Sunday, December 27, 2009

Personal Cheerleader

My nephew at the zoo.
During time with family this holiday season, I had the distinct pleasure of my four-year-old nephew's enthusiasm as I was introduced to Wii bowling. Although he was not playing the game, he was an utterly engaged observer. Every strike or spare I scored was accompanied by cascades of cheers and accolades from him with sheer abandon.

At first, I was taken aback. For the briefest moment, his excitement seemed like a distraction. That was a short-lived reaction, however, and I began to playfully join in with his applause, more as a way of interacting with him than anything else. A little while into the experience, though, a strange shift began to occur. I found myself appreciating his unwavering delight in my successes as the game went on. Even his laughter when I missed a split completely was light-hearted enjoyment rather than ridicule.

I don't hold on to any illusions that he will remember that experience watching his uncle play a video game; my score surely wasn't an accomplishment that ranks with my proudest moments. And yet, there was something so invigorating and delightful about having a personal cheerleader focused entirely on me for that brief time. It's great motivation to keep letting people know about the things I am creating that really matter to me. I tend to convince myself that other people don't really want to hear about what I'm up to, and I could be cheating myself out of that incredible level of energizing support.

At the same time, as I am connecting with other people, I want to have the same level of enthusiasm and delight that my nephew exhibited. It can sometimes be tempting to think that I have to focus on what I am creating and that I can't let myself be distracted by just being someone else's cheerleader. Honestly, I know that there is plenty of time and energy for both. And I'd be very curious to see what we could all create with a little extra concentrated encouragement on a regular basis!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Establishing Value

Over the last few weeks, I have appreciated the chance for some last-minute accompanying opportunities. I didn't expect to be available for music gigs until the end of the year, so I hadn't really done much advance planning for December. As I was confronted with the question of how much to charge for rehearsals and performances, I realized that it was time to deal with some beliefs about money once and for all.

Money has never been a preoccupation for me. I would prefer not to have to worry about dollar signs at all and just compose, collaborate with other musicians, and spend time connecting with and inspiring other people. There is nothing distinctly economical about the culture of integrity, gratitude, and grace I envision, although people would probably make different choices with their money if they acted more out of gratitude than fear and embraced integrity. But coming to terms with my beliefs about money will be a big part of how I am able to create what I want in the the coming months.

When I had a full-time job in a related field, my bills were getting paid, but I wasn't spending the time and energy I wanted to creating music. Even as I tried over the last year to develop ways to perform the duties of my job in such a way that my creative goals were also being satisfied, I encountered communication hurdles that consumed a lot of the time and energy I freed up. Some of the people who had control over my position had expectations that were different than what I was trying to create, and it ultimately resulted in my vision taking me away from that position.

Looking back at that situation, it was a convenient way for me to avoid addressing the issue of money. Having a salary meant that there was a concrete dollar value already placed on my time and expertise. Anything I was able to create in my "spare time" didn't need to have any financial specifics attached, because the money I needed for survival was coming from another source. Asking for more just seemed greedy.

Now I am recognizing that the money I earn from my music is a byproduct of my music having an opportunity to impact people's lives. I also realize that it doesn't serve any part of my vision to undervalue myself. Having a clear and specific dollar figure in mind for accompanying jobs, music preparation projects, and commissions doesn't mean that I can't be flexible. But it sets the stage for a better financial foundation for what I want to create in the world. Stepping away from fears about survival or an attitude of neediness opens space to actually have all of the ingredients my vision requires. I believe big dreams are best supported by fully acknowledging my capability and value.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Divergent Spiritual Paths

Some time ago, I wrote that my spiritual beliefs were different from the church where I was employed, and I took a stand to encourage spiritual growth in others, even if their beliefs are different from mine. I valued their experience of spirituality and I am willing to accept that others can have different views without my own being threatened. I don't have it that one must be right and another wrong in this regard.

At the time, I was somewhat vague about what those spiritual differences were. On a certain level, the specifics didn't matter as much as finding a way to support growth in others without sharing their beliefs. As I focus more on writing music and accompanying other skilled musicians, I am recognizing how great an impact basic spiritual beliefs have on everything a person does. I see the divergent paths leading to very different places in the lives of individuals and organizations, even those organizations that do not have a direct spiritual focus.

Some spiritual belief systems hold as a basic premise that human beings are broken, inherently evil, and incapable of doing any good on their own. Often this premise is accompanied by a corollary that everything good is God's doing, and that when human beings surrender to the divine will, God can work through them in spite of their basic nature. I see the potential for this to contribute to a sense of humility and a willingness for self-examination, but I see other results play out as well. Even with the acknowledgment that human beings are precious, when something we don't like happens, the belief that people are broken often wins out.

Ultimately, I see the belief that people are basically broken developing into disconnection from self and others. If people are broken, then our suspicions, doubts, and judgments of others are well justified. We have no underlying reason for respect of others or ourselves. When we disagree with another person's point of view, it can be attributed to their brokenness; and when we agree, we can attribute that to a mutual connection to the divine.

And if we believe that people are basically broken, we can easily rob ourselves of opportunities to create and achieve. I believe much of our anger and hatred toward others is just a manifestation of fear, quite likely fear that we ourselves are broken individuals. In fact, we can give ourselves permission to behave like broken people. Broken people seek to destroy rather than build up, they embrace revenge rather than grace, and they find reasons for separation rather than connection.

My own strong belief is that people are inherently capable. I believe that an individual may have unique strengths and weaknesses, but there is an underlying capability in every person. This personal belief impacts how I see others, how I engage them, how meaningful my connection with them can be. And meaningful connection with other people creates possibilities beyond one person's capability. When I acknowledge my own inherent capability, it means that I can establish a meaningful purpose and work toward accomplishing things that are in line with that purpose. Simply being human imbues people with value.

