I remember seeing the band Phoenix in Austin three years ago. It was at the Austin City Limits Festival. It was just an afternoon slot on a Friday — not quite primetime –but a massive crowd showed up. Even the band’s lead singer admitted that day that it was the biggest crowd they’d ever played for.
And it showed. They were very good — Phoenix’s songs are layered and powerful and super dancy — but they weren’t electric. Their music was fantastic, but the band didn’t look quite ready to perform on such a big stage.
Then I saw them a year later in Denver. It wasn’t even the same band. The singer was climbing up scaffolding on the stage and singing from high above his bandmates. At one point, the band just stopped mid-song, their instruments still reverberating, and walked off stage. The crowd — this was at another festival, mind you — started to leave the stage. And then the band rushed right back out and kept playing. The crowd flooded back in, a stampede of people jumping and screaming and generally losing their minds.
It was epic.
Maybe they weren’t ready for the big stage in Austin. Maybe they didn’t know what they were doing yet.
But they went out and played anyway. They started before they were ready, and they found themselves through doing the work, night in and night out.
The same holds true for Florence & the Machine. I saw her open for U2 last summer in Baltimore. She was very good. The crowd knew her music. But there was simply no way she was prepared to play for 60,000 people that night.
Then I saw her on Thursday in New Orleans. She blew the crowd away. She looked completely comfortable on stage. Her banter was good. When she told the crowd to jump, they jumped. When she told every guy in the crowd to grab their girlfriends and put them up on their shoulders, 500 women popped up in the air.
It’s an amazing thing to watch someone find who they are and embrace it, and to watch the crowd embrace it, too. But even the best — even the biggest rock and roll acts in the world — struggle to find themselves at first. I’ve seen it with Phoenix, and I’ve seen it with Florence.
It’s only through doing the work that we find our way.
Like Teller (of Penn and Teller) once said:
Get on stage. A lot. Try stuff. Make your best stab and keep stabbing. If it’s there in your heart, it will eventually find its way out.
Go out today and put yourself into the world. Take a step towards doing the work you really want to do.