What I Learned From Robin Williams


I just finished watching Robin Williams Remembered – A Pioneers of Television Special (PBS). After watching this wonderful PBS special, not only do I miss him more than before, but I feel I have learned new things about him that might help me and, hopefully, you as well. What new things did I learn from Robin Williams? Here they are:

  1. When you have talents that you are keenly aware of, be open to improving your craft by watching, listening and asking for help from others. Robin did this best with his friends whom he looked up to; guys like Richard Pryor and his mentor, Jonathan Winters.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail. Most of us only remember him for his successes, his award-winning performances on television, stand-up comedy and film. What we don’t remember is that he failed from time to time. Mork & Mindy was cancelled after only its fourth season. The movie Popeye bombed at the box office. Not all of his stand up nights were a success.
  3. He listened and was open to taking direction from trusted friends and colleagues. Of his Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting, he spoke of doubting himself after shooting a scene and wondering if he was getting it right. Robin said of Director Gus Van Sant, “With Gus Van Sant in Good Will Hunting, … at the end he said, ‘Just have the conversation. Just talk.’ So you’re not acting per se, but, eventually, things start to happen.”
  4. He went with what felt right, what was true to himself, and let it come together if, and when, it was supposed to come together. He hadn’t know if it would all come together. But eventually, he found a way to combine his genius in stand-up comedy, serious Juilliard-trained method acting, and film roles into a unique style that set him apart from all others.

I am a bit weird. I have talents that are not conventional or normal. I love listening to people’s stories, I immediately have questions pop into my mind that encourage more of their story to reveal itself, and I continue to want to know more with sincere interest and genuine curiosity. That’s what happens in my mind. I can’t begin to wonder what happened in Robin Williams’ mind, but I know it was strange to most people. From his example, however, I have learned to continue to believe in what I do, and, hopefully, one day soon, the talents will be recognized and appreciated by a larger audience.

“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good times you weren’t paying attention to.” – from Good Will Hunting

Thank you, Robin Williams, for teaching me these valuable lessons. May you rest in peace. I miss you!

The Life Story Not Recorded

“I wish I would have known you (x number of) years ago when my grandmother (or grandfather) was still alive. She had the best stories and once she got going telling those stories, you couldn’t get her to stop!” My next comment is typically, “Did you record those stories while she was still alive?” Invariably, the answer is, “No.”

Mother-daughter photo

What is lost by not recording the stories? Only you can answer the emotional response to that question. But based on over a decade of recording the life stories of many individuals, couples and siblings for their families, I can give you the logical main reasons. Lost are:

  1. Many stories you’ve never heard before.
  2. The audible sound of their voice.
  3. The physical movements and body language as they expressed themselves in many scenarios.
  4. The facts that connect you to this loved one. Facts that you never knew or ever dreamed existed.

I could list many more, but I think you get the picture.

The next question is, “Why weren’t the stories ever recorded?” Whether you consider the answer that question reasons or excuses makes no difference. The answers are so varied…and so sad.

The good news is that you now have the opportunity to not make that same mistake again. You have the opportunity to record the life stories of a friend or loved one now. This article is written as a guide to help you do just that. I will post helpful hints on how to record those stories in future blog posts.

These blog posts will combine some of the training that I received in the 1990s preparing to interview Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (now the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education) with the practical experience I’ve enjoyed interviewing hundreds of people since starting LifeStories Alive in 2005.

My hope is that the posts serve as a guide that gives you the basics to take the plunge and capture the life stories of someone you love. Even though you may have never interviewed someone before in anything that resembles this method or reason, you will not regret it. Why? I know that you will feel, as I do every time I finish a LifeStories Alive interview, that goose bump-causing rush when they finish answering the last question you ask them, and they sigh that familiar sigh knowing that their stories are now recorded for generations to come. You, then, can feel the satisfaction of knowing that you were the one, not anyone else, who gave their lives more meaning and helped them fulfill the goal of passing along their legacy.

Enjoy the process. Have fun. And thanks for keeping those life stories alive!

Why Do We Tell Stories?

As one who helps people tell their stories (on video), I particularly enjoyed this week’s episode of KUT Radio’s “Two Guys on Your Head” with Dr. Art Markman​ and Dr. Bob Duke.  “We need stories in order to make sense of things” is one of the things they explain. Please listen & enjoy! http://kut.org/post/why-do-we-tell-stories

One of their points is that stories help us connect and make sense of the many bits of information in our brains. This is nothing new and most people agree with it (as I do). But if this is widely accepted as fact, then why are so many people hesitant to tell the stories of their own lives?

I have always thought the main reason is that our society teaches us that if we talk about ourselves, we are bragging…and that’s a very bad thing to do! Yet, we learn so much from the stories of others. Valuable life lessons are learned often from strangers who are not related or whom we previously didn’t care much about. In my work at LifeStories Alive, I have had my clients (usually the children of the interviewees) tell me of the exciting and valuable lessons they’ve learned from their loved ones, just by listening to their life’s stories.

