Life is Not a Rehearsal

Tommy Emmanuel is one of the world’s best guitarists, yet he’s not widely known in a field that often places glitz above skill.  As Emmanuel explains in the opening to a very entertaining TEDx talk, when he told a fellow traveler in business class that he made a living playing the guitar, he had to respond to the question “What band are you in?” with the fact that he played solo guitar. His seatmate looked at him as if Emmanuel had stumbled into the wrong section of the aircraft.

But as he thought about it, Emmanuel explained that he does, in fact, play in a band.  A one man band. In his TEDx talk he showcases the amazing skills that have made him so in demand by demonstrating how he plays the bass line, the drummer’s riff, the fills from a rhythm section, and the melody line all at once. If you’re like me, your jaw will drop with the complexity of the music and you’ll laugh at the line “look at how much money I’m saving up here!”

This is clearly someone who has found how to blend his passion with his job.  As Emmanuel describes it, he has a calling.

Tommy Emmanuel

Tommy Emmanuel (credit:

Angela Duckworth, the MacArthur Fellow recipient and author of Grit notes that,

“Fortunate indeed are those who have a top-level goal so consequential to the world that it imbues everything they do, no matter how small or tedious, with significance.  Consider the parable of the bricklayers:

Three bricklayers are asked:  ‘What are you doing?’

The first says, ‘I am laying bricks.’

The second says, ‘I am building a church.’

And he third says, ‘I am building the house of God.’

The first bricklayer has a job.  The second has a career.  The third has a calling.”

Emmanuel is fortunate in that he recognizes that his work impacts people in special ways. He knows that what’s important is not the critics’ take on his work, but the connections he makes with those who come to hear him play. Connection with others is not just a musician’s stock-in-trade, but is a skill many of us—not fortunate enough to have killer guitar chops—find important in taking a job to a calling.  To do work we are passionate about.  Emmanuel also notes that none other than the great Chet Atkins called him “the most fearless guitar player he’d ever heard.”  Emmanuel continues, “I think that being fearless is a huge part in breaking molds and in raising self-belief.”

Connecting with others. Fearlessness in what we do.  Building self-belief.  Remembering that you are the master of your own obituary.  Or, as Tommy Emmanuel says it at the end of his talk:  “Life is not a rehearsal, so you’d better get on with it.”

Have a good week.

More to come…


P.S. – For you Jason Isbell fans, in the video above you can hear Tommy play and Jason sing on a signature song by my first guitar hero, Doc Watson, from Tommy’s most recent album Accomplice One.  Enjoy.

Better Living Through (Better) Email

Virtually everyone I know in the working world believes there are too many emails and too many meetings.  Yes, I know, this isn’t exactly breaking news.

I’m fascinated by our love/hate relationship with emails.  We all get too many emails, and yet we inevitably send them out and contribute to the clogged up boxes of our colleagues. I’m exhibit A in that regard.  While I fume at times about the quality (or lack of quality) and the volume of emails, I send out an email to my colleagues like clockwork on Monday morning.*

How can we use email more effectively to make our lives easier?

First, to state the obvious the only effective email is one that is read.  Thankfully, the internet is full of great suggestions as to how to tailor your email messages to be effective. When I’m writing I try—but don’t always succeed—in getting to the point, in making good use of the subject line, and in trying not to overcommunicate.  I think how we write is important.

But how we manage our email is just as important to keeping this communication tool in perspective. Here are a few thoughts on how I tackle email management that may be helpful to you:

