Tag Archives: Aretha Franklin

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Life lessons from karaoke

Today is international women’s day, and though it’s not earth day, I’m going to recycle/reuse/re-purpose some content from a talk I had the pleasure of delivering to a group of high school girls one year ago in honor of this very day. Here’s the Cliff’s notes version.

The early years
orchestraAs a young girl, I was painfully socially awkward.  A nerd before geeky was chic. Couldn’t get a date to save my life. My brother still reminds me my best friend was the library. Oddly enough though, I didn’t suffer from stage fright; I grew up in school plays, orchestra concerts and even a performing dance group in college (so, so much lycra). I was hiding in plain sight, behind other people’s words, music and choreography. I told myself it wasn’t really me on that stage.

fitting inRight after college, I got recruited into a management development program at an industrial supply distribution company. I knew more about logistics and socket head cap screws than anyone should, and was given an unbelievable amount of responsiblity. At 22, I lived in fear of being discovered. I was managing people (mostly men) who had been doing their jobs for as long as I had been alive, so I started wearing heels to be tall enough to look my direct reports in the eye. Less consciously, I started adopting the management style and speech patterns of the (mostly) men around me. I didn’t even sound like me; I just wanted to blend in.

Karaoke changed my life
bush gardenJust over 10 years ago, I moved back to my native Seattle. Being Jewish on Christmas Eve, my brother and I went Bush Gardens: the temple of karaoke, 365 days a year. As we walked in, (my now uncle) Bob Santos was belting out Ave Maria in Latin. It was magical. I realized that no one in that bar cared who you were outside of that moment. On or off stage, you check your day job, your ego, and your baggage at the door and become part of this communal experience. I was hooked.

Karaoke lesson one: Get over yourself. The people  who love you will love you no matter what. Those who don’t know you probably don’t care. With that in mind, it really takes the pressure off of “failure,” whether it’s a disastrous song selection or a career change.

On my early path of karaoke discovery, I had a career revelation. Coincidence? I think not! I had just about had it with corporate life, and realized that what got me out of bed in the morning wasn’t my day job but my volunteer community activities. Life is too short for that. I got over my corporate identify and lifestyle, quit my job and decided to go back to school full time to pursue my dream of running a nonprofit organization.

Karaoke lesson two: Find yourself. My good friend Ericka Lee, a serious karaoke queen, throws the gauntlet every time we go out: you have to “skaraoke” (aka, try a brand new song) at least once, as that’s the only way to expand your repertoire.

I’ve kissed a lot of frogs to find that prince of a song. Along the way I learned to sing what’s in my range, not what I wanted to hear. I love dancing to ABBA, but have no business singing Dancing Queen. With many skaraokes under my belt, I’ve found my songs: Adele and Aretha Franklin.queen of soul

My career “skaraoke” was in grad school– my pal Andy Boyer knew I was bound and determined to go into nonprofit management, but recruited me onto a team for a venture capital investment competition. Serendipity is a beautiful thing (as is a nudge from a friend); in life I generally have a plan but am willing to change it in favor of a better one, and thus entered the wonderful world of entrepreneurship. I’ve never made less money nor have I ever been happier. Supporting startups is most definitely my song.

Karaoke lesson three: Be yourself. I am not, nor will I ever be, the Queen of Soul, embodied by the fabulous Ms. Franklin. So when I sing “Never Loved a Man,” it’s inspired by Aretha, infused with some Angeline Ball, but at the end of the day it’s all me. So no one can say I’m a terrible Aretha. I just try to be my best Rebecca.

sinatraTwenty years after starting that first management job, today I wear heels by choice.  And because you can’t do a post on karaoke without the Chairman…

Forget blending.  Find your song and sing it, your way.