Like many famous singers of his time, Johnny Cash cut his musical teeth on gospel hymns. Music helped “J.R.” and his family escape some of the physical hardship and poverty of farming in the depression years.
Cash taught himself how to play the guitar and began writing songs while in the Army. It was there, in 1953, that he wrote Folsom Prison Blues. After his discharge, he moved to Memphis and – while working at a job he hated — put together a band. Much of what they played was gospel.
Believing he could have a successful career as a musician, Cash talked his way into an audition with Sam Phillips at Sun Records. During that audition the band played what they knew best – gospel hymns.
It didn’t take Sam Phillips long to stop them. “I can’t market this stuff. Everyone is doing it.”
Now I don’t know if it happened exactly like this, word for word, but in the movie Walk the Line, Sam Phillips tells Cash, “If you had only an hour to live, sing the song that you want to be known for.”
Cash then sang his own creation, Folsom Prison Blues, and his career as a singer/songwriter took off like a rocket. With his earthy voice and his unique style blending country, rock, blues and gospel influences, he achieved unimaginable success and fame as “The Man in Black.”
Sam Phillips told Johnny Cash to sing his own song — to speak with his own voice — to be authentically himself.
Through all eternity, there will only be one authentic Johnny Cash.
What About You?
If you only had one hour to live, what song would you sing?
What do you want to be known and remembered for? What is the mark you want to make?
Just imagine what might be possible for you if you radically embraced your authentic self and became the best YOU that you can be!
So how do you find that most authentic first rate version of yourself? These four steps will help you discover and be faithful to the indisputable YOU.
- Notice–Notice when you feel energized. Notice when you lean forward. Notice when you feel that shiver of electricity, that spark of excitement. What are you hearing, seeing, doing? Notice when you are bored. Notice what drains you. Notice what you tune out and what you avoid. These are all clues to your most authentic self.
- Reflect and remember–Take a few quiet minutes alone and remember a time from your childhood, likely in adolescence, when you felt a deep or powerful sense of connection to the world around you. Recall a time of heightened awareness when you had an epiphany about your own potential, about who you really are in a powerfully positive sense, or when you felt a connection to all beings and all nature. Don’t over think this, just let the memory come and reflect how it informs you.
- Discernment—Our noticing and reflections move us toward making choices that are not always clear-cut or easy. Discernment involves going past the ordinary perception of something and making nuanced judgments about your choices. It’s a deliberative, reflective decision-making process. Let’s say you’re trying to decide between two different paths. For one week, completely inhabit what it would be like to live out choosing one direction. You “act as if” the choice has been made. The next week, completely inhabit what it would be like to live out the choosing the other direction. Pay close attention to how you feel in each direction. Those feelings will tell you the truth about yourself.
- Prioritize—Now that you know more about who you are at the core, take some time away from work and home and ask yourself three essential questions: What two or three things do you want to accomplish in the rest of your life? What two or three things can you do in the next year to progress toward those desires? What two or three things can you do in the next 90 days to move toward those goals?
Most women I know have so many choices, so many obligations, we can easily get pulled off our own path and lose our own voice.
I experienced something similar myself recently (which might explain why that movie scene had a big enough impact that I felt the need to write about it!).
Then a new friend and I were discussing the Myers Briggs personality profile, comparing our personality types. When I told her my type, she read the description out loud:
“[They] see helping others as their purpose in life…their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue…need to find meaning in their work, to know that they are helping and connecting with people…using love and compassion to soften the hearts of others.”
I could feel the truth of those words resonate throughout my whole body.
That’s who I am. That’s my reason to exist. I get to continue breathing this air and taking up space on this planet to be my own version of that person.
That’s why I keep pecking away at this keyboard, to share these thoughts with you!
Take the same gift that Sam Phillips gave to Johnny Cash: Sing your own song, in your own voice, with all the passion in your heart.
P.S. I love what Judy Garland said, “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”