I’ve seen dozens of organizations and hundreds of people seek happiness, or try to maintain their integrity by turning their backs on unhappiness and walking away. And I’ve never seen it work. It can’t work because that’s not where happiness and integrity live. It’s as though if I wanted to see my grandpa, there he is, I’d go to his front porch and turn my back to the door, and walk in a straight line, away. No amount of walking away, at any speed or any effort, gets me where I want to go.
Happiness and integrity, they can’t be reached by walking away from unhappiness. Unhappiness is the front door. The only way to find them is to open the door and step through. For me, in a way, the way to my happiness, it is my grandpa’s literal front door. I remember he’d sit in his favorite chair, and demand that. I sing his favorite pieces from South Pacific when I was in town.
And I always would .In that interview I mentioned at the top, he talked about hearing me sing in South Pacific for the first time, and he said this, “He started to sing that first song in this bass voice, actually a gorgeous voice, and I started crying. I’d heard his voice before, and it was just an ordinary voice. All of the sudden he had this great voice! He got roaring applause.” He goes on to tell a story about arranging for me to sing for a former star and benefactor of the San Francisco Opera whose only condition was that if I wasn’t good, grandpa would get an earful.
When the man called back the next day after hearing me, he said, “He’s got a great voice, but he needs training. I’d be glad to help him.” Grandpa told a few other little stories about me before he said his last words about me to the interviewer “The voice is there, but he never pursued it. It’s been a shame. You have a God-given gift like that, you use it.”
My grandpa died five years ago. My oldest son is named after him, my youngest son has his initials. I only heard this two weeks ago for the first time, so I’m still getting used to it. Hearing his words brought me right back to the moment I dropped my Julliard application in the trash, an act that let to years of my life spent afraid to sing for anyone, not because I worried you won’t like it, but because I’m afraid that you will.
That you’ll think, like I do, that I can’t possibly have the impact as a strategist as I would’ve as a singer, that I made the wrong choice so long ago and have continued to make the wrong choices for so long, that now I can’t go back and fix it. This is my unhappiness I’ve been secretive, prior to tonight, I’ve been secretive about my reasons for not singing. I’ve denied to myself and others that it was important to me. And I disengaged myself from music, one of the things I enjoyed most in the world.
The cat’s out of the bag with the secrecy. I’m not in denial anymore, so that’s two down. But I’m still disengaged, I’m not singing. I’ve helped dozens of companies work through unhappiness, and it’s awe-inspiring to watch. Seeing these leaders confront their problems, the unhappiness, work through their issues one at a time, and come out the other side, with integrity, gives me goosebumps.
But somehow I never got around to doing it meaningfully for myself. You can see from tonight, on stage, you can kind of understand why. It’s not easy. Telling you the unhappiness is the doorway to happiness and integrity isn’t hard “Unhappiness is the doorway.” Great! Done! But showing you what it’s like has taken all the moisture out of my mouth. Hold on. It’s terrifying. All those years walking away from unhappiness, I know I’m no further away than when I started. And, yes, I’m painfully aware that I’m standing on a big punctuation mark right now, that means “Stop.” And as much as I don’t want it to be, I really don’t want to do this, I ran out of time, right? It’s been Joe? (Plays note on pitch pipe) If somehow you can hear me, thank you for the kick in the ass I have no clue if I can sing anymore, but I’m going to try to dust off the pipes.
So, this if for both of us I would’ve dedicated it to him but I need it too. As soon as that guy in here stops chopping onions Hold on. (Plays note on pitch pipe) Alright, let me give this a shot.
We’ll start slow (Singing) ♪ Some enchanted evening, ♪ when you find your true love, ♪ when you feel her call you ♪ across a crowded room, ♪ then fly to her side and make her your own, ♪ or all through your life ♪ you may dream all alone (Applause) [Theodore Lilienthal 1912 – 2009]