This is a tale of two "Today" shows.
Five years ago, a "Today" show producer called to invite me to come on the show for a segment about women breaking up with their girlfriends. I was happy to be invited but I told almost no one I was going; I just went to New York and did the show.
I felt serene and peaceful as I whispered a short prayer before it was my turn to go onto the set with Matt Lauer. "God, give the words so that I might help women who are watching this show today -- women who are struggling with painful friendships." The segment went smoothly and I had a great time. As I left the set, the executive producer approached and asked for my card. "I just love your energy!" she enthused. I told her the segment producer had my card and contact information.
The next day I flew home, happy with my excursion to the Big Apple. I felt good about my contribution to the show and content that I'd done a good job.
A few weeks later, another producer from the "Today" show called and asked me to come back for a segment on bad bosses, tied in to the movie, "The Devil Wears Prada." But this time I reacted differently. I got excited. I felt intoxicated by my little taste of fame. I sent out an email blast, telling all my friends, family and business contacts that I was going on the show. I called an author friend who had lots of TV experience and asked for his advice. "Take charge of the interview," he said. "And be sure to take a copy of your book with you."
I obsessed over what to wear. I hauled several outfits to a neighbor's house and tried them all on, soliciting advice about which one was best. I borrowed special jewelry to wear on the show. And I made notes about what I wanted to say -- pages of notes!
The day arrived to go to New York and it seemed as if this trip was jinxed from the get-go. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The executive producer came to the green room to greet me. She threw open her arms as if we were long-lost best friends. But her hair was different; her outfit was different; and I didn't recognize her! (I thought she was Sarah Jessica Parker.) I looked at her hard, trying to place her face. "Do I know you?" I asked. Wrong move.
Then, when it was my turn to go onto the set for my segment, I took a copy of my book with me to give to the interviewer while we were on camera. The same executive producer strode across the stage, snatched it from my hands, and scolded, "Don't ever bring a book onto this set! Not if you want to be invited back. It's tacky!" She turned and tossed my book across the set. Oh god, now I was in trouble for sure.
A new guy was substituting for Matt Lauer and he seemed nervous and fidgety, perhaps eager to do a good job filling in for the hugely popular Lauer. Cameras rolled and the new guy introduced me, misreading the title of my book, "YES Lives in the Land of NO", as he worked from the teleprompter. My heart sank. The interview went badly. The new guy was hurried and awkward. He stepped all over my lines. I felt off balance through the whole thing. When our segment ended and I left the set, my heart was down in my shoes.
I flew home from New York the next day feeling disappointed, dejected and humiliated. I knew they would never invite me back.
What was the difference between the two shows? Pretty obvious: the difference was ME. I got in my own way. Instead of showing up to be of service to viewers, I got caught up in looking good and self-promotion. My ego tried to run the show, and it made a mess of everything.
I learned a painful lesson. And still today, whenever I recall the executive producer scolding on the set, my face burns with the sting of embarrassment. Ouch.
But I hope I never forget that ouch. Because it reminds me to keep my ego out of the way. When I show up in service to others, things always go perfectly. When I show up strutting my stuff, I make a mess of things.
Who knows? Perhaps that executive producer was a spiritual messenger sent to tell me to "cut the crap. Don't be so full of yourself." If so, I'd like to tell her, "Thanks, I needed that."
BJ Gallagher's new book is "If God Is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats" (Hampton Roads)