I’m asked with a fair amount of frequency of my mildly successfully life thus far, “How did you get to where you are? What did you do to be successful?”
To which I normally reply something along the lines of, “A lot of hard work and a good deal of luck.”
Both of those are true; I work hard and I’ve had some good luck with being in the right place at the right time. But today, I think I may have a different answer.
I’m fresh off one of my favorite events of the year – the League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT) National Conference. I’m happy to serve on the board here; I speak for and serve several clients of whom I enjoy helping any way I can. Some people don’t understand what this is all about and how I fit in there. Historic theatres? What is the connection?
I love buildings for sure; I love the arts, and I love Broadway, so I’m rubbing shoulders with people who all love those same things… and it’s amazing.
But the real hook is the inspiring and incredible vision these people bring to their communities.
At the event, I sat in the Paramount Theatre on Congress Street in Austin, Texas. It’s one theater that really, really gets it right. Not massive in size, the theater seats less than 2000, and along with the adjoining and much smaller State Theatre, they bring in over $9M annually, employ nearly 50 people full time, and serve their city in beautiful ways. They have vision.
But here’s the clincher. During the presentation, up on the screen pops an aerial view of Congress Street around the year 2000; we see empty lots where drugs were dealt daily, pizza served by the slice, and an a failing old museum. We’re shown a restaurant that changed hands and menus frequently, and State Theatre sitting closed up for several years following a water main break.
Fast forward to today – Because of a group of people who believed that downtown theatres make a difference – the vision – this is now the view of Congress; a thriving art museum, a 150-room Aloft hotel with over 80 percent occupancy, fine dining, and The State Theatre reopened and fully programmed. And ground-breaking coming soon for a high-end apartment building replacing the empty lot.
Because of vision. Rather than see what was there – desolation, drugs, empty lots – someone had a different vision for what could be.
And then it happened.
Now, nearly 50 people get up every day, go to work at the theatre, and carry out that vision and more.
My three daughters are finding their way like everyone does in their 20’s and 30’s. One was asking today: how did you do that nine-to-five job for so many years? I recalled a time when I had to be at work every day by 7am, looking good, lunched packed, with three kids under age 12. After work, I’d get home and feed everyone, supervise homework, sign school notes, facilitate bath, showers, and nighttime reading, and then fall into bed and do it all over again the next day. My answer to the “how?” was “I’m not sure! I just did!”
But sitting with a glass of wine waiting for my flight, I thought more deeply and recalled with my husband that we continually talked about vision. We couldn’t possibly have done what we did, year after year, without looking forward. Plans, dreams, hopes; that’s what made it all happen. Without knowing the “why” or reading a book that inspired us to, we would continually have vision planning times.
Usually once a year when we would leave the kids with gramma and sneak away for our anniversary, we’d talk about what was working, what wasn’t, and discuss where we thought we’d be in one year, three years, five, and ten.
We’d write it down, get inspired, and change it up as needed. But we always returned to the crazy-busy stuff with some sense of we are on track to something! We formed a vision for what we wanted our life to look like and that gave us the courage, hope, and fortitude to live through the ordinary with some hope.
(Sometimes, all we would make was a goal of a few thousand bucks in savings in the next year, which at that time felt like a million, ‘cause we did it.)
And we’re still at it; it’s so much a part of the fiber of our life – it’s like breathing.
Like the Paramount Theater on a street that looked like nothing until someone had a vision for how it could look today, our life together went through many phases, but was always on a path to somewhere.
My life today is not what I thought it would be; it’s even better. I couldn’t possibly have planned it. I had times of feeling lost or frustrated for sure, and it was always when I’d lost vision for where we, or I myself, was going.
Whether your life is like Congress Street in 2000, or how it is today, it’s all within the bounds of what you can imagine or dream it to be.
So now when I’m asked, “How did you get here?” my answer will emphatically be, hard work, a little luck, and a big dose of vision. Without it, the work is just striving, and the luck may be missed altogether.