You’ll Only Hit What You Aim At. So, Aim High!

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.

Gene Cavanaugh

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?

17 Comments to “You’ll Only Hit What You Aim At. So, Aim High!”

  1. Wonderful story. Hopefully we can all have long healthy fulfilling lifestyles similar to Gene’s. Aiming to leave the world a better place than when we arrived should be something to strive for. Bringing joy and happiness:). Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Jonathan, thank you for your thoughtful comment. While Gene was taken far too early, he certainly did live his dream, enriching the lives of those who knew him and making the world a better place in the process. We should all live as well.

  2. What a wonderful tribute!

  3. Michael,

    Again you take a life experience and relate the story in terms of how we all might learn from one you will miss. This relating gives rise to your tribute to your friend making an impact in my life and honoring his legacy in the lives of others.

    Oh to have friends like you that memorialize our life efforts with such an accolade.

    Thank you,

  4. Awesome post, Michael. Gene sounds like a great guy who discovered balance in life.

    It sounds like loving humanity worked out well for him.

    • Darren, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your kind words. Gene was indeed a terrific guy. Interestingly, I’m not sure that he really understood how many people he touched and how deeply. He just went about being sincerely Gene.

  5. Great post, Michael! Thanks so much for sharing. It’s easy to forget that we can all be philanthropists.

    • Dan, thanks for your comment. Sometimes language gets in the way. Most people think you have to be rich or be a celebrity in order to be a “philanthropist.” The same is true with leaving a “bequest” or “legacy.” Of course, that’s not true. As you point out, we ALL can be philanthropists and we all can leave a legacy. Why let the rich have all the fun?

  6. A nice tribute to your friend Michael, and sorry to hear of his loss while still so young. I like the quotes included to illustrate some of Gene’s great characteristics and since you asked one of my favorites is attributed to Confucious

    “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall”

    Keep up the good work!

  7. I was missing Gene tonight and tried to find out where he was playing. Needless to say, I am shocked and beyond sad that my dear old friend passed away. I’ll be missing him. Thank you for writing this.

  8. Michael, thank you for your kind and so very true words about Gene. He was my heart and soul. I miss him every minute of every day and still cannot believe he has been taken from us. It is heartwarming to know that his warmth, kindness, love and generousity touched not only his family but also his friends and all people he met. I know I will forever hold his memories close and cherish every day I was blessed to have him in my life.

  9. Gene helped me enormously with my repertoire. He recommended that I sing two songs saying, “You were born to sing…” So I learned “You Must Believe In Spring” and “It Never Was You”. Singing those songs was the most natural thing in the world. Thank you for your beautiful tribute.

    • Claudia, thank you for sharing your personal thoughts about Gene, a good friend I continue to miss. By the way, my wife and I also continue to miss your sister Laurie; we were definitely fans. Lisa was a fan for two reasons: 1) She enjoyed Laurie’s amazing talent, and 2) Lisa also has battled Ovarian Cancer and has been inspired by Laurie’s fighting spirit. By the way, Lisa is also a fan of your mother; your mother performed in Shear Madness when Lisa worked in the office doing audience development. The arts world is a small one.

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