My Coffee With Peter Shankman


Not the best pic of me, but here’s me talking with Peter Shankman at Dad 2.0

Ok. The title of this blog is a bit misleading. I didn’t have any coffee. Peter (if I can call him Peter – I completely forgot to ask, but I think he’ll be okay with it) did and he did offer me a cup, but I’m not a coffee drinker, so I passed. Plus I was plenty nervous so I think I would have passed on any beverage he offered.

When I spoke with Peter, the final keynote speaker at Dad 2.0 (you can read Michael Moebes’ recap of Peter’s speech here), at the conference, I mentioned that his references to needing to limit technology when it comes to parenting reminded me of Neil Postman, the late father of Media Ecology, creator of the master’s program I attended at NYU, and author of plenty of revered books including the brilliant Amusing Ourselves To Death. When I said this, Peter responded, “You know, so many people say I sound a bit like Neil Postman, but I’ve never read any of his work. Do me a favor, send me a list of books I should read. Better yet, here’s my number and e-mail. Let’s meet up for coffee sometime in NY.”

Stunned, I took the info and wondered if I’d ever do anything with it. I mean, we’re talking about a man who travels the world as a consultant for Fortune 500 companies and government agencies, an author of 3 books, the founder of the Internet sensation, Help A Reporter Out (HARO), not to mention the father of a 9-month-old. Why would he want to spend any of his precious time talking with me?

So I debated and worried and worried and debated and finally about a week and a half after leaving New Orleans, I sent out an e-mail and soon enough we set a date, time and place.

We met at a Starbucks but then quickly went next door to Peter’s apartment building. Peter, looking comfortable in jeans and a blue sweatshirt (thank God I didn’t dress up!) offered me coffee and then immediately began cleaning up bottles and toys and all sorts of kid paraphernalia. I gave him a copy of Amusing Ourselves To Death and he thanked me saying he couldn’t wait to read it. Then he offered me a seat and said, “So what would you like to talk about?”


I had no idea. I figured based on our conversation at Dad 2.0 and me giving Peter a copy of Postman’s book that we’d discuss media, but what came out of my mouth was, “How do you deal with failure?”

SIDE NOTE: This is where I’m going to have trouble. I don’t know if it’s because of my depression or my meds or letting things build up so long that they eventually led to a severe nervous breakdown, but my short-term memory isn’t wonderful, so I can’t repeat things verbatim. I’ll paraphrase and write about the conversation’s themes, but I so wish I could write exactly what he said.

Peter talked about how many times he’s failed at business and in life and how each time it happens it angers him and at times he misplaced that anger, though he’s learned no longer to do that. Unlike me who’s crippled by failure, by even the THOUGHT of failure, Peter’s able to learn from his mistakes and move on. Naturally this led to a discussion about fear because I’m so afraid of, well, everything, but especially of failure. Peter, who continued to pick up a stray toy here or there and put it away leading me to think this man is just a dad like any of us dads, talked about how fear helps us learn and move, that when I got up on that stage at Dad 2.0 (and I was touched to know he saw me speak), he knew biologically that my pupils dilated and blood rushed to my legs because it’s a natural fight or flight instinct. He said he needs fear to keep going. That’s why he skydives. He needs to feel that fear and he needs to overcome it. He talked about how fear, if you let it, can imprison you, but it’s not worth it because life is so short. Not trying because you’re afraid makes you a self-fulfilling prophecy (something my therapist’s tried to drill through my skull about a zillion times). I told him how I had to be taken into a back room because I was hysterical after my reading and he said it makes sense, that it was the adrenaline pumping through my body and it needed release.

“But what about everyone else?” I asked. “How do you not worry about what they think of you?”

“What’s the point of worrying about what people who could care less about whether you exist on this planet think? Look, some people think I’m a douche. Sometimes I AM a douche. But who cares? I’m me.” He’s right. So’s my therapist. So’s my wife. So is everyone who’s ever told me this.

I sat curled up in a ball on a chair in Peter Shankman’s living room. Toys littered the floor. A playpen stood in one corner. Every once in awhile Peter’s phone or computer beeped as he got a text or e-mail.

“You’re giving too much power to other people,” he said. “The power needs to come from within. You have to like yourself even if you don’t believe it at first. Eventually you will.” Again echoing my therapist.

