It is October 6, 2011 and the Grand Hyatt in downtown Denver has been readied for a big corporate conference in which Erik Wahl will be the keynote speaker, his 70th-something performance of the year thus far.
Before Wahl’s performance, the client—a large well-known credit card company—has a traditional speaker do a formal presentation on the state of the American and global economy. His analysis is pessimistic, noting that if there is any sort of crisis it would push us into recession. “We are approaching stall speed,” he says nonchalantly. Everyone in the audience seems to slump down in their chairs.
…It is the perfect set up for Wahl, and I tell him so. He smiles, and when he takes the stage to U2’s Beautiful Day, it’s anything but stall speed—it’s full throttle ahead, and there’s a sense that anything is possible. The corporate types filling the room look a bit bewildered, like someone suddenly cut up their credit cards and told them that it’s a cash-only world again, baby.
Which is exactly why Wahl has this gig.
Wahl strips away cubicle-think and preconceived ideas about how to grow profits, achieve success, and motivate companies and their employees. He has done his homework. He is alarmingly well versed in the financial industry jargon. He weaves references about their competitive landscape, their market strategies….their world, all in a way that makes us think he’s in the inner-circle of the senior leadership. This is all entirely unexpected from an artist. But there is more. He continues pumping up the suits partly by using key words that grab their attention and partly by employing his own brand of emotional artistic motivation.
It is an intoxicating elixir for the corporate world. They drink deeply and come up for more. Judging by the people coming alive in their seats, it’s worked. Again. This is exactly what the people want to hear, need to hear. They are sitting up in their seats now, shackles coming off, blinders falling away.
Welcome to the art of vision, where art is freedom and believing is everything.
Fast-forward three weeks and Wahl is speaking to 500 people at a large healthcare company conference in the Grand Ballroom in the famous Disney Hotel, but he might as well be performing for 45,000 in Angel Stadium of Anaheim three miles on the other side of the I-5. Taking that step is in his sights, a place he’d like to be sooner rather than later. Although that’s a stage normally set for rock stars and 65-million dollar home run kings, not motivationally oriented painters, this is exactly it—the zen of the art of vision. Believe that the door could open and it just might. It’s a giant-killer message with legs and short of learning how to sing in a rock and roll band, he might just pull it off.
And why not? Is that field reserved only for the gods of rock, or can Erik Wahl take the stage and reinvent the show? At this point in his career the only limiting factor it seems is himself. Of course, because there is a conflict of interest here he won’t be quick to admit that, and it’s not fear that holds him back—it’s that voice, the false self whispering in his ear—like we all have—to shrink back and pull the covers over his head each morning. A demon if you will, the ego. That is what’s really in play here. Slay it and he wins. Done deal. Buy your tickets.
In the end, what Wahl brings is not so much a program, or entertainment, or even art. It’s a show—a pseudo rock act that bridges paint with possibility and canvas with creativity. And while that sometimes is slow for Wahl to work out on the inside, you would be hard pressed to believe it when you see him take the stage. So take a seat, pull a couple shots of espresso, and dive into Story. Then get ready to put your own fears aside, embrace the creativity that is already inside you, and start believing that anything is possible in the next act of your life.