No Short Cuts

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This past weekend I saw, “RESPECT,” the biopic film of the rise of Aretha Franklin’s career—from a child singing in her father’s church choir to her international superstardom — it’s the remarkable true story of the music icon’s journey to find her voice. And it did not disappoint.

One of the most interesting parts of the movie was how Aretha and her sisters created the song, RESPECT. We all know the song—regardless of your age or preferred music genre, we either know the entire song or certain key parts of the song. As the song is ending, her sisters, the background singers, are singing, “Re-Re-Re-Re-Re-Re-Re-Re-Respect—just a little bit, just a little bit!” Now I don’t know about you, but I never paid much attention to the song’s composition in terms of what Ms. Franklin was actually singing about. I mean, of course—she’s singing about wanting a little respect. That’s clear. But the part of the song that I am referring is toward the end where her sisters repeat “Re” as if it’s simply a grooving melody. It is, but it’s also her name that her family called her. They didn’t refer to her as Aretha Franklin—family and friends close to her called her “RE.”

But the song “RESPECT” wasn’t just some catchy lyrical attempt with a snazzy flow to get you up and dancing—there’s a HUGE story behind that song.

And a lot of pain.


Personally, I had no clue what Ms. Franklin endured growing up:

·       Molested and repeatedly raped as a minor

·       Impregnated and birthed a child from that raping at age 11-12 and had another child not long after that—also, by sexual assault

·       Her father was a prominent minister with the largest church in Detroit—but he physically and sexually abused Ms. Franklin as a minor

·       Ms. Franklin married a man who became her manager—and frequently beat her up physically and emotionally

Yet, with all of this going on, she still was a brilliant talent and could sing like no other—and was quite the pianist as well and a superstar in the making. However, the trauma from her past would soon catch up to her, and she went into a massive alcoholic tailspin.

Many of us didn’t know this about Aretha Franklin and her early years as a recording artist—I know I sure did not. But I absolutely knew about her successful music career.

So, here’s where I’m going with this.

Some people believe they deserve an amazing relationship based on the notion that they have attained degrees from the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world, amassed hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, and are highly placed in Fortune 500 companies or have attained a certain level of fame. I’d like to know the person that started mainstreaming this notion because it needs to be debunked right away. 

Successful relationships are a byproduct of wins, losses, sacrifice, transparent/vulnerable conversations, and perseverance. There are no shortcuts here.  You don’t get a pass because you’re wealthy and have a degree from Harvard on your office wall. Plenty of people have done remarkably well in their professional lives and continue to falter when it comes to love.

On some level, I would argue that worldly success can in some cases hinder the evolution of a healthy and blooming meaningful relationship—especially if one sees potential partners through the lenses of their professional accomplishments. That said, I certainly don’t want to give the impression that education and career success aren’t important—that’s exactly what I’m not saying. But to suggest that worldly success births (or should birth) relationship success is a three-dollar bill.

Whether you are unemployed, stacking boxes at an Amazon warehouse, a teacher in a classroom, or own an island, a relationship where both partners are fulfilled takes time, dedication, forgiveness, and empathy.

I know—that’s a lot.

But I dare you to speak with any couple you know that you deem to have a successful marriage and have been together for more than 10 years—ask them what their marital secret sauce is.

So, the next time you play Aretha Franklin’s song, RESPECT—or any of her songs for that matter—know what you’re listening to is the triumphant proclamation of overcoming life’s curveballs and deep, painful moments. And we are the beneficiaries of that endurance.

And the next time you consider dating someone with the exploratory aspirations of marriage, ask yourself, “Am I willing to put in the work with this person—without taking shortcuts—that will create a hit song?”

Food is typically much better when it’s prepared in the oven than in a microwave.


Picture Courtesy of @glogovan

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