Capable people can still get off course from time to time, and it is important for growth that we benefit from one another's eyes. When we see people as capable rather than broken, the support we give and receive can come from a position of compassion, grace, and connection. And believing in other people's capability encourages full participation in the world we are creating.

Recognizing that either of these perspectives is possible in a wide range of faith traditions and spiritual systems, I am reminded of the old proverb about the dog you feed being the one that wins. How we treat one another is the most convincing manifestation of any spiritual belief, and my goal is that my noblest beliefs about others and myself will be supported by overwhelming evidence in my life.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brass Tacks

An acquaintance of mine used to cut off rambling descriptions and preambles by saying, "brass tacks, Randy," which meant, loosely paraphrased: My mind is starting to wander, so if you want me to know something specific, make your point soon! I used to think this was rather rude, being something of a storyteller, but I do see a certain value to cutting through all of the fluff, excuses, explanations, and doublespeak. The bottom line can can still be specific and detailed, and it requires a bit of discernment to know which things are truly important and which are just being included for effect. In other words, if I want to cut to the heart of my message, I have to put some thought into it.

This has come into play recently for me in visioning how I want to devote my time and effort. My idealized life is multifaceted, and I want to express what I'm creating succinctly to people, especially when I am conscious of the value of partnerships. If I ramble on about all the possibilities, I am not really making a commitment to creating anything. The fluffy, blurry form of my vision doesn't seem very likely to enroll others. I've also heard this called an elevator pitch: getting a point across convincingly in the span of an elevator ride.

Getting all of the fluff out of the way also lets me assess how true something is. When I succinctly express the heart of what I'm creating, I can look at how I have been spending my time and energy and know immediately whether the two are in harmony. I have known organizations and individuals that have catchy one-liner purpose or mission statements, and yet the results don't match up. Enough padding, excuses, and justification can hide the fact that some choices and actions don't really relate to the mission at all. Clearing aside fluff and filigree helps me keep on track with my own purpose.

The filigree can be attractive. The explanations can be helpful, and there may be a variety of possibilities for how a vision can play out. My intention, though, is to start from my essential purpose and build the details on that foundation. Even that personal purpose gets refined the more I express it, which can mean ever greater clarity about what really fits and what doesn't. So here are the brass tacks: I create music that contributes to a more harmonious world and I inspire others to create the lives they truly want.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Underdogs


Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending a hockey game with a friend. We observed that one team seemed a little bit faster on the ice, slightly more in control of the puck, and generally more in sync with one another as a team. One of us made a comment about rooting for the underdog, and I got to thinking about why we would be reluctant to cheer on the team we perceived to be better prepared for the game.

Underdogs are favorite topics of stories on television and film, but I think we have developed a cultural mythology about winners as well. While the underdogs are typically likable, capable people who have just been overlooked or have had a run of bad luck, winners are quite different creatures. Winners must be cheating to do so well. To be that successful, they must have stepped on a lot of other people and broken a lot of rules. Successful people must be calculating, selfish, and uncaring, or else they wouldn't have gotten where they are.

This is, of course, hogwash. Sure, some people who are successful have done some less than honorable things, but by and large, the people who succeed are the ones most capable and determined to do so. I've been carrying around the other definition for awhile, and it hasn't served me very well at all. Why would I want to be successful if it would just mean that other people would perceive me on some level as a selfish and uncaring cheater?

But an interesting thing happened at the end of the hockey game. The best prepared team (by our observation at least) won the game. It wasn't Hollywood, but it made perfect sense in reality. Underdogs may be capable of doing great things, but successful people are willing to live out their capability. Somewhere along the way, I learned that successful people must have done something wrong. The premise might make for great movies, but it doesn't really serve me in the reality of my life.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Out of the Box

Liken it to a hamster wheel, or a merry-go-round, or even a racetrack, my routine has been like a lot of people's. I would make the rounds from one corner of my box to the next to the next, until I arrived back where I started from and began a new week. Of course it was a fairly predictable journey, although I did my best to make sure there were enough things to keep me interested along the way. There were some things I wanted to do and see, someday... but somehow those things didn't fit in the box of the routine I had created.

I decided that I wanted to get out of the box. Do some of those things I had managed to keep out of my schedule. See some of those places that just weren't visible from inside the box. In all honesty, I realize that I also wanted to bring forth qualities in myself that didn't really fit in the box. Determining that those things were important to me was the first step out. At first, I tried to be and do those important things from inside the box, but it became clear to me that "comfortable" and "predictable" were not part of the vision.

Getting out of a box of any kind is an interesting endeavor. For me, there were people who were cheering me on, individuals who were excited about what I wanted to create. And there were people who were doing their best to convince me that getting out of the box was at best a bad idea and at worst downright impossible. The greatest incentive was that I kept seeing more and more possibility as I took a stand for the things that are truly important to me.

My first steps out of the box have been a bit scary. There isn't a clear rut to follow, and I don't have a map to where I want to go. With so many options and so much wide open space, I could head in any direction, wander aimlessly, get completely lost, never really reach any destination at all. But instead of worrying too much about that, I started doing the things that I wanted to do... working on recording a large piece that has been sitting on the shelf for years, getting my second string quartet into the hands of professional musicians, scheduling Power of Connection courses, and putting the pieces in place to do more collaborative work with other artists. And I have the freedom right now to apply to artist colonies and pursue other opportunities that I've been putting off. My journey can hit all of the landmarks that I want it to.

At first I was criticizing myself for not having all of the pieces in place, for not having the whole journey figured out. Now I see that I can tell true north by keeping the destination in mind, and I can know the next steps by maintaining my commitment to the things that are most important to me. I may create a different kind of routine for myself, and I may realize at some point that I am just in a bigger box. But for now, I am willing to create a pathway and keep my eyes open for unexpected opportunities along the way. I know what I want. And I know who I am.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Truth... but from whose point of view?

