The busker looked me right in the eye and grinned, displaying a missing tooth and at least one more that looked like it was on its last legs. I liked what he was playing--a Rodney Crowell tune. He looked about my age and I was already reaching for my wallet when he called out, “Hey! I like your shirt!” so I grabbed a couple more bills for his collection jar. It’s my favorite shirt, what can I say?
I love chatting up strangers to see what their story is. Lessons to be learned can come from the oddest places. This guy looked like he had a few under his belt; Lessons and stories about odd places.
Turns out we might have been twin brothers of different mothers. He had done his tour in Vietnam and saw enough action to know he didn’t want to stick around and see how it ended. He went on to work in the public sector long enough to decide it wasn’t fun and he didn’t want to see how that story ended either. He had developed this philosophy that if it wasn’t fun, he wasn’t going to stick around and waste his time. Life is too short, he said, to work at something that sucks the fun out of it.
That right there, I thought, is a priceless leadership lesson.
He spent a few more years doing odd jobs. One day someone paid him to pound a concrete wall with a sledgehammer getting it ready to be torn down by a bulldozer. He spent another day moving mud, carrying wet cement to bricklayers. Even spent a bit of time as a cesspool diver (I had no idea there was such a job). But in his 50s he decided what he really wanted to do is what he was doing today, 20 years later, busking. So there he was outside a local grocery store, playing Rodney Crowell tunes, paying the bills and loving life.
He played one of his own tunes for me. Claimed it had won him enough money in a song contest to keep him on the road for six months. Sounded to me like he had forgotten most of the chords and words, but it was nice to hear anyway. So! I asked. What’s the secret to your success? He replied, “Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat. Everything else will sort itself out. Have fun.”
That right there, I thought, is a priceless lesson.