I can tell you why I first stepped onto a stage. It wasn’t to help people. It wasn’t to say something. It wasn’t to show people how awesome I was (I wasn’t). It was to get something I desperately needed - proof that I mattered. If you want a quick and efficient way to prove to yourself that your life matters, just look for the nearest big stage and get yourself up on it. Even if you suck, if the crowd is big enough you’ll get all the praise you can handle. I think if we’re honest (I’m talking to performers, speakers, and other stage-dwellers), most of us stepped onto the stage to get something. Not to give something. And it makes sense. Who of us really had much to give the first time we stepped on the stage? Maybe you were like me and you needed to prove something to yourself. Maybe your dad never approved of you and you figured “screw him if I can get 10,000 people to all approve of me”. Maybe your spouse thinks you’re a hack… but they don’t. They love you. Maybe you feel validated when a crowd will do things you tell them to do (I’m looking at you, alter-call addicts).
It is what it is. Most of us stepped onto the stage for selfish reasons. We all probably belong to some group of insecure crowd-seekers in a psychology book somewhere. There’s probably some long official term for us, but I’ll just stick with “crowd-seekers”.
I don’t think this is a problem. The world needs performers. It needs prophets. Throughout history, mentally messed up performers and prophets have taken the stage and said the things our cultures needed to hear to move to the next stage of their development - to reach their potential. The result is good, regardless of our unhealthy motives.
But I’m learning that there’s a next stage for us too. Just as we’re trying to move our culture forward, I believe we can’t stay where we are. We start selfish, but eventually we’ve got to become selfless.
We’ve got to become generous.
Before I explain generous performance, let’s clarify one major rule: As long as you need something from the crowd, you can’t be generous toward them. Your decisions, your words, your facial expressions, everything will run through one of two filters: (1) “How will this affect these people?” or (2) “How will this make me look?” The best way to pursue generous performance is to stop needing from the crowds you perform for. Easier said than done - especially since you’ve built your life around these “fill-ups” from the stage and slow trickles between appearances. But it’s your calling as a performer to move from crowd-seeker to generous performer. It’s difficult, but it leads to something much, much better.
Let’s try to make a distinction between a crowd-seeker and a generous performer.
A crowd-seeker takes the stage. The crowd is wild. The performer gives them what they want. He rocks their faces off and they love him for it. They leave feeling they got their money’s worth and the performance impacts them deeply. They live their lives differently because of what they heard. The performer gets about 5035 high-fives and is filled up (until the next morning when he has to start looking for his next crowd). For the most part, this seems like it works. But there’s something missing.
A generous performer takes the stage. The crowd is wild. The performer starts from ground zero (not a deficit). He isn’t clouded by his need to get something from the crowd. As a result he takes a clear, deep look at the faces of the people who are there. He disassembles the blob into a bunch of individual humans with individual personalities and passions and fears. (This is where it gets debatable but whatever, it’s my blog post.) He senses who he’s performing for and adjusts his tone, stance, even material on the fly for them. The message isn’t just relevant, it’s personalized. No one has ever been given what this performer is offering at this moment. Not only is the material unique, but because he doesn’t need anything from the crowd he’s able to be completely honest with them. I can’t say this strongly enough: Honesty from the stage comes at an infinitely high emotional cost. It requires you to stand naked before people who may accept you, or may laugh at you, or may kill you. It’s handing out 10,000 guns and saying something that will probably piss everyone off. But you do it because it might help. You can’t do this if you need something, anything, from them. Personalization and honesty is something a crowd-seeker could never do - but it’s the way of a generous performer. It’s the only way to perform. Otherwise, what’s the point? Back to our situation: The crowd leaves getting their money’s worth, plus something they didn’t expect - a personal message for them and a new idea, that maybe they’re not alone after all. That it’s ok to be honest with other humans - even if you’re a big famous performer. They see their world and themselves differently, and sometimes everything changes. The performer leaves, with or without high-fives, empty. Tired. Spent. He has no need to start looking for the next performance - instead he starts filling up his tank with time with family and friends, in prayer and in quiet, in creating and in playing. His hope is to get filled up enough before the next performance at which point he’ll have to empty it all out again.
It doesn’t pay to be a generous performer the way it pays to be a crowd-seeker. In fact, it costs. But the cost is worth the payoff. While crowd-seekers serve a purpose and can even change the world, generous performers can restore it. They’re prophets. They’re God’s voice to a world that’s desperately looking for a sign that He still speaks - even to them.
Don’t give up. Don’t settle. Be that voice.