The Jerry Seinfeld Playbook – A Birthday Tribute, By One Raving Fan
We all love Jerry Seinfeld and it is certain that I love him more than all. The TV all-star was and remains one of my favorite sitcom star but in the years of coaching practice, I have come to appreciate him as an example, in many ways, of enlightenment. In the same way that I oft reference other modern “masters,” such as Warren Buffet – for the obvious consistencies in their mindset that have produced, over long stretches of time, consistently solid and visible results – today I’d like to talk to you about a few key mindset hacks offered by our beloved Jerry. If you watch him intently and heed to the principles I will offer below, your mindset will benefit immensely. Above all, I hope you detect that which I see in him AND in my other tried and true examples such as Warren Buffet, Dolly Parton and the Dalai Lama – which is equanimity. A lifelong meditator, Jerry Seinfeld is just “chill.” That is his secret. The rest, offered to you herein, you may consider the Jerry Seinfeld Playbook:
- You will always be relaxed if you are prepared. In writing this piece, I watched several “behind the scenes” and “making of” videos shot on the Seinfeld set. Actors reciting lines, directors pacing, camera crew busy and abuzz… but Jerry, always the most relaxed man of the set, playful and eager. I see these kinds of contrasts often in green rooms during conferences or shows, where I’m usually gathered with other coaches, speakers and performers. There are those who recite lines at the last moment, and there are those who are so rigorously and routinely prepared that they just need to show up. Be the latter. That is and must have been Jerry’s secret – preparation. This is not a “last minute” guy.
- Mastery allows for multi-tasking. On Seinfeld and all subsequent projects, he has done all parts: hosting/ acting, writing, producing and directing. In many of my productivity masterminds, I bang the drum about multi-tasking being antithetical to focus. But here’s a next level truth: most masters reach a point of such proficiency and such “flow” – that state of being “in the zone,” a state of really getting lost in what one is doing – that they can do any and all things at the same time. Maybe, at least sometimes, this you. Maybe someday soon, this will be.
- Frame the Criticism and KEEP GOING. In his old office on the Seinfeld set, Jerry kept a framed audience response report from the show’s pilot from 1989. It was BRUTAL. The audience did not like it one bit: “no segment of the audience,” it said, “was eager to watch the show again.” They even felt that Jerry needed “a better backup ensemble.” NBC decided to shoot four episodes, anyway. As they say, success is the best teacher—but they would not have gotten there is Jerry Seinfeld and his cohorts had pulled a JK Rowling, ploughing on, anyway. Dedicated to the craft and the long game, not deterred by one moment of discouragement in time.
- Obsession works in your favor. In coaching superstars, I have found that in all excellence, there is a degree of compulsion or obsession. However, it is NOT perfectionism—it is obsession, and there is a very distinct difference. In interviews, several Jerry obsessive attributes come through: cleanliness, minimalism, extraordinary attention to everything going on in a set, with lines, with performances and with his own appearance, delivery and personal life. I have seen this once and again in myself and in coaching “superstars.” Sometimes, we can be really obsessive. Here’s the key, though; the obsessiveness doesn’t hurt, does not mind failure or mistakes and is not painful to others around us. It’s really nothing more than unflinching focus in getting stuff done, a real zest that can keep you working for hours as if you were at play, a sense that the work is never really done. In stark contrast with perfectionism, however, it is never acerbic, judgmental or punishing. If you are in this realm of obsession as “flow,” congratulations. You are probably very happy. Combine this with meaning, which is made up of service and gratitude – and you should be high as a kite right about now.
- Be OK with WAITING. Possibly the greatest example I have seen of equanimity is this phrase, doled out in a superb “60 Minutes” interview done with him in the nineties, at the height of his fame: “You must master waiting as a comedian. You must be able to just wait, comfortably. Show is delayed a half-hour? Fine. Plane delayed 3 hours? No problem. Your career is delayed 5 years? That’s fine.” This is a perfect example of equanimity – taking the LONG view in life. It is easy to spot, too, in the Becoming Warren Buffet documentary on HBO – simply by observing Buffet’s ease with market ups and downs. It is a profound understanding that everything is working out, and if so – what is the rush?
