Sing like no one is listening. Dance like nobody's watching.

“Sing like no one’s listening,
love like you’ve never been hurt,
dance like nobody’s watching,

and live like its heaven on earth.”

– Somebody

There’s a brilliant irony in the above quote. It’s been quoted countless times and shared in a multitude of variations. It’s been attributed to everyone from Mark Twain to Satchel Paige to Kathy Mattea. It’s even been credited as an Ancient Celtic Proverb and wisdom from the back page of a dusty church bulletin found in an attic.

It’s made the rounds more than a few times and I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve seen it. The irony is – NOBODY has been able to definitively pinpoint its origin. The world certainly seems to be acquainted with this song and dance, but no one knows the singer or the dancer.

So let’s crack open a Chicken vs. Egg discussion, shall we?

which is more important,
the singer or the song?

Not long ago my fiancé recorded a short-lived TV Series on the DVR. I’d heard of the show, but never watched an episode. I was familiar with the writer/director and had really enjoyed several of his other productions, but still hadn’t given this one a look. It was time.

The show is FIREFLY, starring Nathan Fillion, perhaps better known as Richard Castle, and the producer is the highly acclaimed, Joss Whedon.

The show enjoyed (endured) just a single 14 episode season and even that was cut short. Only 11 of the 14 episodes were aired originally and most of them were shown out of sequence, making the unfolding story line fairly tough to follow.

Whedon portrayed FIREFLY as a show “about nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things,” and went on to describe it as “the source of more joy and pain than anything I’ve ever done… when I look back on it, it shines.”

The DVR recording of the series that we experienced included pop-up bubbles of commentary from Whedon designed to fill in the blank spaces and bring the viewer up to speed, but it was a commentary bubble that popped into place during the final credits of Episode 14 that really caught my attention.

“We choose what meaning to give these objects.
A gun can be a stick, a ship can be a soul,
and a TV show can be important,
even if no one watches it.”

                                                                     – Joss Whedon

Wow. . . there’s our paradox playing out in cold reality right before our eyes. The song was sung and the dance was danced, but apparently the theatre was empty.

So let’s reword our question and make it a little more personal.

why do you do what you do?

If you knew that no one would hear your song, would you still sing? Knowing that the chairs in the auditorium will be empty; will you still take the stage and dance just as enthusiastically?

I know. I know. You’re sarcastically thinking, “I prefer it that way.” But, do you really?

Doesn’t the vocalist want to be heard? Doesn’t the dancer want the echo of appreciation as the curtain falls? Doesn’t the writer want to be read? The teller of jokes want to hear laughter? The cook want to be asked for seconds?

Why DO  you do
what you do?


This includes the subliminal question:  Are you are doing what you should be doing?
which is often contemplated, but seldom fully answered.

When you can write out your answer in ink, not pencil, and laminate the card; you’ll find stability. You’ll find that you’re doing what you really want to do, as opposed to singing and dancing in hopes that the audience approves.

You’ll find that you no longer need weekly or daily doses of external motivation. You will become your own motivational beacon and you’ll be stuck on perpetual flash. You’ll wake up earlier in the morning and approach the day with a burning desire to “do this thing” whatever your thing might be.

You’ll find fulfillment and satisfaction like never before. You’ll discover that the amount of money that is associated with your efforts will no longer be a deciding factor in the overall experience.

Your levels of anxiety will diminish. Your sleep will be more restful. You’ll be healthier physically as well as mentally. Others will see you in a different light and may even ask, “What’s different?”

And you’ll be able to answer. . .



  1. When I was reading about the quote and who supposedly wrote it, I thought about the old 60s standard Desiderata, which supposedly was found in an old church somewhere but was actually written by a real person. Anyway, you make a great point in this post–finding our why gives us stability. And when you’re doing creative work of any kind, you need that stability to withstand the pressures you’ll face.

    • Mark Combs says:

      I guess the quote from Joss Whedon at the close of Firefly really struck a chord with me. So much of our sense of accomplishment gets associated with “audience reaction” when in reality our personal growth and achievement is, and always will be, personal.
      TY for visiting, Charlotte. I appreciate your comments.

  2. Gary S. Pritchett says:

    Brilliant observations Mark. The great “why” will always be a part of us, but doing your best when there’s little chance of being seen is how one becomes truly special.