What Willie Nelson Taught Me This Summer - InformationWeek
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9/5/2014
12:40 PM
Chris Murphy
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What Willie Nelson Taught Me This Summer

What does it take to maintain fire and passion for your career over the decades?

I saw a Willie Nelson concert this summer, and I can't get it out of my head. I went in wondering whether Willie, at 81 years old, would still have the goods. I left with the question turned around on me: Do I have the same passion and fire for my craft at 40-something that Willie delivers at 81? Am I striving to get better?

It's the kind of question that, to me at least, speaks to why the arts are so important for us working in the business world of technology, media, etc. An artist puts himself or herself out there so completely, so bravely, so how can we balk at the chance to do something as unique and creative in our world?

At the concert, Willie's guitar playing was by far the star of the show. This performance wasn't about working around the limitations of an aging star. Sure, his voice, while mostly golden, had its moments. But Willie's riffs and solos on his battered, holed-out guitar, Trigger, revealed a master at work. His focus and passion in those moments -- by a performer who's been on stage since he was 9 and still tours 150 days a year -- marked both an artist and a professional.

(Source: willienelson.com)
(Source: willienelson.com)

I just read Rolling Stone's recent profile of Willie in which he talked about why -- having dug himself out of his well-documented tax and other financial disasters -- he keeps traveling and playing across the country.

"I just like to keep moving," he told Rolling Stone. "I could lie down and go to sleep and not go anywhere or do anything, real easy. I'm lazy. I have to make myself do it. But once I do, I'm happy."

Flashing back to the image of Willie on stage, eyes closed, picking out a solo, he did look happy. It got me thinking: What are those professional and personal things that will make us happy if we make ourselves do them, and not let obstacles get in the way?

Professionally, I think we all have our short list of things we know we should spend more time on, and I won't bore you with mine. Personally, I have one very specific thing I'm committing to do more of in the coming year, and maybe you'll join me in that: listening to more live music.

Once I do, I know I'll be happy.

Need a bit of career inspiration yourself? Join me and a lineup of tech thinkers for our one-day InformationWeek Leadership Summit, Sept. 30 in New York City, as we discuss how to drive new ideas, get projects done, and move your career forward. Email me for an InformationWeek reader discount code.

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in ... View Full Bio
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ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
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9/8/2014 | 8:43:56 AM
Re: Takeaway
danielcawrey, I don't think many of would make it to 81 following the Willie Nelson health regimen, but I think you're onto one piece we can tap into, staying active and engaged.
freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Ninja
9/6/2014 | 11:17:12 PM
Re: Takeaway
@danielcawrey I agree, work keeps you young!
freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Ninja
9/6/2014 | 11:14:34 PM
Re: What Willie Nelson Taught Me This Summer
My grandmother used to say, "if you love what you do for work, you will never work a day of your life." I believe that- so true.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
9/6/2014 | 12:22:32 PM
Re: Takeaway
You've got to wonder what his health secret is, but then again it may just be that working is what keeps him busy, and allows him to stay active. I can only hope that I am still working and active at Willie's age. Very impressive, I must say. 
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
9/6/2014 | 11:03:32 AM
Re: Takeaway
Willie nelson is a real person to follow. We should try to learn from Willie and continue to pursue activities that are worth doing.  I can't believe that at 81 he continues to play shows, unbelievable.  It is much fun to play live than staying at home.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
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9/5/2014 | 6:41:58 PM
Live music works its magic
Willie was too authentic to stay inside Nashville's sequinned splendor. It's good to hear that his resonate baritone is still worth going to. Shortly after 9/11, I went to a James Taylor concert, where you wondered why, in a fractious, driven-to-violence world, there couldn't be a James Taylor time-out for everyone. It was a momentary return to a sanity.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
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9/5/2014 | 2:48:58 PM
Willie Nelson also knows social
Willie's Facebook page recently asked fans to send in pics of their dogs dressed up like Willie. Now that's viral.
TerryB
IW Pick
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
9/5/2014 | 1:53:24 PM
Whew!
My first thought when I saw your headline was roll a joint. :-)

Willie is special, one of a handful of old timers who plays because he loves it, not because he needs the money.

That's a big reason I've never given up writing code after 30 years in IT, I'd miss it too much. Doing budgets and managing people/projects would not cut it, work would feel like work then. The creativity of writing systems is as close as I'll ever get to Willie writing songs and performing them.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
9/5/2014 | 1:48:53 PM
Takeaway
Well said, Chris. My main takeaway: Even the stuff we're passionate about often requires hard work. And the hard work makes it all the more worthwhile. 
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