3 LESSONS FROM A 1980’s ICON

She came on to the music and cultural scene like a kaleidoscopic whirlwind with a vibrant and effervescent attitude in fashion and song.

Her name was (still is actually,) Cyndi Lauper. Icon of the 80s.

Today’s blog is a lesson on the growth that we can achieve by rising to our personal challenges. 

Through tough beginnings, which included a biological father who abandoned the family, a perverted stepfather, eating squirrel and other scrounged up food with her impoverished boyfriend, being raped by a bandmate, a court battle with her manager and more, Cyndi Lauper fought through it all and rose to the heights where she could let her unique, chromatic style of music and fashion breathe. 

On top of all that, there was one trial that could have been the ultimate ending to any aspirations that she had of making it as a singer. For a little while in the mid-70s she found that she had damaged her voice and could barely speak let alone sing. 

It was a warning bell that sounded for years but that she didn’t heed or completely recognise the implications of. There was a night for example, in 1974, where her voice just up and left. She was going for a high note which, with her 4-octave range she should have hit easily but it just wouldn’t come. She carried on though and kept booking gigs, mostly cover gigs where she would smash out versions of the growling, sandpaper, rocking voices like Janis Joplin and Rod Stewart. Eventually, her vocal cords gave out on her and collapsed. Doctors told her that it was time to put her voice to bed. She wouldn’t sing again. Definitely not professionally.

Distraught but never beaten, Cyndi Lauper was recommended a vocal coach by the name of Katie Agresta. It was no easy fix but through long, patient training Cyndi was able to regain her voice and make an indelible mark on the 80s particularly and create a legacy with music, theatre and fashion that lives on to this day.


Here are 3 Lessons That Educators Can Learn from Cyndi Lauper’s Journey


1. One Person Entering Our Lives Can Inspire Course Correction

There’s a quote out there, probably a few actually, that speak to the idea that there is only one person who can change your life and that person is… drum roll please… You!

While ultimately true in a generally free society, we can all benefit from the wisdom, experience, expertise etc. of others. No person is an island. We all do and can continue to benefit from the help of others. Of course, while sometimes it takes another to give us a shove, it is then up to us to spread our wings and fly or retract our wings and plummet. 

A story that I came across recently helps to illustrate this.

American Brian Flemming was a hyper-morbidly obese (weighing over 280 kilos,) depressed, alcoholic, 30-year-old college drop-out who spent his days gaming. He said he would drink a fifth of vodka mixed with a litre of soda every night and junk food was his main diet. 

Then he met someone online through a Pictionary-like App called ‘Draw Something’.

That someone was 50 something year old Jackie Eastham, who lives in Paris and suffers from Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy, lives a hyper-conscious healthy lifestyle as a way of mitigating her condition.  

The Draw Something game has an option to write comments to someone you are playing with. This opportunity to communicate and get to know Jackie may have saved Brian’s life and in the least, definitely catalysed a tremendous change that would alter his course for the better. Because of her own experiences with health issues, she was able to pick up on signs that he was not living an optimum lifestyle health-wise and so prompted, Brian confided in Jackie about his weight, depression and drinking issues. Long story short, Jackie determined to help him and Brian accepted that help knowing that he wanted her to inspire the change he desperately needed. 

 

In the last update I could find Brian had lost 180 kilos and was preparing to run a marathon. He also flew to Paris to meet his “Coach” and self-appointed Trainer. 

If Anne Sullivan hadn’t teamed up with Helen Keller how might their lives have turned out? Would John Lennon and Paul McCartney have been as successful without each other? Bernie Taupin & Elton John? Timon and Pumba? 

As Educators we might find ourselves, by nature of our very jobs, in that Jackie position often. We are the ones to Train, Coach, Guide, Mentor etc. however we also need to allow ourselves to be open, to also being trained, coached, guided, mentored. Teachers need coaching, coaches need teaching – Sometimes that guidance is purposefully sought for and professionals are employed and sometimes, it can come from the most un-likeliest of places.

