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Julian Reeve: “Embrace acceptance”

Embrace acceptance. I think much of our ability to be resilient involves being able to accept what’s happened to us in our moments of crisis. All too often, we push through a negative experience thinking that we’ll deal with the emotional baggage later on. But this can leave a messy and unhelpful residue that prevents […]

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Embrace acceptance. I think much of our ability to be resilient involves being able to accept what’s happened to us in our moments of crisis. All too often, we push through a negative experience thinking that we’ll deal with the emotional baggage later on. But this can leave a messy and unhelpful residue that prevents us from moving past the event successfully.


In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Julian Reeve, a celebrated music director, entrepreneur, and perfectionism contributor, consultant, and author.

Critically acclaimed for his work on the Broadway musical Hamilton, Julian has enjoyed a varied career in music, business, and education. He has traveled the world as a music director, most recently conducting productions of Hamilton at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and in Puerto Rico with Hamilton’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. He has given workshops and masterclasses to students across the U.S., Europe, and the Far East and has founded three successful companies in the creative sector. Now an author, speaker, and consultant, Julian helps perfectionists and the businesses that employ them realize their full potential. Visit www.julianreeve.com for more information.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

It’s great to be here!

I was born in Cambridge, England, and began playing the piano when I was four years old. I made my professional debut on the national stage in my teens and graduated from Anglia Ruskin University some years later.

My early career was a blur of music-making at the highest level combined with my ventures into business. I founded a production company, promoted tours, and managed an independent record label, all while working on numerous international theater productions and West End shows. Wearing different professional hats suited me, as did the fast pace and exciting lifestyle.

I was working on a production of the musical Chicago in Istanbul, Turkey, when I met my wife, Lisa. This prompted a move to the U.S. where I continued my work in all three genres, co-founding a talent agency in London while pursuing my work as a musician and educator in New York. We later moved to California and became proud American citizens in 2018.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

My journey with the musical Hamilton was fun.

Much like Alexander Hamilton himself, I arrived in New York armed with only a suitcase and a determination to succeed. There was no promise of work and I had few connections, but as an immigrant with grit, I knew what I wanted and had a plan for how to get there. Still, I completely underestimated how long it would take and how hard it would be. The first few years were tough.

Four years later, I found myself sitting at the piano in the Richard Rogers Theater on Broadway for a Hamilton dance rehearsal. It was the day after the Tony Awards where Hamilton had swept the board, and it was only my second time working on the show. I was nervous! My anxiety level increased further when Lin-Manuel Miranda suddenly appeared on stage carrying the two Tony Awards he’d personally won the night before. The rehearsal stopped and huge cheers erupted celebrating Lin’s incredible success.

It was an experience I’ll never forget, made all the more memorable because I’d traveled to the theater across the Hudson River, taking a similar route to the one Alexander Hamilton would have followed on his last trip home. (Our apartment was less than a mile from the dueling grounds where Arron Burr would take his fateful shot.)

I’d somehow made it to “The Room Where It Happens.” It was a far cry from my first two years in New York City. The lessons learned were clear: keep going when times are tough, and the good times will come.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Roughly 30% of the world’s population struggles with perfectionism. Studies suggest this number is on the rise, bringing with it an increase in depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and burnout. Our research shows that society’s encouragement to “overcome” perfectionism isn’t working; perfectionists value the edge perfectionism offers and are reluctant to address it as a result. It’s here where our work at my company, Buddha Perfect, makes a difference.

We connect with perfectionists using alternative language, promising to enhance the parts of perfectionism they value by better regulating the parts they don’t. This unique approach gets perfectionists to the plate: we help them develop further understanding of the subject before introducing techniques that empower them to manage their traits in healthier ways.

It works, too! Organizations we’ve collaborated with report an increase in productivity, morale, and employee engagement. Individuals who were previously reluctant to address their perfectionism have expressed gratitude for helping them reframe their thinking, heighten their performance, and realize their full potential. It’s valuable and important work, and I’m excited to take our business to the next level in 2021.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Several people have played an important role in my development over the years, but none more so than my parents.

