I Want To Hear You Sing

The movie “Quartet” offers us a window into the lives of opera singers and musicians who, in their elderly years, live in a home for retired performers and musicians. It’s a beautiful movie that elicited feelings in me about the richness of life and the beauty of art, that it’s never too late, and how fear can so easily cut us down in our careers.

At the center of the story are four famous opera singers (all now elderly of course) who end up being part of a gala to raise funds to keep their retirement home open. During the course of the movie, Jean, played by Maggie Smith, is asked why she stopped singing.

“…So Jean, what made you stop singing?

You mean, for good?

 Yes, for good.

I just became so scared. Certainly the pressure was huge. I became so aware of the critics, and the importance of getting a good review. Whatever you did had to be good, or well, better, than before…I just got so nervous, I just could not sing anymore. I just…”

Reggie, played by Tom Courtenay, shows her a quote which she reads aloud: “Know this…Works of art, are of an infinite loneliness, that nothing can reach with so little, as criticism.”

This resonated with me, especially when I think of women in leadership roles. I think that many of us would say the same about our careers, irrespective of what field and what industry we are in. Early on in our careers we go after what we want, we get those great reviews. We achieve those successes. We get that next opportunity. Then, at a certain point, each next step seems to have more risk associated with it. Sometimes we even start to question if we are going to be as good in that next role as the one we are currently in. That voice of doubt sets up shop inside our head. We don’t necessarily stop singing per se. However, now in opportunities that we come across we might focus more on the risks that than the rewards. We might be less confident in our ability to take on that next leadership opportunity, afraid to take it on in case we don’t do as well. It seems lonelier for women in leadership because sadly there are less of us, and we might listen more to the critics than we would to the supporters. We might say ‘no’ because that seems a whole lot safer than saying ‘yes’.

The movie does, of course, have a happy ending. The four opera singers, including Jean who has not sung once since retiring from the stage, do perform at the gala. They sing the quartet from Rigoletto, reviving the greatness of when they last performed that quartet way back in their youth. It’s a resounding success, lots of money is raised, and the retirement home stays open.

My ask of you, today, tomorrow and every day, is please…never stop singing. You could sing, you can sing, and you will always be able to sing. You have done amazing things with your career so far, you are doing fantastic things right now, and you will continue to do incredible things in the future. We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation of women in the workplace to not only continue to sing, but to help them find their voice and their stage so they too can be a star in their industry and chosen field.