Standing Ovations & Revelations
I got lost after I found myself in the spotlight.
Hi there! If you like this kind of vulnerable storytelling about creativity, leadership, and the dark side of success—all folded up in a spinach wrap of humor—then you’re in luck because I have much more for you:
I once got a standing ovation, and it kickstarted the darkest era of my entire life.
The 2016 Fullscreen holiday party was a banger. Food, drinks, entertainers, and a live band, all at a swank, secret location in Hollywood. It was amazing.
The five-hour end-of-year presentation that preceded it? Less so.
Fullscreen had grown significantly, especially by acquiring companies like mine. So the presentations ballooned in number and in length. More wins to share. More reels to watch. More people to honor.
I can see why this event had been beloved in prior years. It was probably more personal, more intimate, and more fun.
But by 2016, we had so many people — flown in from all over the world — that we had to rent out a theater. We maxed out the 537-person fire code capacity, no doubt.
About halfway through the day, the head of the Brand division, and my boss, Pete Stein tapped me on the shoulder:
“Hey, we have an extra 15 minutes and I’d like to shake things up. Can you make up a bedtime story and read it to the audience, like you would to your kids?”
I said yes. All my improv, Shakespeare, and acting classes had prepared me for this.
But I had less than 20 minutes.
I cracked open my Notes app and brainstormed a fanciful story about Fullscreen and its sworn enemy, Television. Fullscreen was on a mission to upend both entertainment and advertising, so TV was always in our crosshairs.
The story featured a king and princess, a dragon, townspeople, and of course, a revolution. It was called “CONSUMERIA.”
When the moment arrived, I grabbed a mic and stepped into the spotlight, in front of 500 friends and coworkers.
And I crushed.
I mimed. I did voices. I had twists and turns and a final “YAS Queen” joke that brought the house down.
And I got that standing ovation.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life. To present like that. To be “me” on stage. I was congratulated in two waves — once for the performance itself, and then again, when people learned that I had essentially made it up on the spot.
But very quickly, my happiness turned to despair.
Though no one expressly said this to me, I got it in my head that I could not be BOTH that on-stage persona AND a “serious” business executive. I felt like I couldn’t do that on stage and command people’s respect and trust in a conference room. Something had to give.
I never had the language to describe this despair until recently. I didn’t know how to voice it or who to say it to. I had a lot to be grateful for: I had a good job and my company had just been acquired. Who was I to complain?
And yet, I realize today that I’ve lived under the weight of “not being me” for almost a decade. It pushed me out of the spotlight and into the shadows, more aimless and hopeless than I even realized. I soldiered on, to help the company and to support those around me, but at the expense of myself. I did the wrong thing, even if for a good reason.
I know today that my assumption was incorrect. Leaders CAN be multiple things. I just didn’t have the confidence or the words to say something. I didn’t trust people around me to help. I hid.
Perhaps you feel this same way. Stuck between two identities, and hoping someone would help you to step back into the light.
If I could Quantum Leap jump back into my body then, I’d go find someone to talk to and trust them with the truth. A friend. A boss. A therapist or a “business therapist” (coach). Somebody.
If that’s you, I hope you’ll do it. I hope you’ll reach out to someone. And realize that you’re not alone. Lots of people feel this way. There are answers but they won’t come during the ovation. They come in the quiet of personal, vulnerable conversation.
You certainly don’t want to miss out on a decade. Trust me.
Thanks for reading, and for subscribing. If this resonates with you, I hope you’ll write back or leave a comment. Who knows who it will help?
“Art creates a profound connection between the artist and the audience. Through that connection, both can heal.” (Rick Rubin)