What I learned about balance from Audra McDonald

February 26, 2018

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Last night, my husband and I saw Audra McDonald perform with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. For the uninitiated, she’s a legendary soprano, the winner of a record-breaking six Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, and an Emmy Award.

We’ve had a bit of a month around here, so we were especially grateful to get out for an early dinner and the chance to see her perform.

And let me tell you, she did not disappoint.

One of my favorite things about seeing a live performance is getting to hear the stories behind the moments we’ve all read about directly from the performer. I love hearing their behind-the-scenes perspective almost as much as I love the music!

Last night two stories stood out, as I came to realize that for all her incredible talent, Audra is ALSO a mother of four trying hard to sustain her own level of balance with a demanding schedule.


First, she opened the show by telling us that it almost didn’t happen! Late the night before, the boiler in the basement of her home in Westchester, NY sprang a leak so she and her husband were running around handling that till about 12:30AM.

Just when things settled, her 16 month old daughter woke up and proceeded to wake up about every 15-20 minutes for the next six hours. No sleep for Audra.

Morning arrived, and it was time to head to the airport for her flight!

She arrived having had NO sleep at all. She made the tough call to bail on a rehearsal with the orchestra just so she could catch a two hour nap before the performance.

And then she proceeded to knock it out of the park.

That’s #brilliantbalance at the highest level, my friends.

With that opening story, she blew past any “diva” rumors that may have been circulating in the audience. She leveled the playing field and stepped down from the ethereal territory of superstar to “mortal and mother.”

We haven’t all headlined at Carnegie Hall, but we’ve all been up with a crying baby and tried to function on no sleep.

It was a powerful reminder that there is a full life unfolding behind the scenes of these pinnacle moments, and no one is exempt from the pressures of family life.


Then, she closed the show last night with a breathtaking performance of “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music.

You may recall that in 2013, she played the Mother Abbess in NBC’s live production of the show. Carrie Underwood played Maria.

Here’s a clip I found of that performance – hang in there till the end for the big finish! And let’s not even get into how much I adore the MESSAGE of this song or we’ll ALL be crying.

To set up this song, she told us that during the 2013 live broadcast (which was filmed in an airplane hangar that had been converted to a sound stage) the actors couldn’t make any noise or the microphones or live TV could have picked it up.

They also had NO audience on set, which for a live performer is a crazy dynamic. You’re used to delivering the closing notes of a song to thunderous applause, but in this case, they delivered to silence!

So the actors were all off camera texting friends and family to get a read on how things were looking to the viewers at home.

As she came off camera following her biggest number of the night (Climb Every Mountain), she looked for a text from her daughter, then 12, who was at home watching the show.

As expected, she had one waiting for her. What was NOT expected was what it said.

It read “Mom – where’s the detergent? I need to do a load of laundry.”

Can’t you just imagine? “Hey mom. NBD. I know you’re performing live in front of millions of people and carrying arguably the biggest song of the show, but where’s the TIDE?!”

I loved that story. And I imagine that Audra probably ANSWERED her, too, knowing exactly where the detergent was and feeling proud that her 12 year old was industrious enough to do a load herself!


Sometimes I think we all imagine that there are moms out there who have it easy, who somehow float about the day to day responsibilities of being a mom. The leaky boilers and crying babies and loads of laundry. But the truth is, those are the very things that unite us.

Finding ways to balance our lives isn’t something we get a free pass from as we rise to the highest levels of professional success.

That responsibility comes along for the ride whether you’re a growing entrepreneur, a senior executive in the Fortune 500, a renowned surgeon, a nonprofit leader, or a legendary soprano.

Finding your own #brilliantbalance is an art.

AND a science.

There are proven processes that can help you keep the wheels in motion even when you’re running hard and fast after your professional goals.

These methods are what we help women put in place every day around here, so if I can ever help YOU think through what would help you find better balance for yourself, we should talk.

Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow
‘Till you find your dream.

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  1. Christine says:

    Love this!!! What a great lesson. Sounds like a great concert!

  2. Hazel says:

    Amazing! Thank you for sharing, this is so inspiring!

  3. Megan says:

    Thanks Cherylanne, this was an awesome encouragement ❤️

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