With sincerest apologies to The Kinks and the great Lou Reed (RIP) sometimes lessons on the #RooseveltRiver come from the most unusual places.
My brother “came out” over 30 years ago. It was a much different time and being the son of the Baptist minister in Southern Indiana could not have made an incredibly difficult announcement any easier. I have to admit (and I think he would too) my brother and I had a rocky relationship for most of our childhood and young adulthood. He was (much 😉 ) older than me, liked to tease me incessantly, and sometimes would beat the crap out of me. I can, however, remember two occasions that made a huge impression on me. The first was when he filed as a Conscientious Objector for the Vietnam War draft. What an incredible stand for what you believe in. The pressure he was put under from the interviews, the filings, the name calling. I gained an incredible amount of respect for him during that year or so.
The second was when he announced he was gay and occasionally dressed in drag. I think the pressure of the CO filing was nothing compared to making this announcement. I am sure I was not supportive at the time (I had a lot of growing up to do) however, I was secretly very proud of him again…for making a stand for what he felt and what he believed. My wife and three year old son went to visit him a few months after, I can remember touring his house and my son tugging on my hand and looking up at me and asking “Why does Uncle Jack have dresses in his closet?” and later my wife admiring the photos of beautiful women on his mantel (uh…they weren’t).
As our rivers flowed on and the decades passed, he and I met up for beers one evening last year. Our conversation turned to our jobs. I was now an executive and he had made is living in front-line retail. I remarked how good he was at his job. Everyone loved walking into the store and being waited on by him. There were times, that customers would ask for him and if he wasn’t in, they would leave. Everyone in the area knew him, from the office secretaries, to the politicians and business leaders. I likened his skill to that of my dad, the now retired minister that still “works the room” every chance he gets. He laughed and said, “but you get up in front of large groups all the time and speak, talking one-on-one is easy”.
I told him I was serious and was very impressed. I asked how he does it, how is he that comfortable with meeting new people all the time. “Its not me,” was his reply, “its my persona. Just like when I was a dancer, I put on my persona and hide myself inside it”. BAM! Another lesson on the #RooseveltRiver hits me like a rock in the rapids. Sometimes the more obvious the lesson, the harder it smacks you. Its like the preparation my son does before he gets on stage, the preparation my dad did prior to a sermon, its like the preparation I do before a big presentation. We may not have described it as a persona…but its a perfect way of looking at it. THAT’s how you work a room…prepare and put on your persona.
So next time you see me at a networking event, if I have a strange smile on my face, I am not being rude, I’m just singing “Lola, L-O-L-A, Lola” or “Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo” to myself.
#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right.