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 When Conditions Change

When Conditions Change


For the most part, leaders are poised to respond to challenges that confront them, but the problem lately has become how to deal with a moving target. While some prefer to wait for the dust to settle before adjusting their plans, others see today’s climate as being in a state of rapid, perpetual change. Considering the rate at which information, products and services are now disseminated, there’s a convincing argument to expect more change, not less.  What is the process for navigating change? One solution, offered by virtuoso guitarist Billy McLaughlin is to learn the art of reinvention.
McLaughlin is an Emmy Award-winning musician, speaker and author of soon-to-be-released, “Road to Reinvention.” In his book, McLaughlin chronicles what could easily be described as a hero’s journey that took him from success in the highly competitive music industry to sudden failure and humiliation in front of thousands when he was stricken with focal dystonia, a little-known neuromuscular disorder that destroyed the use of his fret-playing hand. His astounding return to stage as a world-class speaker and musical icon resulted from his ability to reinvent himself by changing hands to reclaim his music. “None of us get to do any day over, so every choice we make steers the path toward our ultimate success or failure,” says McLaughlin. The lessons McLaughlin learned through his unprecedented musical comeback demanded that he make progress everyday, no matter how big or small. His overriding message: “Stop worrying about what is broken and start paying attention to what works.”
When Conditions Change

When Conditions Change


McLaughlin continues to live with focal dystonia, which is currently incurable and could destroy the use of his other hand just as quickly at any time. He has chosen to make the most of his musical capability each day, knowing that the process of reinvention that he has discovered through his experience will enable him to adapt and make the most of whatever situation may arise. Since his comeback, organizations from around the world have asked McLaughlin to share his story about overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. Through an innovative mix of music, storytelling and disarming humor, McLaughlin offers a new perspective on business and life. He inspires audiences to action as he demonstrates the ability to move forward even when dealing with extraordinary change.

Road to Reinvention

Road to Reinvention


“My road to reinvention was fueled by my longingness to be whole, to have purpose and meaning.”
 
Growing up I felt lonely a lot of the time. That’s odd to hear when you learn I have five brothers and three sisters. I experienced an intense loneliness even though our house was never quiet or lacking a crowd. Even as a grade-schooler, I felt like something was missing in my life. I had plenty of healthy social interaction both at school and at home, but still had what, back then, I would have called extreme loneliness.
 
Now I understand that what I really had was extreme “longing-ness”.
 
I was longing badly at a very early age for something I knew was missing in my life. I mistook it for loneliness when I was young and swept up by it. But now I know that, all along, it was something unrelated to what anyone else could have given to me with time and attention, with love and affection. It was something utterly common but also commonly misunderstood…..it wasn’t “loneliness”….it was “longingness”!
 
In the same way people stumble to describe in detail the life they want or the success they dream of, as a younger person, I could not have described to you what it was that I was missing. I didn’t know what it was…I could only feel what it was. In that lack of clarity many of us mistake longingness for loneliness.  We try very hard through our personal relationships to fill the void that can only be filled by facing and embracing our emptiness, our quest for meaning and purpose.
 
This is the context in which I choose to tell my story. What I used to think of as one thing really turned out to be something else. Even recently, what I thought was the worst thing that ever happened to me has somehow turned out to be the best. To re-frame our understanding of loneliness and illuminate a better description of longingness would be a tremendous ancillary outcome of your investment of time in reading further.
 
I think we experience longingness most when we feel lost – especially when lost for purpose and meaning. We know something is missing in our lives and experience longingness, which demands self exploration and evolution…not an outside fix. I now understand that my “loneliness” was an experience of the need and longing for change – for reinvention and a redefinition of who I was and what I could bring to this world. Longingness is the dynamo of power behind personal change and transformation. If you feel it, you should dive into it. Dive into your longingness knowing that it’s not about anyone else in your life. It’s all about you.
 
