Conan’s American Dream
I have never watched Conan O’Brien or Jay Leno. I caught David Letterman a few times back in the ’90s. No Jimmy, either Kimmel or Fallon, graces my TV after midnight. I’m more likely to be watching a Seinfeld rerun at that hour.
So what I’m about to write has nothing to do with allegiances or who’s to blame for the talk show debacle that unfolded over at General Electric’s (GE: 16.1, -0.24, -1.47%) NBC.
But as a life coach I am compelled to pause for a moment and reflect on the parting words of Conan O’Brien on his last show. After reading an article about it I became intrigued, so I watched the clip online and here’s my takeaway: The next time I have a client who wants to know what it means to have perspective, like big-picture, healthy, adult perspective, I’ll tell him to view that clip.
“I have had more good fortune than anybody I know,” O’Brien said. “And if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-Eleven parking lot, we’ll find a way to make it fun. We really will. I have no problems.”
Now the folks who see life only through a painstakingly practical or cynical lens just shrug that comment off and point to his millions of dollars. But I would argue that when people who don’t need to work another day in their lives for financial reasons choose to continue pursuing their passions and using their gifts, we get to see who they really are. This is the stuff of role models.
Back in 1931, a book called The Epic of America by James Truslow Adams introduced us to the term, the American Dream. It reads, “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement … It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
Since then, as each decade has passed, the American Dream has become more and more focused on our accumulation of material goods and has even become equated with home ownership in these challenging economic times. I confess sometimes that blows my mind. That’s our collective American Dream? A house in the suburbs? It brings to mind the film American Beauty in which nothing was as it seemed – the lovely house held within it complete dysfunction, the girl who portrayed herself as promiscuous was actually a virgin, the homophobe was in fact gay. The dream was a facade.
Wanting to own a home or whatever else materially defines our American Dream is only part of it, isn’t it? What happened to the “fuller” life described by Adams? It is lost on so many of our citizens. We are so politically polarized we’ve lost perspective on the fact that our nation would be greater if we all lived our own lives meaningfully and thoughtfully. We’ve come to gravitate to the ‘us vs. them’ way of thinking. It’s natural to do so in sports, but in our day-to-day lives as citizens?
As the NBC talk show situation heated up, taking sides became the thing. It was a feeding frenzy. We even had celebrities coming down on one side or the other. On his last show, after thanking his fans for making a tough situation “joyous and inspirational” and emphasizing again and again that he wasn’t joking, O’Brien addressed the flap.
“All I ask is one thing,” O’Brien said, “and I’m asking this particularly of young people that watch. Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality. It doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”
Yes, it allows you to live your American Dream, if only for a fraction of the time you’d hoped. I don’t know Conan O’Brien even a little, but just from his graceful exit I would confidently bet that the next phase of his American Dream is right around the corner. And it will eclipse his expectations in unforeseen ways.
That might be worth tuning in to see.