  • If you are looking at your emails in the morning before you have your calendar and work prioritized, stop.  Don’t waste your most valuable time looking at what others have thrown in your in-box.  Be proactive.  Be in charge of your life.
  • You may find that you work best on the weekend, or need that time to catch up.  Fine.  But don’t assume that your colleagues want to hear from you outside of the business week. Unless your job requires that you be accessible, work hard to honor your colleagues’ personal time.  Learn how to delay delivery (under “Options” in Microsoft Outlook) so all those wonderful messages you’ve written over the weekend start showing up only after the start of the business week.  Especially if you are in management, try and model good email behavior and etiquette.  If you are sending the signal that personal time is not as valuable as work time, then those who work with and for you will follow your cues.
  • Understand the basic rules of email:  1) 99% of the time when you are listed in the copy (cc) line of an email, you don’t need to respond.  You are not the recipient. This is just for your information.  Resist the urge to jump into someone else’s conversation.  2) Learn the appropriate way to respond to emails. HINT: “Reply all” is often not the appropriate response. 3) Stay away from blind carbon copies (bcc’s) unless you will never be embarrassed when someone you blind copied responds to all the recipients.  4) There is an appropriate time to use bcc’s however. When you have a number of recipients (like the board or everyone in the division), consider putting them into the bcc line and just put your own name in the TO line.  That way, if someone uses “reply all” they will only be responding to you.

Finally, I feel the need to say in this day and age of rude language and poor manners at the highest levels of our civic life, being polite goes a long way. I like receiving an email that begins with my name, or even “Dear David.”  Closing out an email with “Regards” or “All the best” also shows that you are still thinking of your manners after writing your message.  When I begin each email with a nice greeting, I find myself calming down even as I was preparing to fire off a hot salvo about some perceived slight or bad screw-up.  This fits with direction I received from my grandmother, who told us to “always say please and thank you.”

As in many things in life, look around at the people you admire.  Who is using email effectively?  How can you emulate them?  Digital communication is here to stay, but it will continue to evolve.  Think of how you can evolve along with it.

Typewriter Exhibit

Typewriter exhibition from the Exploratorium in San Francisco…as a reminder that communications evolve.

Have a good week.

More to come…


*I do, however, give staff permission to delete them without opening and without hurting my feelings.

The Important Part of Fishing

Fly fishing in Montana

For many years I’ve been fascinated by the prospect of fly fishing. Watching a perfect cast—with rod and line all moving in synchronized motion set in the midst of a swiftly moving river nestled among rugged mountains—encapsulates for me beauty, artfulness, peacefulness, and all that’s right with the world.

Trying my hand at fly fishing has long been on my bucket list and last month I finally had the opportunity.  Were my casts perfect?  Far from it.  Did I catch any fish?  Nope, even though I had a bite or two.  Did I get to spend about 3 hours in one of the most beautiful settings I’ve ever seen, experiencing moments of utter wonder and peacefulness?  Absolutely.

Given the importance I place on our work to save Nashville’s Music Row, you won’t be surprised that I know of a country song that has a take on what’s important about fishing.  The first verse goes like this:

“The important part of fishin’ ain’t the fish, but the fishing.

The important part of lovin’ is the love.

The important part of doin’ most anything you’re doin’

Is doin’ it with all of your heart”

DJB Fly Fishing and casting

A fly fishing beginner learns to cast in the Yellowstone River

For some strange reason that song came into my mind when a colleague recently shared a Simon Sinek YouTube video about how great leaders inspire action.  Sinek speaks of how most people and organizations sell “what” they do, but those who truly inspire begin with the “why” that drives their work and passion. As Sinek notes, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave an “I Have a Dream”—not an “I Have a Plan”—speech.  The video has sparked several terrific discussions among colleagues from around the country, shifting our thinking from the what we were building to why anyone should care.  My colleague Tom Mayes’ new book—Why Old Places Matteris right in tune with Sinek’s call.

“Doin’ it with all your heart” is just a country songwriter’s way of saying that we need to begin our work with the passion. The why. The reason that gets us out of bed in the morning. When we tie that passion with perseverance, we can be a true force of nature.

I hope you can come to your work, your play, your life with the why you do what you do at the top of your mind.  It makes the how and the what so much more meaningful.

The important part of fishing ain't the fish

The important part of fishing ain’t the fish


Have a good week.

More to come…


Music Row’s historic character is disappearing. Here’s what we can do.

NOTE:  My op-ed for the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the future of Music Row ran in today’s Nashville Tennessean.  You can see the original here.





These are essential elements of any great song or musical composition. They are also essential to any great neighborhood. Unfortunately for Nashville, the Music Row neighborhood is out of balance right now. In the last five years alone, 43 historic buildings that housed music related businesses – the lifeblood of Music Row – have been demolished. Only one single threatened building – the venerable RCA Studio A – has been saved from demolition. And that “save” was achieved not by public policy or by city initiative, but solely through the efforts of private citizens intent on preserving irreplaceable heritage.

