When Larry King died this past week at 87, he left us with some valuable life lessons, about listening, fame and learning from our mistakes.
“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”
Most of us come into conversation with an agenda. We often think we know the right path, the appropriate point of view. Life is a debate and the winner is the one who best sells his or her side of the story. Larry King was born curious. His uncomfortable childhood fired the desire to become important and famous. He understood Zig Ziglar‘s maxim, “You can get everything you want if help others get what they want,” and practiced its corollary, “Listening is the doorway to understanding.”
The Why is much more powerful than the What
Larry tells a story of a conversation with ABC anchor Ted Koppel. “If I see a firefighter at a fire,” Koppel said, “I’ll ask, ‘how many were killed?’ Larry King would ask, ‘why fight fires?’” The “Why” Fuels every emotion from joy to anger and every action. When we truly seek to learn the story behind the attitude, we can best craft win-win solutions that benefit the greater good.
You won’t be good at everything
Larry King had trouble sustaining a marriage. He tried it 8 times and failed. He struggled for many years with a nicotine addiction. And early in his life, ran afoul of the law. Ultimately, Larry discovered his sweet spot and turned a penchant for inquisitive conversation into a career. He was so focused on that career that it was hard to create lasting, committed relationships. Larry ultimately beat cigarettes and learned from his legal troubles. But like many of us, he struggled to find a balance in every dimension of his life.
Luck favors the tenacious
Larry’s broadcast career parallels many of our own adventures. He started out sweeping floors and was in the right place at the right time when a jock didn’t show. At one point, long before CNN, Larry King was on local radio, was an NFL color commentator, served as a moderator at a local political debate and had a late night local TV talk show. He saw every setback as another stepping stone and used every experience as a learning experience. His wide array of guests were full of wisdom, and Larry could apply much of it as he built his own brand.
To benefit you, it can’t be about you
“My guests are always the center of attention,” King often said. “When you’re on my show, it’s all about you.” It’s a fact of life that we attract others in direct proportion to the value we can add to their lives. Guests loved to appear on The Larry King Show, because they were the stars. “If I’m talking too much,” Larry concluded, “Something is wrong.” Though he was well compensated as his career flourished, Larry King could also be very generous. He liked routine and had favorite servers he tipped well. When I met him, he told me, “Talent and luck can make you a good living. What you give to others makes that life worth living.”
Larry King was a complicated man, a product of his generation. He told me he had as many enemies as he had friends, something I found hard to believe, and cemented the chestnut, “If you want to make an enemy, express an opinion,” into my consciousness. He was a reminder that we are all imperfect, but are all capable of doing good things, anyway. He created an atmosphere where people felt comfortable sharing their secrets in front of an audience of millions.
And he’s a reminder that excellence is accessible to anyone who will listen, learn, and keep practicing.
Video – Larry King says goodbye.