Get Out of the Basement and Dare to Be of Influence

Eleni Kelakos presentation skills training, public speaking training, speech coaching

I’ve recently enjoyed reading Austin Kleon’s two, wonderful books Steal Like an Artist, and Show Your Work. The latter reinforces something I’ve always believed: When it comes to creating something—like writing a book, crafting a presentation; developing a new idea or product; painting a picture; or finessing a new app—there is a time to hole up in the basement and massage it into being, and a time to climb up the basement stairs, open the door, and share your creation with others.

I learned this lesson deeply when my dear friend, Lisa Michelson, was killed in a freak car accident back while I was living in Los Angeles in the early ‘90’s. Losing Lisa—a powerhouse singer, and a force of nature–was devastating.

To cope with my feelings, I found myself turning to something I’d neglected for a decade: Making music.  Here’s how I describe this time in my book Touch the Sky: Find Your Voice, Speak Your Truth, Make Your Mark:

“Turning to my old pal—music—for comfort, I began to noodle around on my guitar, hack around on my piano. On impulse, I recorded a snatch of a tune I was fiddling with as the outgoing message on my answering machine. Remarkably, everyone who called mentioned how much they liked it. Mary, the dear, frail, elderly landlord from whom I rented my apartment, kept calling ‘just to hear your lovely voice, dear!” These affirmations stirred me into reaching more and more for my instruments.

Song after song poured out of me. I reached out and captured them, on scraps of paper, kitchen towels, cassette tapes. …Suddenly nothing—not even my acting career—seemed more important than writing my songs. The songs were coming so fast it was all I could do to keep up with them.  Some of them were even starting to sound pretty good. 

I timidly shared my songs with a friend who had a recording studio in his basement, thinking, for some reason, that maybe I ought to make a demo. I sat at his piano and played and sang one song, and then another. When I turned, I saw that my friend was in tears.

‘You could do this professionally,” he declared.

When I played my new songs for my good friend Joe, he surprised me by getting mad. Practically shaking me by the shoulders, he asked, ‘Why haven’t you been sharing these songs with the public?’ I had no adequate reply.  ‘For God’s sake,” Joe said, rolling his eyes, ‘get off your butt and go sing at an open mic talent night!”

And so, I did. Not just to get Joe off my back, but to satisfy the inner voice in me that was…hissing ‘You could sing for the world,’, nudging me (and my songs) firmly up and out of the basement. I threw my hat in the lottery to sing at the weekly open mic night at Highland Grounds coffeehouse in Hollywood.  And when my name was called; when I stood on the stage, cradling my guitar; when my voice seemed to grab and hush the chattering audience; when, after my final strum, the hoots, hollers and applause washed over me; and when, like the cherry on top, the owner of the coffeehouse offered me a paying gig on the spot, I knew I was on to something.

And all because I stepped out of the basement and shared my song.”

When I look back at this significant period in my life, I remember how wonderful it was to go deep with my music, crafting and shaping songs and keeping them to myself in the metaphorical “basement.”  I could have continued to keep my songs to myself forever, just enjoying the process of writing songs.  And there would have been nothing wrong with that, of course.

But some deeper part of me was curious:  What would other people think of my songs?  Could they possibly move others in some way? Could my songs make a difference?

It took courage to share my songs with my friends– particularly Joe, who could be pretty blunt.  But thank God I did. Because sharing them with my pals gave me the courage I needed to try my hand at an open mic. Which got me paying gigs. Which catalyzed the recording of four CD’s and a touring career. Which, indirectly, led me to my current, deeply satisfying work, as a presence and presentation coach, trainer and keynote speaker.  (It even led me to meeting Jim, my hubby, at a music conference, but that’s a story for another day).

My songs have found their way into movie soundtracks, and have even been danced to by a contestant on America’s Got Talent.  Even more important to me, they’ve become a small part of the soundtracks of the lives of the people who’ve come to my shows and bought a CD, or found my music online. My songs have moved people to tears and laughter, and helped them see their own lives through a different lens. They have even managed to help a person on the verge of taking his life find the hope to keep on keeping on.  I know this because people have spoken to me, or written letters and emails, sharing their experience with my songs—for which I have been humbly and profoundly grateful.

Showing and sharing my work in its many forms—music, books, materials, services like coaching, training and speaking engagements—has allowed me to honor my deepest purpose: To serve and elevate others. The satisfaction I’ve gained from sharing my work is why is why I agree so wholeheartedly with Austin Kleon’s premise that “A maker should show her work.”  Because if your work languishes in the “basement,” the people who might most benefit from it won’t have the opportunity to encounter it.

It takes great courage to step up and out of the basement and share your work with the world. But think of the people waiting for exactly what you have to offer!  Think of those whose lives could be changed for the better because of your unique service, your new idea, your inspirational presentation, your graphic novel! Think of those you could serve by not just making but showing your work!

So get out of the basement, and be of influence! The world is waiting for exactly what you have to offer.