People don’t often ask me who my personal hero is, but if they did I’d probably give them a name they wouldn’t expect.
Yes, Jerry Seinfeld. The comedian. But, more importantly, one of the creators and stars of one of the greatest television sitcoms of all time, “Seinfeld.”
So, why Jerry Seinfeld? Why not a president or another world leader? Or how about a famous musician, writer or — given my job editing a business publication — a titan of industry?
Certainly, there are other people to whom I look up to. But, for whatever reason, whenever I think long and hard about the kind of person I would want to embody the most, dry-humored Jerry Seinfeld always comes to mind.
As a child of the 1990s, I grew up watching “Seinfeld.” The show had an odd effect on how my personality developed. People who know me well are familiar with my dry, sarcastic sensibility, and knowing that I spent a good portion of my impressionable years learning life lessons from George Costanza probably explains it.
What I loved about “Seinfeld” growing up, and still love about the show today, is its ability to unpack humor in unsuspecting places. That’s probably a big reason why I grew up to become so incessantly curious. There are interesting, entertaining and informative things happening all around us. You just have to find them.
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This is my last Talent Economy column for 2016. When I sat down to think about something profound to say to send readers into the New Year, I couldn’t think of anything. Then one night I stumbled upon a behind-the-scenes telling of the making of “Seinfeld” on YouTube.
I think the reason I admire Jerry so much is because of his attitude. He’s always got sort of a half grin on his face, as if he thinks everything he sees or says is funny. The same can be said of Larry David, the show’s executive producer and cowriter, who, of course, went on to establish his own famous persona on the show “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
What I didn’t know about “Seinfeld” before watching this documentary was the uphill battle the show had to endure before it became successful. Early viewers of the show hated it. The network wanted to dump it. Most people didn’t find it funny.
Even as Jerry talked about the challenges the show faced in its early days, he never appeared to express any fear of the show failing — even though others in a similar situation may have let the weight of letting such a rare opportunity to have a network sitcom slip through their fingers stress them out.
Jerry, as he appeared in this documentary, always seemed to have a sense of levity to the situation. If “Seinfeld” in its early going had failed, it would have been no big deal. He’d just go back to being a standup comedian.
Business leaders are understandably serious about the people they lead and the organizations they run. I am often serious too. Everyone has responsibilities, goals to meet and performance metrics to attain. We’ve got bills to pay. Most of us still need to work for a living, even though sometimes work isn’t fun.
Still, occasionally it’s important to remember the absurdity of it all; that, in the face of failure, it’s OK to laugh and keep things light. Jerry Seinfeld always appears to be able to do that.
Which is why, when I really think about it, I do indeed think that Jerry Seinfeld is my personal hero. Not just because he’s a funny and successful comedian. Not just because he’s responsible for one of my favorite TV shows of all time. It’s because in everything Jerry does, he always appears to come at it from a perspective of levity. I think this is why he’s become so successful.
Keep that in mind as you’re wrapping up the year. No business leader is devoid of some level of anxiety about the uncertainty and challenge ahead of them, or the fear of failing at something that’s important or critical.
Just don’t let those things inhibit your ability to stop every once in a while, step back and laugh at it all.
Frank Kalman is Talent Economy’s Managing Editor.