Todd Raphael

Head of Content,

1. Do you remember a time when you were happiest as a child? Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing?

Let me think.

OK, this is going to be ‘such a child of the 80s’ answer.

School was closed in Columbus, Ohio, due to a blizzard. I got up around 6 to do my paper route, to deliver the newspapers, which was hellish. Then, whenever it snowed, me and my friend Paul Kampmeier, after shoveling our own driveways, went around shoveling snow for other people. I’ll be honest — it wasn’t charity as much as it was to try to earn a buck. After we finished a few houses of that, I met up with these two guys Robert Neff and Jason Rafeld at a shopping area, like a little strip mall, called Kingsdale. When we got there, it was closed. There was absolutely nothing to do there in the first place, even had it been open, as there were just a couple of lame stores with one Dig Dug machine. Anyhow, it was closed. But, we ended up spending about six hours there, doing what people did then: Nothing. Goofing around, talking, just kinda passing the time in a way that people did then. There was never a sense or boredom, or what do we do now, and so on. I think we could have spent a week there doing absolutely nothing but shooting the breeze.

2. What do you think is true that most people think is false? What do you think is false, that most people think is true?

If you make x amount of money, then you’ll be happy. Or if you make x less, you’ll be less happy. Happy people are happy regardless of their “worth” and always see themselves as better off than so many people. Less money won’t change that. Unhappy people always see themselves as worse off than the people they choose to compare themselves to. More money won’t change that.

What else?
People tell their kids to live their lives based on their views of what will happen to them in the future. Like, “Junior, you spend all your time playing basketball, or ballet, or building model planes, or TikTok, but unless you’re going to the NFL, or the Moscow ballet, that’s a waste of time.” Generally, I don’t agree with that approach. The memories of what you accomplished and the effort you put into it will last a lifetime. They don’t need to be a means to a clear end. At any given time, you don’t know how your discipline will benefit your growth.

Finally, I think a lot of people nowadays would be surprised to hear that some of the people they find to be evil monsters, based on their political views, are some of the most kind people they’d ever meet. Look, most everything we were taught as children was mis-represented. Through no bad intention, people, including teachers and parents, tend to present to you a view of the world that is their own. So you learn one side of most everything. Over time, you begin to wonder how anyone could possibly disagree with you; after all, don’t they read? Don’t they get what you know? Well: most, not all, people who don’t agree with you are *not* racists, sexists, homophobic, evil, dumb, love war, hate peace, don’t read, want to destroy the environment, and so on. Likely, they see the world differently because they have different friends than you do, read/listen/watch different media than you do, and so on. You are each a product of the media you consume. What seems black and white to you usually is not. More often than not, you consider the medium that you read, watch, listen, or view to be “mainstream” and “objective” but it’s probably partisan and ideological on one side or another. There are people who get their news from the Huffington Post or Newsmax and don’t realize they are getting a leftist and rightist view of the world respectively.

3. When was the last time you changed your mind about something really important? What was it and what led you to change your view?

Christmas. I mean, It’s not that I changed my mind about it. I just never got it. Since I’ve never celebrated Christmas, I could never figure it out. What was it all about? What do people do on Christmas? Why has this music been playing on the radio for months? And so on. There were a very small number of Jewish families growing up and it was just this mysterious 24 hours when suddenly everything was closed and people were inside their houses. I feel like I get it now. For many people, it’s about how they feel on Christmas morning. Which for them I think is a really beautiful thing.

4. Name a well-known person you admire and explain why you hold them high esteem?

How about the world’s worst mom, Lenore Skenazy?

I like the way she uses facts to point out people’s silliness. For example, people who carefully examine every piece of Halloween candy to see if it has been tampered with. She points out that “No child has ever been killed by poisoned candy. Ever.”

That’s just one example, but I just like the way she’s not a sheep.

5. If you wrote a ‘user manual’ for how people should interact with you, what would be the most important point in the manual?

If your smartphone is more interesting or fun than I am, that’s a sign I should be hanging out with a different friend.

6. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?

Have you ever been on an airplane that gets delayed, or stuck on the runway, and there’s always someone on that plane who feels the need to yell at the flight attendant, and the ticket-counter people? I’m so important, I have to be somewhere, no one is more important than me, don’t you realize that I’m the best man in Hung’s wedding that’s starting in five hours? Anyhow, I tend to be more calm in those situations, yet still firm and inquisitive. But if you’re the first type of person, you probably think that I don’t care, or I’m tepid, quiet, weak, or un-assertive. You’re wrong. The opposite of jerk isn’t apathy. Telling the flight attendant to *&*^ herself doesn’t make you strong.