A fundamental benefit of brainwashing someone is getting them to accept as truth whatever you want them to believe. Although I have never been brainwashed (to the best of my knowledge), experience has taught me that some people state their opinions as irrefutable facts. Unless one is able to objectively assess reality, truth can seem rather subjective. Incidentally, providing tools for people to determine this for themselves is one of the things I value most about the More To Life organization.

One of the most thought-consuming activities for me over the past month has been weeding through all that I have been hearing from various people's perspectives and getting back to the truth about myself, others, and reality. I am stepping away from a situation in which income was predictable, but my opportunities for leadership and time for creative pursuits were at a minimum. What I am stepping into is in many ways unknown, with no guarantees about income or potential partnerships, but with great freedom regarding creativity. It feels both liberating and scary.

For the past few weeks, many people have been mirrors for me; some of those mirrors were a bit warped, and some were quite magical in the way they eliminated every flaw and blemish. I have received harsh criticism and high praise, and I have purposefully considered how all of these observations line up with what is actually true. If I listen to other people's words without assessing how they match up with reality, I give them tremendous power over my choices and possibilities. And yet, dismissing everyone else's opinion as being valueless could make for a rather lonely and self-centered existence.

From where I stand now, I realize how easy it would be to have someone else tell me what to believe about myself and others, but brainwashing is a costly luxury. I prefer being able to thoughtfully assess what is true and move forward with a strong belief in who I honestly am and what I want to create. There is a little part of me that wishes I were able to do a bit of brainwashing of my own, though. If everyone had faith in their capacity for embodying a noble vision for their life, I believe the world would be a very different place. Bringing it forth in my own life will have to be enough for now.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Parable

Three men set out on a journey, each determined to take their own route. The first set off without clearly defining his destination, and within the first hour he threw away his map. Along the way, he asked the people he encountered, or looked at signs along the road, to find out where he was. When he learned something about his current locale, he would think, "Ah, exactly where I wanted to go next." He knew that no one could criticize him for where he had arrived, because he had no clear destination in mind and could therefore never be off course. And he was only mildly perturbed when he learned that he traveled in circles, because at least he was in motion.

The second man was more clear about where he wanted to go, and he told many people of his intended destination. With great purpose, he set off in the direction he thought best and with great confidence he followed his own internal compass. He kept his map close and he spoke to many people along the journey, but they were of little value. When he consulted the map and learned that it indicated a different route than he had chosen, he assumed that the map was outdated. And when the people he encountered suggested a better way to reach his destination than the route he was taking, he assumed that they were mistaken or even malicious in their intent. Without regard for reality or the counsel of others, he stuck to his own sense of how to get to his destination. He has yet to draw close to it, and it is more and more difficult for him to hide his frustration each day.

The third man had a clear destination in mind, and he shared it with others. He consulted many guidebooks and maps, and when he was satisfied that the accumulated knowledge was sufficient, he began the journey. As he encountered people along the way, he shared with them about his path and his destination. If any had advice or suggestions, he weighed it carefully, considering whether it had merit and adjusting his plan accordingly. Along the way, he planned future destinations and thought about where later journeys might take him, while still holding to the purpose of the path he was on. Although he took time to enjoy the journey, he was also intentional about making at least a little forward progress each day.

A balance of confidence and humility makes any destination more attainable and any journey more enjoyable.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Goldfish


Goldfish supposedly grow to the capacity of their container. Or so I have read on the internet, where everything is true. Raised in captivity in an aquarium, a goldfish probably won't have a chance to grow as large as it would in a more expansive environment. It also probably won't live as long, unless it is a particularly persistent specimen. A restrictive environment actually becomes toxic to a goldfish over time. It doesn't grow as large as it might, simply because it's health is being sabotaged by what surrounds it.

When I look back at my choices over the past few years, I see a bit of incongruity between what I actually want for myself and how I have orchestrated my life. Of course, I am operating with hindsight now, but I wonder to a certain extent if the blinders were sneakily self-imposed. Instead of passionately putting every ounce of my energy into engaging life at 100% capacity, I chose an environment that made it alright for me to operate at a fraction of my capability. In fact, I arranged it so that I was being rewarded for operating at closer to 40% of my true self.

When I was making those choices, I had information about the aquarium from outside sources: Although it had a lot of wonderful and collaborative fish in it, it had a reputation for being rather rigid in how it defined itself and somewhat limited in its vision. And of course, I had heard that along with the abundant caring and friendly fish, there were a few aggressive cichlids that instinctively defended their territory and occasionally made living together challenging for the other fish. When it was alright for me to operate at 40%, these claims didn't matter to me. I could ignore them, place myself above them, even convince myself that I had the power to change them. I could be frustrated without having to take responsibility for my own choice to operate at reduced capacity.

The problem, of course, is that when it became more important to me to operate at my 100%, the environment didn't grow or shift to accommodate that fullness. Like a goldfish, I can influence things in my environment, but I don't have the power to alter an aquarium that resists change. But, unlike a goldfish, I can choose my aquarium. And I can choose to be willing to have an impact with those who are willing to be affected.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Putting Yourself in the Story

Once in a while, a scandalous tell-all makes the news because it ruthlessly reveals someone's secrets. The scandal isn't that a person's actions or decisions are published, but rather that their identity is made blatantly clear. If the same story is written with names and circumstances sufficiently altered or obscured, it isn't scandalous at all. It becomes only slightly elevated above fiction in that it is "based on actual events."

Even when I read a work of fiction, I often find myself identifying with a character. The more life-like and realistic the portrayal, the more inclined I am to find commonality with him. It is often clear that an author's inspiration for characters are actual friends and acquaintances, people that have had an impact or made a lasting impression. My sense is that it could be flattering to know that you are an important part of someone else's story.

