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Anthony Bourdain’s Simple Question to Clarify Who You Want in Your Life


The late-great food and travel legend Anthony Bourdain and his business partners were in LA to meet with a Hollywood executive to ink a possible deal for a TV show.

On paper, Anthony and his partners struggled to find a hole in the proposal. Not only did the man they were dealing with have a reputation for being very good at his job, but the numbers were insane, and according to Bourdain, if they accepted the deal it would have made him and his partners all filthy-rich, like “Bond villain-wealthy.”

But off paper, something wasn’t right.

After the meeting wrapped, while standing around the parking lot talking about the deal, Anthony looked at each of the people on his team and asked them a very simple yet telling question — “If the phone rang at 11 p.m., do you want it to be that asshole on the other end?”

Without hesitation, they all replied, “No way!” — and despite the hefty payday, they made the decision to walk away.

Your internal radar was meant to be followed

We live in a world where it’s very difficult to create anything valuable on our own. Opportunities are all around us and over the span of our lives, many people are going to try to convince us to join their cause or team up on projects.

Putting the potential payout aside and asking yourself if you’re really excited about the actual work that will need to be done is obviously important. After all, energy is everything and if it’s not easy to start, it’ll be hell to finish.

But of equal or arguably more importance, is taking just as much time to get crystal clear on both your positive and negative feelings about the people in front of you. After all, the vibe of your tribe dictates how high you fly and if you’re anything like me, very rarely do things run smoothly when you ignore your internal radar about someone today in favor of the easier future they promise tomorrow.

It’s such a simple question — 

“If your phone rang at 11 p.m., would you want it to be that person on the other end?”

The next time you’re thinking about working with someone or even making time for someone new in your life, imagine they were to call you late at night and you were in a position where you had to answer their call.

If there’s a solid chance you’d feel queazy when doing this exercise, I think we all know it’s a clear sign to run. But if you think there’s a chance you’d hesitate when seeing their name, it’s worth sitting with these feelings and getting out a pen and piece of paper to try to get clear on what it is about the person that made you pause.

In fact, when I think about the projects that went south over the span of my twenty-year career, the theme that runs consistently through them is I prioritized what we planned to do — or how much potential money we were going to make — over how effectively I thought I’d work with the person in front of me or how much I thought I liked them.

I wish today, I could say I always get this right, but I don’t. I want to make cool things and I get excited around people who know how to paint a picture. Anthony’s question helps as it serves as a reminder to treat my gut with the respect it deserves instead of seeing accomplished or smooth-talking people as my potential savior.

Maybe you heard about something they did in the past and it’s still gnawing away at you. Or maybe it’s just a gut feeling that your mode of operations isn’t in-line or there’s just something about them that something doesn’t sit right. 

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to the qualities, words, or actions of the people who turn you off as we all have our own values and tastes. But when it comes to what we want to do, the roll-off effect of not considering the who aspect of the work equation is too big to ignore as few things wreak more havoc on both our professional and personal lives than strained relationships. 

The “No assholes” Rule

Prior to his passing, Anthony left us with a million and one nuggets of wisdom about how to navigate the world and the people in it. For me, when it comes to not only the work we do — but also our overall quality of life — none are more important than his famous “No assholes” rule. 

“I want to keep the assholes in my life to an absolute minimum, if not zero. That’s worth real, real money — to not have assholes in your life.” — Anthony Bourdain

When considering a project or even if you are on the fence about making more time for someone, remember Anthony’s words and steal his exercise of imagining how you’d respond to the person in front of you calling at 11 p.m.

If your internal radar isn’t telling you everything you need to know, at the very least, it should be sending you some signals and those signals are worth taking the time to sit with, dissect and listen to. 

After all, the last thing you want to realize when you’re old and grey is your life would have been a lot more fun if you’d only chosen to surround yourself with people who fuel you instead of prioritizing those who dragged you down.