What's your theme song?
That's one of my favorite questions to ask people -- friends, clients, sources I'm interviewing for stories, gym rats who come to the fitness classes I teach in my side gig. If you don't have one, you need one. Theme songs do your career and your soul some good. More on that later.
You can learn a lot about people based on whether they have an anthem and what it is. Picture my gym friend Bob. Bob is a fierce criminal defense attorney who also tears it up in the spin room. He has a quick response to my theme song query.
"I play 'London Calling' by The Clash on the first morning of every trial," Bob tells me. "The driving beat, the howls and the lyric 'now war is declared, and battle come down' all get my mind in the right frame. I usually play a different Clash song every other morning of trial, but 'London Calling' has to be the first day."
You can see Bob clearly, right?
Professionally speaking, there are theme songs for every occasion -- the powerful anthem before a big client meeting, the pick-me-up for when you hate your job or your boss, the victory dance song for when you score a big win, the ballad that's a balm after a long day. And there are three main reasons you need a theme song.
Theme songs motivate. Just ask Bob, or any professional athlete. They're another way we talk to ourselves, and that is super important.
They're conversation ice breakers. When I'm in reporter mode, I can fire off question after question, and for the person on the receiving end that can be exhausting. I like the lighten up things sometimes. (Other fun questions: Cake or pie? And -- borrowed from my eight-year-old daughter Penny -- would you rather be able to fly around or disappear?)
They prove that you're a real live human being and not just a workaholic. That's important, because then other people want to talk to you and get to know you and what you do for fun and professionally.
I'm always a little sad when my theme song question is met with silence or a blank stare. Sometimes people say they like a lot of songs. Great. The more, the better. What gets you pumped up? What soothes your soul?
I collect theme songs, and as I write this I'm listening to my theme song playlist. Irene Cara's "What a Feeling" from the movie "Flashdance" makes me happy and reminds me how much I love my life and my work. Who doesn't want to take their passion and make it happen? Fourteen years ago, when I was freaking out the day before my wedding, my husband, Jeff, put on "Eye of the Tiger" and told me to get my head in the game. Now when I hear that song it reminds me to laugh.
Other theme songs have gotten me through tough times or jobs I didn't like. I'm thinking of Dolly Parton's "9 to 5," which inspired this column's name. What I like is it's upbeat and universal in that lots of people don't like their jobs.
Mindfulness expert Karen Holst articulates why that song spoke to me on hard work days. "We often keep our innermost thoughts, feeling and emotions hidden, especially if we feel they won't be accepted. So, if we hear a song that describes how we are feeling, we are like 'Oh, I'm not the only one who feels that way,'" said Holst, who conducts mindfulness programs at Monarch, a not-for-profit organization that provides support to thousands of people in North Carolina with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness and substance use disorders.
I used to listen to "9 to 5" at the gym before a workday that I dreaded and then I'd be raring to go.
"Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
Yawn and stretch and try to come to life
Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin'
Out on the street the traffic starts jumpin'
With folks like me on the job from 9 to 5"
So, one more time, what's your theme song?