- Know your leverage. At some point, you can no longer afford to give any attention to “jitters” or self-doubt or any form of performance anxiety. In an epic segment in the same 60 Minutes interview I loved from the nineties, Jerry is asked if he still gets nervous when he gets up on stage. He answers, clearly amused by the question: “I’m in this twenty years, brother. It’s over…all of the tension, the struggle. I always wanted to be a comedian and now it’s 20 years later. I am a comedian.” How I wish so many of my superstars got this inherently, too, with no need to be reminded. You are not proving anything anymore. You are not on the bench, hoping to get a shot at the basket. YOU ARE THE PLAYER IN THE ARENA. Enjoy.
- Don’t care about stardom, love the craft. That lasts way longer, too. He tells an interviewer that he never really thought he would see fame. “I had been doing comedy for 16 years. I wasn’t going anywhere. You know? This is it. I’ve got 45 minutes of observations about planes and cough syrup and that’s it. I get away with that. I make a living. I thought that even if I did manage to get on TV, I’m not the kind of guy people get excited about. …I’m just like a good carpenter – I do nice, detailed work.” Now THAT is a fabulous way to think of yourself, isn’t it? Love the craft, be really good at it. That’s the whole point, anyway.
- Resistance is good for you (and good for a laugh). “I think contentment is over-rated,” Jerry has said. “I think the human being is designed to lean forward, and that is when it’s at its healthiest condition: when it’s leaning into a slight wind; when you take away that resistance, I think it unbalances the organism. That’s why nothing funny has ever been written at a beach. There’s just no resistance. There’s not enough resistance.” Whatever you go through – lean into this. Understand that this truly is what produces the most growth in life, but also the greatest laughs.
- Play the game by the rules. Like many epic sitcoms including The Golden Girls and Frasier (other Coach Keren favorites), Seinfeld was able to tackle truly taboo subjects with levity and mass appeal, including homosexuality (“not that there’s anything wrong with that”) and masturbation (“master of your domain”). Here was Jerry and his team’s secret: delicacy and minding the rules. The line “not that there’s anything wrong with that” uttered at every turn in which Jerry and the cast pronounced anything around homosexuality, they were able to dance on both sides of the balance and have fun. They understood and acknowledged the rules of political correctness each time they did this. And so, as Jerry said in one interview: “that’s what made the game fun.” Without the rules, there is no fun. I think this is a deep-seated comment on integrity and fairness. You will hear this from every master as a key to enlightenment and service. And it is a message well worth heeding.
- Life is supposed to feel good to you: follow your bliss. Jerry Seinfeld has done with his life’s work and hobbies what a lot of us don’t allow ourselves to do because it’s “indulgent,” “unproductive,” or doesn’t make money. His career? Comedy (cue sound of Jewish mother crying). His passions? Toys, bikes and very expensive cars. Both streams have produced massive revenue streams, but more than anything else, I think they have lent themselves to a true journey of bliss for Jerry. This isn’t about the fleeting pleasure of a car: to own them in volume in itself signals that the objects themselves are meaningless. But the passion for driving, for mechanics and for design – that’s what he can get lost in. And the Chutzpah to have let himself pursue that – this is Jerry’s great genius. A person committed to following their bliss – to knowing what they love and having the nerve to follow this despite any objective opinions and circumstances around you – this is a real mindset gift. Believe in yourself. Bet on yourself. Love what you love. It’s going to pay off.
And if you take nothing else from him, I hope you heed to this last point. This is how he has become one of the most prolific, profitable and enduring entertainer to date. And, dare I say it, one of the happiest.
Watch the best piece I found for this creation – Jerry Seinfeld full 60 Minutes gem – here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qWanfXjOJQ&t=508s