7. You use words to tell stories, like on video and in person moderating events. What is something about words you think I should know?

Words are changing for the better. And, for the worse. Decades ago we called our teachers “Miss Jameson” and our friends’ parents “Mr. McGillicuddy” and we wouldn’t have dreamed that by 2020 children would be saying “what’s up Marcie?” to their teachers and “Cool beans Bill” to their friends’ parents. I’m not sure this is a great trend, since words are important and represent how we respect or don’t respect people. On the other hand, some words that are used to make assumptions are less acceptable now, which is a good trend. If we say “infantryman,” we may over time assume we mean “man,” but we could mean a woman in the Army. So maybe infantryman isn’t the best word, unless you’re describing a specific man and not the general occupation.

8. What do you think is acceptable today but will become taboo tomorrow?

Distrusting everything. Some people now trust nothing. They don’t trust the government. Big business. The media. Everything else. They maybe trust the ma-and-pa diner down the street, and the military. But otherwise they think everyone’s lying to them. I’m hoping eventually we get to the point where you go to the car dealer and you feel like “they’re just salespeople who are trying to spin things in a positive light” instead of assuming that every single thing the car dealer says will be a lie.

9. On what topic would you never make a joke? Why?

I totally get that I’m in the minority on this, and people find this to be virtue signalling, or political correctness, or sanctimony. But I don’t say that people are “retards.” I can’t even fathom how mean this is. I didn’t even do that as a kid.

10. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?

I wish I could say the Ooni Koda pizza oven, but after two weeks of this thing, the pizza either comes out raw, or is literally on fire.

So I can’t think of one.

Maybe the basketball hoop and bike rack this spring. It’s so nice to bike with no plan, no exact route, just where you decide on the fly.

This question about purchases reminds me – I was in Austin about a year and a half ago for work. I was riding in a Lyft. The driver told me that a year prior, his wife was pregnant. They were down to their last $1,000, out of work, and not in a good place. Anyhow, his wife took the $1,000 and bought a kayak. With their last dollars, she spent it on a kayak. He was infuriated with her. How could she take their last bit of money and blow it on a stupid kayak? He was livid.
Over time, he said, that kayak brought them more satisfaction than they could ever have dreamed of. It paid for itself many times over in terms of their mental health. It was the best $1,000 they ever spent, he said.

Although coincidentally I happen to love kayaking, I can’t think of a story about a kayak or similar purchase like the Austin Uber driver told me. But I’ll always remember his story.

11. What app or tech product have you most recently fallen in love with?

Minecraft. It’s an outstanding pandemic babysitter. It’s never late. You pay up front and not by the hour. In second place is the Harry Potter game on the PlayStation. Babysitting sure has gotten more high tech these days.

12. What is your most prized possession? What’s the story behind it?

The letter my grandfather got from the Navy on November 30, 1945.

13. Which fictional person do you find yourself sympathising with most? Why?

Funny you ask, because I do remember that in high school, I had to write an essay about the one person I admired. It was a college admissions essay. Mine was Wile E. Coyote. I guess I liked the underdog in him. Wish I could find that essay.

14. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I’ll give you more than one. Though some of these are more quotes than advice.

First, I kinda like what the UCLA head basketball coach said on a video with me: “you can swish your feet in the pity pond, but no swimming laps.” Don’t spend a lot of time feeling sorry for yourself.

Another, you probably heard this one before. Eleanor Roosevelt, a former first lady, she said that great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. I love that.

Last one.

I have no idea who said this to me about 25 years ago, but things that seem to be coincidences rarely are. Take, for instance, someone who feels like they always get in car accidents. Why me? Why am I doomed like this? Blah blah blah. Certainly, it’s possible they have had their fair share of bad luck. But if you really analyze the situation, maybe they:

Live in a city with a lot of driving


Are a realtor, or some other category that increases their odds of an accident or their amount and type of driving


They drive distracted a lot

And so on.

Or, the people who say “it’s so annoying. Every Thanksgiving our sink gets clogged and we have to call a plumber.” Or, “every year on the family road trip, we seem to be cursed. We get a flat tire.” Or, “I keep ordering clothes that aren’t the size I ordered.”