This venue is where I have been telling my story. My challenges, my learnings, my goals. I have been sharing it because I believe that I am not alone in my experiences, and that others can benefit from what I learn in my journey. It is my hope that a reader will in some way be able to see himself or herself in my story.

Not being an island, there are of course other people connected to my story. Some of them offer support and some offer challenges, but they all offer opportunity. With very few exceptions, I have kept their identities confidential. I trust that anyone reading will recognize that what I share here is much more about me than it is anyone else. This arena is not intended to reprimand or scandalize, but I have learned things from my interactions and connections with others. In fact, these are some of the most important lessons I have learned. They are worth sharing.

For the past year, I have done very little to engage my musical creativity because of my commitment to a group of people I value. When I began articulating my story here, I had hoped that it would be additional incentive to compose and send my music out into the world. What I learned is that my innermost passions include having meaningful connection with others and challenging others in their own growth journey. As I turn the page to a new chapter in my story, I see greater opportunity and desire to make creating music a priority. I am confident that my growth will continue as long as I am willing, and I hope that those readers who see themselves in my story continue to grow as well.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Leadership and Friendship

While overseeing a rather extensive program, I have frequently been faced with choices about what was best for the overall program. Often this includes creating opportunities for other people's skills and abilities to shine, but once in a while it can be a challenge to maintain relationships and also support the development of a high-quality program. In one particular instance many months ago, I chose to let go of an individual in order to allow growth of the broader program in new ways. Even though I liked this person and valued the connection, it was clear to me that he wasn't really a fit for the direction of growth I envisioned.

There are many circumstances in which I'm sure it is still true that who you know is more important than what you know. Our connections with other people are incredibly valuable, and I believe that the most inspirational visions evolve from partnerships. That being said, there are times in which a vision or purpose may require something beyond the capabilities of current connections. My preference would be to maintain the friendships and partnerships that I have in place while pursuing a vision or purpose that augments or surpasses them. This can involve some tricky navigation, and ultimately it requires partnership and understanding on the part of someone else.

I am a bit sad today that the connection I had with this particular person was not strong enough to survive my purposeful decisions. Even though I have tried on numerous occasions to reconnect, I received a clear signal recently that there was no willingness on the other side of the equation. At least not right now. What I want to do in the future is to more effectively and engagingly bring others on board with the vision(s) I create, so that the partnerships and connections I have are strengthened even in the midst of difficult choices. Still, to a certain extent, every partnership requires willingness on both sides.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Speaking in the Face of Fear

Edmund Burke claimed, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Often, this politically charged quote is used to draw attention to flaws in large-scale systems, but it is equally applicable in small-scale communities. In fact, when fear runs rampant in a community, it is often because the fearful voices are the only ones being heard. There may be those who are level-headed, trusting, and full of faith, but if they do not speak up, they diminish their chances to influence a community.

In the past, I have watched as communities divided over petty issues, or as charismatic and vocal individuals spread panic through a group of people in order to gain support for personal agendas. Fear can be very persuasive, and it doesn't take much effort for us to become fearful. And yet, individuals and communities who react to situations out of fear or panic often do things that are in direct conflict with their purposes. Fear gives us an excuse to behave badly, a justification for doing things we would criticize in others.

And when no one points it out to us, fear keeps us blind. Fear puts sheets up over all of the mirrors so we never clearly see who we are being. It takes a certain trust, confidence, and willingness to stand up in the face of that kind of fear and call it what it is. In communities where those kind of trusting and willing people speak up, fear is less likely to take root. It is not always comfortable or easy to speak up in a rising tide of fearfulness or panic, and yet it is vital for the well-being of a community.

When individuals are willing to hold one another to the true purpose of a community, that vision can remain clear and focused. When we see something happening that is out of alignment with the purpose we have claimed for ourselves and our communities, it often only requires us to be willing to open our mouths to defuse the fear. It may seem easier to step back and criticize, to form our own secret collusion committees, or to suggest that "someone" should do something, but those responses only engage our own fears. There is something noble in each of us that calls us into action, and that noble action can be as simple as a calm, gentle, and disarming reminder of purpose and vision.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Being On Purpose

Horror movies are in plentiful supply this time of year, and they come in all forms. Sometimes the fright comes watching the machinations of a malicious intelligence, human or supernatural, unfold in some gruesome manner. Zombies are terrifying for an entirely different reason. They relentlessly and thoughtlessly keep pursuing their most basic need without conscience or rational thought. They don't care that they never actually accomplish anything beyond eating because they have no purpose and no ambition.

Being willing to ask the question "What am I doing here?" opens a floodgate of possibility, as it turns out. Without that question, we are not much further along than the zombies, acting to satisfy what we perceive our most basic needs without stopping to think about what we actually want to achieve. Asking the question paves the way for an even more meaningful one: What do I want to be doing? With a meaningful purpose, every decision can be measured. Does what I am doing contribute to what I want to create, or does what I'm doing actually stand in the way?

Waking up to a clear purpose also means that I invite opportunities to live out that intention. If I were comfortable being a zombie, I would never even consider watching for those opportunities. I would just keep doing the most obvious thing without questioning it. Now, I can clearly state that I want the music I create to make a difference in the world, that I want what I create (musically and otherwise) to have a positive impact on other people's lives. I also want to continue seeking out things that inspire and invigorate me, the things that keep me asking questions and finding answers.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What are you doing here?


I was at the end of a frustrating year of college at a school to which I didn't return. They had invited me to be a part of the inaugural year of their new honors program, and I spent the year growing up in a lot of ways. Musically, I had not grown much in those months, and one of my professors called me into his office one day as the spring semester was wrapping up. I had done well in his class, so I really didn't know what to expect. He started by asking a very direct question: "What are you doing here?"