Forty-three to one is not balance. High-rise residential condominiums in a neighborhood of small-scale business is not harmony. Demolishing five more historic buildings in the heart of Music Row is not the way to protect neighborhood character. It is definitely not the way to celebrate the unique and extraordinary cultural heritage that still exists on Music Row, nor how to ensure that the neighborhood remains a thriving cultural campus filled with creative people, talented artists, striving songwriters, and  myriad businesses that support, promote, and share their work with the world.

Music Row Treasures announcement

Music Row announcement as a National Treasure, with musician Ben Folds

Music Row’s past is deep, rich, and complex. It evolved into a singular ecosystem of musical production – a one-of-a-kind neighborhood that became the physical manifestation of the “business of making music.” It is the place where music emerges from the thoughts, dreams and experiences of songwriters, musicians and singers. It is the place of more than 200 recording studios, record labels, promoters, licensing agents, and a host of other small (and not so small) businesses dedicated to the singular and profound purpose of making our world a brighter, livelier, and more engaging place through music.

There is nowhere else like Music Row, period. The good news is there are solid strategies that Nashville can use to stem this current tide of demolition and keep the music on Music Row. We stand with Historic Nashville Inc., the hundreds of fans of Music Row who gathered at Bobby’s Idle Hour on July 24, and the many more who signed our petition in urging Mayor David Briley, the Metro Council and Metro Planning Commission to take immediate, specific steps to support and save Music Row:

  • Create a Music Row Cultural Industry District. This designation—the state’s first–would serve to strengthen, develop, and promote music related businesses in Music Row through the use of incentives, branding, promotion, historic preservation, infrastructure investment, and other tools.
  • End Specific Plan Exemptions. Currently Metro Planning Commission is approving Specific Plan exemptions for the Music Row geographic area. By consistently approving larger and taller buildings than allowed by current zoning, Metro is encouraging demolitions that destroy music-related buildings to make way for generic apartment buildings.
  • Develop Incentives to Support Music Row’s Music Industry. Although large companies are routinely awarded incentives to locate or operate in Nashville, no such benefits exist for the small music businesses. New incentives, including much-needed preservation tools, can help keep music businesses on Music Row and preserve the area’s historic buildings.

It is not too late. But the clock is ticking, and the song is growing ever more discordant. We call on city leaders to take immediate action before this unique cultural industry district is lost forever.

The public is encouraged to sign our petition to Nashville’s key elected officials at

More to come…


He Sows Hurry and Reaps Indigestion

Labor Day is seen by many as the start of a new year.  School begins for teachers and children. The summer break is over and schedules ramp up.  Everywhere we look we’re called upon to pick up the pace.

In this day and age, work/life balance is a major theme of Harvard Business Review articles, TED Talks, HR seminars, and more.  We may think this is a new phenomenon, arising from the astonishing leaps in technology which work 24/7 even if we aren’t capable—as humans—of keeping up.  But the question has been around for a much longer period of time than just the 21st century.  A colleague and I were discussing the need for her direct reports—who have major responsibilities and work very hard at their jobs—to take time off.  She mentioned that one individual told her that he had not taken a vacation because “the place couldn’t run without me.”  I smiled and suggested that she pass along the advice I heard from my grandmother, who liked to say, “The graveyard is full of people who thought the world couldn’t get along without them.”  My grandmother, whose life spanned much of the 20th century, was speaking about unnecessary busyness and self-importance.  Even earlier, in 1877, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote An Apology for Idlers in which he makes the following statement:

“Look at one of your industrious fellows for a moment, I beseech you. He sows hurry and reaps indigestion; he puts a vast deal of activity out to interest and receives a large measure of nervous derangement in return.”

