One Freaking Note Can Change Everything

The lights burned brightly on the old auditorium stage, illuminating the grand piano in the center. I cinched my ponytail tighter and walked out onto the newly waxed floor. Pulling the bench out, I sat down and adjusted my distance from the piano keys. The seat was still warm from the last person… a 10-year-old boy who was quite possibly Beethoven reincarnated.

I stretched my fingers and lay them gently on the keys. Someone in the audience coughed. And I began to play.

“Da-da-dum, da-da-dum, da-da-da-da-da-da-dum.”

The sweet-sounding waterfall of tinkling piano keys filled the auditorium. My body swayed with each crescendo as the performance gained momentum.

I was 15 and the song was “Drifting Sails” from “The Haunted Piano: A Collection of Late Elementary Level Piano Compositions.” When one begins taking piano lessons at age 14, one gets stuck playing embarrassingly rudimentary songs at recitals. My friends were performing Handel and Tchaikovsky, their fingers flying across the keys with overachieving brilliance.

And I was playing a song about sailboats.

The song ebbed and flowed as I played it from memory with as much passion as my angst-filled soul would allow. Sailing. Sailing. Sailing. Meandering towards an ombre sunset. Drifting. Drifting. Drifting.

I was down to eight bars. The notes were dancing together. Magic.

Seven bars. Six bars.

Shit! What was the last note?

Five bars. Four bars.


Last note? Last note?

Three bars. Two bars.

Time clung to the second to last note as it fell from the air. Exaggerated silence filled the room, like a breath caught in a tightened throat.

I was in the hurt locker of piano recitals. Make a decision, soldier. What’s that last note going to be?


It was like an axe splitting through the prolonged silence, punctuating ‘Drifting Sails’ as a vague question rather than a boat gliding safely into harbor. The utterly wrong note swirled throughout the beams of the auditorium and came to an uncomfortable rest in the ears of every listener.

It was glorious. That last note changed the entire song.

And I chose it.

Stand up. Deep bow. Deep grin. Exit stage left.

My friends approached me backstage about the surprise ending. “I totally wasn’t expecting that.” “Was it supposed to end that way?” “I can’t stop thinking about that last note.”

“It’s a modern composition,” I replied, knowing that I freaking owned that ending.

•   •   •

Standing out in business is a lot like choosing the notes to play in a song. There’s a basic framework to follow, but at the end of the day, you choose how the song will sound. Re-write it if you have to. And don’t be afraid to hit those notes that change everything.

Want to use swear words in your business but not sure if it will offend people? Well, it will. There’s no getting around that. But if it’s authentic to you, defy old-school business rules and drop an F-bomb as needed. And sometimes they are needed a lot.

Own it.

Think your niche is too “niche-y”? Not everyone is going to fall in love with your vegan-cupcakes-for-dogs idea. But when it’s mail-order and your golden retriever is licking each stamp and you send a surprise for each doggie birthday, kale-loving dog adorers are going to seek you out. And they will love your guts.

Own it.

Does the idea of keeping your biz small, curated, and boutique appeal to you more than anything? Don’t be swayed by popular business advice that says you must grow into something huge for success to happen. Small corners rock. Know what works for you.

Own it.

Don’t think your stories matter? Well, they do. Stories are the glue of our society. We all have them. We crave hearing them. The weirder, the better. Get out of the restrictive (and oh-so-boring) “features and benefits” closet and start showing your human side. We want to hear about the time you lived in a car for a week.

Own it.

Think that “jab, jab, jab, right hook” is just another social media marketing formula that smells like predictable and calculated desperation? But everybody’s doing it, right? What if your social strategy was more about people, less about selling? More trust, less douche-ness.

Own it.

Hate that everyone seems to be using flowery, sassy, sophomoric copy for their websites? Stuff that resembles 22-year-old women jabbering away in a Victoria’s Secret dressing room? Maybe you want to buck the trend and get more serious with your content. Maybe you think that there are better descriptive words than “awesome” and “amazing”. Does more soul and less fluff rock your world?

Own it.

You get to decide what notes are played in your business. Do you want each one to be perfect so that you perhaps receive a polite clap at the end? Or do you want to play that one unexpected note that changes the song forever?

What are you going to own today?

10 comments leave a reply
  • September 18, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Oh, Maisie, I loved this! It made me laugh, cringe and get nostalgic (and that was all before the “ping”). And then the analogy you made to business was so fantastic!

    (full disclosure: I played in many piano competitions back in the day. My horror moments where during the technical tests – I always aced the playing from the heart and memory parts – ah, how revealing! But now, I can only remember “Fur Elise” and only if I play it at Mach speed relying completely on muscle memory)

    So glad you made that song your own and that you show that same unique streak in all your writing!


    • September 19, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Thanks, Emily! I always found it amusing that something that should be fun for the soul (playing the piano) often turns into a ginormous source of anxiety… and a bucketload of cringe-inducing stories. 🙂 Cheers to learning to play the piano and surviving the wrath of the adjudicator!


  • September 18, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Phenomenal post, Maisie! I finally owned working under my own name. It’s not the easiest to pronounce, so I used a business name for the last four years. Also, I’m owning the fact that I cannot make myself get through Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.

    Thanks for this. I loved it!


    • September 19, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Ah, Yoneco. I am no stranger to weird names that are hard to pronounce. 🙂 Kudos to you for chasing what you want. And forget about Gary V. There are better ways, my dear.


  • September 19, 2014 at 7:35 am

    Great post! I think it’s so easy to be swept up in what everyone else is doing and says is the way to achieve success, and I always feel a little… shifty? when I do things differently or unconventionally. A great reminder that sometimes doing it differently is the secret!


    • September 19, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Yep! Weird stands out. Weird is brave. Weird gets noticed. Even if it’s just one tiny change to one tiny note, it matters.

      Thanks for the comment, Sara!


  • September 19, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Owning It.
    Great post Maisie – a very timely reminder that groupthink and crowd-sourced business plans & copy creation aren’t for everyone.


    • September 22, 2014 at 4:52 pm

      So true, Devon. Don’t be afraid to plunk down that note that changes the world. 🙂


  • September 22, 2014 at 9:40 am

    OMFG yes. I adore things that are imperfect.

    I saw a painting in a shop here in Brighton (basically the UK version of Portland) in the suumer. It was of a cute cartoon lamb, the kind you’d put on the wall of your first born’s room. The caption to this picture? “My life is crap”

    Juxtaposition rocks! And so do YOU!


    • September 22, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      Thanks, Jenny! Imperfections are the stuff of life.

      To rocking our differences!!!!


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