I have a friend who owns a highly rated and award-winning Indian restaurant. She told me not too long ago about a young staff member who she took on as a kitchen hand. I can’t recall exactly how she described a certain interaction but she explained how she saw him peeling an onion in a way that here was far less waste than she normally would create and so she complimented him and adopted that method herself.

Contrast that with a time many years ago when as a young adult I was working at a mattress making factory where I figured out a way to alter a template in a way that we could get an extra few millimetres from each foam roll. There was less waste and though it was tiny from a per roll perspective, with thousands of mattresses being made I could see it all adding up. My manager/supervisor was one who hated any idea that wasn’t his and so raked me over the coals (to the point where he was ranting and raving,) for having the audacity to suggest such a thing as a change to the template. A few years later, after I had left the factory, I was talking to someone who was still working there. Apparently, my template had been adopted and that manager had been demoted. Not that the 2 were directly connected but that prideful manager was obviously seen as a Luddite who couldn’t accept ideas for progress and improvement if they didn’t come from his own head.

As educators we can find plenty of learning opportunities not just from those above us in a work or qualification sense, but even from those who we have stewardship over.

By the way, that 20-year veteran of restaurant ownership still attends regular cooking classes as a student.

  1. Weaknesses Can Be Catalysts

Weaknesses can be catalysts for decline or progression. It all depends on 3 things:

1. Whether we find the weakness
2. Whether we pay it attention
3. Whether we do something about it

As a long-time Personal Trainer who has moved on to education, I still keep a couple of clients on hand to keep my axe sharpened. When I was taking on new clients, I would tell them from day 1, “We will start with discovering weaknesses and when we find them, we’ll celebrate.” I didn’t mean balloons and a bouncy castle of course. We would just flip the usual reaction to finding a weakness.

I know that sounds odd, but it worked for us as the celebration was not for the fact that there was a weakness, but that we had discovered a weak link in a chain that we could strengthen, thereby strengthening the chain as a whole. We were learning to enjoy discovering issues as part of our journey. Looking for dopamine hits by finding weaknesses? That’s a radical thought.

Once discovering a weakness a person has 3 options and only 1 of those options leads to progress.


Option A – Pretend the weakness doesn’t exist.

I recall when I was playing rugby. I loved playing Flanker, which, for the uninitiated is position where you have to be super fit and willing to chase the ball from side to side and end to end. I had all the skills necessary – fitness (I just missed by a fraction level 16 on the Beep Test,) speed, strength etc. but I was about 15-20 cm shorter than the average elite player. As I continued after High School, I was told by a rep coach “Look Nate, you’ve got the goods but not as a Flanker. You’re simply not tall enough. Focus on a position in the backs or perhaps halfback and you’ll do quite well I believe.” I was prideful however. I was determined to be the “shortest All Black Openside Flanker ever!” Yeah, I actually spoke those words out loud.

It didn’t happen.

If Cyndi had said “screw this I love singing like Janis Joplin and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!” well, we would not be hearing Time After Time, or True Colours or Girls Just Wanna Have Fun on the radio.

Instead of realising that I had a limitation in one position that could actually be an asset in another position like say, halfback, I chose pride over change. Of course, even if I had changed my attitude and programming who’s to say I would have reached that ultimate goal anyway, right? The point is that by pretending our weaknesses don’t exist, we are also ignoring opportunities that might come our way if we were consciously and pro-actively dealing with them.


Sometimes a “weakness” and I say this with quotation marks, is really just a limitation unrecognised. Don’t believe the inspirational memes that there are no limits. Of course there are limits! Ask let’s say, Dorian Yates, the OG of massive bodybuilders who dominated the 1990s with 6 Mr. Olympia titles. At almost 60 years old do you think he’s still growing. No question mark. It’s a rhetorical question. Eventually he peaked. We all peak in different disciplines. Otherwise we’d have 80-year-olds that started benching in their 20s hitting 1000 kilo presses. Thankfully, while there is a peak to every mountain, there is more than one mountain we can climb.