He had seen some potential in me early in the academic year. In fact, he had considered splitting his large class into two sections with me leading the second section. That was quite a compliment, coming from an established professor, but the year passed without me ever really grasping and owning the potential he saw. This professor concluded that I was not being sufficiently challenged by the institution... that my full capability was not being nurtured. In some ways, it was easy for me not to thrive. Thus his question "What are you doing here?" was eventually followed by some suggestions of other (prestigious) schools that he thought would better sharpen me and call me fully forward.

I didn't take his advice on any of those schools, but his question stuck with me in more ways than one. Several years later, I was working in a church in a small town and a parishioner heard me practicing the piano one afternoon. Her question was identical to my professor's: What are you doing here? She saw something about me that I wasn't willing to see in myself, but the question immediately caught my attention.

I started waking up a bit that day, but I am only beginning to see how I have sold myself short in many ways for years. Perhaps it was because I didn't want to be driven by blind ambition, constantly striving to achieve more. More likely, it was plain fear that I wouldn't measure up to the challenge, that no amount of striving could compensate for my inadequacies. Sticking with what came easily seemed safer, but it wound up being ultimately less satisfying. It became rather like wearing clothes that are too small... I can completely fill them out, but there is more of me than what the clothes can contain. And it's not terribly comfortable.

Now I am being evoked again, and I am looking at myself with more honesty and less fear. Admitting my strengths and capabilities, I want a satisfying, sharpening environment that I have to stretch a little bit to fill out completely. I want to thrive. I can see many possibilities for how this can happen, and I am sure that there are possibilities I don't yet see. But if I remain willing to keep asking myself "What am I doing here?" and answer honestly, I believe those possibilities will become clearer and clearer.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dark Corners and Open Spaces


Dark corners seem seductive sometimes. They are secretive and mysterious. Exciting even. Things that are whispered in dark corners are often titillating... things that wouldn't be spoken out in the open. Plots, schemes, complaints, juicy tidbits of gossip. In dark corners, you can say things without having to take too much responsibility for them. Some people may be suspicious of what hides in the dark corners, but it's an easy place to hide.

It's much safer than what happens out in the open. In open spaces, things cannot be quite so easily hidden. It may not be as exciting, but things spoken out in the open are often more honest. There's a greater likelihood that someone will be held accountable for something done where everyone can see and hear. It certainly seems more risky and vulnerable than the dark corners.

But actually, if we want our complaints and concerns addressed, there is a greater likelihood that we will get what we want when we are willing to be honest and open about them. If we can look someone in the eye and communicate openly about what we want, that individual actually has a chance to respond. Going into dark corners and whispering may be more exciting, but it often doesn't give anyone an opportunity to respond meaningfully. It does allow us the illusion that we don't have to take responsibility for our part in things... that someone else is responsible for dealing with our issues.

Unless what we really want is to complain without consequence, to create dissension or anxiety, to find collusion rather than solution. I find it difficult to believe that anyone truly wants that, deep down in the core of their being. Perhaps I am being naive, but it seems obvious that there is no real power or peace in the dark corners. As I see it, the true power comes from a willingness to connect with another person, even one with whom I have differences, openly and honestly. Then, our creativity can be engaged in finding ways forward in partnership. There isn't really any way forward from a dark corner, except out into the open.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Community Leadership


As I think about community and what that means, it strikes me that the word "leadership" probably has as many different definitions as the word "community." When I think of the kinds of partnerships that will carry my own various visions forward, that sense of working toward a common purpose seems best served by seeing eye-to-eye with another person rather than making demands or issuing orders. Of course, I still have the responsibility of carrying out my vision for my life, even though I am in partnership with other people.

A community vision is a bit different. Many people with many different ideas about the way things should be. At the very least there are likely to be different opinions about the best way to accomplish a vision. I have been in communities where everyone tries to take the lead and pursue their way of doing things, and the ensuing chaos didn't bring us any closer to our purpose. I have also been a part of communities in which no one wanted the mantle of leadership because it was viewed as carrying the burden of responsibility for doing everything successfully. That model wasn't any more effective.

My ideas about leadership have been developing over the last several months, so it only makes sense that my ideas about leadership in the context of a community have been growing. Although there are varying styles of leadership, a leader is first and foremost a vision-holder. Collective partnerships can certainly lead a community in the direction of their vision, and in a connected and purposeful community, leadership may even shift fluidly among different individuals at different times. But often it takes an individual to take a stand in order to propel things into the next step.

One thing I am realizing, however, is that a leader can help a community discover its vision. A leader can even guide a community in how to step into that vision. But a leader can only take a community where it is willing to go. Otherwise, the community will choose a different leader, by one means or another. I suppose one could try to be a chameleon, but if a leader's vision is different enough from the community of which he is a part, this seems like a short-lived solution. In fact, true leadership may involve having the integrity of personal vision to trust that communities which share a similar purpose will emerge in partnership.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tensile Strength of Load-sharing Bundles

I had a conversation with someone last week about ways to get my music out into the world. Walking away from this short chat, I had half a dozen names and organizations that could provide some support for what I am trying to create. And I would guess that each of those names could yield even more possible partnerships. By recognizing that I don't have to do everything myself, I was able to ask for and receive some valuable support.

When I believe that I have to bear the entire weight of my dreams and goals, I reach a breaking point fairly quickly. There are just too many things in which I an inexperienced and unskilled, and I feel the pressure of time more keenly. When I realize that I am actually surrounded by people who can partner with me in some way to share the vision I am creating, the possibility of reaching a breaking point is barely a consideration for me. And I am more open to how I can be of service in their visions as well.

I believe that this is a vital characteristic of healthy communities: "Bundles" of people partnering together in support of one another are going to be stronger by far than a group of individuals all trying to do everything themselves. It's difficult for a group of people to work toward a common purpose if they are each struggling to carry the weight of their own lives. Of course, this kind of partnership requires vulnerability and trust for a community's members to receive support from one another. And it requires willingness and acceptance for a community's members to offer true support to one another.

