14 Nov 2013
On dogs, or 25,000 conversations with strangers
Nearly 14 years ago—not long after I settled in New York City—I got my first dog and have had one ever since. And even though there are many ways to give advice, all the best advice I’ve gained, I’ve gained by observing my dogs. So, from my dogs to you, a list of five pieces of advice:
- Everyone has a story, and everyone is a potential playmate.
I walk my dog at least five times/day. And not a walk goes by that I don’t have a conversation with a stranger. About something, anything. I figure that in the last 14 years, if I’ve had at least five walks + conversations/day—that’s over 25,000 with strangers. Wow. (And New Yorkers turn out to be some intriguing people.) So embrace everyone. Know that everyone has something interesting to share.
- Some animals are mean. Avoid them.
As much as it’s useful to embrace everyone, some animals are just plain mean. Avoid them. Follow your (animal) instincts and surround yourself with humans and animals who make you feel positive and loved and inspired.
- Size up an idea, then throw yourself into it.
For her first four months, my current dog and I would visit the lake in our local park, Prospect Park. Carefully, she would study it—what was this magical smooth surface? How were other dogs using it? What was this wet thing that happened to them after they emerged from the lake? She was sizing up the situation. One day without warning, she threw herself into the deep part and did the most earnest doggie paddle she could. Try it: do the right amount of research, just enough, then just throw your weight behind an idea. If you have to do the doggie paddle at first, so be it.
- Roll in the grass whenever possible.
Work hard. But embrace pleasure. Roll around in the pleasure.
- When you love something, share it. Show it. Bring it everywhere. Put a leash on it. Hold its hand in public.
These animals, in big and small ways, have changed my life. Animals of all kinds will come and go in your life. Love them fiercely and madly—and when you see a good field, get down in the grass and roll.
Lastly, the unintended lesson of these lessons is always be prepared to be surprised. I had the pleasure of giving this advice as part of Creative Mornings fifth birthday celebration, a tremendous event to celebrate a half decade of tremendous events, alongside some inspiring people. The smooth partnership I’d imagined on stage didn’t unfold exactly as I had planned. But that’s about right, isn’t it? Always be prepared to be surprised. You may just surprise yourself.