Doing the Work

Posted 06.08.2015

Scott Eblin and Michael CerverisSo, it’s not every day when you can say that one of your lifelong best friends just won a Tony award. Today is actually the second time I’ve gotten to do that. The fact that today is actually National Best Friends Day makes it even more fun.

Last night, one of my best friends since third grade, Michael Cerveris, won his second Tony award. His latest is best lead actor in a musical for playing the role of Bruce Bechdel in the ground-breaking show, Fun Home. The show was nominated for 12 Tonys and, in addition to Michael’s award, won for best musical, best director and best score and book.

Michael and I first connected a long time ago back in Huntington, West Virginia. His family moved to town when he was a third grader and his dad took a position as professor of music at Marshall University. Michael would likely tell you that we connected when I was the only kid who showed up for his birthday party a few weeks after he came to town. It wasn’t long before he had a lot of friends. There were a bunch of us who did everything together back in those days including convincing our junior high school music teacher that she should start a rock band class and we should be the band. Mike (as he was known then) was our lead guitarist and vocalist. He was great but we kind of stunk as a band. We did know how to put on a show though. Our high water mark (literally and figuratively) was when we played the Ohio Players song “Fire” at a junior high dance complete with sirens, flashing red lights and buckets filled with dry ice and water to make smoke. It looked cool but we didn’t anticipate the incredibly slick cafeteria floor and deep puddles that had us slipping all over the place. We were lucky we weren’t electrocuted.

Michael’s win last night has me thinking about a lot of things this morning. I guess I could sum all of those thoughts up with the phrase, “do the work.” Almost six years ago, I recorded an interview with Michael for this blog on the lessons he’d learned as an actor that also apply to the practice of leadership. I went back and listened to a little bit of that this morning and was struck by how much has happened to both of us even since 2009 because of repeated instances of doing the work. Michael went on to two more Tony nominations, has started a band called Loose Cattle, has established a second life in New Orleans and a bunch of other stuff. When we recorded the interview, I had just been diagnosed with MS and was having trouble walking. Now I’m a registered yoga teacher, have written the second edition of one book and released another last year. I’ve moved to California. I’m traveling around the world. Like so many other people, we’ve both just been doing our work.

Michael has created an amazing career for himself because he’s done the work. That didn’t just start with his first role on Broadway back in 1993 (Fun Home is his tenth Broadway show and sixth Tony nomination). It didn’t start when he graduated from Yale with a drama degree. It probably started with the summer stock productions he did as a kid and maybe even a little bit of the performing he did in our band. The point is, he’s kept doing the work for forty years and here he is.

Likewise, the cast and crew of Fun Home didn’t just show up and win a bunch of Tony awards last night. The team behind the show has been working for years to put together a compelling show based on the real life memoir of Alison Bechdel about her experience of growing up in rural Pennsylvania, determining her own sexual identity in a family with a closeted gay father who ran a funeral home. It’s not exactly The Sound of Music but, boy, does it work.

Last week, I was in New York for business and saw Michael in Fun Home and had lunch with him the next day. (The picture that accompanies this post was taken in his dressing room after the show.) I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen Michael perform or hung out with him over the past 45 (!) years. It’s a lot. Lots of little bits of doing the work – countless visits and emails and text messages over the years –  have led to this lifelong friendship. Who knew any of that back in third grade?

Gandhi wrote that “In regard to every action one must know the result that is expected to follow…” When you do the work, you don’t really have any idea what’s going to result. All you can do is be intentional around doing the work that could lead to the kind of results you would hope or expect to follow from the work.

So, I think it really comes down to what’s the work that matters to you? And by work, I don’t just mean the work you do for a living. It could be that kind of work, but it’s so much more. What work do you want to be intentional about doing this week and every week? Here’s a suggestion – start with letting your best friend know how much you appreciate them.