It may seem a bit counter-cultural to offer and receive mutual support in this way. We are accustomed to a strange mixture of problem-solving, enabling, independence, and blamelessness. I suppose in many ways holding others at arm's length (or farther) looks safer, but it doesn't create strong partnerships the way mutual support can.

But that support can get messy sometimes. It isn't always supportive to approve what someone is trying to create in their lives carte blanche. Sometimes support means that we hold one another's feet to the fire, or we notice blind spots that another person is missing. It means being aware enough of one another's true aims that we can speak up truthfully when we see something that is off the mark. And it also gives us an opportunity to examine ourselves when another person is honest with us. This is how we become sharper. This is what creates a strong community of strong individuals.

Of course, not every community is practicing this kind of supportive partnership. My guess is that very few of them do. But I am wondering what would be possible if they did. What would a world of load-sharing, bundled people in community with one another look like?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Community vs. Tribalism

When a hurricane was bearing down on us last year, my neighbor commented that my side of the street always got electricity back before his side. My response was that, if that were to happen, we could run an extension cord across the road to make sure they had at least enough power for a little fridge and cell phone chargers. And that's exactly what happened. For three days, our homes were literally connected to one another.

This same neighbor cares for the yard of an elderly couple in our neighborhood. Free of charge. Just because he is a kind and caring person. Another couple down the street share vegetables that they grow in their garden. We don't pay for the vegetables, but my wife did make a care package when one of them was bed-ridden after a recent surgery.

We are connected to one another, and we respond to one another out of that connectivity. In a way, we are all on the same team, even when a month goes by without any direct interaction. We have a common purpose of living peaceably in community with one another. In the More To Life organization, people unite as a team for the short-term purpose of creating a training weekend to serve others.

The idea of being on the same team doesn't always look like my neighborhood or an act of service, though. It often gets twisted around into tribalism: We are on this team, and they are on that other team. We have our purposes, and they have theirs. And we have to fight to get what we want. We have to compete with the other tribe(s) to make sure we come out on top. Otherwise They might take advantage of us. We won't get what we want. We won't be safe. We'll be hindered from accomplishing our purpose.

So our tribe's purpose can easily become "to fight against the other tribe(s)," whatever that looks like. It might be a marketing war, cultural conflict, a military war, or a legal battle. It might even manifest as a subtle whisper campaign. In any case, when we shift into this mode, we believe that our tribe is completely justified. Our tribe is right. Our tribe is deserving.

And our tribe is afraid. Fear is the primary motivator of tribalism in any venue. And when we are fighting with the other tribe because of fear, it makes defining a sacred purpose all the more difficult. How can we honestly create something as a community when we are acting out of fear to destroy the Other? Quote something about the phoenix or Kali if you like, but I would suggest that when a tribe is fearful, there will always be apparent enemies at the gate that demand immediate attention.

The tribe mentality limits us. It turns away the unique creative gifts others could bring to the table, and it keeps us in a state of separation. Seeing the potential for partnership and connectivity is expansive. If we take "we" to the ultimate limits, there is no "them." And I believe the closer we are to that understanding, the more we engage our integrity, gracefulness, and gratitude.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Being Greedy


Over the past year, I have been committed to stretching beyond my comfort zone and engaging my full capability in the world. I'm not there yet. Granted, it's a moving target, since my capability will hopefully continue to grow in different ways. But, there are still some things that keep me from allowing myself to shine as brightly as I could be. A year ago, I was placing the blame on external circumstances, but when I look at things honestly, most of the limitations are still coming from the same place they always have been. Me.

In the noblest part of me, I want what I create to contribute to making a more harmonious world. This goes for musical creations and otherwise. I want my music to be a part of creating a sustainable culture of grace, integrity, and gratitude. So, when someone asks what I want to do with my music, the answer has been deepening even as it has grown in clarity. It's certainly a long range goal, but there is no honest reason for me to avoid working toward it right now.

It has been more challenging for me to pin down an answer to the question: How much money do you want to make from your music? In some moments, I don't really believe I deserve anything for it, and in others I am disheartened that some of my pieces haven't earned more. When I try out a dollar figure, though, it often strikes me as being greedy. I somehow lose sight of what I actually want to create when money enters the picture. It becomes a bit of a stumbling block.

What I am realizing is that, although money is not the end in and of itself, it is a significant factor in allowing my music to have the impact I want. It seems logical to conclude that if I want what I create to make a difference in the world, it would have to be out in the world being heard or experienced. And if I earn money because of royalties, it means that my music has been out in the world being heard. Which means that when I cling to a belief that I am being greedy if I want my music to earn money, I am actually working against any efforts I may take toward putting it out into the world. I am at cross purposes with myself.

While I don't know what is possible, I do know that I have been in some ways keeping myself from reaching as far as I can be. I am willing to let go of the "greedy" label. What I actually want is more valuable to me than the lie.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Community Defined

Someone I am partnering with on a project recently described a familiar scenario: Several people were involved in a discussion, and they had reached an apparent agreement. Then one person simply restated what had been agreed, only to find that people had different understandings of their agreement. What had seemed clear was revealed to be subject to varying interpretations.

Sometimes language can be used to communicate with precision and clarity, and sometimes words can obfuscate. This might be intentional in some cases, especially in the realm of marketing and advertising, but in most circumstances, I think that people typically want to be understood when they choose to communicate. It's a huge assumption on my part, but I'm going to run with it.

As I have been considering many ways in which I can partner with others, communication has been rather important. And since I am a part of several different communities, I have been looking at many different possibilities for building on the relationships that already exist for me. I thought at first that a community's purpose would play a part in how communication and partnership could play out among its members, but I am finding that people often have different definitions for some of those purposes.

