I cried like a baby. Alone in my office, late at night, watching The Kennedy Center Honors. There was Aretha Franklin singing, You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, a song penned by Carole King—who was the one being honored. What made me so emotional? Seeing a songwriter and a singer both being recognized by their peers as exceptional made me realize it’s that kind of respect I crave, too. I know how that sounds, but I can’t be the only one who feels this way. No matter what you do, don’t you want others who understand (and who matter) to acknowledge you and your work?
I love what I do and even if nobody noticed, I’d do it anyway. I also really appreciate it when readers, listeners, and audience members take the time to write me a nice note. Still, one of my proudest moments ever was winning the Theodor S. Geisel Award for having written the best book of the year in 2001. Why? It was the recognition (and respect) of fellow authors—who were the ones who chose my book as the best—that made it mean the most . . . and my parents were there to share the moment. More on that in a minute. At The Kennedy Center Honors the recipients of the award sit in a balcony overlooking the stage, while other artists sing their praises—or sing their songs. Led Zeppelin beamed when Jack Black called them, “The best band ever. Ever!” Robert Plant weeped when Nancy Wilson (of Heart) nailed, Stairway to Heaven. Sting, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney (and many other honorees) got choked up while watching from above. It’s the same reason actors covet the Screen Actor’s Guild Award, it’s a peer-to-peer award.
So how does this apply to us and our work? I think we should strive to do work worthy of recognition—no matter how seemingly small or insignificant it seems—and master our craft (or job) through compound improvement (being a little better every day over time makes a big difference). We should share our successes with pride, but also with class. For example (I hope), my wife was just recognized as HR Professional of the Year from Nordstrom. When others notice our hard work and accomplishments and give us a compliment, we should simply accept it with modesty, but without the, “Ah, it was nothing.” Lastly, we should expand our network of peers and win others over one interaction at a time.
Now back to the story about my big night at the book awards show. I was seated next to my dad (with my mom one seat over from him) at a table in the big banquet hall and I was admiring my award as the winner for the best book in my category, Best Business Book of the Year. I was so proud. The night was wrapping up and all that was left was the announcement of who would win the Best Overall Book of the Year and recognized as the top author of the year. My dad and I were chatting about our boat when the winner was announced. The emcee called the name again. It was my father who said, “Son, I think they just called your name.” I would later learn that he told anyone and everyone that would listen (and even those who wouldn’t) about my big win. It meant so much to me (and him).
Carole King / Aretha Franklin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHsnZT7Z2yQ
Led Zeppelin / Ann Wilson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ra-itTKnFaw