David Letterman was the king of late night. His shows ran for 33 seasons making him the longest-serving late night talk show host in the history of American television. At its peak, he was making something like $30 million a year, watched by an audience of many millions every week.
As the show went on through the years though, it started to become a drag. It’s not that Letterman didn’t enjoy it, but the grind of it wore on him. He had other priorities. He wasn’t living and dying for the audience, so he hung it up. On the day he made the decision, Letterman went to his young son (who he’d had later in life) with the news. “I’m quitting, I’m retiring,” he told Harry. “I won’t be at work every day. My life is changing; our lives will change.”
Who knows what Letterman expected his son to say, but as he explained to Judd Apatow in the book Sicker in the Head, he thought it would get more than a nod. “Will I still be able to watch the Cartoon Network?” his son asked. “I think so. Let me check,” was all Letterman could say in amazement. There he was, walking away from millions of dollars and one of the most coveted slots in all of television, and his son’s main concern was whether he could still watch TV.
Kids will humble us like that. We think we’re so important. We think our work is so important. In fact, that’s what we tell ourselves–that we work those long hours to make the money to provide them a certain kind of life. In fact, our kids’ needs are so humble. Mostly what they want is us, as we’ve said before. And beyond that? They’re pretty content with snacks. The occasional video game. A sprinkler to play in. Some magnet you picked up at the airport on the way home from a business trip. A parent who doesn’t yell at them all the time. They’re pretty easily impressed. Their needs are small.
Remember this. Don’t lie to yourself about it. Make your work decisions accordingly.