held it there to the hoots and the whistles of the men.

And when he finally let her go, she staggered into the building and quickly disappeared. And I said to myself, “Is this 1979 in New York City, or have I been dropped into “The Twilight Zone”?

How could this be happening? Where are the police?”

And as I said that, this elderly gentlemen, tall, handsome, distinguished man, stepped into the oval with an old woman in tow, she was holding onto the back of his jacket, and he strolled over to the mime and she peered out at the mime, cringed, and darted back.

And I said to myself, “Now, what did he do to this old woman that would have her cringing at the sight of him?” And sure enough, the old man started shaking his finger in the mime’s face, and the mine feigned innocence. The hands and shoulders went up in the air like he was the victim. And he put on this terrible, sad face and mimed crying and someone in the crowd yelled, “Boo boo, leave the mime alone.”

And the crowd picked up the chant, “Boo boo, leave the mime alone.” And the old man looked up startled into the hostile, menacing eyes of the wolf pack, consisting of executives, clerks, messengers, a UPS driver, a postal employee, even a hot dog vendor selling his food, was enjoying the spectacle.

And the old man shook his head sadly. Gently took the old woman by the hand and led her out of the crowd. And that’s when I got it. This was nothing but a big show. This was theater in the round, and every unsuspecting woman who cut through the crowd became a player, whether she wanted to or not.

She became the catch of the day on the mime’s lunchtime menu,
subject to any form of abuse he chose to cook up to feed vicariously the appetite of his patrons. And so when he started looking around for a new player, I stepped back into the human arena and waited.

He spotted me, he came towards me, and as he got closer, his eyes narrowed, and I couldn’t tell whether it was because of his recognizing me from before, from what he had done to me, or whether he was strategizing how he was going to launch this frontal attack because his MO was to play dirty pool, and sneak up behind the woman and catch her off guard.

But when he got two feet away, I lifted my can of pepper spray and I sprayed him in his face. Yes, yes, and his eyes got wild and he reached for my throat, and I took two steps back, and I sprayed him again and again. I sprayed him like a roach.

And then he began to cough and wheeze and sneeze, and he started staggering towards the street, and his loyal patrons pardon and let him go. He wound up on the hood of a parked car and I stood there and enjoyed watching him wheeze and sneeze.
And I was doing that, something karate-chopped my right hand. It’s another mime.

And this one is twice the size of the other one. And this hulking Goliath of a man is glaring at me like he wants to kill me. And we both hear my canister rolling slowly, but noisily down the sidewalk and he lumbered towards it. And I whirled around, and I went after it. And the two of us scrambled to get to that canister,
and I got there first.

And he moved towards me, and I took a wide stance and I got all the way down and I started rocking and I said, “You want this, motherfucker?” “Come and get it.”

He stopped cold in his tracks and we looked at each other, both knowing that if he ever got his hands on me, he could break me in two. But that day I had had enough and seen enough pushing and grabbing and groping. That day I was prepared to die. And I wasn’t leaving the planet alone, I was taking him with me.

He must have seen it in the rockin’ already in my eyes because they was saying, “Kill the mime.” Because he backed up, turned around, and disappeared back into that crowd. And by now, the spray is starting to spread to his patrons and they are coughing and wheezing and sneezing and quickly disperse without leaving a dime in his beret.

So I dropped my canister back in my purse, and I stood up, only to realize that I had bent the heel on my shoe. And I had split my seam on my skirt all the way up to my behind, and I had an interview at two o’clock. So I hobbled back across the street, and I got on that elevator and got to my office and grabbed my scotch tape and my stapler. I rushed into the ladies’ room, locked the door, took off my skirt, turned it inside out and pinched that seam back together.

I pinched and stapled and pinched and stapled until I got that whole thing closed.Then I taped down one side with the scotch tape, and the other side, and then one going straight down the center in the hopes that no one would ever know what had just happened across the street.

I went to my desk and I reached in my bottom drawer for a pair of flats that I always keep there, and put them on, and waited for that call from personnel. And when they called me, I went upstairs, marched into that office and aced that interview and got the job.

Oh yes.

Oh yes.

And that was the day that I got in touch with my other side. Now, she doesn’t make many appearances, but she’s available on an as need basis. And I call her my quiet fire.

And we both thank you.

[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]

Learn more about the coaching process or
contact me to discuss your storytelling goals!

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Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

Finding Your Creative Voice via Ira Glass

The beauty of becoming a creative professional goes hand in hand with the struggle to find yourself in the process, to make something that speaks to others while revealing the true essence of your own story. This dichotomy can at times cloud your vision, but there is a way through the fog, a path that will ultimately serve your purpose and find an audience.

Fujifilm’s Create Forever project shares impactful stories of individuals who have been, and continue to be, on their creative journey. As a long time fan of Ira Glass and his storytelling sorcery, this was an interview I was eager to see. The video, produced by Muse Storytelling, adds a second layer of meaning with a visual framework that add relevance to Ira’s story.

I think it’s a good target, to invent the thing that’s gonna be exactly right for you. – Ira Glass

Having listened to every episode of This American Life over the past quarter century, there was a surprising moment in the interview that resonated with me. It’s when Ira expressed his original desire to document the stories of everyday people, people who aren’t in the news, as opposed to chasing after famous people like paparazzi, which is too often the strategy.

It’s the reason that I decided to organize TEDx events, to bring voices out into the open that the public was not aware of, and it’s also the reason I’m now coaching speakers to craft their personal narratives. The importance of everyday stories cannot be understated.


But the main focus of this interview was to highlight the challenge of finding your creative voice, to figure out what you love most, and how to express it through your career. But it doesn’t stop with vision or direction, it takes a level of commitment, of diligence to mastering the craft in order to achieve your goals and reach an audience.

