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What I’ve Learned from Car Talk

What I’ve Learned from Car Talk

Mar 21, 2013

As I’ve been over here laying the groundwork for this new, small venture, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my life with the show Car Talk that airs on National Public Radio.  I’ve worked for Car Talk since 1995—nearly 20 years. It’s my job, but has always been much more. In that sense, I feel lucky. A small company that’s endured a lot together is much like a family. We know each other’s strong points, we aggravate each other from time to time, but for me there’s a sense of loyalty that extends far beyond the next paycheck. This show, these coworkers, are an important part of my life.

Much of what I’ve learned from Car Talk hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Producer Doug Berman I’ve tried to transfer to this little venture. Here are the key items that come to mind.

1. Authenticity matters.

There is no shortage of companies, marketers, content providers and others that are trying to sell you a story. To endure and be successful, you have to be authentic. And you need to stay that way, come what may. Know what you’re talking about, be honest when you don’t, be passionate about what you’re doing, and, come what may, at least you won’t have regrets or ever be accused of being a shill.

2. Follow your heart.

There’s a famous story within our office. Tom was driving to work one day in his little MG convertible, and was nearly crushed by an 18-wheeler on Route 128, outside Boston. He pulled over to gather his wits, and wondered, “If I had died today, would I have been happy with my life?” He continued the drive to work, and when he arrived, he quit on the spot. He became, in rough order: a bum, a bluegrass musician, a co-owner of a DIY garage, and a national radio host. Through it all, he was much happier than following the traditional, corporate route, which simply wasn’t for him.

3. Keep your job in perspective. Learn to say no.

When I first started at Car Talk, I used to watch Tom and Ray turn down some pretty tantalizing opportunities. I couldn’t make sense of it. This is how you advance, right? Why don’t you want a regular slot on “Good Morning America,” talking about car repair? Too often, we let our work life intrude on our personal life, at great cost. Tom and Ray have held that line firm. The result? Hours spent laughing with friends at local cafes, long dinners out with family, leisurely work meetings that include no shortage of banter, cappuccino breaks and garage-level humor. More than one Ray has repeated the quote to us, “You’ll never look back on your life and wish you’d spent more time in the office.”

Tom tightens a few lug nuts on his younger brother.

4. Define success your way.

Tom and Ray could have made much more money. ABC instead of NPR. Their endorsements on a dozen automotive brands. Instead, they’ve traded that extra cash for free time, and traded bigger retirement account for more happiness and flexibility in the present. More time with family and friends, less stress at work, more laughs. Our local homeless shelter is far more likely to get a “yes” to an appearance request, than a network TV show.

Defining success your own way, allows you to create and maintain the life you want. In my case, I’ve been fortunate for that to filter down to staff, as well– or I wouldn’t be writing this post, at this moment.

My take away? Measure each offer than comes over the transom against your personal long-term goals.

5. If you don’t have anything worth sharing—don’t.

This sage advice has been politely beaten into me by Doug Berman, Car Talk’s Executive Producer. I’m going to take my time developing this little business idea. You won’t see new blog posts, emails or Facebook posts, until I have something you’ll really want to read. I won’t waste your time.

Staff Blog Bio pic
Our fair staff in Our Fair City, circa 2011: David Greene, Carly Nix, Doug Berman, Doug Mayer. At the cafe around the corner? Tom and Ray.

6. Keep things in perspective. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

We once missed an important deadline at work. Ray turned to us and said, “Is anyone going to die? What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen?” The reality, of course, is that life went on just fine. In fact, our project didn’t matter all that much, once we stepped back and looked at it more calmly.

Mind you, I fail at this list on a regular basis. Work crosses into personal time, I get wrapped up in projects and get sucked into the conventional definitions of success. But, keeping them in mind and trying to follow the course they set is what it’s all about.

What does this mean for Run the Alps? First, I want this to stay small– a boutique of sorts, where I can share a passion directly with a small number of new friends. And second, we’ll take our time and get it right, right down to each trail run we suggest.  And as for Car Talk, that rolls on, too. How couldn’t it? There are more lessons to learn along the way and, besides, it feels like family.

Doug Mayer
Doug Mayer is the founder of Run the Alps and lives in Chamonix, France with his labradoodle, Izzy. He is the author of The Race that Changed Running: The Inside Story of UTMB and writes for Outside Online and Ultrasignup News. His upcoming book is a graphic novel about Italy’s 330km long Tor des Géants trail race.