Everything about my feelings of longingness changed when I found music. Music was the way out of my longingness and feeling lost. Music taught me what to do when I experienced those feelings. Playing guitar brought me to a new place that felt rewarding and joyful, a place full of meaning and purpose. I went through all these feelings a second time when I lost my music and had to start over due to my dystonia. It was no easier the second time. My road to reinvention was fueled by my longingness to be whole, to have purpose and meaning. Now, music gives me a vehicle to not only work in harmony with my feelings of longingness, but also to share them with anyone who knows what they are like.
 
If that’s you, if you are someone who knows the feelings of longingness, my music might be worth listening to and my story might be worth reading. It won’t take long to know, so let’s find out – together!
 

Road to Reinvention

Road to Reinvention


As an artist I’ve always taken great pride in my work and when I’m composing and performing I couldn’t care less about my profit margin. I’m focused strictly on the music itself and what I have to give to my audience. But I learned in my first year of full-time touring that I was an entrepreneur and small business owner in a highly competitive industry. I understood that if I wanted to grow my business (which I wanted to do both for my family and to increase my opportunity to make more music), I would need to pay attention to every facet of my company just like any CEO. I have common ground with every CEO I meet. One thing we all agree on is that at the core of any company is the integrity of our product. If our product, be it an item or a service, does not perform as we say it does, then we have lost product integrity.
That’s the blinding truth I had to face – I had lost all integrity of my product. To make it worse, I had experienced the humiliation of losing my product integrity in front of thousands of people on stage all by myself! I’ve always loved to share the stage with a full band. I’ve recorded many CDs with my own group and others. That’s how I started out – playing in bands. Not many guitarists want to or are capable of performing as a soloist, especially a solo instrumentalist. Sure there are endless singer-songwriters who strum and sing-along. In this setting the guitar is merely a backdrop to the melody, which is provided by a second source. I was getting booked as a solo instrumentalist where all the chords, all the rhythm and all the melody came from just ten fingers and six strings. I rose to the top of the heap of these highly proficient and amazingly talented soloists based on the integrity of my product. People loved my guitar playing and expected me to play the heck out of it in-person, like I did on the recordings. It was awful to experience the loss of my music in front of so many deserving audiences.
What happens when a company or an individual experiences a total loss of integrity? Most of us reach for coffee or something else to drink and sunglasses or something else to keep us from looking at the truth. It hurts too much. It’s too bright a light. Like being naked in public – which scares me to death! Actually playing guitar badly in public scares me even more. Because I had no other way to support my family, I kept doing it until I finally realized I was doing more harm than good. I had to take off the shades and see the truth that my music, my concerts, and my income would never be worth having until I could restore the integrity of my product. You don’t have to be a musician to know when a musician is having an off night. Even little kids can tell when something is out of tune.
We all know when we believe in what is going on around us. When our team believes, when our spouse believes, when our nation believes, then we can make progress for our future. I had no hope at any progress until the most blinding truth came in the words of a neurologist. After years of alternative therapies, trying everything from acupuncture to deep tissue massage to yoga and meditation, I finally began to think I had a brain tumor. What else could account for such tremendous uncontrollable clenching in my hand? Nobody really wants to go to a neurologist. I didn’t. But it began to dawn on me, like my mom used to tell me growing up, that “William, your biggest problem is between your ears!!!”