Even the word community is a bit muddy. I am a part of a community of people where I live, a community of different people where I work, and several other communities of people because of various interests. My definition of a community has been a group of individuals who have a common purpose, but I admit that I don't really know the purpose of many of the folks who live in my neighborhood. For some, community may have to do first and foremost with proximity, and for others it may have to do more with attitude than anything else. I have seen people who claim to have common purposes treat one another with suspicion and even malice. By my perception, that would make it difficult to develop a sense of community, but others might see no connection at all.

So, how can a sense of community be developed unless the word itself is well-defined by its members? Communication might be a start, and it couldn't hurt for that communication to be honest and connecting. Personally, I am considering some alternative words that might be less ambiguous. Partnership is certainly one of them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Power of Partnership, Part 2

I had occasion last week to go back through this blog and read all of my old entries. In May, I wrote about the power of partnership and how willingly people seem to partner with me when I give them an opportunity. More recently, I wrote about learning in a spiral, getting a new perspective on a particular challenge each time I encounter it. Today, the spiral has brought me back around to partnership because of three important pieces I gained over the past few days.

It has been because of partnership in communication that I have become more keenly aware that I am trying to do something unusual in my life. I am looking at what I want in my life and determining how to create it. Recognizing that the plan I am putting in place is not designed to change everything overnight, I am still seeking the small steps I can take toward a distant goal while getting all that I can from where I am in the moment. I want there to be purpose rather than reactions behind my choices, and I want to develop my sense of personal authenticity while empowering others to do the same.

Sometimes I just assume that this all makes sense to others, but I have also realized how easily people can draw off-the-mark conclusions when they only have bits and pieces to go on. My willingness to communicate has often involved me believing I was doing my best to be approachable and then waiting for someone to ask a question. Now I am seeing how that has led to some frustration and how much personal power that actually gives away. Waiting for other people to open the door for me also gives me constant ammunition to judge and criticize, to deflect attention away from the fact that I haven't been opening those doors myself. My predictions or assumptions about how people will respond can keep me from opportunities for satisfying partnership.

At one point, I thought that the limitation of that was in finding people who are willing to partner. I knew that I can't do everything myself, but I was not entirely convinced that anyone else wanted to be a part of what I am trying to create on any level. Yet even in the last few days I have been elated that individuals have responded favorably when I sought partnership. What it took was making it clearly known what I wanted, and people appeared willing to find out more. When I allowed fear to keep me from opening my mouth and asking for it, partnership was much less possible.

But I have also learned that I can partner with people who are not as intentional about their partnership. When I am willing to stand in my own competence, insight, and vision, without worrying about what other people see and without trying to prove anything, I can partner in some way with anyone. Their own fears, beliefs, and assumptions might limit how high that partnership can soar, just as mine will when I slip out of alignment with myself. But even limited partnership is not without value.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Listening

I had a conversation yesterday I don’t think I could have had a year ago. A couple of people had concerns about the way I have been handling a situation, and I heard about it through a third party. I asked for (and got) some time to hear their concerns face to face, and I went into the conversation with a desire to hear what they had to say. I also had a desire for them to know that they were heard. If they were willing, I wanted to be heard, too. I didn’t believe I had to defend myself, but I did want to have an opportunity to be honest with them. As it turns out, the conversation was incredibly informative, and I have had a chance to think about several things as a result of my willingness to listen and their willingness to be heard.

Part of the issue for me centers on bringing my full, authentic self forward. In my effort to do this, I can sometimes lose sight of other people, or I can forget the context of certain relationships. My full, authentic self might look different in a recording studio than it would at a family reunion or in front of a classroom. It's not that I have to hide out or be dishonest about who I am, but rather that I can be more sensitive about other people's expectations and the environment in which we interact.

A piece of it rests with other people's interpretations as well. In fact, these particular concerned individuals had begun to draw conclusions from a few pieces of information out of a much broader framework. Their observations are certainly valid, but they are in some ways incomplete. I recognize that if others want to read something into my words and actions without verifying with me, I have very little control over that.

At the same time, I can be more conscious of how my words and actions reflect my deepest and noblest intentions, and I can strive to make it easy for people to see my authentic self. A part of my response to these specific concerns was to look at the larger context very closely, and what I found was that they stemmed from exceptions and not the norm. I have taken some action to address those isolated incidents, and I am moving forward with greater awareness.

Out of that connecting conversation, there arose some questions I still want to answer for myself, and I am grateful to have such blatant evidence of the rewards of being willing to listen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Concentrated Strength

I read recently that it is better to concentrate on maximizing one's strengths rather than constantly trying to make up for one's weaknesses. When I consider my path and the way I have been journeying on it, I often do just the opposite: I downplay my strengths and try to force development of the areas in which I believe I am lacking. It hasn't been an exuberant way to journey, to say the least.

Tonight, I co-taught the first class in a six-week Power of Connection course, and I realized how I cheat myself (and the world) when I focus on making up for my weaknesses. The truth is that I am a skilled teacher, and I am an engaging and compelling speaker. I am insightful and creative, and I can help people to see things they might not otherwise notice. I care about people, and I am an effective communicator. I am also a gifted musician and composer, able to engage in detail work and large-scale planning at the same time.

I am not a skilled marketer. Although I am an excellent strategist, I'm not great at publicizing my self, my skills, or my creations. I do not enjoy tedious and repetitive tasks, and I do not value empty dialogue. At the same time, I am often distracted from the things that are important to me by things that are urgent to someone else. I do not believe that I can do everything equally well, but who can?

What I am learning is that all of what I want to accomplish is rooted in partnerships. I want to partner with people who have complementary skill sets in almost every arena of my life. When I acknowledge what my actual strengths are, it becomes clear how I can make a meaningful contribution to the world. Now, if only I knew how to find the ideal partnerships to fill in the gaps... and here I get the distinct sensation that I already know how to do this. It boils down to my own willingness, persistence, and devotion.