Of the many opportunities they afforded me, world travel is something I value the most. I have fond memories of seemingly endless adventures across Europe as a child, coupled with jaunts across the Atlantic to various parts of the U.S. as I got older. These experiences helped me see the world through a wider lens and develop a healthy relationship with change, both of which have contributed greatly to my success.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I’ve always considered resilience to be a powerful ally when faced with adversity. Resilience gives us the encouragement and confidence to find the positives in times of crisis, to view the glass as half-full.

Resilient people are usually well connected with the five pillars of the subject: self-awareness, mindfulness, self-care, positive relationships, and purpose. To get there, they will likely have discovered the need to evolve after finding their response to trauma, stress, or tragedy wanting in some way.

Tenacity and vision are components of resilience I admire, as are adaptability and awareness of emotional reactions.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Annette Brown is a musician and friend who has played with some of the world’s biggest stars on numerous prestigious stages. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and has been fighting the disease ever since with a resilience that’s truly inspiring.

We worked together on a show not too long after her initial diagnosis. Annette showed up to the first rehearsal slightly late, having just come from a round of chemotherapy, and she was clearly feeling self-conscious a bandana that covered her loss of hair. Once she settled in, she played her socks off, trying her best to appear her normal bubbly self while fighting the pain. I remember thinking how brave she was as I led the rehearsal, offering a smile of encouragement to signal my respect when I could.

Since then, Annette has faced the disease head-on. In public, at least, her smile is omnipresent. She’s always keen to highlight the incredible work performed by her nurses, and she proudly supports and promotes her friends’ endeavors and achievements. But I’m sure what goes on behind the scenes is much more complicated. The fact that she chooses to keep that “negativity” away from the public eye is a testament to her incredible character.

We can all learn something from Annette. Having the resolve and resilience to keep fighting the fight with kindness and a smile is remarkable — and all the more impressive as the pain she feels is considerable. She doesn’t moan, whine, or even complain. She just gets on with it, feeling grateful for what she has, not bitter about what she hasn’t. It’s resilience at its finest!

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

A great question, and one that I’m struggling to answer! I’ve always been careful to surround myself with those who can and do, and I don’t last long in the company of people who consider the glass half-empty. I don’t think I have much for you here. Sorry!

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

I’d just finished conducting a performance of Hamilton in San Francisco in 2017 when I experienced a heart attack on my walk home. I was 43 years old. Tests concluded that my right coronary artery was 90% blocked — the result of years of debauchery associated with my maladaptive perfectionism in my 20s and 30s — and two stents were placed to fix the problem.

I returned to work quickly, but the weeks that followed were difficult. My body was still adjusting to the alien pieces of metal placed in it, and I would regularly experience numbness in my left hand and arm during shows. I was also faced with the challenge of establishing a healthier approach to my work. Sessions with a psychologist encouraged me to develop less stressful methods — no easy task when you’re charged with maintaining the creative standards of the biggest Broadway musical of its time!

Happily, my resilience rose to the challenge. I began to practice self-compassion and embraced the power of breathwork and meditation. I started valuing the experience of getting to the result rather than the result itself, and I committed to the notion that no one is perfect, and that’s OK. These learnings helped me create a much healthier and happier life and built the foundations of my new career.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I was 11 years old when my mother entered me into the under-fifteen category of a piano competition. On the day itself, she encouraged me to play the piece from memory, so I could gain extra credit and compete with older students, something I hadn’t planned or practiced for. I was nervous but understood the strategy and agreed.

I was halfway through the piece when I blanked. It took three panicked attempts to get going again, and it wasn’t long before I had to stop once more. I virtually ran off the stage once I’d finished to hide my humiliation.

