Perform like you do while acting like you don’t … July 7, 2012

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She laughed at me.

She enjoyed doing that. Since I was only twenty-three years of age, I often made naive observations about life that caused her to chuckle vigorously, while maintaining a generous attitude. Of course, I was a boy from Central Ohio who had only recently moved to Music City U.S.A. and she was a well-seasoned veteran of the Nashville industry.

On this particular occasion, though, I produced a giggle-fest in her because in passing conversation, I informed her that I occasionally went to a nearby steakhouse situated in the proximity of Music Row because I’d heard that the restaurant was a frequent hangout of country music stars. It seemed right to me–because the wall of the establishment was completely covered with signed photographs from these luminaries. After she got done nearly choking on her laughter, she said, “Listen, Jonathan. If you were a country music star would you really want to go eat your lunch at a place where your ugly mug stared down at you the whole time? And why would you want to sip your coffee to the probing eyes of a whole room of strangers?”

It gave me pause for thought.

So one day at lunchtime, she decided to take me over to a real eatery–where the people who were “in the know” went to acquire their noonday sustenance. It ended up being a little cafe stuck in the back of an old, nearly abandoned hotel that barely had enough room in it for fifteen tables. It wasn’t fancy and from looking at the menu, it appeared that the only items for consumption seemed to be various incarnations of chicken fried steak.

But the room was chock-full of country music stars, actors and well-known personalities of all sorts and sizes. Matter of fact, the first two people I saw as I walked in the door were Tennessee Ernie Ford and Andy Griffith. They were just sitting there, chompin’ away and smiling, almost like they were on the set in Mayberry. My dear lady who had brought me to this experience didn’t miss a beat, walking right over to Mr. Ford and Mr. Griffith, striking up a conversation and turning my way, a little perturbed that I hadn’t followed her and seemed to be stuck in cement somewhere near the door. She motioned for me to come over, and I timidly made my way to her side.

Andy Griffith, Tony Award-nominated and Emmy A...

Andy Griffith, Tony Award-nominated and Emmy Award-nominated American actor, producer, writer, director and Grammy Award-winning southern gospel singer. Image taken as President George W. Bush presents him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She introduced me to Tennessee Ernie Ford and I stuck out my hand as a greeting. He looked down at his own paw and said, “I’d shake your hand, son, but mine’s covered with gravy.”

Apparently I was temporarily inspired with a burst of courage, so I responded, “That’s okay. It’ll give me a chance to taste the cuisine before I order.”

He thought this was hilarious. Andy Griffith even laughed. I was on a roll, so intelligently I excused myself and found a table.

While I waited for my benefactress to join me, I looked around the room. Famous people as far as you could see, which, since the room was less than two thousand square feet, wasn’t really that extensive.

I watched them. They all had one thing in common and many things different. They had all succeeded in finding something they could do that other people wanted to buy, which had surprisingly made them well-known. But other than that, they were just human beings acting out their own particular agenda. Some were nice; some were friendly; some were quiet. Others were boisterous and loud. Some treated the waitress with respect, others bellowed out their need for more catsup. There was nothing really different here in the realm of the human family–just people who got paid a whole lot more money to do what they did, while still being who they were.

My dear friend joined me and several other famous individuals came up to the table, including Mel Tillis, Waylon Jennings, Jessie Coulter, Hank Snow and Ray Stevens. Each one of them had a kind word for my lady producer, and turned to me and graciously informed me that I was in good hands.

After I had crunched down a particularly well-fried piece of simulated steak, I told my friend, “You know what I learned today?”

She shook her head, curious. I continued. “I learned that fame is just another cross to bear, that can either take you to glory or just leave you hanging in the air, dying a little bit as the whole world watches.”

She sat quietly and didn’t respond. After a few moments, she put down her fork and replied, “So what are you gonna do about it? I mean, if you ever get to a position where people know your name and think you hung the moon?”

I thought for a long moment, looked around the room at all the folks who had achieved success, and said, “I think the key is in performing like you do while acting like you don’t. I’ve got it figured this way–when the spotlight hits you in life, you should be ready to give your very best, without timidity, anguish or any intimidation at all. But when the spotlight turns off, you should leave the stage humble, not quite sure who that person was that performed all those antics, and walk out to be among your brothers and sisters believing that you’re blessed to have survived that scrutiny–and not quite sure how you’d ever be able to do it again. That’s the key. Because when you begin to believe that what you do makes you better than other people, you really lose the meaning of why you do it. The real reason for talent is to encourage somebody else to live on a little happier and find their own abilities.”

Tears filled her eyes. It was one of those sweet moments that demanded more than milk gravy. But we still made do.

I never forgot that day. Just because you’ve found something you can accomplish on a regular basis doesn’t make you special–unless it blesses other people. So when you’ve done your little tap dance, sit down, relax–and humbly join the human family.

   

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

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