Advice from Alan Jackson

by Lou Solomon, dated April 6, 2011

There is a picture of me and Alan Jackson in my office.  He has a big smile on his face and I look rather sheepish.

I met Alan in the late ’80’s, when he was just a lanky young man from Georgia working in the mail room at The Nashville Network. In those days I was too busy trying to get my own first big break to pay too much attention to someone from the mail room, but Alan was friendly with a sideways grin and he made me laugh.

One day Alan said, “This is just a temporary job.  I’ve got a recording   contract with Arista Records and the folks there say I’m going to be a star.”  “Oh,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You’re a frustrated artist.”  I thought, “Oh, brother.” In an instant I judged Alan to have the Nashville pipe dream of stardom.  Alan looked me in the eye with that sideways grin and replied, “Well, I guess we’re all frustrated artists.”

A couple of years later I had moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to work for Cox Broadcasting. One morning I picked

up a copy of the new Radio & Records trade magazine, and stopped short. There on the front page was a picture of Alan in a big hat with the headline, “Arista Records Presents Alan Jackson.”  I would see Alan in the years to come, and we would have a big laugh over that moment.

We all have something very important to say, and if we don’t get to the business of saying it, we will feel like frustrated artists.  What you have to say is your voice, which is bigger than one meeting, job, piece of business or promotion.

Being who you really are is the true work of life.  It requires a daily decision to choose courage and humility and to say what is yours to say. I’m always puzzled when well-meaning people tell someone about to take the stage, “Just be yourself.”   It takes deep grounding, practice and intentional risk to be yourself.  If we all could just snap our fingers and be ourselves, we would–because it is the ultimate freedom.

I’ve watched Alan release over 50 hits and take home 30 major awards.  I’ve also watched him struggle with fame and personal problems, only to gain more wisdom and dignity.  But I’ve never forgotten the young man from Georgia who said, “We’re all frustrated artists.”

Note:  this entry was inspired not only by Alan Jackson, but author Brenda Ueland.  

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Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.com, CEO.com, and Fast Company.