The Singer who Literally Couldn’t, Anymore
And How He Then Became A Keynote Speaker
Monday brought the 13th surgery in 4 years — requiring that the next 3 days be spent in total silence. It’s amazing, how little we think about our body, and yet when it’s injured we can’t seem to think of anything else.
My voice was my biggest competitive advantage.
It was loud, resonant, and sounded good singing too. Until it didn’t…
And someday, you too may see your biggest competitive advantage turn into a weakness.
It may be your financial status; it may be your health. It could be your contacts within a certain industry; it could be that book of business you inherited from some relative.
But as sure are you’re reading this…one day, things will change.
And what you choose to do next — how you respond — will make all the difference in the world.
Will that change be something that happens TO you…or FOR you?
What, will come next?
Let’s unpack the two options:
Why did this happen TO me?
When I sang that last note, I knew something had changed.
I quickly left the stage, and found the club owner. “I’ve gotta go, something’s wrong” I said, “don’t worry about paying me”.
I got home, went online, and found an ENT (ear, nose and throat); which is a specialist that treats professional vocalists.
My voice was breaking down, desperately trying to tell me to take a break.
It had been for years, I just wasn’t listening.
Over the years my voice had gone from clear and smooth, like Adam Levine from Maroon5 — to rough and weathered, like Joe Cocker.
Ok, sure; the pack-a-day smoking habit, and preference for drinking Jack Daniels instead of water while I performed wasn’t helping either.
My voice had been slowly deteriorating. When the ENT saw my vocal cords he said “I honestly don’t know how you’ve been performing professionally with this — aren’t you in pain?”
The pictures below are of vocal folds — mine from 2015 — compared to a set of healthy male baritone vocal folds.
He looked at my vocal folds again, and ordered me to make some dramatic changes.
He told me to take 5 days of total voice rest, and then said ‘You smoke, right?’ “Yes. Socially.” I replied.
He said ‘Well, you can either smoke or you can talk…but you’re not going to be able to do both anymore.’
And just like that…I was a former smoker.
25 years of smoking, most of them spent smoking a pack-a-day, and I quit cold turkey. When the motivation is strong enough, we really can do anything.
The lifestyle changes didn’t stop there.
I had to have a whole new diet, to minimize the acid reflux that had been destroying the cells on my vocal cords. At night, my body was literally bathing my voice in acid while I slept instead of providing the healing, pH balanced environment the throat is supposed to be.
That issue, the nighttime reflux, would necessitate two surgeries (super invasive, super complicated) to rebuild a valve in my stomach.
During the second surgery, the surgeon accidentally severed my Vagus nerve, creating a lifetime chronic condition called “Gastroparesis” — this resulted in further massive lifestyle changes that I’ll have forever.
Lastly, my voice.
Each surgery was incredibly dangerous — the voice is very fickle, and one wrong move and it could be lost forever. Very few surgeons are skilled enough to perform the procedure once, let alone the amount of incisions, injections and excisions that I’ve been through.
So there I was with no social life, no drinking life, no diet I enjoyed…and no hope of ever resuming a professional singing career.
My voice could no longer handle the high demands of a dueling piano program. Many of those gigs are 4–5 hour long!
Each vocal surgery required between 5–15 days of total vocal rest…an incredibly isolating experience.
This silence and isolation sent me into a depression, and brought about very troubling thoughts of suicide, as I contemplated what possible value I could bring to the world if I couldn’t speak or sing as part of my work.
My sales job required lots of selling and socializing in loud environments — networking events, sporting events, bars, social functions…many involving lots of alcohol too-the perfect storm to complete the destruction of my voice.
Singing professionally was out — heck I could barely manage to safely do a few songs at Karaoke without needing a full day for my voice to recover.
As I stood on the subway platform, and contemplated jumping in front of the next express train, I knew something had to change…
Why did this happen FOR me?
It seemed so cruel.
Why, when I’m at the top of my game — totally loving life — would this moment be when my voice chooses to go out?
To quote Nancy Kerrigan: “Why Me?!?”
After a visit with a psychologist, and a few conversations with various life coaches and spiritual gurus, I happened on a Netflix documentary.
“I Am Not Your Guru” — the story of Tony Robbins and the Signature Event he holds each year called “Date with Destiny”
Now, at the time I was not a fan of Tony Robbins; in fact I thought he was a snake oil salesman.
A whole lot of ‘rah rah — change the world’ nonsense, and then voila; say goodbye to thousands of your hard-earned dollars as you sign-up for this class and that course.
The man has made over half a billion dollars, and I was certain that it was all fake; until I saw that documentary.
It turns out he uses some pretty legit therapeutic techniques (I spent most of my college career studying Psychology and Philosophy), and I was genuinely impressed with the transformations I saw on that documentary.
I decided to invest $750 and go to one of his events, “Unleash the Power Within”, in Newark NJ.
Over those 4 days I went from “reluctant contributor” to “peak performer” and it was all because of one concept that he repeated over and over:
“Nothing happens TO you, it all happens FOR you…”
It wasn’t an easy concept to apply, but it was simple; none of the crap that I had been put through by life — the surgeries, the voice loss, the broken foot at my wedding (that’s a whole other essay LOL), the cancelled honeymoon that followed, the dream job that didn’t work out…it was all necessary as part of my journey, to get me exactly where I was that day.
It was that day a new friend and I, while talking during break, discovered that although I couldn’t sing for 5 hours, and talk in loud rooms…I could sing a few songs, and talk with a microphone.
We discovered that my talents for storytelling, and creating emotion in others with my words, could be applied to the world of speaking and training.
We discovered that had I never “gotten here” I never would have had the chance to say “good riddance” to my sales career, and plant my own flag as a sincerely badass keynote speaker-I’m now living the dream.
All because I lost my competitive advantage…just like it will one day happen for you. (Although, I no longer think of it as a loss — it was a necessary transition)
One day your greatest strength, your competitive advantage, will become a weakness — well, a perceived weakness in the moment anyway.
And on that day, I hope you get depressed…I hope you get really, really frustrated…and I hope you think of throwing in the towel.
But then I hope you stop, and remember this article.
I hope you remember that you have grown from, and improved with change your entire life. I hope you remember that change has put you in this very position; and with all the experience you have, and with all the resources you can muster, you can turn that weakness into greatness.
It’s certain that things will change for us, and so forewarned is forearmed. We go into that uncertainty with the assurance that we ARE exactly who we’re supposed to be right now to take that adversity and turn it into victory.