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The Front Row: A Smart Way To Maximize Energy and Engagement Where You Need It Most

By August 17, 2015 No Comments

By Ben Sands – for additional tools, resources and ideas.

For a sixteen year-old kid in 1994, $80 was a fortune.

To blow it all, in one night, for one concert, seemed a bit crazy…but then, this was a once-in-a-lifetime show: Billy Joel and Elton John on stage, together, at the peak of their careers.

Tickets to the show had sold out immediately and we had used a ticket broker (a.k.a “scalper”) to get them.

Given the cost, we agonized over the decision to go.  But, a year early we had missed another “once-in-a-lifetime” show (Guns N’ Roses / Metallica; a regret that still haunts me) and we decided that it wouldn’t happen again.

We were going.

It was a two-hour drive from our home to the show in Foxboro, MA. When we got inside the stadium, we began the search for our seats.

We started to climb…and climb…and climb.

By the time we got to our seats, we were both exhausted…and crestfallen.

The scalper had told us that the seats were “very close” to the stage.

This was true. What he hadn’t told us was that the seats were so far forward that we were sitting on the side of the stage. The view was terrible. And to make matters worse, we were in the upper deck.

We were devastated.

We sat down. Nobody said a word.

We had laughed and joked the entire way to the show – filled with excitement and anticipation – but now the energy was gone.

And then something amazing happened.

A stranger approached and asked, casually: “How do you guys like your seats?”

We weren’t amused.

“Uh, yeah, they’re great…” my friend replied sarcastically, oozing with New England charm.

To our surprise, the stranger broke into a big smile.

“Well, if you can bear to give them up, I’ve got some new seats for you…in the front row…courtesy of Mr. Joel.”

He held the tickets up in his hand and, like hungry vultures, we grabbed at them.

Sure enough, they read: “Section 1, Row 1, Seat…”

We were going to the front row.

We found out later that this is something Billy Joel (and some other performers) regularly do. They pick a few people in the venue’s worst seats – the “die-hard” fans – and surprise them with a front row upgrade.

That night, we were the lucky recipients and, as a result, had the rare opportunity to be within arms length of Billy and Elton as they sang the songs that had defined our early teenage years.

It was one of the greatest concert experiences I’ve ever had.


That night, our front row seats were only about fifty yards away from the ones we had paid for.

And yet, the energy, excitement, and emotion of the front row made it feel as though we were at a completely different (and significantly better) show.

I was reminded of the experience recently while listening to a podcast featuring Jon Vroman – Executive Director of an innovative non-profit called the “Front Row Foundation.”

In a nutshell, the Front Row Foundation allows people facing life-threatening illness to experience the concert or sporting event of their dreams, from the front row.

In many ways, it’s like other “wish-granting” organizations except for Vroman’s commitment to a life-long relationship with every family and his insistence on making the individual’s front-row experience “a metaphor for how they live the rest of their life.”

As Vroman says, “Life is better in the front row. People in the front row get more from any experience.”

But why?

It’s the difference between being a “spectator” and an “active participant,” says Vroman.

If you, like me, have had the opportunity to see a concert, or sporting event, from the front row, you know what he means.

As a fully engaged participant, the senses are heightened, the mood is elevated and you are completely focused.

Some would call it “fully present.” In my mind, it’s better described as fully alive.

It’s nothing short of amazing and yet, so few of us end up there.

Why? Because there’s only one front row…and lots of open and available seats behind it.

Simply put, getting to “the middle” is a lot easier than getting up front.

I’d argue however, that those who settle for the “middle seats” in life, miss out on a secret, powerful source of energy and engagement that can fuel – or re-ignite – your work, your relationships and your life.

Sound compelling?

If so, here are three questions that can help you move to the “front row” in the most important areas of your life.



The specific, tangible benefit of front-row living, in both work and life, is energy.

Accordingly, if you want to make a move to the front row, start by asking: in what areas of my life do I need new new energy and engagement?

At SoulCycle, the popular spin-fitness studio, the “front row” is the bike that sits directly in front of the instructor.

My friend jokes that when she really needs an energy boost, she signs up for that specific bike.

“The instructor is right there,” she jokes. “I can’t hide or ‘half-ass’ it…choosing that bike guarantees I will work hard and get a great workout.”

In what areas of your life do you need more energy, more engagement?

Your health? You career? Your relationship? In what areas of your life would you benefit from moving to the “front row?”


At a concert, church, or sporting event, the front row is easy to find. In other areas of our life however, the “front row” is more metaphorical.

At it’s essence, the “front row” is the location – physical or emotional – where you are best positioned to be fully focused and engaged in any particular moment or activity.

At work, for example, the “front row” may be the seat closest to your boss at the weekly team meeting or, more likely, regular periods of uninterrupted, high-value work time – free from email, social media and other non-essential “noise” that may interrupt you and undermines your ability to focus.

Similarly, at home, the “front row” could be your seat at the breakfast or dinner table or, perhaps better, turning off the phone and shutting down email when you’re at home; giving yourself a chance to connect in a meaningful way with your children, partner or spouse.

I recently made a move to the “front row” by taking steps to curb and/or eliminate distraction from my daily routine.

Among the actions I’ve found particularly helpful:

There is ALWAYS a front row, you just have to find it. More often than not, this is simply a process of eliminating the distraction in front of you.


There is always a front row, and everyone has an opportunity to sit there. The question that determines if we will or not is simple: is it worth it?

At Duke, for example, students camp out for months in often cold, rainy weather to get a single, standing room-only seat for the annual basketball game against the University of North Carolina.

The energy and enthusiasm of these Duke student fans (affectionately known as the “Cameron Crazies”) is legendary. For them, supporting their team, spending time with friends and carrying on the tradition makes the many cold, sleepless nights required to get in the gym, worth it.

What is worth it for you?

In some instances, front-row access can be bought. More often, however, the front row is like residence at Duke’s “Krzyzewskiville:” it must be earned.

What front row seat do you want to earn? What is “worth it” to you?


Today, Jon Vroman creates front-row experiences for people who are near-death.

It’s a beautiful gift and helpful reminder for us that life is short, and better lived in the front row.

So today, make time to ask yourself these questions:

  • Where do I need more energy and engagement in my life?
  • What would living in the front row look like?
  • Is it worth making it happen?

Good luck. And if you get there before I do, save me a seat.

What have been the front-row experiences in your life? What front row experience haven’t you had, but want?

Ben Sands

Author Ben Sands

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