Martin Short’s Nine Categories for Self Evaluation

Martin Short has had a sneaky good career in Hollywood going on four decades or so.

He was on Saturday Night Live for just one season in the mid-1980s but that led to movies like Three Amigos, Innerspace, Three Fugitives (underrated if memory serves), Father of the Bride, Captain Ron (loved this one) and many more.

Short has said, “I still feel that I’m two films short of making the Oscars-night memorial reel,” but his staying power in the fickle world of Hollywood is impressive.

His book, I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legendchronicles his personal life and career, from the early days when he was on SCTV in Canada, working with the likes of John Candy, Paul Shaffer, Eugene Levy, Dan Akroyd, and Gilda Radner.

After three years of consistent employment as an actor, work dried up for him in the late-1970s, just as he thought his career was about to take off.

He shared, “This was a new experience for me: a frustrating state of professional limbo. I resented that, as I saw it, my fate was somehow no longer in my own hands. It really felt as if the world was conspiring against me.”

He knew his career would be filled with hot and cold streaks because that’s how show business works so he devised a self-evaluation system called the Nine Categories to objectively weigh the good with the bad in his life. They are as follows:

Category 1: Self. Your own personal health and safety.

Category 2: Immediate Family. The proverbial spouse and children.

Category 3: Original Family. The people you grew up with.

Category 4: Friends. The health of your friendships.

Category 5: Money. Right or wrong, the scorecard most people pay attention to.

Category 6: Career. How fulfilling your work is.

Category 7: Creativity. Your innate creativity outside of work.

Category 8: Discipline. Having the self-control to implement your goals.

Category 9: Lifestyle. Are you actually having any fun?

Once a year Short would sit down and work through each category to take inventory of his life at the moment.

He claimed the reason for doing this was, “I wanted to see if logic could overcome emotion.”

The Nine Categories have been part of his life for almost 40 years and have helped keep the focus on the true priorities in life.

Short experienced a number of personal tragedies in his life, yet comes off as one of the happier humans you’ll ever read about. He credits this system of gratitude and balance with keeping his head in the right place even when things weren’t going well.

Paul Graham once said, “Keep your identity small.”

That’s what Short was doing by reminding himself there’s more to life than your career.

Being grateful for the good things in your life can have a lasting impact if you’re able to remind yourself on a regular basis.

Psychologists asked participants in a study to write a few sentences each week. One group was asked to write down things they were grateful for that week. A second group wrote about things that irritated them. And a third group was just told to write down anything (positive or negative) that affected them that week.

They found after 10 weeks the group who expressed gratitude on a regular basis were more optimistic and felt better about themselves. The people who focused on negativity exercised less and were more prone to doctors visits.

With the glut of information these days you don’t have to look very hard to find something that can make you angry, displeased, inadequate, or outraged.

I like the idea of being grateful for what you have to avoid falling into this trap. It’s also helpful to look beyond the typical benchmarks for success to remind yourself what really matters in life.

Money and career are important but they’re not everything.

I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend

Further Reading:
Making it Look Easy is Hard Work

Now here’s what I’ve been reading this week:


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