I had the pleasure of interviewing Billy McLaughlin (right-handed master guitarist) won an Emmy and launched an international speaking career AFTER being told by experts he would never play his guitar again due to an incurable neurologic condition called Dystonia.
Putting early career successes like reaching the Billboard Top-Ten Chart aside, Billy chose to exemplify grit as he focused on the here-and-now reality of catastrophic change.
Instead of losing his identity in the silence correctly predicted by doctors, Billy relentlessly forged ahead to establish a new identity and is now flourishing as a left-handed master of acoustic guitar.
Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s show everyone you’re a normal human being. What are your hobbies, favorite places to visit, pet peeves? Tell us about YOU when you’re not at the office.
“I travel a lot for work, so it is one of my favorite things to travel NOT while I’m working. I feel at home everyplace I go. Meeting people from other cultures and part of the world makes me feel connected. I’ve also really gotten into cooking lately, especially ethnic foods like Indian and Thai.
Feeding people through music and/or at the dinner table is truly rewarding.”
Can you tell us something about you that few people know?
“I was the first person to perform live music on the internet through NetRadio, which was based in my home town of Minneapolis. It was just one song as they were beta testing their system and the sound quality was low, but I guess it’s something I should feel good about.
Do you have any exciting projects going on right now?
“I’m just launching a Celtic-flavored project reinterpreting music of Neil Young, CSN, and other acoustic artists of the 70’s. We call it ‘The Young and the Rest…’ meaning the rest of those artists who helped define that generation: Joni Mitchell, The Eagles etc. Super fun!”
Many people say success correlates with the people you meet in your life. Can you describe two that most impacted your success and why.
“I lucked out and just before he retired from my high school I studied under a great choral director and music theory teacher named Bill Lydell. I would have flunked out of college had he not prepared me for what a university level music degree requires.
“The other would be Gary Keller, founder of Keller Williams Realty. Gary was the first person to get me out on stage as a speaker while still incorporating my music with my story. My speaking career took off organically because of his encouragement and support.”
Leaders always seem to find ways to overcome their weaknesses. Can you share one or two examples of how you work outside of your comfort zone to achieve success?
“Coming to grips with the fact that I have a neurologic disorder called Dystonia and lost 35 years of working hard to be a great musician/guitarist was devastating. Just holding the guitar backwards was like walking on a new planet. Pushing through years of relearning to play meant coping with anxiety and frustration that was overwhelming. But as the say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step no matter how uncomfortable a new direction might feel.”
The concept of mind over matter has been around for years. A contemporary description of this is having mental toughness. Can you give us an example (or two) of obstacles you’ve overcome by getting your mind in the right place (some might call this reframing the situation).
“Getting past the mindset of ‘this is impossible — it can’t be done’ is part of what I talk to audiences about. What do you do when everything that worked yesterday to make you successful is no longer working today or for the future? Shutting out the voices in your head that push you towards quitting is critical when new challenges engulf our lives.
“Obviously, my biggest obstacle has been to become BETTER at doing a difficult task, playing world-class level acoustic guitar, with my opposite hand.”
What are your “3 Lessons I Learned from My Most Memorable Failure”
“Stay calm — Be smart — Move forward.”
What unfiltered advice can you give aspiring stars regarding how to avoid common mis-fires in starting their career?
“Keep your mind and heart focused on what you love to do the most and why you love it.”
What is the best lesson you learned from your worst boss?
“Never had a boss but I do think communication and holding people accountable are my toughest challenges when I’m in that role with my various projects.”
What is one “efficiency hack” you use consistently in your life to keep your time and mind free to focus on your strengths and passions?
“I have a mantra I started using when I was first getting out into the hyper-competitive world of establishing a headliner career without a record company or management. I would tell myself every day: ‘You are not a beginner. Do not act like one. Organize. Execute. Enjoy.’ I still say it everyday!”
All actors or musicians have sleepless nights. We have a term we use with our clients called the “2 a.m. moment.” It’s when you’re wide awake and thinking not-so-positive thoughts about your business choices and future. Can you describe a 2 a.m. moment (or moments) you’ve had and how you overcame the challenges?
“I have them all the time. The best way I have found to overcome them is to GET UP AND DO SOMETHING! Answer some emails that have been hanging around too long. Read that book you haven’t started.
“The worst thing is to let the negativity paralyze you. So, choose to move! Laying there is the worst.”
Nobody likes to fail, and we sure don’t like to admit we failed. Can you describe a moment when you confided your most closely-held business issues/problems to someone close to you, and how the conversation(s) helped you work through the issue?
“After disappearing in the late nineties due to this yet-to-be-cured brain disorder, I took on the challenge of relearning the guitar left-handed, but I didn’t have a left-handed guitar. The best I could do was have my guitar repair tech convert one of my right-handed guitars so I could begin the process.
“When I met him and asked him, ‘Can you convert this guitar to a lefty,’ he matter-of-factly responded ‘sure, who ya gonna give it to?’ He thought I must be making it a gift for someone. I then proceeded to tell him what I had kept secret for almost four years and he looked astonished for a moment. Then he said: ‘Well, Billy Mac, I’ve never heard of such a thing but if anyone can pull this off it’s gonna be YOU.
His confidence in me helped me greatly in those early stages of my journey.”
What’s on the drawing board for your next venture?
“Honestly my biggest new venture is to take some significant time off. I have never done so since the summer after I graduated college. I need to re-set, re-boot, and re-new. Not just a week vacation — something much more substantial. To clear out the old and make room for the new. I just haven’t made time for that and feel it is critical before launching the next stage of my career.
“Now I can’t let myself off the hook because I just declared it here!!!”
Originally published at medium.com