“Be yourself.” It’s advice some of us have heard all of our lives, others not at all.
By the time most people find their way to me and my services, the experience of life has left them feeling a little challenged in this department. They’ve usually had to put at least part of themselves on hold because of work, family, finances, health, other external circumstances or their own internal beliefs and personal history.
Fortunately, regardless of age, it’s almost always possible to get back on track with ourselves. I was reminded of this while watching my favorite TV show, The Voice, an inspiring singing competition which gives aspiring musicians the opportunity to be coached by some of the most successful singers in the music industry. Each year, thousands of hopefuls apply to appear on the show. In the end, only one will be designated “The Voice” and awarded a recording contract.
As a coach, I pay particular attention to how the superstar coaches are working with their budding protégés. This season, one incident stood out from all rest. My favorite contestant was Joshua, a devoted dad, songwriter and folk-rocker from Traverse City, Michigan. With a beautiful, soulful voice full of warmth and passion, he reminded me of Simon and Garfunkle, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and other community-minded, politically aware folk artists from my past. (Even if you can’t stand that kind of music, read on!)
Joshua successfully sailed through the early rounds of the competition despite the fact that his music was distinctly different from that of most other contestants, loud pop-rockers who were belting out – dare I say, sometimes screeching – their songs.
Once the competitors were winnowed down from thousands to just ten, Joshua’s coach apparently decided that he needed to show a different side of himself, expand his vocal range, prove that there was more to him than he had demonstrated in previous weeks. Joshua complied, singing a different type of song which did challenge him vocally but strained his voice, constrained his style and landed on listeners’ ears with a bit of a thud. When he finished singing, a slight grimace came over his face. I suspect he knew what he had just done was not an accurate reflection of his heart or his talent.
Furious that his coach had steered him wrong, I could barely stand the possibility that Joshua might be sent packing, mainly because his coach had thought he’d needed to prove he could hit higher notes or be more like other contestants. I vowed never to do that to my clients!
By that point in the competition, the viewers voted for our favorites by tweeting, texting and downloading songs. Each week, we collectively decided who moved on to the next stage of the competition and who went home. I was nervous. Very nervous.
The day after Joshua sang, he ended up dead last among those who were “saved by America.” I and thousands of other fans breathed a sigh of relief – but not completely. Historically, once you end up at the bottom, viewers typically give you your walking papers at the next opportunity.
The following week, Joshua went back to singing a song more aligned with his heart, soul and style. Back was his gorgeous, rich tone. Back was his relaxed confidence. Back was his passion. Back was his focus on the music rather than proving himself. Perhaps most importantly, after he sang the last note and strummed the last chord on his guitar, back was his smile of satisfaction, even delight.
The next night when the week’s results were announced, Joshua had received the most votes of any artist. In a week’s time, he had gone from last to first, a rarity during the show’s eight seasons.
His singing had been fantastic, but I suspect the vote was also a referendum on the value of being true to oneself.
When my friends, clients, and colleagues have made similar choices, it almost always works out better. Whether it happens in a split second or takes years, whether it unfolds though enormous determination and courage or with relative ease, there’s a lot to be gained from insisting on being your full self, despite any external or internal pressure to the contrary. When that happens, win or lose, you’ve succeeded at what is most important.
What have you learned about being your true self?