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Perseverance and Improvisation

January 22, 2019 Joe Mechlinski


Sometimes you have to improvise – but if you lead with the heart brain, you're likely to make the kind of instinctual connection that will get you through a challenging situation. 

For example, once when I was giving a talk to students at the SEED School in Baltimore, I was just beginning to connect with the students when the microphone cut out. Suddenly, it was like I was whispering into a hurricane. People were yelling that they couldn’t hear me. In a flash, I lost the audience. The children started talking and laughing with one another. Three students scrambled around me in an effort to solve the technical difficulty. It soon became clear that they didn’t possess the expertise to deal with the issue.

For a second, I thought about bailing. Then, I considered the message that this would send the children. I didn’t want these kids thinking that quitting was the right response to dealing with setbacks. So, I proceeded to yell the speech at the top of my lungs. All eloquence and grace went right out the window, but the kids at both ends of the gym could hear me perfectly. Either that or they had quieted down because I was yelling like a madman.

I proceeded to explain the importance of perseverance. I told them about growing up in Baltimore City, losing my mother at a young age, and going to the tough schools that they had narrowly escaped thanks to the SEED School. It’s tough to sound inspiring when you’re screaming at the top of your lungs, but I tried. I told them about attending Johns Hopkins, being an entrepreneur, and the constant effort to make my mark in my community and the world. I was relieved that I’d reached the end of my remarks, but I also felt discouraged by the thought that the students hadn’t heard one word I said.

A teacher approached me as I was about to wrap up.  said some of the students had questions, a request that lifted my spirits. Perhaps they had heard my remarks.

The first child stepped to the microphone. He asked, “How much money do you make?”

After providing a diplomatic answer, I took a second question. “What’s it like being in business?”

In one minute—still yelling at the top of my lungs—I tried relaying to the group a sense of our company’s day-to-day work.

Next, a young girl stepped up to the front and asked, “Do you think your mother is proud of you?”

I waited to answer, sensing she had something else to say.

She did.

“See, I lost my mother, too, at a young age, and I want to know if she’s proud of me.”

At that moment, I almost started bawling. Without a microphone, I’d managed to reach this girl. I’d shared something of value with her, and she responded with something of value. Mission accomplished, even if she were the only one in that entire gym who had heard my speech.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: what we say matters.

Sometimes we feel that nobody is listening. We haven’t found the right words to express an idea, the microphone is broken, or the crowd is too busy on their phones to listen. If we’re willing to put ourselves out there, we’ll find people who’re ready to find value in the message we want to share.

The head can devise all sorts of strategies for putting you in front of an audience, but it depends on the heart brain to make the connection.

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