Why I admire Jay Leno
The biggest joke around Hollywood these days is that Jay Leno retired. Again.
It’s hard to get excited about a man leaving his post when he did so just a few years early. And that ended up being the punchline to every joke about him. Conan O’Brien defenders will never forgive Jay Leno for ousting his then successor just a few weeks after O’Brien became the new host for The Tonight Show. Conan still can’t let it go. For a man who made his living making fun of the news on his nightly monologue, his life itself provides endless commentary for the other wannabes.
Retiring again seems to be something that celebrities in our society specialize in. In fact, celebrities seem to be doing it all the time. There’s a few things that we can learn from such redundancy though. Jay Leno can teach us a lot.
First of all, when you devote your whole life to your career, letting go might be impossible. Jay Leno really was the king of late night, number one in nearly every demographic (Daily Show beats it in 18-49 year-olds). And when you are that good, it’s easy for your identity to be wrapped up in such shallow things.
Jesus says it this way, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
We need to put our focus on things that have eternal significance, realizing that the temporary nature of everything we experience on earth means that it will end. I don’t think retiring is ever easy, especially if you got a great deal of satisfaction from your job. It’s hard to let go. Even Arsenio is telling Jay to take it easy.
Because of the pain that we can experience when we let go of things that are meaningful to us, some of us choose to not form any meaningful connections and we might just think Jay Leno is foolish for pursuing his career too heavily. We might just be haters (more on them later).
The solution to the pain of detachment is not to not form any attachments. It’s to master the art of letting go. Of mourning. Of losing. We live in a finite world, everything dies. But we find our hope in the Savior that died to save us. Keep loving, but keep learning to lose too. I think Jay’s learning to let go. I appreciate his sincerity in his final show.
Second, allow your apprentice the room to be better than you. If we are so concerned with the spotlight all the time, letting go might be impossible because we can’t bear for someone else to have the glory that used be ours. Forbes says we all need a succession plan.
Jesus wants his successors to do greater things than he’s even done: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Our desire should be to impart wisdom into our successors so that they do it better than we do. Our legacy is protected in its successors, but it’s not really about us, it’s about our cause. Individual success is fine enough, but building a community that is following a greater cause than our own is what it’s about.
In Circle of Hope, we specialize in raising up our apprentices, replicating our DNA, and allowing our successors to succeed through our example. It’s called discipleship. We know what we do won't go on forever, but the movement that’s bringing the Kingdom of God here right now? We want that to live on forever.
Third, move on before it’s too late. Don’t be The Simpsons, be Seinfeld. Leave when things are going great before it’s too late to change and everyone is stuck with you. NBC’s late night guru left on top of his game (even if it was for the second time), that’s a good thing. Milking our success until it’s dry, or just because we can, doesn’t help people remember us fondly, nor does it help our successor. In some ways, leaving on top is humble.
Tony La Russa retiring after his World Series victory is a case-in-point. The World Series champions not resigning Albert Pujols, their number one star who helped carry them to their 2011 victory? Another case-in-point. Letting go when the signs our inability to let go are obvious is too late. I think Jay did that, but bringing him back was a risk NBC took. The public may just have lost interest in the same old thing, especially with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert taking over the late night audience.
Hording our goods on earth will lead to their destruction. Here’s what Jesus says (again from Matthews 6): “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” Give away your best fruit, be generous with what you have, and who knows? You might get something better in return.
Finally, stay conscious, but realize that haters are going to hate. I read a report of Jay Leno’s hate history and was surprised at how much negativity was thrown in his way. I guess it goes to show us that when we put ourselves out there, our detractors will be louder. It’s hard to be a comedian, it’s hard to be anything at all, really. And if you are leading someone is going to be dissatisfied with what you’ve done. Obsessing with their criticism is too narcissistic to be healthy.
Paul tells us to “Test everything; hold fast to what is good.” Test the criticism and discern them in community. You might get a negative article written about you, but see if it has merit. Just because it was printed doesn’t mean it means much.
But just because it hurt your feelings doesn’t mean it was without merit. We might never learn to let go because we want to disprove every single one of our haters. Don’t work to disprove your haters, but like Leno, work because you love it and you have something greater in mind. I’m not sure Leno did, but I think we can. He at least would fly off to Vegas or Reno every weekend to do more comedy after a long week shooting his variety show. But at the end of the day, someone isn’t going to like our jokes and we didn’t do it for them anyway. Don’t work for the haters.
Having eyes on Jesus really helps us overcome these situations. Jesus sends us lovers that will help us through to. If we just focus on the haters, the lovers around us will be discredited. Sandra Bullock gives Jay her love on the second-to-last Tonight Show. If Jay just focused on the haters, Bullock’s confession of appreciation would be cheapened.
I’m glad that Jay Leno taught me something and I’m thankful for his comedy, ultimately too. Even though your show was on way past my bedtime, godspeed, Leno.