The Day I Cried On The Big Stage

When I work with businesses to help them become more creative, the first thing I address is how inhibited we all are by our fears. “Get past them”, I’ll say, “and you will reveal your innate creativity”. But I’ll admit, I have been afraid myself. I’ve been afraid that the very idea I’m most interested purveying is so obvious and so simple I worry that people, especially businesspeople, will think I’m foolish for even putting it out there. It’s this: We are alive on a staggeringly beautiful planet. That’s all there is to it. And while the idea is uncomplicated, it’s nearly impossible to truly bear in one’s mind.

It’s hard to be cognizant of our own aliveness when we’re going through the machinations of our day; the busy work, the phone calls and the emails. But once in a great while something happens that causes us to break through the mundane and allow ourselves access to something deeper. Some call it the spirit, some call it the soul —no matter how you define it; it’s a highly emotional state. But becoming emotional isn’t without purpose; it has great utility —even in business situations. Emotions drive our passion, they’re the source of our resilience against fear and failure, and they comprise the bedrock of our authentic expression.

I’m overjoyed to report that I experienced this break-through to emotionality happening in real-time at a recent Vistage Executive Summit in Minneapolis. Here’s what happened…

Peter Himmelman was a keynote speaker at our Summit. I have to admit, I was weary to hear what a musician could teach a grand room full of executives who are more strategic than emotional most days. As he spoke, our minds connected to the heart of what we do.

We were given a few uncomfortable or at least unfamiliar exercises to promote our innate desire to become more vulnerable. Peter articulated simple steps to test our willingness to be more creative. At one point, we were tasked with writing a few stanzas of a song – our song and our story. We were to pick a pivotal time where we had to make an important decision that changed the course of our lives. Sounds good to us and most of the attendees obliged – even though we were only given five minutes to write our song.

I titled my song “Ripped My Life to Pieces”. The song described the decision I made to step in as the leader of a business of which I knew little. My young husband of one year died of cancer. All of a sudden, the community was looking to his 30-year-old widow for direction. I thought it was the biggest curse of my life – take over a feed and seed business in an industry that was foreign to me. Furthermore, I discovered that the business was in financial turmoil due to his lengthy absence.

When Peter asked for a few volunteers to come to the stage for their song to be sung, I knew I had to go. It was important to get the message out to the world – a promise I made to my first husband before he died. As I approached the stage, nerves of excitement as well as emotion overtook me. Being a speaker myself, this surprised me. After all, I’ve shared this message many times from large and small platforms. This time, I froze. I stepped up to the mic only to become overwhelmed with emotion and the tears welled in my eyes. I paused and then shared the story behind my song. It was a moment I’ll remember my entire life. Peter gave the lyrics to the vocalist and, in my eyes and in the eyes of many, magic happened. The entire room of hundreds of executives sat in complete silence and listened to someone’s story of survival became a beautiful ballad of survival in the midst of tragedy and perseverance to rebuild a powerful life. The lyrics are as follows:

Ripped My Life To Pieces

By Sandy Hansen-Wolff

 You left me to manage all alone

Just when I thought my future was known.

Now I see how the magic of my world increases –

All when I thought you ripped my life to pieces.

I was lost and left without a plan

Since all my love was with you – my man.

Now my future is bright and happiness never ceases –

All when I thought you ripped my life to pieces.

The response was overwhelming. The audience was mesmerized by the song as well as the story that was so bravely shared in front of peers. We never know the impact we will have on the lives of others. The first step is always to say yes when given an opportunity to share. Someone out there needs to hear your story – even if it’s only one person at a time. And when given the big platform – step forward and speak your truth – you never know the magic that will follow.

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