alicia keys
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I've always valued the input of the people I love. So in the past, whenever I'd make a decision—what to wear to an event, whether to pursue a job opportunity—I'd consult those closest to me, like my mother, husband, or manager.

But there have been times (okay, many times) when I've let their advice drown out my own instincts. While working on my last album, for example, I was 100 percent sure that a particular song should be the first single. It had a fresh sound, and lyrics I knew people would connect to. But by the time I got feedback from everyone at my label, all of whom thought we should release a different single instead, I felt completely unsure. I went with their choice, but in the end, my gut turned out to be right: The song we released first didn't do what we'd hoped it would. When we did eventually release the song I'd wanted, it was a hit.

In my business, you begin with this very personal thing—your music—and then you start showing it to people, and all of a sudden they're throwing statistics and breakdowns at you, and there's a deadline, and you have to hurry up and make the best choice and reach the biggest audience, and you have to, have to, have to....you find yourself trying to make everyone happy, even as you feel yourself recede. Then one day last summer I shared my frustration with a close family friend. Her advice was simple: "Don't compromise—cooperate!" It suddenly made sense: I can listen to people, welcome them into my world, and respect what they have to say. But that doesn't mean I have to compromise what feels right to me.

That realization has trickled into every aspect of my life. Recently, I got into an argument with a girlfriend. In the past, I might've let her convince me how to feel. But this time I stood my ground and didn't change my position just to end the fight. We went back and forth, like friends often do, but in that argument we still loved each other, respected each other, and were compassionate toward each other, even though neither of us compromised our viewpoint. I've learned that while I'd be a fool not to stay open to the advice and experiences of the smart, amazing people in my life, I also need to listen to what I have to say. I'd rather believe in my own choice and see it all go wrong than do something I'm not fully convinced of and later feel guilty about it. So now when I'm faced with a decision, instead of asking, "What do you guys think?" the first question I ask is, "Alicia, what do you think?"

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