Option B – Whinge and moan about its existence and let it damn your growth potential 


Sure, wallow around in a muddy quagmire of self-pity until your light goes out and the vultures of misery pluck the flesh from your bones OR…

Morbid? I’m trying to paint a picture here and make sure we visualise how abominable Option B is because the only good option is…

Option C – Fix it or work around it

If a weakness is fixable or not so damning that it can be worked around then we can keep working towards our goals with the right mindset and proactive approach to the concern.

So for example, our 15-year-old son, who plays basketball has been complaining about knee pain when playing. I used my own fitness knowledge to analyse as best as I could but ultimately knew (and this actually ties into Lesson 1,) that I needed someone else to help me find to find the source of the problem. I took him to a friend, a very good physiotherapist (Shout out to Brendon Pidgeon,) and after going through a number of tests for meniscus damage, hamstring tightness and so on. We discovered a couple of things which largely had to do with a rapid growth spurt that he had recently gone through that his patella/knee joint ligaments weren’t prepared for and some weakness in his medial leg muscles. It was all good news. We were able to give him some mitigating exercises to prep for hard training and games as well as some exercises to stabilise the knee, strengthen the pertinent muscles around the knee as well as teaching them to “fire” when needed.

Cyndi Lauper and her coach got excited about the discovery of her weakness. She could have been “stuff it – I love my rock music and I’m going to bloody well power through anyway.” Or, she could have said “I can’t sing rock belters? Woe is me all hope is lost!”

Instead, she saw her weakness, looked at what she could fix, what she could work around, what she needed to discard, and went from there.

  1. Knowing Our True Self is Essential to Becoming Our Best Self.

    Healing her larynx and re-training Cyndi’s voice was a matter of urgency. 

Katie Agresta reflects on the time as something that went beyond simply healing a broken voice. They weren’t rebuilding it to be used in the same way it had been before – Covering aggressive, rocking belters. She discovered that Cyndi had an incredible voice in her own right but it was a pop, blues, even jazzy voice – not a rock belter. So to become who she was meant to be, Cyndi had to throw out the imitation game.
Cyndi explains in her memoir that her coach made her realise “what I was aching for- To sing my own songs, in my own voice”.

She says of that night when her voice quit on her “I couldn’t hit the high note, because I didn’t have my music.”

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Socrates might have said that. It’s often attributed to him. It’s true. Cyndi getting to know herself helped her to wisely correct her course. As her innate quirkiness was allowed to escape through her pores we witnessed the birth of an icon. It’s an impression that remains 40 years on. You won’t ever attend an 80s fancy dress party where the Cyndi Lauper style isn’t on display by many partygoers.

Sometimes it’s hard to get to know ourselves. While the first tip is about seeking and valuing help from other people it should be balanced with alone time. A great way to begin the education of knowing oneself is to find moments of solitude.

One of history’s raddest philosophers, Nietzsche, said of solitude;

I go in solitude, so as not to drink out of everybody’s cistern. … When I am among the many I live as the many do, and I do not think I really think; after a time it always seems as if they want to banish myself from myself and rob me of my soul.


Regularly finding time to be alone is essential. It’s time spent with oneself to get to know oneself. We should take that time without distractions. Forget the phone at home. Get off social media for a while or in the least see what is posted by others for what it is – idealised lifestyles. Otherwise we’ll spend our time wishing for what others have, wishing to be like others are.

To recap!

    1. One Person Entering Our Lives Can Inspire Course Correction 2.
    2. Weaknesses Can Be Catalysts 
    3. Knowing Our True Self is Essential to Becoming Our Best Self

 

What ties this all together is the idea that opening ourselves up to discovering ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, is essential for improvement. So with that in mind I’ve got to finish with a quote by the great writer, philosopher, poet, abolitionist, Ralph Waldo Emerson:


The only person you are destined to become, is the person you decide to be.

 

If you’re destined to become someone who guides, trains, teaches, coaches and mentors check out the TAE40016 also known as Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. Qualify Now are the specialists in the area.