Living, Loving and Leading from Your Backstage

Living, Loving and Leading from Your Backstage


Johnny Parker, DSL

In my mid 30’s, I was driven to be successful and my life was out of balance.  I was a frontstage focused leader.  I was working for a mega church doing marriage counseling and speaking nationally at marriage conferences.  I was sleeping too little, eating carelessly and had spotty communication with my wife.

In movie genre vernacular, my story was a blend of mystery and drama. I felt scattered, and the pages of my life had blown all over the place. There’s a reason for this. Even though I am a deeply spiritual person and my faith has always guided my decision making, for a long time, I had focused primarily on my public world rather than my private world. My top priorities had become achievement, performance, and significance. In short, I had become a “human doing” instead of a “human being.”

This distinction is important for all of us, because our story—the real story—originates behind the curtains. If you have ever attended a theater production, you know there are two sections of the stage—the frontstage and the backstage. I will use this metaphor to illustrate how crucial it is that both stages work in coordination with each other. However, I will place unique focus on the backstage to make a point, as you will see shortly.

What is the Frontstage?

The frontstage is your public world—what is visible to others. It is the stage of performance. Others see how you “show up” at work, how you treat others, how you speak, and how you respond when dealing with difficulties and with difficult people. It is the surface that everyone sees. It is also the stage of achievement, results, productivity, and profit. Please do not misunderstand me—the frontstage is vitally important. It determines how we measure progress, evaluate outcomes, and earn a living. However, the problem is that most of our education and our culture emphasize solely the frontstage.  Man does look upon the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.

What is the Backstage?

Simply put, it is your essence, the real you. The backstage is the birthplace of your motives, values, vulnerability, and purpose, your private world. It is the platform where your life is processed. The scenes and acts you live out on life’s stage are generated backstage in your heart and soul, the deepest part of who you are.

There are challenges in managing our backstage:  although you can’t measure it, the soul’s deterioration and malnourishment will surely become evident over time. A person can appear externally strong, but a breeze of adversity or sudden stressor will easily reveal internal instability. In my thirties, I downplayed my backstage. Motivated by fear of failure, I chased recognition and significance. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in healthy ambition, that is, ambition focused on serving others. But my objectives were different then. My ambition and dreams had run amuck. The result showed in my marriage, produced panic attacks, controlling behavior, and chronic discontent. I was stuck in a bad story.

In 1998, I flew to a different city almost every weekend for speaking engagements, and often woke up in a hotel bed not knowing what city I was in. The last event of that year was in Colorado and I boarded the plane to Colorado Springs on a Thursday night with tears in my eyes. I didn’t want to go because I was so physically exhausted, spiritually adrift, and emotionally spent. My speaking dates were going well, but that was not enough somehow.  How could I accomplish so much good yet feel so bad? What was I chasing? Who was I trying to impress? Asking and answering those questions was a vital part of turning the page in my own life.

Turning the Page

To turn the page means paying attention to what is essential – looking inward toward your motives, virtues, and vulnerability and then extending yourself outward toward strong relationships, productivity and positive impact and ultimately looking upward to Jesus as the Author of our story. Apart from Christ our story is a mystery.  As a Christian, my faith helps me put my story in perspective. Each day I am faced with the choice of allowing the Holy Spirit an all-access pass to my backstage in order that my story brings Him glory.

Dr. Johnny Parker is passionate about helping people (at any stage) turn the page to the life they’ve always wanted. Through executive coaching, seminars and training the trainer, he has a 25 year track record of helping hundreds of CEO’s and leaders experience authentic success by viewing their life as a story. Dr. Parker is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University where he teaches Introduction to Positive Psychology which is an evidence-based approach to examine how people, leaders, businesses and communities thrive. Principles such as grit, resilience, emotional intelligence, flourishing, happiness and gratitude have been the “X-factor” enabling leaders and businesses to significantly increase performance. Johnny is author of Renovating Your Marriage Room by Room, Faith Like a Child, Exceptional Living: 31 Exercises for Enriching Your Life, Work and Relationships. He holds a M.A. in Counseling Psychology and a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University.