How to build a remarkable YOU —Inspiration from Florence Foster Jenkins

Today a movie trailer virally spreading on Facebook grabbed my attention. The movie, featuring film stars Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant as main protagonists, is based on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins, an American amateur operatic soprano who lived between 1868 and 1944.

After some quick research I discovered her amazingly inspiring story.

Let’s admit it without reservations. She was quite a bad singer.

Florence grew up in Pennsylvania. Despite being a child prodigy pianist, her father did not allow her to become a professional musician. She lived almost in near poverty until her the death of her father, who left her sufficient funds to fulfill her dream of starting a career in music. By then, she was 41.

She moved to New York and there she decided to become a singer. She took voice lessons and became involved in the musical social circles of NY. She became the president of dozens of women’s clubs and she also founded and funded her own club, the Verdi club. In 1912 she began to give her first recitals, paid for entirely by herself and whose proceeds she gave entirely away for charity.

Her lack of rhythm, pitch, and tone, as well as poor diction, prompted ridicule and laughter in her audience. Nevertheless, she knew how to attract interest and to manage the spectator’s expectations. Jenkins often wore elaborate costumes that she designed for herself, sometimes even appearing in wings and throwing flowers into the audience from a basket.

At the age of 76 she performed at Carnegie Hall (a true temple for classical music performers). Tickets for the event sold out weeks in advance and numerous celebrities attended. Two days following the concert at Carnegie Hall she died of heart attack.

Ms. Jenkins’ remarkable life raises a very interesting and profound question:

How thin is the line between naïve delusion and unbreakable faith in your inner voice?

She became obsessed with singing. This was her way of being. In her head she was convinced she had a great voice. She must have been probably scared of going on stage and perform in front of strangers. But she never feared judgment. She raised herself over the embarrassment of her audience’s laughter. She saw potential in it and leveraged her great passion and generosity to get her own unique message out in the crowd. She was a true artist.

What can we learn from Florence’s story?

1. Build your tribe of believers. If you want to do something remarkable in your life, you need people that feed you with love and trust the goodness of your spirit. Your mission is to find them and persuade this tribe to buy into your vision. Florence married a British Shakespearean actor named St. Clair Bayfield who became her manager and supported her throughout her career. She worked with a fantastic accompanist (Cosmé McMoon) who was making adjustments to compensate for her tempo variations and rhythmic mistakes.

2. Keep off the critiques. Criticism is a killer of enthusiasm, even if you have the most solid-rock determination. Try to find ways to protect yourself, especially when you are building your new self-image. Florence’s audiences were by invitation only, and until her final performance at Carnegie Hall, no professional music critics ever reviewed her performances in the legitimate press. Favorable articles and bland reviews in musical publications were most likely written by her friends, or herself.

3. Have a growth mindset. You need to learn and test constantly. Feedback is essential to improve what needs to be improved and discard what does not serve your purposes. Florence worked relentlessly on her voice, on her artistry and her relationship with her audience. She constantly experimented in order to maximize her communicative power.

4. Share your narrative shamelessly. Never feel shame of sharing what you have worked on if you have poured your heart into it. Even if they laugh at you, they might secretly admire you because they lacked your courage to stand up and say “Here I am. This is my gift for you.” Florence said, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

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