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Finding the Strength to “Stay in It”: Three Questions with Singer-Songwriter Peter Katz

Finding the Strength to “Stay in It”: Three Questions with Singer-Songwriter Peter Katz

As a Canadian singer-songwriter, Peter Katz has chosen a volatile career path. He’s experienced some highs alongside a lot of lows, and has had to continually decide if pushing past obstacles and bumps in the road are worth it. Through it, he’s discovered the habits and tools that helped him develop the strength and courage to “stay in it”, as Peter says, even as his career unfolded in ways he never expected.

We spoke to Peter on how he transforms moments of discomfort and fear into discovery and growth, and how he uses these experiences to inspire audiences to do the same.

1. What inspired you to bring your musical career to the stage as a keynote?

It all started in 2013 when I showed up in a small town in Southern Alberta on tour and found a 300-seat theatre packed with people that knew all of my music — much to my surprise at the time. Most of the audience were from a youth mentoring program called FACES, a free two-week program for teenagers where they go hiking, rock-climbing, and white-water canoeing. But this program really focuses on what the teenagers learn about themselves through these activities and from supporting others in the group. Unbeknownst to me, the program creators had used my songs as part of the curriculum and had organized this show to catch my attention and invite me to work with them. Very unexpected! I agreed and had the best two weeks of my life and have continued working with them for two weeks every summer for the past seven years.

Through this program, I became good friends with a bunch of teachers. One of them had this idea that I could create a keynote and volunteered to help me build it. Over the better part of a year we mapped out my first talk, “Why I Seek Discomfort” and I workshopped it at his school. It went over well, and I suddenly found myself with a bonus career speaking to youth.

About a year later, I was at another event and the organizer asked if I would play a song and “say something” at the end of the night. I, of course, was happy to. A woman in the audience worked at the Fireside Conference (geared towards tech founders/startups), and she approached me to speak at her event. It just so happened that one of the founders’ favourite songs was a song of mine, so I landed the closing keynote spot, speaking to 450 attendees. I created a new talk geared towards entrepreneurs (which overlaps so closely with the life of an artist: no set hours, no set paycheck, a lot of passion for something that may or may not work out, etc.). I didn’t realize how potent the content was until I felt 450 people lean in and breathe in sync with me; it was the most validating moment of my professional life. It felt like everything I had done up until that point, all the crazy twists and turns and random experiences and challenges, had made me perfectly qualified for this “job” that I originally had no idea existed. It was also a revelation that I could create the same kind of emotional response and impact that I received during my concerts, and yet do it in a completely different format.

From there, I caught the attention of Speakers’ Spotlight, and it has been an incredible three years of working with all kinds of organizations around the world. I absolutely LOVE the work — and I get to stay in way nicer hotels! I’ll never stop my music career, in fact I’m about to launch a new album, but I see them as working so well together.

The deeply challenging work of trying to create something from thin air called “songs”, and then trying to put them out into the world, is the hardest thing that I do, but it’s also what makes me qualified to speak. I’m forced to live what I speak about every day, whether that’s staying connected to my purpose, navigating uncertainty, fostering innovative thinking, nurturing resiliency, or dealing with change; these requirements for my chosen career path overlap so well with other industries.

2. Have you ever reached a point in your career where you almost gave up? And how did you push through it?

Most definitely. When you’re in the arts, it’s kind of like working n a rushing river that’s always trying to spit you out. There are so many moments where I’m asking myself, “how am I going to make this work?”. One, in particular, occurred in 2013. I remember walking into my kitchen and saying to my friend, “It’s not working”. As I said those words, all the energy that had been holding up the walls of my life/career came crashing down. I literally fell to my kitchen floor and cried harder than I had ever cried before. Less than two weeks later, I walked out onstage in Southern Alberta (in that same 300 seat theatre I mentioned earlier) and found it packed with people screaming my name, who knew all of my songs. If I had given up on that kitchen floor two weeks earlier, I never would have discovered how my efforts WERE actually working.

Part of the pushing through the hard moments is deciding that “this is the space I wish to occupy” and then occupying it. Within that you have to trust that you’re going to find a way, and you have to accept that it may not be in the way YOU thought it would. When I decided that I was going to be a singer-songwriter, I had NO idea that I would end up on a mountain top with a bunch of teenagers doing this powerful mentoring work. Now, I wouldn’t trade that for any sold-out arena. A big part of staying in it, is being committed to the work itself, separate from the outcome. The part you can control is showing up in a wholehearted way every day. Great work finds its way in the end. Your job is to keep creating it.

Another key piece for me has been nurturing a daily connection to my integrity. My personal practice is my “head on the pillow” rule that I talk about in my “Staying in It” talk. Every night before I go to bed, I ask myself two questions:

  1. Have I tried my best?
  2. Have I helped others to do their best?

If the answer is “yes”, then no matter what went wrong, I’m allowed to be proud of myself and try again tomorrow. That practice meant that for all those years when no one was coming to my shows, I never once gave anything less than my whole heart onstage — “At least I’m practicing,” I thought. If you do that consistently over a long enough period of time, you can’t help but improve and eventually find your way and produce extraordinary outcomes. The FACES mentoring program was one of those incredible outcomes, and soon after, one of my songs finally got played on the radio and my shows started selling out across the country and beyond. Those 10 years of banging my head against the wall were not in vain, they prepared for when my opportunity came.

I’ve managed to continue pushing through any obstacle using a combination of tools and habits that I’ve developed over the years: the daily nurturing of a sense of purpose and trust (through the commitment to the work itself, not just the outcome), and then paying close attention to mental wellness (through an intentional connection to the fundamentals) to keep the whole engine running.

3. How have audiences responded to your motivational keynotes?

It was an incredible realization after I did my first proper keynote for “grown-ups” at the Fireside Conference, to have people walk up to me emotionally engaged, wanting to connect, and having been deeply impacted from my keynote. I’ve always created out of a profound desire to connect, for it to be meaningful to people and of service in some way. Music has been of such service to me, so to think that I could create something that could do the same as music has done for me, has been a dream pursuit.

Through speaking, I’ve been able to impact more people, possibly even more effectively than through a concert. And in many ways, I think I get to live in the speaking space in a pretty unique way. Nobody hires me to come in and tell them “five tips on creating efficiencies” or “how to better manage your HR department”. I don’t even know what HR is (really, I don’t!). I’ve spent my life in a van driving around the world playing songs that I wrote in my bedroom. HR is just me talking to my hand asking for a raise (and sadly… the hand always has the same answer).

People bring me in to create that emotional connection in their audience — a feeling of connection to themselves, the mission of the company/organization, their passion, etc. To hear from CEOs and managers that I’m able to cut through and actually spark more efficiencies, improve productivity, inspire innovation, raise company morale, etc. is a pretty incredible feeling.  And I’m told it also leads to less moments where HR needs to intervene. Whatever that means…J

A gifted storyteller, Peter Katz infuses his presentations with songs to inspire audiences to create their own path, overcome obstacles, and find success in whatever they desire.

Interested in learning more about Peter and what he can bring to your next event? Email us at [email protected].