If you’re a creative of any discipline, but especially if you’re a storyteller, take a moment to watch Ira’s interview, then examine the path – professional or passionate – that you’re in the process of forging. Think about your deepest desires and consider how you can invent the one thing that is exactly right for you.

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Follow Your Passion, Or Just Enjoy Life

In each moment we’re writing the story of our life based on the decisions we make, and a big part of that story revolves around the career path we choose. On that point, the sage wisdom of the 21st century is to follow your passion. Which, by definition, implies that everyone has a passion to follow. But in my experience, that’s not always the case.

Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of business leaders, entrepreneurs, professors, veterans and students, developing personal stories that include such career-based decisions, and the driving forces behind those choices.

The word passion comes up during these conversations, but not in the way one might expect. As it turns out, life decisions – both personal and career related – involve a complex medley of intellectual and emotional threads coursing through hearts and minds, often in a most perplexing pattern.

When the topic of passion does arise – I’ll overly simplify here for the sake of discussion – people tend to fall into one of three camps. They have too many passions, they have clarity on their one, true passion, or passion wasn’t a factor when determining their vocational path.

Breakingpic Black and White Headphones

Image by Breakingpic from Pexels

We’ve all met people who knew what they wanted to do from an early age. They fell in love with science while standing in the backyard watching the night sky, were captivated by art and carried a sketchpad everywhere they went, or they spent hours each evening incessantly practicing an instrument. Decades later they were still pursuing that one passion, as no other opportunity that crossed their path in the ensuing years had caused them to stray.

Alex Socha Doors Pixabay

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

For those with a handful of passions, life tends to be a blend of excitement and frustration. Too many pursuits with so few hours in each day. In some cases the choices are narrow in scope, such as which discipline to pursue within the field of neuroscience, but the options can also be quite diverse, such as whether to become a doctor or a ballerina.

Sometimes that journey leads to a major/minor relationship. A brilliant surgeon by day, and musician by night, a best-of-both-worlds sort of life, though it must be said this particular combination doesn’t work so well in reverse. Other times the choice is made, often for more practical reasons such as money, and there was no looking back.

Then we have the aimless souls without desire or direction, just stumbling through life. Or so the purpose pundits would have us believe. But when I ask these folks about passion, they smile, and say something like, “Don’t have one, have never needed one, I just enjoy my work.”

Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Mark Twain

And that mindset can result in a string of jobs that, in many cases, cover a number of career paths which overlap, intersect, or build upon each other. The graphic designer that shifted to building websites and, ultimately, toward creating content which took them into social media. It’s not a matter of reaching a skill-based pinnacle, but rather a quest to explore and stretch.

Truth be told, I’m a proud member of this cohort. Looking back, I would have to say that my career path wasn’t a result of following a passion, but rather a series of opportunities, each of which offered the promise of learning, which is one thing I enjoy above most everything else.

I’ve enjoyed my corporate adventures in operations, information systems, marketing, and a CEO stint. And my days organizing TEDx events – despite the trials, travails and tribulations – were most enjoyable. The team members I worked with were incredible (I learned a lot from each of them) and there was nothing more gratifying than seeing speakers (and performers) take the stage to share, illuminate and delight audiences.

Mark Lovett backstage at TEDxSanDiego 2015

Backstage at TEDxSanDiego 2015

The thought of having pursued one of these avocations has an appeal, to be world-class in a specific discipline. To be at the top of my game, complete with all the industry adulation. But I would have lost out on the diversity of learning that I’ve enjoyed. The viewing of life from so many perspectives.

So if you have a passion that drives you, then dive in, go deep, and master your craft. But if professional passion is not your cup of tea, it’s okay to just enjoy what you do, and let it feed your passion for life. In the end, it will still be a story well told.

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Peacemakers at the University

One benefit of being a professional in higher education is the opportunity to change the lives of students at a critical point in their personal development. As young adults discover who they are and attempt to map out their future, or at least determine the direction they will take upon graduation, they need to know how they can make a difference.

As Dean of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego (USD), Patricia Márquez understands the perils of conflict, the importance of conflict resolution, and the need to develop peace professionals.

Dean Márquez doesn’t open her talk by referencing USD, or her own experience as an educator, but rather tells a historical tale that takes the audience back in time to “113 years ago, in 1895”. She goes on to explain how Charles Eliot, the president of Harvard University, decided to start a business school at the university. This combination of a second hand story and historical narrative is a compelling way to begin her talk about the importance of peace studies in a world that is dealing with conflict at every turn.


At three minutes into her talk Dean Márquez brings us a century forward into the present day, and for the first time introduces the topic of conflict resolution. She makes the case that just as business education became a foundational piece of our expanding economy, peace studies will become just as pivotal in shaping our collective future. This is an interesting way in which an audience comes to understand the merits of an idea by hearing about a similar, or parallel story that comes to the same conclusion. “We need professionals to build peace.”

This statement becomes her stake in the ground, the key idea that she will go on to explain in detail with specific examples of how this paradigm is playing out around the world. She then uses specific examples to illustrate the challenges we face in achieving peaceful coexistence. From New York City to Kibera, Nairobi, Mexico City and Cape Town, to the most common human desire, to live a better life, as exemplified by the flow of migrants.

“In an increasingly diverse, dense, and connected world, the question for us is how to build peaceful coexistence where the rights of all individuals are being met.”

How does your story relate to events in the past? Is there a parallel story that can highlight the path of your own narrative? Are there personal stories that provide current and relevant examples of how your idea or solution can change the status quo?

Peace Innovators is a program from the Kroc School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego in which select faculty members prepare presentations that are focused on the human issues they address within their professional studies as well as class curriculum. I had the pleasure of working with each of these speakers as they prepared their talks.

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