unitron

Unitron

Unitron


Event Planner Maria Cabrera, CMP, comments on Billy’s presentation to Unitron’s customers in May.
At Unitron, our customers are hearing healthcare professionals who care deeply about making a difference in the lives of people with hearing loss. We meet with our customers several times a year, speaking on subjects related to audiology, as well as introducing new products and technologies we have developed. In our latest series of meetings we wanted to do something beyond the basic PowerPoint and technical presentation. We were seeking a way to make a connection with our customers on another level—a means through which we could move and touch them emotionally. We felt that Billy’s presentation was something to which they could all relate, especially since it had everything to do with [musical] sound.
Billy’s message is about not giving up. He encourages people to take the first steps, to realize and overcome their disconnection with the world. The people that Unitron’s customers serve are struggling with hearing loss. Billy’s gave our customers information they can use time and again in their service to them.
We wanted to start and finish our meeting on a strong note. We asked Billy to speak at the end of the day, closing out a series of business presentations with the idea that people would leave feeling much more relaxed and refreshed. Billy is very charming and fun. He has a way of loosening people up after a long day of lectures—he is not your ordinary speaker; he is unique and inspiring.
Receiving responses like “This is the best event we’ve ever attended!” tells me how much our customers enjoyed Billy’s presentation. In a very saturated and competitive market like ours, this is a huge compliment. We look forward to having him back again next month.

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The Hero in Your Own Story

The Hero in Your Own Story


As a kid I remember reading stories where the hero would be faced with an impossible challenge and, somehow through strength and determination, win the day. I still like those stories, but have always wondered what went on with the hero in the days that followed. What was their “happily ever after” actually like?
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a number of great people during my travels. They are people whom I consider real-life heroes. Some of them you’d probably recognize by name. Others you have never heard of before. One of the reasons I think they are great is because they set out to accomplish things they believed in and then made them happen. They won their day.  Unlike the heroes in the storybook, I have had the chance to see these people in the days that followed their big wins. In most cases, I cannot say that “happily ever after” looked the way I would have expected. Actually, it wasn’t all that different from the days leading up to it; at least that’s how it looked from the outside.
Some of big “wins” in my life, I must admit, felt pretty good. I’ll never forget the first time I received a standing ovation as a left-handed guitarist. It was proof that there was life for me as a performer after being diagnosed with dystonia; the audience was telling me so. The reason why that day had special meaning to me has everything to do with in the days leading up to it. There were so many times when it was all I could do to keep going. Looking back it’s easy to say that the struggle was worth it. It’s not such an easy thing to say, however, when you’re at the beginning of a journey that has no timeframe, no guarantees and no end in sight. There were many days when I thought seriously about calling it “quits”.
The Hero in Your Own Story

The Hero in Your Own Story


The most famous of these pivotal days is a story I share with many of my audiences. It was a day when the pain of starting over was especially hard for me. The fingering, the sound—all the things that had come fluidly after years of practice—eluded me. I had nothing to show for the days of hard work I had been putting in. In frustration I threw my guitar into its case and shoved it into the closet. Had it not been for a few well-placed words in a fortune cookie, that guitar might still be in the closet collecting dust. Instead, I read “Many people fail because they quit too soon.” I am eternally grateful for that fortune cookie because my guitar has never been back in the closet since.
The deeper meaning in that cookie didn’t come from the words at all. It came from a lesson I had learned about challenges as a result of what happened that day.  Picking up my guitar and resuming the work I had started did not change the challenges that were confronting me.  It didn’t instantly change the sound I was making and my fingering skills didn’t magically improve. The change that took place was inside me. I had made the decision that failure was not an option—and neither was quitting. The challenge was still there, but I met it in a different way. I learned that it did not help to resist or avoid the challenge. The only thing that was left for me to do, if I wanted to move ahead, was to accept it. In the process, I also learned to accept myself.
The Hero in Your Own Story

The Hero in Your Own Story


I gained a new respect for the work I was doing, which allowed me the patience that I hadn’t permitted earlier. Through experiences like this I have gained a glimpse into what “happily ever after” probably looks like. The heroes I have encountered in my life haven’t gotten past having challenges; they just deal with them differently. I think that a better way to translate “happily ever after” is to say “happy whatever happens after.” The true gain in dealing with tough circumstances is in knowing that you can and will get through them. It relieves the pressure and puts wasted energy to better use.
When I made my comeback after dystonia, we posted banners everywhere saying “Billy Mac is Back.” The banners were only partly correct. The left-handed guitarist that returned to stage was pretty different than the one who stood there before all of the recent adventures. To this day, there is still music in my repertoire that I cannot play, lots of it, in fact. I’d be kidding if I told you that I didn’t miss having the ability to play it. However, the capabilities that I lost have been replaced by a quality that could have come only from the transformation that took place in me. To say that Billy Mac is back after decades of playing guitar on stage is only half of a bigger story. Speaking out to inspire others on their journey is the other half. I have discovered that my music can be expressed in an entirely new way.
The Hero in Your Own Story

