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If you’re smart, you’ll learn something new from every job. And given that you’ll switch, not just jobs, but careers several times over your life, your unique advantage comes from the wisdom you pick up along the way.

If you worked in customer service, you’ll know how to handle clients when you go into business for yourself.

If you used to work as a reporter, you’ll have a nose for asking the right questions when you start law school.

And if you’ve ever douched your own nasal passages on national TV, you’ll know how to, quite literally, go with the flow.

(True story. More on that in a minute.)

For years I served as a magazine editor at Martha Stewart—and part of my job was doing regular TV segments on hers and other daytime shows. I also hosted my own daily radio show on Sirius XM for years.

Media, I’ve found, is a pretty powerful crucible for learning how to think on your feet when it matters most.

And should you decide to pursue media as part of your career (say as a contributing expert or guest, or perhaps even as an editor or producer), here are some key insights that will serve you on the air—and everywhere else.

Lesson #1: Keep it moving

In TV, you have maybe 3 to 5 minutes tops, so you have to make the best of every single one of them—especially on live TV. There is no editing, and there’s no time to hit the brakes if things go awry.

One time on Martha’s show, I was demonstrating a series of meditation apps. They worked fine during rehearsal. But when we went live? No dice. There we were, and for two long seconds the balloons that were supposed to dance across the screen, didn’t.

Martha started asking, “Why isn’t it working,” and rather than dwell on it, I waved it off (“Who knows?”) and kept things going. I said, “Well, what you would have seen, had it worked, was…” and spent a second or two explaining it, rendering the actual demo unnecessary.

In Real Life (IRL): Don’t dwell on it. Doesn’t matter if your powerpoint slides wouldn’t advance, or why three people canceled on your meeting. We waste far too much time looking backwards, trying to edit the past.

Obviously, understand a problem well enough so that you don’t let it happen again. But there are some times when inexplainable blips occur and at some point, it isn’t worth revisiting.

Instead, think like a host who is on to the following segment: “Next up! Let’s find out how to juice kale at home!” It doesn’t matter why the world didn’t going your way. Just. Keep. Going.

Lesson #2: Make an impression

The people who do well as on-air contributors are not only clear communicators—they aren’t afraid to stake their claim.

The people I booked as experts on my radio show were those who brought their ideas and opinions to the table, not the ones who played it safe all the time.

IRL: The more you waffle and hesitate, the less impressive and less interesting you become. The people who stand out and get tapped for bigger opportunities are the ones who aren’t afraid to own up to what they really think, and stand by it.

Lesson #3: Be game for anything

There’s no room on TV to do anything less than 100 percent. Even if you’re nervous. Better to see it through than fail halfway.

I was about to step onto the set of Martha to discuss a series of natural flu remedies, including the neti pot, an ages-old practice of flushing the nasal passages with warm saline water.

The plan changed five minutes before I went on the air, when the producer said, “Martha wants you to demo the neti pot.”

Um, what?

“Get me a towel and a bowl,” I said. And I walked on stage and douched my nose on national television. It was messy and, yes, I was dying a little inside as I did it. But you can’t fake a neti pot demo. You have to go all in.

(You can watch that clip here—at the 1:50 mark)

The audience laughed, Martha clapped, and a clip of it ended up on some online video called “WTF is going on with daytime TV?”

That was a win.

IRL: Commit. You’ll get real props for trying something, whether it works out or not—especially if you fully commit to doing it.

Realize that you don’t actually learn much from doing things right. You learn from doing it period. Win or lose, the effort teaches you so much more, not only about what you have done—but, more importantly, what you can do.

Want to learn more about how to be a go-to media expert? Register for the FREE online training I’m giving with seasoned TV producer Paula Rizzo, “5 (Little-Known) Ways to Snag Media Attention…That Even PR Pros Get Wrong” on March 13th or 14th.

tv-shot-1256125-640x512I wish I watched more TV.

Fact is, I’m usually late to the party: I started Lost several seasons in. I began Six Feet Under when it was, well, already six feet under. I binged Breaking Bad just in time to watch the last season (worth it). And forged through Game of Thrones from a standstill last summer. Same with Walking Dead the previous spring.

Why? I got tired of being left out of the cultural conversation. Loathed when someone would turn to me in the midst of making a point and say, “You watch Game of Thrones?” and my “no,” threw the brakes on. And it wasn’t just conversations “about” the shows, but situations, moments, characters, that people would refer to, make jokes about, and I was like, there’s no reason I can’t know about this.

Say what you will, but TV (even more so than movies today) are our cultural touchstones. Once I knew these shows, these characters, my conversations with people changed; I had more to draw on in terms of cultural fodder, language, and references. It’s like I had added words to my vocabulary and became more culturally fluent.

Now, I have some friends, some good friends, who say, “Oh, I don’t watch TV”—they just swear it off completely, like recreational drug or gluten.

One of them says that the most fascinating people she knows do not watch TV; ergo, to be a fascinating person or fascinating life, don’t watch TV.

Meh. Not sure about that. I don’t see how I’m more interesting by not being exposed to fascinating stories and complex characters. I’d like to think I’m a more noble person post-Jon Snow. Think books are better? Books were first. Books still matter. But these are the stories and characters that populate our landscape now most widely, just as Pip or Odysseus or Jane Eyre were in another time (and, actually, still today in classrooms everywhere). Those are stories; these are stories.

I get it: Life is not to be lived staring blankly at a screen as we slowly take on the shape of our living room sofas. But are any of us really doing that? I’m not.

I have to actively make time for TV. I beat back my ever-creeping workload with a stick, to defend that precious window to watch another episode of Bloodline or House of Cards. In an era when we share and share—our opinions, our insights, our take on this or that, why would we want to limit the things we can talk about? I’m just mad I haven’t seen more.

One of the brightest people I know said to me the other night that he doesn’t feel one bit bad about dosing Silicon Valley.

“It get me thinking about stuff, exposes me to ideas and scenarios that I probably will not encounter during my average day,” he says. “When I watch an episode, my brain is buzzing for hours after.”

You only live once; it’s true. And yet, you have one life (that we know of). Watching TV gives us a trapdoor into other lives, worlds, situations—in fact, it’s a way to live other lives, and share in that experience without having lived it yourself. It transports you to another way of thinking and seeing, which is critical to being creative, insightful, aware.

As for whether TV alone “turns your brain to mush?” Meh. TV can’t make you something you’re not, and chances are, if that’s your problem, your brain was already mush. It’s how you use your brain that matters, regardless of what you’re consuming. Purposeful, intentional viewing can open more windows in your head.

My writing mentor, Suzanne Kingsbury is a novelist and all-around literary arts person who coaches authors and reads for a living. And she has zero shame about watching TV. In fact, she says if you want to be a writer, you better start watching. Narrative, drama, character development? It’s all there. Become a student of it.

Look, there’s only so many smarty pants business books you can read. We come from storytelling—it’s the oldest form of communication we have. It’s where we have learned about risk and reward, good and evil, love and betrayal—long before anyone wrote anything down.

There is nothing new under the sun. But there are endless ways to tell those stories, to cast that light, in ways that heighten our awareness, deepen empathy. Great TV can teach us far more about ourselves than our own lives may give us the chance to learn.

 

P.S. If you not only want to watch it, but to BE ON TV, then you’re going to want this free course I created with my friend, TV producer Paula Rizzo. It’s called “How to Be a Media Magnet.” It’s not up forever, so get it now.

Or, just text “BEONTV” to 44222.