If John Legend were still best known for being an Excel Cowboy

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It is no mystery to regular readers of this blog that I am a massive John Legend fan. Not just for his music (which I adore), but also because of his life story, and how it relates to the core message of Escape from Cubicle Nation. I even wrote about him in my New York Times article last April.

You may not know that before becoming an international superstar (and notable social activist), John Legend was a consultant with Boston Consulting Group. At that time, his name was John Stephens, and he was an Excel cowboy (Chandoo would be proud!).

I got a comment on my blog yesterday from Jane Park, who used to work with John. She said:

Pamela, I used to work with John Legend (aka John Stephens) when he was a consultant at BCG! He was lovely and brilliant and built excel spreadsheets like there was no tomorrow. But he also seemed quiet and I would have characterized him as an introvert. “He’ll never make it in client services,” I thought, “he doesn’t have much of a personality.” Now, when I watch him emerge out of a cloud of dry ice, bursting with . . . personality, I eat my words. I too have left Corporate America to start my own company – Julep Nail Parlor.

As you can imagine, this delighted me to no end to confirm what I had always suspected: John was a classic example of a smart, talented corporate employee who had a tremendous creative gift inside.

By working on his creative gift as a side hustle (he sang evenings and weekends), he eventually was able to break into music as his full-time gig. He also used the Connector strategy, and met up with Lauryn Hill, then Kanye West, who opened the gates to his market.

What separates John from all the people who have deep creative talent but are afraid to bust out of a “safe” corporate job?

He believed in his gifts. And he was willing to test and try them in the real market until he got confirmation that he could earn a good living outside of creating Excel spreadsheets.

Jane said:

He taught me how to build complex models using buttons in Excel (for predicting the likelihood of success of early stage pharmaceuticals).  He always had his headset on – sang softly while he worked.  Little did I know that I should be treasuring those moments.

I, for one, am so glad that he had faith in his talents and endurance to work hard on a side hustle.  And that his lasting contribution to the world was more than killer Excel models and pivot tables.

Hiding your special talents, your deep hungers and heart-filling creative gifts, does not serve the world.

And then there’s Jane

As for Jane, I am so grateful that she chose to stop by my blog and confirm my hunches about John!

She has an amazing story herself.

She is a first-generation Korean immigrant who graduated from Princeton and Yale Law. Then went on to open a nail salon (Julep Nail Parlor), which broke her parent’s heart, since that is typically a business recent Korean immigrants open with no formal education background (or expense!).

They soon came around when they learned that she was a formidable businesswoman and had a powerful and unique approach to the spa business. Watch this PBS episode of Trendspotting which interviews  her and her parents to see how she has innovated the nail business in Seattle. I know I will be meeting up with my Seattle friends there next time I visit that great city!

Seeing Jane and John’s success makes me think that Boston Consulting Group may have had some excellent recruiters on board, even though they didn’t realize they were grooming the next generation of creative entrepreneurs, not lifetime consultants.

I am a few degrees closer to getting an interview with John for my podcast. It will happen!

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19 Responses to “If John Legend were still best known for being an Excel Cowboy”

  1. […] of you who have followed my obsession with John Legend’s story of going from Excel Cowboy to Grammy-winning musician to social activist will be happy to know I finally have a really good […]

  2. erick xavier says:

    Hey great post. If you get that interview with John Legend on podcast I would be really excited to hear that. Hearing his story from his own words would be great. Good luck and keep up the good content.

  3. […] am getting ready for a long weekend (and a live John Legend (the original Side Hustler) concert in a few hours — woo […]

  4. Yvette says:

    Nice. Posted it to my FB wall

  5. Wonderful post and very positive. I think you’ll get your interview; in fact, I look forward to reading it!

  6. M. A. Tohami says:

    I always say that PASSION IS KING…and only when you breathe it in, can the transformation begin.

    Thanks for the great post.

  7. Love this story, I find little lessons in it everywhere! Thanks for sharing Pam! So glad to have you as a new friend!

  8. Jane Park says:

    Thanks for the kind words Pamela! So great to connect with you. It’s so important to find inspiration and sources of energy everywhere – thank you for being that for so many.

  9. Kim Lampe says:

    Really enjoyed the video by Damon Vickers. Almost done reading the book. I was ready to hear what you have offered. A year ago? Maybe not. Everything has a time and place. Happy to say I’ll be hanging around as long as you’re doing what you’re doing.

  10. I love this story about John! It’s a great story of the passion we may not see in others and how the most unlikely of individuals can surprise you when the success of their determination is finally displayed!

    Also, I LOVE the story of Jane and Julep Nail Salon. Just another great story of following your passion (whether people – family, friends, or other – agree with your decision or not)! It’s always possible when you believe it can be!

    Thanks for the morning motivation!

  11. Here’s hoping you land that interview!

  12. Samuel says:

    Awesome post. Glad to hear how he made it through. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  13. What a great story! Thank you for sharing. It’s amazing what can be hidden under a corporate job. It’s wonderful when someone makes that leap.

  14. Nate says:

    Wonderful! I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the book The Element by Ken Robinson. This would be an absolutely amazing fit and example for that book. The book talks about how many people we consider to be ‘famous’ found their true calling. I think the most important thing we all need to remember is that life IS NOT linear. Just because we’re at a certain age, or just because we’ve been doing the same thing or in the same career for years does not mean that we can’t make a complete orthogonal shift in how we approach our life and what we do with it. This example speaks to the unlimited potential that each and every one of us has.

  15. Gwyn Michael says:

    I too had no idea about John Legends background. Love this story and the Julep story! Makes me believe all over again that I can bust out even later in life!

  16. Cynthia says:

    I just found your blog a few days ago….

    I had no idea of John Legend’s story. Thanks for sharing these inspiring stories.

  17. Bob says:

    I went to high school with John in Springfield, Oh. He’s a great guy and all his success is well deserved.

  18. StaceyShanks says:

    I love this story because it is about John Legend, which I am a huge fan, and even more so because of him escaping cubicle nation! I, too, was a corporate employee in a pharmaceutical giant for 15 years. My life revolved around my yearly review to see that I got a $20/week raise to leave behind my children so many times, work nights and weekends, and not to mention the enormous stress.
    Now, I do what I love….teach yoga, share my experience, and create. Thanks for this incredible book! Keep ’em comin’!

  19. This video is so inspiring! It’s got my wheels turning!