The Hero in Your Own Story

Road to ReinventionBilly McLaughlin’s new book “Road to Reinvention” will soon to be available—first online and then at a bookstore near you. In it Billy describes his journey from being one of Billboard’s youngest rising stars to his sudden fall from fame when the onset of dystonia ripped away his career. It also explores his ultimate return to stage to as the successful presenter and musician he is today. Billy described, “The purpose of ‘Road to Reinvention’ is to share with people the experience of how it felt and what I learned as I worked my way through some of my darkest moments. Also, I want to share the exhilaration that even an unwanted experience like I had can provide. My challenge with dystonia was both the worst and the best thing that happened to me. I can say this now that I can look back upon my journey. I want others, especially those who have just begun theirs to know the infinite possibilities for discovery and joy that await them. I want them to have the encouragement and evidence they need to pursue what may be one of the most worthwhile endeavors of their lives.”
Billy’s journey to reinvention was brought about by an unexpected event that dramatically changed his life and set him on a new course for self-discovery. For some, like Billy, a sudden health crisis may be the event that triggers a new journey. For others, it may be the loss of a career, finances, relationship or a combination of factors. At other times, the journey may be one that is long awaited or anticipated—an unfulfilled dream or desire that requires a deliberate change in direction if it to be achieved. Regardless of the motivation, whether the journey is planned or unplanned, those who travel it will encounter similar thoughts, feelings and questions. “In many ways, ‘Road to Reinvention’ is intended to serve as a roadmap that will help readers maneuver through the challenges they face on their own journey as well as to recognize the milestones of their achievement,” Billy explained.
Those readers who are familiar with Billy McLaughlin will gain an even deeper understanding of and appreciation for the journey Billy has taken to bring his music back to the stage. The heart and soul of Billy’s music has a story attached, which will add new dimension to his well-known arrangements. In the same way that Billy’s music lifts your heart, reading “Road to Reinvention” will inspire your imagination and awaken your sense of purpose and adventure.
Originally planned for a September release, “Road to Reinvention” is currently in production. Billy says, “It may a little longer than originally anticipated to complete the editing and work within the publisher’s schedule.” In the meantime, if you’d like to reserve your copy of “Road to Reinvention” please sign up here.

