Growing up with my dad had so many benefits and in light of the daily reminders of how his insight so positively shaped my life, I am happy to share his wisdom with you in this series of articles that a friend suggested I call, "Lights Go On."
Today I am offering a tenet of Dad's that has served me extraordinarily well throughout my life: "Declare What You Want."
As a young boy, this venerable statement usually followed a conversation that went something like this.
"Dad, what do I do about this flat tire on my bike?"
"What do you want to do about it?"
"I want to fix it."
"Good. You just declared what you want. Do you have an idea of what to do now?"
You know, I did. As soon as I declared what I wanted, the creative process was jump-started. Before you knew it, Dad was coaching me through the process of fixing that flat. Soon this simple statement was embedded in me as a process that creates solutions.
Often, when Dad would notice that these words of wisdom were falling from the forefront of my lexicon, he would encourage me thus: "No one will ever be upset with you for telling them what you want."
I have witnessed this phenomenon too many times to recount; however, here is a case in point that I believe will resonate with you.
My first long-term job out of college was as a background singer on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, a revolutionary new show on CBS that topped the ratings and caused a stir with the censors.
I loved my job. As a member of the "Jimmy Joyce Singers," we sang the show theme live with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra and we backed up guest artists such as Sonny and Cher, Simon & Garfunkel, as well as most of the leading acts of the day. We acted as extras in various skits on the show as well. So I experienced costuming and make-up for the first time.
We were also known as "singers who move." When the show featured big production numbers, we eight singers would augment the eight dancers on the show (standing behind the dancers of course) for a grander look.
Because the show was taped live and we singers were not in all of the scenes, there were situations when we had a lot of time on our hands. I noticed that most of my colleagues would read books, or knit or even nap between our assignments.
Not me. As I looked around this great CBS studio, I found myself wanting to know more. "I'm at f##king CBS," I thought to myself, "I may never be here again. I want to know what this place is about."
Did you notice? I had just declared what I wanted. And it took no time at all until a helpful question arose. "Well, how are you going to do that?"
"I'll start at the top," was my immediate answer.
So I ventured to the office of Stan Harris, the director of the show, and knocked at his door.
"Hi, Stan, I don't know if you know me. My name is Tom Bähler and I am one of your background singers on the show."
"Sure, Tom, what can I do for you?"
"Well, Stan, there seem to be occasions when I have some extra time between assignments on the show and I was wondering, if I promise to be quiet and not intrude, may I follow you around and observe you as you direct the show?"
Stan's face brightened as if I he had just recognized a long lost relative. "Of course you may. I would welcome it."
Are you with me here? I had just declared what I wanted to the director of the hottest show in television, and he responded in the affirmative.
I called Dad that evening and he was pleased to hear what I had done. "I think this will be good for you, Son," was his response. I loved that he didn't offer any advice on what to do while I followed Stan around.
It was such an exciting as well as memorable learning experience. Standing at Stan's side, I observed his directorial mastery as he conferred with Dickie and Tommy Smothers, rehearsed the guest stars, checked in on all of the various departments such as music, sets, lights, costumes and make-up. Stan's commanding, yet approachable presence was a calming factor during the process of creating this high-powered show each week. My admiration for him grew even greater.
Soon Stan began to call me out, even when I was about to perform one of my assignments. "Hey Tom, come over here, I think you'll enjoy this."
By the end of the season, I had been schooled by one of the best. "Do you want to direct someday?" Stan asked me one afternoon.
"I don't know yet, but I want to thank you for mentoring me and giving me this opportunity to learn about every facet of this show."
"Think nothing of it. It has been my pleasure watching you drink in all of this information."
By the time we were winding down the season, all of the departments -- music, sets, lighting, costuming, make-up -- were inviting me to come visit them.
Dickie Smothers and I became well-acquainted too as we were both Porsche enthusiasts and shared the same revered mechanic.
I learned to become a producer that season. I learned even more about people and relationships.
I declared what I wanted.
Give it a try. I found that it works every time, as long as what I want serves others as well.