The shock of what happened hit me hard. I collapsed backstage, and my mother had to carry me to the car to get me home. It took a few days for me to feel like myself again, and it took even longer to get back to the piano. Once there, I had to rely on my abilities to rebuild my confidence and get me back to performing and competing, something I managed successfully shortly afterward.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Establish trust. It’s my experience that we can only enjoy resilience if we have complete trust in our abilities. Taking time to comprehensively evaluate our talents — appreciating what makes us unique by separating what’s real from ego and misguided arrogance — gives us something to fall back on when times are tough. It’s a valuable and necessary exercise.

I’ve relied on this “inner trust” throughout my career. My move to the U.S. wouldn’t have been a success without it, and it’s gotten me through some difficult times since. It is, without question, the part of my resilience I’m most grateful for.

Embrace acceptance. I think much of our ability to be resilient involves being able to accept what’s happened to us in our moments of crisis. All too often, we push through a negative experience thinking that we’ll deal with the emotional baggage later on. But this can leave a messy and unhelpful residue that prevents us from moving past the event successfully.

Taking time to analyze the event helps establish this acceptance. From there, we can begin to recover and heal, sprinkling in forgiveness if it’s required and learning from the experience for the next time.

I was thankful for this outlook when I was forced to leave Hamilton due to a repetitive strain injury in 2019. Knowing that I needed to give myself time and space to work through what happened (and not move on too quickly) enabled me to get to the other side faster, and stronger.

Seek purpose and self-development. You can’t build resilience without being curious. Seeking purpose is a vital part of keeping us on the straight and narrow in times of trauma; it often provides the light we need to move through difficulties.

When searching for purpose, don’t look too far into the future. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought, “Now, this is what I was born to do,” only to find out that it wasn’t. I’ve learned that it’s OK to commit to a purpose “for now,” understanding that continual self-development will inform and shape my purpose in the future.

Be aware. Simple awareness of how others perceive our actions and behaviors goes a long way in developing resilience. Learning that people only have so much empathy and compassion for others’ situations forces us to be resilient, even when we don’t feel like being so.

I learned this in my early 20s while going through a difficult family situation. I was the music director of a show at the time and was struggling to hide my feelings while performing. My team was sympathetic, but over time, I began to appreciate that my actions were affecting their performance and our group dynamic. Realizing I had a responsibility to the show and to lead my team with a smile, I decided to leave negative feelings at home before coming to work. It was a simple but necessary step.

Develop a growth mindset. Our ability to be resilient is compromised when we have a fixed mindset. Those who adopt fixed views will likely believe there’s only one possible outcome to a crisis. But what they don’t realize is that their narrow thinking often informs the solution in negative ways.

Learning to see the bigger picture is a key component of navigating trauma, problems, and change. We can achieve this by embracing a growth mindset, by learning to see all sides of any potential solution before deciding on what’s most effective.

If you’ve not yet done so, check out Carol Dweck’s valuable research on the subject. It’s incredible work.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe that perfectionists are extraordinary people who deserve a much easier journey to their very best. I hope my current work will inspire people to embrace the importance of addressing perfectionism before it leads to burnout, and understand that doing so frees them up to realize their potential in healthier ways.

My book, Captain Perfection & the Secret of Self-Compassion: A Self-Help Book for the Young Perfectionist, helps introduce this thinking to children. However, there’s still much work to be done to spread this message to adults. As with any “big” subject, it requires broad and potentially tricky conversations, but the need is urgent, as perfectionism in society is exploding.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I’d love to spend time with Simon Sinek! His bestselling book, Start with Why, was hugely inspirational for me and opened the door to my personal development. The idea that the why of what we do is more important than the who or when was mind-blowing, and I’ve since fully committed to this thinking. It’s proven to be a powerful tool when determining the value of my actions, and only last week it helped me successfully navigate a tricky business decision. Truly brilliant!

Consciously or otherwise, I’m currently occupying a space that Sinek promotes we inhabit: going against the status quo to find solutions to global problems. It would be exciting to hear his take on how else we can address perfectionism in the workplace and build stronger and more resilient cultures.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website: www.julianreeve.com

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/julianreeve/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/julian.reeve/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/julianreeve0804

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you!

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