My sister came home from college for the summer and I spied a new mixtape in her car console. I borrowed stole it, as you do, to get a sense of what the college kids were listening to.
I fast-forwarded through a lot of the songs. One, from the opening clack clack clack clack of the drumsticks hitting together, caught my ear. I listened to the song through, hit rewind. Listened again, rewind. Listen, rewind. Listen, rewind. I had that song memorized in 30 minutes.
The beat and the pace of the song brought me in. What had me wearing out that tape were the lyrics halfway through.
There was something about the words themselves and the tone behind them that made me listen to this one part over and over and over. And I found myself not “singing” (if you ever heard me attempt to sing, you’d know why that word is in quotes) but shout-singing those lyrics with my hands up in the air, evangelical church-like hands, feeling whatever spirit those lyrics stirred up inside of me.
There was something in those words, though, that made something in my gut say, “Pay attention. Remember these words. Remember the energy behind them. Remember their meaning.”
The thing is, I didn’t have a reference for their meaning at that point. I was a junior in high school. My life was pretty much suburban-standard.
It was like some freaky foreshadowing of what’s to come, my attention to those lyrics. How they resonated. How they screamed, “Pay attention.”
The mixtape was long gone when I heard that song again. 93 XRT was on the radio. I was in the Jetta, cruising the streets of Chicago when the signature drumstick-start came on.
At THIS point in my life, I had been through some shit in college. I was a few years into my first real job and my naivete thinking that everyone was guided by trust, honesty, and respect had been busted apart. Backstabbing, manipulation, and misogyny had entered the picture.
I realized being a leader was a constant test. Being human is a constant test. To know what matters to you. To know who you really are. To fight to stay in alignment with your values. To know when to speak up. To know when to stay silent, and when you’re being silenced.
I immediately cranked up the dial in the Jetta to full volume.
Then, I got to the verse:
“…Whatever it may bring, I will live by my own policies, I will sleep with a clear conscience, I will sleep in peace…”
All those years ago I knew, in my gut, that those words were part warning, part rallying cry, part mantra for how I wanted to be.
The power that came through when she sang them. That utter truth resonated in her voice. The strength that stirred within me then, not even knowing what or why I was feeling, yet knowing that if I needed it, it was within me.
My hardest times have been when I lost sight of my values, ignored my gut and followed people who didn’t pass the sniff test, and lived by other people’s rules.
They have been tough lessons to learn. Sometimes, to go along, and to do what other people are doing, is the easier path to follow.
Living–and leading–true to your values, having the awareness to know who you really are and what you stand for, and being aligned with your truth is a whole lot harder than doing the opposite.
It IS hard. And, it’s a choice we get to make.
Go out for a drive and blast Sinead O’Connor’s Emperor’s New Clothes. See if at about minute 3, you’re fueled by her words, her power, and her truth. Hit rewind, and memorize those lyrics!
When it’s time to make your next hard choice, blast that song, tap into her strength, and let it fuel yours. When you make the choice from alignment, from your values, and from knowing who you really are, you can sleep with a clear conscience, sleep in peace.