Is Your Job Who You Think You Are?

Years ago I was watching a Barbara Walters special on television.  She was interviewing Johnny Carson, a man who greatly influenced me as a comedian. It was during his last year as the host of “The Tonight Show.” I turned my TV on 15 minutes in advance, just to be sure I didn’t miss a thing.  I was eager to hear what such a fortunate man might say. To me it seemed like no one on Earth could have been happier and more successful than the great Johnny Carson.

As you may know, Barbara Walters has a reputation of being very direct when interviewing celebrities, but if anyone could handle “The Woman Who Pulls No Punches,” I thought surely it would be “The King of Late Night Television.”  I admit I was leaning forward on my brown leather couch, eager to catch every word. I even put my dogs outside lest they bark and cause me to miss a word.

The interview wasn’t very lively, I was surprised, at the way Johnny responded to Walter’s questions. I expected the carefree attitude of a man, having conquered the world, going out on top.  Instead of the usual barrage of rapid-fire jokes and wisecracks when he was questioned about his personal life, he gave short, awkward replies that didn’t at all suggest confidence.  There was an aura of melancholy about him that I believe even took Barbara Walters by surprise.

At the end of the interview, Walters alluded to Carson’s fame and long list of accomplishments, any of which were far more than most up-and-coming comedians like me could have even imagined attaining.  She looked him square in the face and asked, “Are you happy?

I couldn’t help myself.  I blurted out, “What a stupid question!  Of course he’s happy!  He’s Jonny Carson!” 

I was shocked when he stumbled over what seemed to be a very simple question.  It was obvious that he was uncomfortable giving his answer: “I don’t know.” Said The King of Late Night Television. “I honestly don’t know.”

Why, I wondered, was someone who gave so much joy and laughter to millions of people five days a week for almost thirty years unable to answer the question, “Are you happy?” 

Of course you could say that he was in a low mood because he was leaving the show that was a great part of his life.  I could buy that.  Surely anyone would be sad under similar circumstances. But even after being reminded of his accomplishments in the television and entertainment industry and the monumental impact he made in so many people’s lives, he still couldn’t answer the simple question.

On the final episode of The Tonight Show, Johnny gave his farewell address to the millions who were watching.  It was in that address, his final monologue, that clues to his malaise were revealed.  On that final episode of The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson said, “I am one of the lucky ones in the world.  I found something I always wanted to do and enjoyed every minute of it.”

Then he revealed his deep regret, and apologized to his sons Kit and Cory for “not being there enough,” adding that he loved them.  He also expressed sorrow and guilt about the death of his son, Richard, who died in a car crash in 1991.

Johnny was married four times.  His ex-wives were often the butt of his jokes.  Behind the mask of humor was there someone who truly wanted a lasting relationship?  It was apparent that he was so caught up in his role as “The King of Late Night Television” that he had difficulty identifying himself with anything or anyone else.

It’s obvious that Johnny Carson gave much and received much, but paid heavily.  It makes one wonder, is there always a price to pay when what we do for a living becomes our whole life, no matter what the level of success that’s achieved?  We have to ask ourselves, is the price worth it? And, is there a way to find a happy balance?

Most people would say then that Johnny Carson had the world in the palms of his hands.  But perhaps having the world in the palms of your hands shouldn’t be the point of focus.  What really matters is the realization that you always hold your own world in your hands, and the choices you make as you are holding it. Your current life is the direct result of the choices you have made so far in your life.

It’s a universal fact that there are always consequences for the choices we make.  We would all stand a better chance to live a happier life if we were more conscious of, and put some thought behind, our choices. How would your life improve if you stopped to consider the long term potential effects of the choices you are making today?

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