Photo by Jackie Knechtel
It’s not “new” news that Aretha Franklin passed away last week. But as a long time admirer of Aretha’s, I felt both sad and happy for her. Sad because I’m always sad when a person I admire moves on. And happy for the legacy she created and left behind to flourish long after her physical presence.
As I was reading through beautiful articles remembering her, her talent, and her contributions to the civil rights movement, I came across a quote of hers that left me slightly shaken. In a really good way.
The quote said: Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.
That put me deep in thought.
One of the things that always inspired me about Aretha is that she was a human being who had truly reached peak levels of mastery of her craft. The way she sang so incredibly, yet with such ease — I knew from being a performer myself many years ago, that that level of ease is hard won.
It is EARNED, through diligent practice, showing up, being consistent, and trusting in your own instincts. By being truly devoted to the unique gifts that only you have been given. That means being willing to sacrifice. Being willing to:
- be uncomfortable.
- push your edge.
- ignore the voices in your head that tell you to hold back or change who you are for the comfort of others.
All for the sake of honoring that which is your highest gift, serving the world with that gift, and doing that which brings you your ultimate joy.
That is why Aretha always brought me to tears when she sang. You could feel all of that in her performances. True devotion.
That thought was confirmed when I re-watched the video of her singing at the 1998 Grammys.
You see, Pavarotti, one of the most famous opera singers of all time was scheduled to sing Nessun Dorma that evening. It is one of the songs he is most famous for singing. And it is also known for being one of the most notoriously-difficult-to-master arias in Opera!
But at the last minute Pavarotti had to cancel his performance, because he was sick and had a sore throat. Aretha Franklin stepped in to replace him.
Yes, Aretha stepped in — at the last minute — to sing one of the most difficult arias to master for a singer. A song that had been made famous by another singer. She couldn’t have had more than a few days to prepare. She could have easily been intimidated by the “audacity” people might perceive in her for daring to sing a song made famous by another master of his craft.
And yet her performance was exquisite. It gives you all the feels, it makes you cry. She mastered that song and made it her own. To a standing ovation in the crowd.
Check it out yourself below:
Aretha was a shining example of having used the gift that God has given you to the absolute fullest. This performance is such a reflection of that. She truly was an instrument of the divine and she never took her gift for granted. She played full out.
She was willing to get uncomfortable — by stepping in at the very last minute to sing a notoriously difficult opera song with probably very little rehearsal time.That kind of performance doesn’t just happen “when we feel like it”. Being able to accomplish a performance like that with just a few days notice is not something that happens randomly.
What you are seeing up there on that stage is years of devotion. Devotion to being the best at what she did. To using her gift for the highest purpose. To honoring the immense value of that gift by showing up for it and working for it every day.
What you see in that video is the willingness to take a RISK and believe in herself, even if many people thought it was “weird” that a gospel singer would take over for a famous Opera singer.
What you are seeing in this video is a true Empress. A high performer, not wasting a moment or drop of her potential. Not letting any excuses get in her way because she knew that her gift was not just about her, but it was about the way she was here to serve the world.
Wiping the tears from my eyes after watching that performance, I thought back to Aretha’s quote above. And then I asked MYSELF the question: Are you using to the highest degree the gift that God gave you?
That showcased for me ways in which I still am not doing that. It was in my blindspot. But that question revealed those blind spots for me to work on.
And then I asked all the women in both of my masterminds the same question.
And now I’m asking you the same question. And I want you to really, really think about it:
Are you truly using your gift to the highest degree? Like Aretha did in that performance (and in ALL of her performances)?
Or are you still kind of only using it to the 75% percentile, with 25% still hidden under a mountain of shoulds and should nots?
Are you showing up like an Empress in your life and work, like Aretha did in that performance?
Or are you holding back because you’re playing the “safe” game, or doing what you can to be comfortable?
Yeah, I’m talking to YOU. The woman who thinks of herself as a high performer. Who thinks of herself as a woman who is anything BUT mediocre. You — the woman who is seen as high performer and badass by everyone around her.
Can you say with full confidence that you are absolutely 100% showing up in your work like Aretha did and using your gifts to the UTMOST HIGHEST? Or are there still some things you need to release or work on to show that level of devotion and respect for your gift?
There’s a reason that that performance above gives you goosebumps and makes you cry. It’s because she functions for you as a mirror of your own greatness potential. And shows you how magnificent and bright you can be within your own gifts.
That’s what a true leader does for the people around her.
Especially if you are a high performer. You have the greatest responsibility of all. Because you were gifted with the drive and the gifts to change the world. And that can only happen if you are DEVOTED to using to maximum potential and joy, the gifts that only you have been given.
What a waste of your gifts to get there 75% of the way and then get comfortable. More importantly — what a way to deprive the world of the immense change it would benefit from if you were using your gifts to the highest and playing full out.
What a waste to trap yourself in a business that you’ve outgrown just because it’s made you a lot of money (hire someone else as CEO, continue to get a profit share and now launch yourself into the next level of your gift! I’ve helped many clients do this and they are so happy).
What a waste to not get on that stage because you’re comfortable behind the screen, but you’re afraid of being even more visible. Or you think you need to lose weight before you get on TV. Or any other myriad of ways in which your badass self still plays small.
Can you imagine a world without Aretha’s voice if she had let those things stop her?
We need more people in the world like Aretha. There are too many people coasting, complacent, content to live out lives not even fully using their greatest gifts. Not willing to get uncomfortable in order to maximize the gifts they came into this world to contribute.
It’s why I’m so passionate about supporting high performing women leaders. Because THIS is the impact you get to make when you commit to using your gifts to the fullest and highest. And this is the legacy you leave behind in the world.
Take that question with you into your week. Get really honest with yourself. And then pinpoint exactly where you need to work so that you can confidently “deliver a performance” that impacts so many, like that fateful day at the 1998 Grammys.
Being a true “high performer” means being truly devoted. It means constantly growing. Being willing to feel uncomfortable. Being willing to take risks. And to never stop expanding.
That’s what it takes to use your gifts to the highest degree possible.
Are you doing that?
P.S: Did this resonate with you? If so, let me know in the comments below.