We swapped stories about our pasts, our troubles, bullies, depression. Peter was self-deprecating and down-to-earth. His eyes blazed with triumph when he talked about how he’s taken up cross training and iron man to help get the good chemicals flowing in his brain. He urged me to do the same even if it’s just walking on a treadmill at home…just get those good brain chemicals flowing.

He also advised me to start enjoying the little things.

“You see that cat over there?” he said, looking towards a a small white porcelain cat waving at us from the windowsill. “I bought that for 2 bucks in Thailand. It’s supposed to bring good luck. I love that thing. Probably the best thing I ever bought. I just smile and laugh every time I see it.” I thought about an episode of The Amazing Race where teams had to search through hundreds of little waving porcelain cats to find a clue. The little things.

He also said, and this I love, “I don’t understand why people can’t just be nice.” I couldn’t agree more.

That’s something I never expected to hear from a person in his position, someone I imagined to have wealth, fame and power and I said as much. He explained that that’s all an illusion, that if we went outside and asked 30 people who “Peter Shankman” is 30 people would have no idea, that he has no real power to change the world and that he lives comfortably, but he’s no billionaire Wall Street guy and he feels like he doesn’t even belong in their company.

“Look,” he said. “You did something big just by coming here. Plenty of people came up to me at the conference and asked to meet, but you’re one of the few who followed up. That impressed me.”

But did it impress me?

As our time neared an end, Peter brought out this sweet-looking grey-black cat and talked about how much he loves him, how the cat loved him unconditionally and I choked up a bit thinking about my own love of cats, my lost Zeeb who died when he was just 9. Again, the little things. And let’s not forget the big things like our wives and children. We have people who love and depend on us. We have a lot to live for.

I stood up, put on my jacket and Peter walked me to the elevator saying that he’d be more than happy to meet up again. I thanked him profusely and said I’d definitely send him another e-mail.

The elevator door closed and my chest began to hurt. All of a sudden anxiety flooded my body. Or was it anxiety? I thought back to what Peter had said about the adrenaline rush after my reading and how I did something big just by going to meet with him, how it impressed him.

Perhaps I did indeed impress myself as well.

13 thoughts on “My Coffee With Peter Shankman

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    February 27, 2014 at 4:06am

    Wow!:D Another great blog! Awesome meetup with Peter Shankman!
    I’m glad you followed through and called him.
    AND, I am indeed very impressed with you…AGAIN!;)

  2. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    February 27, 2014 at 9:00am

    Really enjoyed this, Lorne. Glad you took the leap and contacted him. I think I’m going to write this bit down and keep it handy: “You’re giving too much power to other people,” he said. “The power needs to come from within. You have to like yourself even if you don’t believe it at first. Eventually you will.”

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      March 1, 2014 at 4:48pm

      Thanks Matt! I think I need to get that tattooed all over my body 🙂

  3. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Vincent aka @CuteMonsterDad

    February 27, 2014 at 10:00am

    Thank you for sharing your experience Lorne. There are a lot of simple yet powerful ideas that were exchanged. Peter Shankman strikes me as someone I could have grown up with as a child. A neighborhood guy who went on to new heights of accomplishment. Good for him and good for you for taking the leap of faith to meet with him. I really think taste testing that Ghost Hot Sauce in New Orleans may have been a positive catalyst for you Lorne. Looking forward to reading about your future achievements. – Vincent

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      March 1, 2014 at 4:49pm

      Thanks Vincent! I still can’t believe I contacted him. I hope I can do it again. If anything was a positive catalyst for me in New Orleans it was meeting guys like you

  4. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Sherry Amatenstein

    February 27, 2014 at 11:57am

    Wonderful Lorne. One to read over and remind yourself of the lessons and feelings within when you’re having a bad moment

  5. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    March 19, 2014 at 3:25pm

    You are an amazing writer, Lorne. I really enjoyed this post and hearing you do that reading at Dad 2.0 Summit. I hope you continue to learn to believe in yourself and are able to make the goals you’ve set for yourself.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      March 28, 2014 at 4:36pm

      Thank you so much, Joel. It’s hard for me to accept compliments like this, but I’m doing my best to fix that

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