On an Audience of Sandwiches

I frequent a sandwich shop near my office several times per week. As you enter the shop, an artisanal chalk board announces in stylish script any specials and, more importantly, the name of the lunchtime entertainer. Be it Bob or Matt or Sarah, a grizzled musician will be huddled in the corner, strumming a guitar, playing a harmonica, and covering an acoustic classic. Often, the performance is quite good. Eric Clapton isn’t looking over his shoulder, but, nonetheless, these folks have talent.

No one listens.

Today, as I waited for my ham and cheddar special, I looked around the shop and listened to the songs. I estimate there were 30 people enjoying lunch. Many were conversing with coworkers, some were playing on their phones, and others were stuffing their faces. No one was looking at the musician, and, if they were listening to the performance, it was, at most, in a white noise sort of way. The few folks that did look his way only did so because he was parked right next to the soda fountain. So, his performance was acknowledged, but only as customers tended to their Sprite Zeroes. After that, to say he faded into the background is to insult backgrounds.

The utter disregard of the clientele for the performer was not the most attention catching aspect of the moment, though. Rather, it was the musician’s gusto for the performance. Oblivious to everyone else’s obliviousness, today’s musician belted out hit tune after hit tune. Passionate, fiery, soft, tender, this guy’s voice had it all. More importantly, he just didn’t care. He was there to perform, and I was quite certain that the performance would not have changed had there been 3, 30, or 300 customers in the shop. I was in awe.

If your character is what you do when no one is looking, this guy had a ton of character. Who knows, maybe he returns home in the evenings in a deep depression about the state of his musical career, but you’d never know it from his performance. It struck me as I watched him that that type of abandon, that kind of commitment to the undertaking should be the goal of everyone, personally and professionally. When the lights are on and the stakes are high, lots of people try their best, but, when nothing’s on the line, few people extend themselves. You know, it seems to me that “your best” isn’t often found on the day of the big game, at the interview for your dream job, or in an important moment in a relationship. Instead, our “best” is more accurately what we do on a cloudy, random, forgettable Wednesday. That’s who you really are.

I finished my lunch, refilled my drink, and slipped a few bucks in the musician’s tip jar. I gave him the universal “good job” head nod, and received one in return. I liked the singing, but what he didn’t know was that the tip was for reminding me of a great life lesson. Whether you’re performing for a million people or an audience of sandwiches, give it your best.

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