These aren’t always coincidences. People jam more stuff down their sinks (and their toilets) on Thanksgiving. So, the plumber gets called more. They drive more on the annual road trip. So, they are more likely to get a flat or a dead battery. And they are more likely to have customer-service issues if they … order a lot of stuff. You’ll hear people say “I’m such a klutz. I’ve spilled something on three computers.” Well, given the 18 hours a day we’re all on our computers, I’d say we’re all very generally pretty un-klutzy, and keep our spills contained pretty well.

It’s funny the way the mind works.

15. When it comes to our work and industry: what scares you most?

Sometimes I think a career book, blog, podcast, or website will give advice, and then others repeat it, but the advice is frustrating to job seekers.

For example, and I’m probably guilty of saying this, but there’s the one about “don’t just shoot a resume everywhere … use your network!”

But if someone needs a job, and wants to earn a living, put food on the table and so on, they don’t always have any more network left to turn to. If they’re looking to work at Microsoft and Bill Gates is their neighbor, they’d have hit him up already. So the advice doesn’t really get job seekers anywhere. They’re told then to go try to meet someone at the company, instead of just putting a resume in. Again, I get the advice, I get the point, and I’ve said it myself. But it can end up in frustration if the person doing the hiring ignores them or gives them an unsatisfactory answer.

16. What’s one industry challenge you don’t actually think will ever get solved?

I don’t want to say never-ever, but it’s hard to overcome the degree to which people judge others by fleeting personality characteristics. They meet them on the phone or in person and say “she’s got a lot of energy!” Or, “he’s definitely passionate.” I mean, sure, passion – we need that. We need people with it. You want to be surrounded by passion. But too little is made of how fleeting passion is; how much it can wax and wane, be created and destroyed, how it is not just something we have or don’t have, but something we have one day about one thing but not the next day about another. And, how it’s not something exhibited by how boisterous our voice is, or whether our resting face appears to be smiley or not.

Give people all the things every management and human resources publication and training course and college business class talk about, and the passion goes up: Appreciation. Thank-yous. Flexibility. Autonomy — the chance to do your work your way, your creative way, how and when and where you can do it best. The chance to learn new skills. The chance to grow. Money – give people more money, and voila, the passion rises. I’ve seen people who seem miserable at their jobs get better bosses or different working conditions and almost overnight they’re far more passionate. I’ve seen employees get new bosses, or become part of new merged or acquired companies, or be on the receiving end of new policies, and become far less passionate.

It’s important to hire people who are passionate about what your company is doing. But it’s also important to understand how and why people become more and less passionate.

17. What common wisdom in our industry needs to be debunked?

In the world of careers and schools and elites in general, there’s this sense among certain elitists that the path to a worthwhile life is about grades and college, and certain colleges. Some people are obsessed with where their friend’s kids and their colleagues and their neighbors went to college, business school, this school, that school, and so on, and can’t wait to say “good school” after the college is named. My kid got into blah blah university. “Good school!” My cousin graduated from the top of their class at blippetly blahpatty university. “Good school!” Then everyone feels validated. Certainly — don’t get me wrong — under some circumstances, grades and schools are very important. But as kids we never quite realized that the heavy partying C-student would be the future manager; we thought they were doomed to failure and we didn’t understand they actually had all the right skills. There are multiple ways to “succeed.” And it’s not always smart to live your life in the future. This person here said it so well.

18. What’s gotten better and worse in your lifetime?

It is stunning how much the world has improved. Hunger, way down, like dramatically. Extreme poverty, way down. Child mortality, down. Healthcare, up, way up, despite 2020. Literacy, up. It’s just remarkable the way the world has gotten better. On the other hand, sometimes I think if we stopped making movies and music after the 1980s, we might all be ok.

19. What is the number one thing you would recommend every person in the world to practice from now on in order to increase their happiness and wellbeing?

Almost all people (no, of course, not all) are generally good — short, fat, tall, thin, purple, green, homeless, rich, poor. There’s no need to be scared of people like they’re contagious, like looking away from homeless people. You can smile or say hi sometimes. Everyone you meet has such an incredible story. People are so interesting. I like this message: “Teach your kids to talk to strangers. You can talk to anyone, you just cannot go off with anyone.”

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?

Jeremy Roberts. When he left a job we were at together, he called me up and said, “don’t worry, nothing will really change. I’ll still walk my dog and give you a call.” I thought that was cool.

Thank you to Todd Raphael for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune.

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