About 5 and 1/2 years ago, I began to lose faith in my gut. The metaphorical gut, you know, the one that is supposed to tell you what’s right, wrong, fishy, dangerous, or perfect. It had always served me well in my professional life (personal, well, that’s for another blog post). My instincts, combined with my experience and training, had generally kept me confident in my abilities and knowledge. They kept me moving forward.
Then, things changed. I started to doubt my gut, to believe that my instincts were going soft. Part of it can be traced to the rapidly changing world of media and digital marketing, which has quickly made my business school and on-the-job training a little obsolete. Part of it was being colossally wrong about a few pretty big things. Part of it is that, in marketing, your every decision and move is usually questioned, because well, let’s face it – you’re often telling people what they don’t want to hear, as in “No, I can’t get that story into the New York Times,” or “No, I wasn’t able to sell out every single ticket in the house.”
And a big part was, and still is, learning new industries. When I joined From the Top, a classical music organization, I harbored, and still do, quite a bit of concern that my lack of knowledge of the art form would make me bad at my job. And while I have learned a great deal about this wonderful genre, anyone who tells you that you can “learn” enough to hold your own with those who grew up obsessed with classical music is flat-out pulling your leg. There is so much lingo, so much history, so much judgment, so much ingrained culture. There are times when it’s exhilarating; at other times, it’s smothering.
Which makes moments like the one I’m about to describe even more wonderful.
I have this colleague in my current job. He is a self-appointed music man, a talented composer who is always making sure that we, as an organization, respect classical music in the way that we should in our work. It’s not easy. Many of us didn’t grow up playing instruments; many of us are theater people and administrators. Our hearts are in the right place, but there’s so much we don’t know, and he helps keep us on track. I love this about him, because he manages to do it in a kind and collaborative way. He helps rookies like me understand what I need to know, and doesn’t make me feel stupid while doing it.
So yesterday, I was eager to talk to him. You see, we’d recently commissioned a new work from a young composer. I’d listened to it, and I was smitten; I thought it was fantastic. In that “holy crap, I think I just listened to something that is going to be played by orchestras a hundred years from now” way, I was giddy with delight.
But then, I stopped myself. After all, I know nothing really, about what makes a “good” concerto. I often think things are good that others dismiss as fluff. I mean, I like disaster movies, for heaven’s sake, so that alone should call my taste into question. Anyway, I wanted to talk to this colleague, to see if what I thought I’d heard in that music was indeed “right.”
The next day, after a meeting, I tracked him down. He look exhausted, beaten down in a way I hadn’t seen before; clearly the last thing he wanted to do was talk to me. But I had knocked on the door, he was too nice to send me away, and when I said “I thought the piece was fantastic,” he nodded, and said “Yep. It’s good.”
“I wasn’t sure if I had it right,” I said.
“You have instincts,” he replied, almost, but not quite, cracking a smile. “You should trust them, they’re good.” I walked away smiling, more than a little lighter in my step, and warmer in my heart. What a wonderful thing to say to a colleague, I thought.
I pondered blogging about that moment, but it didn’t really seem like a big enough deal. To me, sure, but to the rest of you?
Then I found out why he hadn’t cracked a smile. It turns out that his father had died earlier that week. So yeah, now it’s blog worthy.
To be so sad, and so generous…just…wow.
I now find myself thinking of his dad, whom I never met. By all accounts, he was a wonderful man. He would have to be, I think, to teach his son to be that kind of human.