Friday, October 14, 2011

Rock On!

Street performerEntertainment Tonight

This is not a story about that popular television show that’s a tell-all about Hollywood celebrities. It’s about the resilient street entertainers who spend their days and nights plying their talents on the streets and in the subways of New York. It’s about the real deal.

There are all kinds of people who work on the street trying to entertain or attract attention for money:

  • Sometimes it’s just a guy reciting what might be verses from the Bible as if the words will inspire and save us – unfortunately most of these people have the wild-eyed look of someone who’s insincere or not all there.
  • Or there’s the guy with the boom box playing his own brand of CD golden oldies that you might find on late night TV – unfortunately his selection of songs has a very narrow (read that: non-existent) market.
  • Or the parent who pushes their children to perform to the embarrassment of all.

But then there are some really gifted and dedicated performers who do this because they really do love what they’re doing AND need the money.

  • The guys with the bongo drums who together make a syncopation that quickens the soul.  
  • Or the one guy with the pipes who’s able to play music from Equator as well as Con Te Partiro  by Andrea Bocelli.   
  • Or a group doing a great rendition of the Four Tops whose harmonies and moves bring back memories of the Motown sound.  
  • Or the Amish choir who’ve obviously travelled a great distance to give us a glimpse of their faith and culture.
  • Or the two guys with beat up old guitars who play and sing like they’ve been on a big stage somewhere.
  • Or the old guys whose music is right out of the French Quarter.

Each of these, and so many more, hang around subway station entrances, down on the platforms where the trains come and go, or even on the trains themselves.  They hop on with the rest of us and have their routine perfectly timed from one station to the next – that’s a pretty nifty trick that even a road crew would have trouble doing – and when the train stops, they’re off to the next car, hats and cases in hand looking for the next group of possible paying customers.

Sounds like a tough life, doesn’t it? Sure does, but maybe it’s not unlike life in general.  As in: the better someone is and the harder they work, the more they make.  While the audience can’t contribute to all of the performers, we almost gladly give to those who are truly unique or exceptionally talented.  And it really is about how they perform. Just like sales people, lawyers, doctors, cooks, food servers and bartenders, auto repair mechanics, insurance salespeople, housekeepers and so many others who work hard every day? In just about everything, excellence and quality shine through and stick out because in this world of the mundane we just don’t expect anything more. But because we’re so used to average, the exceptional catches our attention.  nd because the newspapers and airwaves are so filled with numbingly meaningless stuff, we nearly overlook and miss the real deal.  And when it is the real deal, there’s no need for fancy ads, talking heads or endless commentary to tell us what it is – we just know it.

But back to these street entertainers: maybe they’re a bit more real than many other things in life. Let’s face it – most people work for small businesses – maybe these are the ultimate small business. Many people aspire to work for themselves – maybe these performers are the new entrepreneurs since it’s mostly them without any supporting organizations. Many have dreams and hopes that are realized through their work – maybe this is what hopes and dreams look like in this recession-affected economy of ours. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge; like the song says: there but for fortune go you or I. Maybe it’s a wakeup call for us to stop and realize that in this life we should look for big things in small places.  That’s how Cirque du Soleil got started – stilt walkers and sword swallowers on the streets of Montreal. Maybe we have to realize its okay when we or others do what has to be done to get by, as long as it’s honest and ethical and well-intended. Maybe this is the spirit of America shining through.

These performers, much like the vendors on the street who sell everything from jewelry to food to clothing to umbrellas, are just trying to get by. And isn’t that part of the American Dream – to do what you have to do to get by? And maybe even get ahead.  And once you get a little ahead, to begin to build and plan for the future? Sure is. So the next time you see one of these street entrepreneurs, remember how hard they’re trying to just get by. And who knows – just like those Cirque guys, one of them might start something and just be the next big thing.

My message this week is about professionalism, and how to develop the character to be really successful:

Arte Nathan“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.”  -Phillips Brooks

Phillips Brooks (1835 – 1893) was an American clergyman and author, who briefly served as Bishop of Massachusetts in the Episcopal Church during the early 1890s.

How and when does your character appear to others?  Whether we like to admit it or not, others are always watching to see what we’re made of.  In quiet times we have the time and opportunity to appear to be anyone we want, and we have the chance to work on it and figure it out because there’s no pressure. But we revert t who and what we truly are in moments of stress and pressure (and there are lots of choices available): collaborative or authoritative; kind or mean; communicative or frozen; open or closed; thoughtful or thoughtless; giving or selfish; warm or cold; focused or distracted; creative or robotic; flexible or rigid; happy or sad, good or bad.  The choice is yours. Use the quiet times to learn who you really are, what you really believe in, what you’re really made of, and how you want to appear to others.  It’s in the small moments that we become who we are. Take the time today to study, learn and prepare for all the moments in your life. That’s how true professionals develop their character.

Stay well!

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