This week, I went out with a few friends to a karaoke bar. I hadn't picked up a microphone to sing in years. Many years ago, I made the painful decision not to pursue a career in the performing arts, and I’d found that it was easier to make peace with that decision if I avoided attending live performances and singing in public. That night, however, I was locked in. Someone had written my name down on the karaoke list, and, before I knew it, I was on the hook to sing “Proud Mary”.
If you don’t know “Proud Mary”, give it a listen
. Don’t bother with any other version besides Tina Turner’s. It really is simply the best … better than all the rest. It’s also a pretty difficult song to sing decently, not to mention well. But I love the challenge of it — everything from the long crescendo to the range. It’s a defiant, determined … rough ... song, and it it has always spoken to me.
So, I grabbed the mic, and I let loose.
I am no prodigy. There are far better singers than me in the world. I’ll start with China Moses
, who I firmly believe is one of the great voices of our generation. I am no China Moses. But I have always loved to sing.
When I was a child, I was convinced I would go on to be a star. Alone in my room, I’d close my eyes and sing at the top of my lungs for roaring crowds of imaginary fans. I was the hero of my stories and the queen of my fantasy worlds. I couldn’t wait to grow up, because growing up meant I’d be able to grab the microphone and seize my dreams.
Then, the real world started to eclipse my imaginary one, and I noticed that the roles I played in my imagination — the roles I wanted to play as an adult — weren’t played by people who looked like me. I learned that my voice, while good, wasn’t great. I was a strong mimic, but I lacked an original sound. Beyonce, I was not.
That’s when I made the difficult decision to walk away from the performing arts. I started learning how to think differently about the paths my life could take (much to my parents’ relief). Rather than hew to the traditional ideas of success and stardom, I started to think about what really mattered to me and how I might use my voice in other ways besides singing.
Since then, I’ve taken the stage, but mostly to give talks. Every once in a while, someone will tell me they enjoyed the TEDx talk I gave with my pal Amy
. Others might remember me from another conference or workshop. Some tell me they were inspired by my talks. Others tell me they admired the delivery. But not all of the feedback is good. Some people say I speak to fast, others say I need to improve my posture (I’m a chronic sloucher). It’s all music to my ears, because learning how to be better at something that already comes naturally to me is the path from good to great.
So, I may not be singing for sold out crowds today, but singing for a small crowd in a dive bar in Mountain View is pretty darn great, and speaking for crowds at conferences and inspiring others is wonderful. Eventually, I want to make that my full-time job, but I have some planning to do before I get there.