For more than 25 years I have been a member of the Ceremonial Band of the Waterloo Regional Police. I have been playing music since I was in grade 7, and have played various wind and percussion instruments since that time.

I’ve noticed a pattern in the years I’ve been with the Police Band. We can have a rehearsal that is full of problems, quirks and at times blah. Then we put on our uniforms and step in front of an audience and it’s a totally different experience! Why? Why in just a few short hours can we go from having blah to putting on an exceptional performance

Recently, I found this interview with the late David Bowie. It’s short … listen to it before continuing with reading.

Although I don’t know if Bowie meant it this way, there seems to be a simple three step formula buried in his message:

  1. Never play to the Gallery
  2. Never forget your why
  3. Get out of your comfort zone

Never play to the Gallery

What is your gallery? Bowie was right when he said you never really figure this one out until much later in life. It took me nearly 50 years to finally figure this out, and when I did it really changed my life and my world.

For me, the gallery is the people I’ve worked for or partnered with in business ventures. For example, in one of my past lives I worked for a guy who would talk a lot about my future. This boss would talk a lot about how if I accomplished this or that I would get a better promotion, raise or bonus. He would even talk about me as his succession plan.

Although all of that might sound wonderful, he got me focused more on pleasing him rather than doing what was right for our customer. I was believing by focusing on pleasing him I would be recognized, which would lead to the promotion or raise. So when he asked me to do something I disagreed with I would do it to please him. I may have believed it was the wrong thing, and in some cases knew the customer really didn’t care about what we were doing. What he may not have known, is at the time my tendency to focus on being a pleaser was very strong and so it felt like the right thing for me to be doing.

This is a problem I’ve witnessed in many companies I’ve worked with. Their corporate culture is focused more on having the people who work there playing to the gallery. Bonus systems that are at the discretion of the boss providing you positive review. Hierarchy needing you to develop positive relationships with those about you if you have any expectation of being recognized. Teams held at arms length from their actual customer. There’s lots of ways a corporate culture can have the people playing to the gallery.

Never forget your why

Bowie says this a little bit different: “Never forget that the reason you started to work is that you felt there was something inside yourself, that you felt that if you could manifest it in some way you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society”

I’m not sure our schooling system does a good job of really helping our youth with this understanding of why they want to do a career. I first started my career as a software developer. I think I justified it at the time as being something about wanting to create stuff. However, the truth is I remember being really focused on the job opportunities. I entered the work force at a time when the software development market was exploding with opportunity, so I was relatively certain I could easily find a job and make money.

I admit making money is important to me. However my view of money has changed. Money is not why I work any more. Money is a by-product of the work I do, and necessary to support the life style Rosie and I enjoy. However, back when I entered the work force there was little support in understanding this. Although I think there has been some change in this mindset, I still think largely schools are weak at supporting the youth of this world in figuring this out better.

This isn’t just a problem in the education systems. Many of the corporate cultures I encounter reinforce this situation where they are setup based on using carrots and sticks to get people doing tasks, rather than allowing and being aligned to allowing people bringing their heart and soul into their work.

Carrots and sticks amount to structures like pay scales, bonus systems, performance management systems and more. I once worked for an organization in which I gave them my heart and soul. I loved the work I was doing there, and was deeply passionate about building something great for the future. One of my responsibilities was in being the interface between the organization and our customers. After weeks of hearing “I don’t know”, I cut a meeting short saying “let me know when you do have something to tell me”. I was frustrated and will admit my actions were likely not the best.

My manager wrote me up, and put a note on my file for this. In other words, rather than digging into what is bothering me so much, he simply got out his big stick and beat me with it. This was a critical turning point for me. The message I was delivered was that they don’t want me to bring my heart and soul. They only want me going through the motions of doing the tasks I was asked. So despite loving this job so much, it didn’t take me long until I left this company.

Although people may be passionate and they may do the required tasks, they will not do their best work until they bring their heart and soul to work. When we allow them to bring their heart and soul, they are creative, joyous, driven and so much more. When they bring their heart and soul they will care about the future of the company as much as anyone, and will actually help drive it forward.

Never forget why you started doing what you’re doing. I do believe there is something inside you which all of us are continually grasping to understand. I don’t know if we’re ever really meant to truly understand it however it’s like a lantern lighting up our path. Always pursue a deeper understanding of yourself. Never stop being curious about what brings you joy. Live.

Get out of your comfort zone

Up to a couple years ago I was a master of living in my comfort zone. It’s really comfortable being there, and seemed to come with the safety of not taking risks. Looking back, what I now know is living in my comfort zone really is not that comfortable. It’s why I was never really happy in my career. It’s why I kept changing jobs, always seeking something more.

Don’t get me wrong as I was always learning new skills, taking on new challenges in jobs, and always trying to get ahead in my career. However, none of these things took me outside my most inner and personal comfort zone. I’m talking about the comfort zone where I find my true self. My values, my beliefs, my emotions and everything else that makes all of us human.

I was ignoring all the parts of me which really matter, and keeping them all safely tucked in my comfort zone. It’s easy to stretch yourself by learning a new skill, getting a promotion, or going after that new job. However, what I know is if you never look inward at you, and get out of that comfort zone you may never find true happiness in your life.

I loved how David Bowie put it “and when you don’t feet your feet can touch the bottom … you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting”.

That’s what life is all about. Doing something exciting. What I’ve learned is you don’t get to do exciting things by staying in your comfort zone. Exciting things exist out there.

Playing to the audience

I love playing music with the Waterloo Regional Police Band. Rehearsals are an important part of sharing this gift each of us has, and so it’s necessary for us to play to our gallery at times. However, it’s an indescribable feeling when we put on the uniforms and perform for the public.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I don’t remember the Police Band ever having a perfect performance. I can remember mistakes ranging from going the wrong way in a marching show, to a drummer simply dropping a stick (we carry extras).  However, this incredible group of musicians, acts with such a level of professionalism none of those things seem to matter.

The end result? No one cares about the mistakes. We will work on them, we will improve ourselves, and we’ll continue to share our gift with the world.

Now imagine if every workplace had the same attitude

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