Five Minutes with Bob Goff

The first thing you need to know about Bob Goff, the humanitarian, lawyer, speaker, diplomat, and New York Times best-selling author, is that Bob Goff doesn’t make appointments. When we reached out to his assistant to set up this interview, she said, “Just call Bob whenever.” Which we did. And guess what? Bob picked up his phone.

Because that’s the thing about Bob: He’s available. He answers his phone no matter who’s calling. It’s not just a personality quirk; it’s a principle he lives by, and a principle he recommends. “I try to be the most available guy in the whole world,” he told us. And from what we could tell, he is. The only downside we could find to Bob being so available is that when we got ahold of him, he was walking through San Diego International Airport on his way to see his wife after a long trip. So he only had five minutes to talk; but for those five minutes, he was as engaged as anyone could be.

I think Bob would be the first one to tell you that his “answer-the-phone-for-anybody” and “don’t-make-appointments” lifestyle isn’t for everybody, but it’s working well for him. And for that reason alone, it deserves some serious consideration.

Here’s our five minutes with the one and only Bob Goff.

Alright. Let’s get right to it so you can spend some time with your wife. What do you think holds people back from achieving their full potential?

A couple things come to mind. First is the support of the people who are closest to you. If you don’t have the support of friends or family, then you’re always out there trying to bring all your imagination and creativity to the table, but you know in the back of your mind that you don’t have the support of the people who matter most to you. That would be the huge blocker for most people.

I’m a lucky guy. My wife is behind me and supportive, but she’s very different than me. I think she’s come to a total of zero things I’ve ever spoken at. She’s just not interested. She likes me a lot but she’s devoted to the family. She’s crystal clear in terms of what she’s about. So that’s one thing.

The second thing is a fear of failure. I’m a lawyer. I don’t ever want to fail. But if I’m going to fail, I’d rather fail while trying than fail while watching. A lot of times people get wrapped around the axle because they’re afraid that if they try something, it won’t work. Most creative people hear these whispers that are just nonsense. They come from these dark places and tell you you’re a one-shot wonder. You won’t make it. Or they say that if people really knew you, they’d never be interested in buying your music or your artwork or your photography or whatever it is.

For me, I fail at stuff all the time. That’s just Tuesday for me. It’s like, oh, shoot, I failed huge again. But I try not to dwell on the losses. And I also try not to exaggerate the victories. I just try to keep moving forward.

Here’s another thing: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen people play chess. Stereotypically, these two old guys are sitting there, staring at the chessboard, and nobody’s making any moves. They’re just looking at the board, thinking about all the moves they could make. I think people, especially creative people, get stuck because they’re looking at the board. I don’t know anything about chess, but I’d just take the smallest piece on the board and move it one square forward. That’s it. Just one square forward.

You’re a guy who has a lot of plates spinning at one time. How do you get anything done?

I’ve got one thing that helps me keep on track. I’ve got this baseball cap. When I’m doing whatever I intended to do that day, I put my cap on. When I’m not doing what I intended to do, I take it off. It’s just a great reminder to me that I’m doing what I intended to do. If my hat’s off all of the time, I’m doing something else. No guilt, no shame in it. Just hats off. When I get back to doing what I intended to do, I put my hat back on. My goal at the end of the day is to have hat hair.

When you’re doing a lot of things like I am, stuff will come up constantly. You and I had a discussion a little bit earlier about how I don’t make appointments with anybody. I just don’t. That’s worked out so much better for me. When people call, like you just did, I answer the phone. I answer for everybody, not just some people. I don’t send anybody to voicemail. If it rings, I answer. I try to do things right then and there. Otherwise, you get this long list of things you have to do, and there you are staring at the chessboard again.

Oh, and one last thing: Being available. It’s the idea that people don’t follow vision; they follow availability. Usually the gap between all the vision and all the availability is just ego and pride. It’s not the same for everybody; but for me, I try to be the most available guy in the whole world. Just be the guy who is available, who is constantly interrupted. When you’re interrupted, just take your hat off. And when you’re all done, put it back on and get to work.

And that’s working for you?

Yeah. It’s actually working out pretty well. This morning, I woke up in Houston. Right now, I’m in San Diego. Yesterday, I was in D.C. It’s crazy. I move around a lot. I feel like Tom Hanks in that movie The Terminal. I know that sounds really nuts and not very efficient. But I’m not trying to be efficient. Mostly I’m just trying to be married. And that gets us back to the first thing we talked about. You find the people who are closest to you, and you figure out how to continue having their support while you do what you feel like you’re supposed to be doing.

I don’t know if that’s this idea of “calling.” A lot of people in faith communities talk about “calling.” But I’m like, okay, I get a lot of calls — 50 to 70 a day. But I’ve never gotten one call from Jesus. I keep asking. I keep saying, “Call me up! Even if it’s a misdial, I’ll take it!” But calling, for me, is just the sum of everything you’re terrific at, everything that points you toward this big idea of loving people. Whatever you do — whether it’s photography, filmmaking, whatever — if you’re good at it, then it’s probably a calling.

It’s probably not a calling if you’re lousy at it, right? Some people are lousy at stuff, and yet they say, “Well, God called me to do it.” I don’t know if He calls anybody to do stuff they stink at. I just try to do more and more things that I’m pretty good at. I’m pretty good at law, so I try to do justice stuff. I wouldn’t dress it up like a calling. I’d just say I’m pretty good at it.

So: Keep doing the things you’re good at, and get the support of the people who mean the most to you. Be really inefficient with your love, don’t make appointments, have hat hair. And there you go. That’s my whole life in five minutes.

That’s awesome. I appreciate it, man. I think the fire alarm is going off in our building.

Okay. Go run for your life.

Okay. Thanks again, Bob.


Doug Klembara