simplegifts background

finding community through music
Like an overnight snowfall, the holiday season has swept into our lives once again. Retailers have wasted no time in “decking the halls” and setting the stage for the most giving time of year. Out come the trees, trinkets and Christmas tunes. Everywhere you go, you hear “Silent Night,” “White Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” along with every Christmas song ever written, it seems. After the thousandth time of hearing a song, any song, your brain feels like it’s had enough. And yet, there’s more to those old Christmas melodies than a few familiar phrases and sounds. They carry with them memories, feelings and a sense of something bigger than our selves and momentary worries. They bring us together.
The unifying power of music is something that forever amazes me, whether I am performing to people down the road, across the country or across the ocean. Often my audience and I begin as strangers, but by the end of our time together the music we have shared has brought us closer in spirit and friendship. It’s music’s expression of oneness and love that keeps me connected no matter how far my journey, no matter how much time I spend on the road. Music’s ability to cross the barriers of language, culture and position is what deepens my purpose and strengthens my resolve to share it with as many people as I can. Of the many examples of this that I have experienced, none has been more remarkable than my journey with Accenture to India. Although my audience and I were from different cultures and different lands, we shared a very similar love for music. No matter where I go, as long as I bring my music, I find myself among friends.
It’s the thought of friendship that I encourage you to consider when you hear a familiar Christmas refrain for the two-thousandth time. The tune that holds your holiday memories is likely to hold the memories of many if not all the people who share the same space, whether it happens to be your place of work or your favorite shopping mall. Every former stranger in the room now shares a little something in common with you. They may be singing along, humming the melody softly to themselves, tapping their toes or watching their children dancing and skipping down the aisles. If you look closely, you can’t help but notice how the simple melody has softened their hearts and connected their souls.
As fond as I am of Christmas music, I do empathize with those whose tolerance is tried after hearing the same set of music repeatedly over and over from early November through Christmas Eve. Personally, I find it gratifying to experiment with traditional melodies, add variations and reinvent them so that they become fresh, appealing and provide a new experience for listeners. In the process, I have been fortunate to work with some exceptionally gifted musicians who have created their own unique sounds. One of these artists is my friend, Rhett Butler.
Rhett is a guitarist from Texas who became well known for playing two guitars at once. He also happens to play finger-style guitar (playing the notes on the neck of the guitar) in his own intricate style. Like me, Rhett has a passion for making a difference in people lives, especially when it comes to healing. Having lost his brother to a rare form of cancer, Rhett has become the CEO of a development-stage biotech company that is working on an implantable cancer vaccine device. In addition to sharing a passion for finger-style guitar, we both enjoy traditional holiday music. A few years ago, Rhett and I produced a guitar collection titled “Holiday Open House.” The CD is a fusion of both of our individual arrangements and recordings of traditional holiday tunes; the same music that we’ve grown up with, but with a new style. If you’d like, you can listen to a number here.
For the past 10 years, I have toured with an ensemble of internationally recognized award-winning instrumentalists and vocalists who join together during the holiday season as the group SimpleGifts. Combining violin, Celtic whistle and bagpipes, piano, acoustic guitar and percussion with three-part female vocals, SimpleGifts brings a modern, yet classical sound to old-world Christmas music. It’s difficult to describe in words just what creates the SimpleGifts style, so I will share with you a video from one of our recent concerts. (Learn more about SimpleGifts here.)
Although Christmas music is prone to being overused and even abused over the holiday season, at the heart of it, there is still much to treasure. In our own small way, my friends and I have made an effort to hold Christmas music in a very special place so that it can be experienced and enjoyed again in a new light. For all the good and pleasure it brings, I believe that we as artists and listeners can uphold the wonder of holiday music now and for generations to come.

Billy McLaughlin and executive director Kevin Langdon at ASMC event
Billy McLaughlin performed for the Apple Specialists Marketing Coop (ASMC) Fall Conference October 16. Billy is pictured here with ASMC Executive Director Kevin Langdon.
 
Billy McLaughlin performs at "Impairment without Disability" conference at the Mayo Clinic
On October 18, Billy was back in Minnesota presenting at the “Impairment without Disability” conference, which was held at Mayo Clinic.
 
Les-Kertay
Dr. Les Kertay, a clinical psychologist and writer, reported on Billy’s presentation at the conference at Mayo. Read Dr. Kertay’s article about Billy, “A Fortune Cookie – Friday’s Life Lesson.”

Billy McLaughlin on Minnesota Public Radio

Billy McLaughlin on Minnesota Public Radio

The Daily Circuit – MPR


 

Preceding the broadcast of Billy’s concert with Orchestra Nova on Twin Cities Public Television, Tom Weber from The Daily Circuit on Minnesota Public Radio, interviewed Billy and they discussed what relearning the guitar was like. Listen to the broadcast that aired October 19 on Minnesota Public Radio.
 

 
“In the 90s, guitarist and Minnesotan Billy McLaughlin was a rising star as one of his albums cracked the top 10 on Billboard.
But he slowly faded away from the spotlight. Not because people had grown tired of his music, but because McLaughlin had developed a baffling disorder called focal dystonia. If you’ve ever heard of writer’s cramp, that’s a form of dystonia.
McLaughlin’s “Starry Night” concert performance will air Saturday night and Sunday afternoon on Twin Cities Public Television.”
Continue to Tom Weber’s article, “Minnesotan Billy McLaughlin on dystonia and re-learning the guitar.”