I’ve made the case for finding the time to let your mind wander.  To take time off to walk.  Perhaps, even, to dawdle. When thinking of how to achieve a proper balance in life during this time of year, consider how you approach work as much as how to separate work and family life.  If you find yourself always in a hurry to complete a task to move forward to the next one, consider Sara Cameron’s question in her TEDx Talk:  “When are you going to stop being so busy?”  Cameron—an Integrative Psychology and Relationship Coach—suggests we are engineering our busy schedules to avoid connecting with others.  “It is easy being busy” but balance takes work.  We have to stop multitasking in order to keep up with our busy schedules.  (HINT: It doesn’t work anyway.)  By taking time to be idle, walk, dawdle, be open to the serendipitous, we can be more productive and build more balance into our lives.

Traffic School

Slow Down

Cameron wraps up her talk by noting that balance isn’t an object, but a practice.  We can’t pick it up at the store on the way home. We have to build a practice of balance into every day.  Building white space into our lives—idling, if you will—gives us time to understand and integrate the experiences we have that all go together to make us the people we are.  That white space can take the form of 15 minutes of blank space on your calendar, or a week or two away from the office.

Idling, dawdling, building in white space—whatever you want to call it—doesn’t mean you neglect your work.  Stevenson had been at work on his article a year before its appearance, “which shows that his Apology for Idlers demanded from him anything but idling.” As one of his biographers put it, “there was hardly any time when the author of the Apology for Idlers ever really neglected the tasks of his true vocation.”  We can do the same, focusing on what’s important and understanding that to connect, be balanced, and be productive, we have to give ourselves some time to idle.

Have a good week.

More to come..


Only Two Kinds of Music

Today is bittersweet, as our Andrew prepares to leave tonight for London and his graduate studies at conservatory. Over the past month, we’ve been savoring both his presence and his music.

When we were in California in August, we had the chance to attend the final concert in San Francisco’s 2018 American Bach Soloists’ Summer Bach Festival, the stirring Mass in B Minor.  Andrew joined three other musicians for the Benedictus.  This tenor aria comes near the end of the mass, and Andrew’s beautiful singing was supported by just a flute, cello, and double bass.

Andrew and Dov Houle

Andrew and flutist Dov Houle following the B Minor Mass

Then just this past weekend, Andrew had a call to sing the state funeral for U.S. Senator John McCain at the Washington National Cathedral. He had turned in his badge and music at the cathedral, where he most recently was one of the tenors in the men’s choir. But his replacement had not arrived from out-of-town so Andrew had the chance to sing his third state funeral (Reagan and Ford, while a boy chorister, were the others) to go along with a variety of Inauguration and memorial services through the years.

The cathedral has been such a part of all our lives since Andrew began there as a novice chorister in the 3rd grade.  Andrew has sung solos there as a treble (Chichester Psalms and national Christmas Eve broadcast, to name a couple) and as an adult tenor.  He’s heard—and been moved by—the words of everyone from the Dalai Lama to the Rev. William Barber over the years.  We’ve all been touched by the musicianship that Canon Michael McCarthy has brought to the cathedral during Andrew’s time on the close.

For the past year, Andrew has been thinking about how to take that formative experience with him…and he chose a tattoo.  Now, I’m not a tattoo type of person, but the elegance of the stone tracery of the rose window which is now a permanent part of his left arm, along with the very moving rationale he posted on Facebook for his decision, made it all seem right.

Andrew tattoo composite

Andrew with his tattoo, along with the inspiration

Of course, Andrew is not only immersed in classical and sacred classical music.  He listens to just about anything and shares some of his favorites with me.  We both subscribe to the Duke Ellington theory of the types of music:  good and bad.

We’ll miss having Andrew at home.  He’s been such a joy to have here as he has worked through the decision to go to conservatory for a masters of vocal performance and built up the experience and contacts to make that possible. We’re fond of saying that Andrew is “good company.”  We know we’ll see him soon (home for the holidays in December, and then perhaps with a late winter/early spring trip to the U.K. for us).  However, the house will be a little quieter (if neater) and the dinner conversations will be a tad less lively without him around.  And yes, we’ll have to finally break down and buy that step stool to reach the upper shelves in the kitchen, as we’ll miss that 6’2″ height!

Take care, Andrew, and sing well.

Andrew summer 2017

Andrew ready for the next move in his singing career (© 2017 | Kristina Sherk Photography |


More to come…