My post this week is very personal. It is about my friend Gene Cavanaugh, a cabaret singer and philanthropist, who passed away on July 25, 2011. Because Gene’s story contains three valuable lessons for us all, I thought I would share it with you.
For over 40 years Gene was a sales manager and audio consultant for the Record Shop, an electronics store in New Jersey. He retired three weeks before his passing at age 63. However, about 15 years ago, Gene made a long-held dream come true by launching his second career as a cabaret singer. He called it his “Midlife Musical Crisis.” Gene’s show featured classic, popular standards focusing on the themes of romance and maturity. His initial success led to regular engagements throughout the greater Philadelphia region. And, five years ago, Gene made his successful debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Because Gene had a bighearted spirit, he regularly donated his talents to charity, including singing at annual fundraisers for the Mazzoni Center and Dignity Philadelphia.
So, what can we learn from this modest, though generous and talented, man who was taken too soon?
“In the long-run, men hit only what they aim at.” — Henry David Thoreau
Gene was an insecure man. But, he had a dream. As he approached his 50th birthday, he decided to take the plunge. He set goals for himself. He targeted where he wanted to perform and how frequently. He set a goal to attract sell-out crowds. And, he set an almost unimaginable goal for himself, a guy from Philly who managed an electronics store: He would play Carnegie Hall in New York City. Gene realized his goals by first articulating them and then doing the work necessary to achieve them.
Whether in our own careers or for our organizations, we must set goals to be successful. We need to set goals for where we want to be in the near, mid, and long-term. Then, we need to map-out what we must do to achieve the goals. We may not always succeed, but the surest way to fail is to not set any goals or to not take the necessary steps to accomplish them.
“Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it.” — Mark Twain
I always enjoyed Gene’s performances. He had a powerful, clear voice. He had a passion for the music. He also had vast knowledge of the songs of Broadway. One of Gene’s favorite things to do was to sing well-known songs from, and share tidbits about, little-known Broadway musicals. Yet, despite his enormous talent and terrific repertoire, Gene was always a nervous wreck before his performances. And, not just immediately before performances. He would worry for weeks leading up to his gigs. Would people come? He always sold out. Would he have a cold? He sometimes did, but it didn’t matter. Would the audience like his song selection? They always did. Would he be in good voice? Even at his worst, he was always enormously entertaining.
Despite his pre-show anxiety, Gene never missed a performance. The opportunity for him to realize his dream every time he stepped to the microphone was enough for him to muster courage, overcome his insecurities, and seize the moment.
In our lives, we have to stop listening to the voices around us and in our own heads that say, “It can’t be done.” Or, “You’re not good enough.” Instead, we need to confront our fears and move forward toward achieving our goals. We need to have courage.
“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill
Gene was a very giving man. While never wealthy, he was nevertheless a philanthropist, a man who truly loved humanity. He gave money, his time, his talent. He gave to charities, his multitude of friends, his family. In return, Gene was loved by many who will carry his memory with them.
When we give, we get so much more in return. Because of what we, who work in the nonprofit world, do for a living, it’s easy for us to get lost in the numbers. But, we need to remember that when we work to make the world a better place, when we give of ourselves, we enrich our own lives as well.
I will miss my friend even though a part of him will always be with me.
If there is a heavenly choir, then I know that Gene will be singing with the angels.
That’s what Michael Rosen Says… What do you say?