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The Gift of Reinvention

The Gift of Reinvention


To know the gift of reinvention is to know the pain of loss. For me, reinvention hasn’t always been a pleasant experience. It meant something in my life that I depended on was no longer working and I needed to find a way to fill the emptiness that it left behind. My experience with reinvention was born out of necessity and not desire. Over the course of a few years, I’ve had to reinvent the personal, professional, financial and even physical aspects of my life. A little-known neurological condition called focal dystonia took away everything that I thought defined my life when it impaired the use of the fingers on my fret-playing hand to the point where I could no longer play even the simplest melody.
For more than twenty years, I had made it my purpose to be the best acoustic guitarist and composer I could possibly be. I was getting along pretty well—having made it onto Billboard’s top-10 list with my first solo album. I had built my career, reputation and record deals around my unique style and sound. Over the years, as my profession grew, a lot of people came to depend on me including my family, band, booking agent, clients and fans. If you told me at the time that something could come along and wipe all of it away in a matter of months, I would not have believed you. However, that is exactly what happened. As a result of my sudden affliction with dystonia, my ability to play, my record deal, my gigs, my fans, my career, reputation, income, home and family life all disappeared in less than a year.
The Gift of Reinvention

The Gift of Reinvention


Having every comfort I had ever known stripped away from me so suddenly and permanently was a harsh reality. The experience, however, taught me something very revealing: There was a distinction between who I was versus what I had. I learned that sometimes the things we accomplish in the past get in the way of who we are and where we are headed. I believe this is true for individuals as well as for businesses. For me, it meant that I needed to let go of what no longer worked in my life. By letting go, I found my strengths and, in fact, I found my voice. I learned that not only was there music inside of me to share; there also was a story. Without the experience, I would never have known how much more deeply people would grow appreciate my music now that they were able to understand the story behind it. I would never have known how much the lessons in my life could inspire others to follow their dreams and overcome what they perceived to be impossible. That is why I often say, “The worst thing that ever happened to me has also turned out to be the best thing that had ever happened.”
In my case, I had no choice but to learn how to let go of the past and reinvent the future. The same is true for lots of people. The loss of a business, a marriage or a family member can happen unexpectedly and permanently change the course of people’s lives. For others, letting go of what’s broken is not so crystal clear because a choice still lingers. Business may drop off, but not disappear altogether. A person may have a valuable skill, but lose the desire to use it. The remnants of a relationship may remain intact, but the connection may have weakened. Memories overshadow what is yet to become and old habits occupy the time and space where new action is needed. Instead of rebuilding systems that no longer work, people often look for ways to repair and preserve them. In the process, they miss the beauty of what will happen next.
This is one of the reasons why I am an advocate of arts education. Artists are familiar with the idea of reinvention. In fact, they live it every day. When artists create, regardless of whether they’re creating music, a play or a painting, they follow the creative process from beginning to end. Since artists live to create, they are driven to reinvent over and over again. Each new creation presents a new challenge that involves seeing whether or not their vision will come to life. Learning the art of reinvention is something that can improve life on many levels. It keeps us from clinging too tightly to past accomplishments and comforts, which can get in the way of unfinished dreams and desires. It also helps us to adapt to changing circumstances around us. Even today, my dystonia is as bad as ever. Had I not learned how to adapt, and play guitar left-handed, my musical career may have disappeared completely.
The Gift of Reinvention

The Gift of Reinvention


Every time I step onto the stage, I thank God for the gift of reinvention and my ability to perform once again. I know better than to let myself get too comfortable with the idea, however. My doctors have told me that dystonia could also attack my “good” hand some day. If that day ever comes, I will be better prepared to deal with the situation, as reinvention has become a way of life for me. With it, there will always be the promise of a new beginning.