When You Are The Lead Singer

by Patrick McNerthney

Everyone should work in food service or customer service at some point in their lives. Just look at me and how fantastic I am – it’s all due to the fact that I worked as a barista for five years way back in the early 2000’s. It turns out making coffee for confused professionals starting at 5 a.m. Monday thru Friday taught me empathy, how to handle pressure, and how fun it is to give people a hard time when I’m already way more caffeinated than they are in those wee morning hours.

(It really was a life saver for people.)

My coworker Andrew was in a band, and I was an aspiring firefighter at the time. Not an unusual situation – many baristas  are pursuing a loftier goal as they ply their trade. After about a year of our barista-ing together, Andrew and his band were getting noticed by big record labels, and I was about to graduate from a firefighter training academy.  

At which point two interesting things happened: Andrew was asked by his bandmates (and the manager) to take over as the lead singer, and I was asked by my fellow recruits to lead us through our “final exam” of fairly dangerous live fire exercises.

Oh boy. Neither one of us was thrilled. Which was weird, and something we discussed many times during our barista shifts. Here’s what we figured out:

  • When you are the lead singer, it turns out people look to you to take charge and set the tone of the rehearsal, the show, the meeting, the interview…and everything else. Andrew tried to avoid it by saying, “Hey! I didn’t ask for this responsibility.” But it was simply expected of him as the lead singer. People looked to Andrew for how everything would go from that point on – and they hoped and expected that he was, in fact, a leader. 

(See? Your eyes kind of gravitate to the lead singer.)

  • I saw great value in someone else directing my actions when it came to firefighting school. Following was way easier than the emotionally taxing alternative of taking charge and being responsible for others. Like Andrew, I suddenly had to do things no one ordered me to do. I had to both take initiative, and support it in those under my care, so we would get the job done as a team. 

Andrew and I agreed we found all this scary. Basically in grade school and high school we’d been trained to avoid things like doing something no one expected us to do, developing a skill we thought was important versus what those in charge thought was important, raising our hands, speaking up, launching a new project…all the stuff that makes someone a leader. So that was the problem – we knew how to lead, we’d just been taught not to

Of course the answer was simply to dance with the fear of responsibility, take charge, go first, and serve. Because that’s what leadership is about – not title and status and ego and nice headshots – but simply service. So that’s what we did (gulp!)

Andrew and I each did fine with our newfound leadership roles. Ultimately his band never “made it,” and I never got hired as a full-time firefighter. But at least we remembered how to serve and overcome our fear of being in charge – skills we both carry with us today. 

Fine Art Miracles is a real leader when it comes to the importance and efficacy of using creative expression to help the elderly and other underserved populations thrive, in the face of social isolation. And they want you to level up and serve your residents and loved ones through programs like Art Therapy, Dance & Movement Therapy, and Music Therapy! Granted, this may sound like “Arts and Crafts Time,” but really they’re amazing tools that create feelings of self-worth, confidence, mastery, and connection for those under your care. 

Are you ready to go first and serve? They’re ready to help!

Andrew still plays music sometimes, but I don’t practice firefighting anymore.I’d probably get arrested if I started walking around my neighborhood in my uniform, (I still have it!) pretending to respond to emergencies. But I do like to try it on now and then–it remains a helpful little reminder that I really can step up and lead–even when I’m feeling scared!