So I ask for your help in answering the above question, “Why are so many people hesitant to tell the stories of their own lives?” Your ideas, thoughts and input in the Leave a Reply section below will be much appreciated.

Two Guys on Your Head


Businesses Have LifeStories, Too!

Most of us believe that if we want to find the heart and soul, the LifeStories, of a family, all we have to do is sit around a Thanksgiving table or any other family gathering and simply listen to the stories shared by the elders. It is there that magical connections can be made to our past and, rightfully so, to who we are inside ourselves. But when the Thanksgiving meal is finished and the relatives have gone home, we run the risk of losing or, God forbid, forgetting the stories that connect us all. That’s why they must be recorded.

While we think about those of our family, we seldom think about the stories of the businesses we work within on a daily basis. How can the heart and soul of a business or non-profit organization be passed down to “future generations”, to potential and current clients and employees? It’s not as easy as it might be for families, but it is possible.

Simon Sinekstart-with-why

At LifeStories Alive, we always start with “why”. Utilizing the wisdom of Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, businesses should record the answers to the question, “Why do we do what we do?” When a good interviewer is recording the answers from the founders, long-time employees and early customers of a business, that “why” can be presented in a way that magically reveals the heart and soul of a business. Those magical connections that happen with family LifeStories can now happen for a business.

Here is a sample of how an incredible organization, Special Olympics Texas, told their LifeStories, found their “why” and, in the process, relit the flame of how they positively effect the lives of thousands of families in Texas each year: https://vimeo.com/106438215.

If you’d like help to record your LifeStories, to find your “why” or just kick around ideas that connect you to your business family, or the one you were born with, please give me a call.

Mike O’Krent – LifeStories Alive, LLC – 512-5431-8166 – mokrent@lifestoriesalive.com http://www.lifestoriesalive.com

Want to Spice Up That RFP (Request For Proposal)?

If you want to separate yourself from your competition with the next RFP (Request For Proposal) you submit, think about what my client, Wayne Gonzalez of Gonzalez Office Products http://www.rwgop.com, did. Here is a kind endorsement and story of Wayne’s success:


“The impact Mike and LifeStories Alive has had on my business and continues to have on my company is huge. With little or no advance notice Mike and his team helped us separate our company from many that were responding to an RFP. He knew video was the only way to show the decision makers the true DNA of my company. Not only did he have a short time to prepare he had very little knowledge about what we were trying to achieve with our proposal.

Mike jumped right in. He spent time in our office asking the RIGHT questions, and immediately was able to see where video could help separate us from the competition. . Something we had not even thought about due to our focus on the RFP. Once Mike had compiled the questions and his video team, he was ready to shoot the video. Now please understand we have never done this before and had no idea what to do.  We had only 4 days to do the shoot edit and produce and marry that with the RFP.

Immediately after the shoot, Mike again went into warp speed to produce what we needed and still make it to the bid opening on time. He continuously keep us in the loop as to how it was going and his calm demeanor and professionalism made us able to concentrate on our end of the RFP.

Not only did Mike Make it happen just as he said it would we were awarded the RFP.  It was the video and his professional team that separated our company from the competition and showed where we are better than our competition. I have been in business a long time and have never seen the impact that an expertly done video can show. We still use the video and plan to use Mike again in the future. In today’s business world finding honest dependable experts to help grow your business are one in a million. That is what Mike O’Krent is. If you are not using his expertise your competition will be. Thank you Mike you are truly special.”

Wayne Gonzalez

Gonzalez Office Products

Kind Words Go a Long Way

Kind words can go a long way. Yesterday, I was having a “so-so” day until late in the evening when a client of mine, Spencer Hayes (name given with permission) http://www.oxfordcommercial.com/our-people/spencer-hayes/, wrote a very kind note regarding the work I did for his family. My entire attitude changed to become more uplifting and positive. Here is his note:

“LifeStories Alive partnered with my family to bring us the greatest gift we could ever have: my parents sharing their stories so that their legacy will continue for many generations.

Mike O’Krent is a uniquely gifted documentarian. But moreover he is an exemplary human being who connects with people on a deep level, and brings out of them the essence of who they are.  The ability to capture all that on video for posterity is rare, and we have been blessed as a family to own the product of his talent.”

I encourage all of you to do as I will now; share a few kind words to someone – to the next person who comes to mind. It’s not hard, won’t take long, and will make you feel good. Thanks, Spencer, for making my day!

I Thought I Would Learn About Classical Music…

I thought I would learn about classical music, but ended up learning about life. This is my conclusion after listening to yet another great TED Talk. This one is by Benjamin Zander. To prove to you how little I knew about classical music, I didn’t know who the hell Benjamin Zander is! I do now. Since 1979, Benjamin Zander has been the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic.

What impressed me most about this talk is how he used a lesson in classical music appreciation (and, by the way, I now appreciate classical music) and turned it into, at the very end, a lesson in life. I will not tell you what he says at the end. It is worth watching this all the way through. I will only tell you this: It reinforces the power of a well-told story…a well-told life story!

Please take the time to watch this: http://tinyurl.com/ntqr4 on and then let me know what you think.