When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Ellen Goosenberg Kent: In winter, I throw on a cushy robe and turn on my meditation app. In the summer, I brush my teeth, make an iced espresso and then meditate.
TG: What gives you energy?
EGK: Stimulating conversation with friends/colleagues – especially after a great – or disappointing – or outrageous, film or play or op-ed piece or mea culpa on social media.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
EGK: I write to work through discomfort or to remember a fleeting moment of intense happiness. Could be when I feel someone’s been less than honest and forthcoming with me or when I’m overcome with love or gratitude. I also use a notes folder on my phone to relieve a momentary desire to scream.
TG: Name a book that changed your life.
EGK: Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, because it taught me as a young, aspiring journalist what a distinctive voice sounds like on the page, how to be self-reflective while allowing the subject to be seen and heard so readers can form their own opinions, how to be ironic without being hurtful, and how to fearlessly say what may be unpopular, if it’s my truth.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
EGK: We are very close but I have a strict policy of not sleeping with my phone. During the day, I often leave it in my office when I go to sit with a colleague so I can be present in the moment. I put it away when I’m having a meal with anyone. There is a lot of love – but not the addictive kind.
TG: How do you deal with email?
EGK: I respond to emails and texts either right away or within 24 hours. I keep far too many stories that I never go back and read.
TG: What do you do when you have 15 minutes free, unexpectedly.
EGK: I look through my calendar for the next month or two, then call a friend or two who I haven’t connected with in awhile and invite them to something specific.
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
EGK: Burnout is rare for me. The only time I recall it taking hold was when I was hired to make a film about a difficult personality and could not satisfy this person’s gatekeeper. I was working non-stop, writing and re-working the treatment and nothing was good enough. I finally realized I had to walk away and accept that we were simply not the right team to make this project a success.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
EGF: I try to reframe failures as life lessons but sometimes, you have to call it like it is. So here’s one: When my vibrant, socially vivacious mother was declining and could not do the things she loved to do anymore, it took me too long to stop trying to turn that lemon into lemonade for her. I invited more of her friends to come by. I planned time-limited trips out. I leapt into action with books on tape and music playlists and magazines. Instead, I might have empathized by spending more time by her side, asking her what would make her feel good. Maybe all she wanted was to look at old family photos together and laugh or hold hands.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
EGF: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Ellen Goosenberg Kent is a multi-award winning filmmaker whose documentary Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 won the Oscar for Best Documentary, short subject and was hailed by the New York Times as “polished, tough-minded and topical, delivering a strong, clean emotional punch without feeling manipulative.” Crisis Hotline followed two critically acclaimed films about the human costs of war, commissioned by HBO and Executive Produced by James Gandolfini: Wartorn (winner of the Television Academy Honors and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award Grand Prize) and the Emmy-nominated Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq. Her most recent film, Risky Drinking, for HBO in association with the NIAAA, takes an intimate look at a national epidemic.
Goosenberg Kent created, produced and directed numerous influential documentaries and television specials for HBO. These include Middle School Confessions, hosted by Samuel L. Jackson; I Have Tourette’s But Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me (Emmy Award winner); Brett Killed Mom: A Sister’s Diary (Emmy-nominated); Happy to Be Nappy and Other Stories of Me (Peabody Award; Emmy Award winner); The Music in Me (Peabody Award); How Do You Spell God? (Emmy winner) and the poetry slam special Reading Your Heart Out. She chronicled American’s response to climate change in the film, Too Hot Not to Handle and won a prime-time Emmy for the family special, Going, Going, Almost Gone: Animals in Danger, in association with the World Wildlife Fund. Other credits include her film on opioid treatment for HBO’s critically acclaimed Addiction series, and One Nation Under Dog, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and won a humanitarian Award at the Hamptons International Film Festival. She is currently at work on two independent feature documentaries.