I believe I'm worth it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Snapshots

I don't like taking photographs of things. Whether it's a special occasion or a vacation, I prefer to just experience things and rely on my memory to keep a record of whatever is important or meaningful. I realize that my mind is a flawed piece of machinery, and that memory is fallible. But I also realize that snapshots are flawed in their own way because of how incomplete they are.

For instance, while I do my best to keep things relevant in what I share in writing this blog, the reader only gets a snapshot of my experience. Enough snapshots can give you the impression of a complete (or at least unfolding) story, but only a fraction of the full experience is shared, by necessity of the medium. It would take a bit more digging to get the full story behind my experience of any piece of learning I share in a few paragraphs here.

Likewise, I only have snapshots of other people. And some of those pictures aren't even true. I create my own impressions and predictions of people based on very limited information. I don't honestly know any more about anyone than what they are willing to share with me. I'm going to form predictions and expectations about people. It's when I base my own actions on those predictions that I run into trouble.

When I am willing to be surprised by people, I usually find it to be rewarding. When I stand in my own integrity, I base my decisions about what I do or say on myself rather than my predictions about others. If I am willing to be honest about what I notice, without having to be "right" or get a certain outcome, I never have to worry about how someone else will respond. And the picture I wind up with about another person becomes clearer when I concentrate on just being honest about me and I let them be honest about them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Becoming Unnecessary


Reading over some of my past entries, I find that I often write about little discoveries (and big ones), but I don't often include much about the victories that follow on the heels of those discoveries. This is therefore a bit of self-acknowledgment.

Already I am realizing that the title I chose is rather inaccurate, but it is as good a starting point as any. I spent a portion of my time at work today doing little more than checking in with people. Some of the people I supervise are volunteers and some are paid employees, and in the past, I have scurried from one room to another in a frenetic attempt to oversee everything at once. This season, I did things a little differently, putting into practice all of the pieces I have been learning about leadership and vision.

I communicated clearly my vision for this particular program, and I facilitated coordinated preparation between different people. I have spent time in conversation about available resources and realistic time management on a small and large scale. Today, I watched as these capable and dedicated individuals went about doing their part and I found that my presence was simply not needed. I'm sure that it made a difference to someone that I was there, but there wasn't anything I had to do.

By holding the vision, empowering the people who were carrying it out, and remaining connected to everyone involved, I have begun to live out a different model for leadership than what I previously practiced. It was rewarding today to watch everything happen smoothly, to sit back and appreciate the commitment and purposefulness of people doing something they believe in, knowing that it was taking place in part because of my efforts.

So it isn't actually true that I am becoming unnecessary in the process. What's true is that I have begun to see my role in the creation process, and the roles of other people as well, in a new light. It was absolutely worth being present today, even though there wasn't anything I needed to do.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Making Them Understand

When I hear someone talk about making someone else understand something, I think it's a bit funny. I didn't always. In fact, I still do things out of a subconscious desire for other people to understand my way of thinking. But I realize that I can't. Sometimes it might be because people just aren't capable of it, that they simply aren't in a frame of mind that will allow them to see a different way of doing things. For me, it's more often the case that I'm unwilling to see someone's point of view. I am so convinced that I am right that I would rather try to convince someone to see things my way than listen to their perspective.

Luckily, this is not how I want to be. And the more I become aware of it, the more I can shift gears. I can listen to what someone is saying without believing that my own beliefs are threatened. Of course, this seems to be more of a challenge with people whose perspectives actually have an impact on the reality of my life, like my wife or boss or a musician who has commissioned a piece of music. Sometimes it is so logical to frame things as "either/or."

What I am realizing this week is that I have been holding off on steps forward in my vision for my life and creative pursuits because I am waiting for other people. I am waiting for their approval, for their understanding, for their acceptance... and I have been frustrated sometimes when I haven't gotten it. I've been believing that I can't move forward without making them understand what I'm doing and why. Not just understand it, but approve of it as well. What a brilliant excuse!

I can't actually make anyone understand or approve of my own vision or the actions I'll take to create it. And there is no requirement that I shift my beliefs or commitments just because someone has a different way of seeing things. I can be open to other ideas and possibilities without needing to defend myself. And I can live out my vision with integrity and purpose, trusting that those who want to see it and share in it, will.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Upward Spiral

There are plenty of people who claim that history repeats itself, in the large scale of societies and in the small scale of individual lives. Of course there is Shaw's claim that "If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience." I'm thinking about this today because I am experiencing a bit of it. I make my commitments toward what I want to create in my life, and I somehow find myself facing in the opposite direction overcoming challenges that I thought I had already conquered.

I want to create. It is a passion of mine. Specifically, creating music is something for which I possess strong passion and capability. Creating music requires (among other things) time. It is not how I spend my time, however. I spend my time on the thing which currently brings me a paycheck. And yet, that "thing" is so nebulously defined in some ways that I have a great deal of flexibility in how my time is spent. So my commitment earlier this year was to shift away from spending my paycheck-related time on the mundane tasks that anyone can do and focus that time on the things for which I am more uniquely passionate and skilled.

And yet, those mundane tasks that anyone can conceivably do are still important. Not in an earth-shattering kind of important, but in a meeting basic week-to-week expectations kind of important. So, if I am spending less time on them, it means that someone else must be doing them. Obviously, for my commitment to line up with practical reality, my goals would be best served by finding other people to take on the more mundane but necessary tasks. A short-term expenditure of time to locate and train someone leading to a long-term benefit of gaining more time to create.

But somehow, there always seem to be mundane tasks that need doing. I find myself looking back at my week thinking, "How did I spend so much time and have so little satisfaction from it?" At first I thought, other people aren't willing to do the mundane but necessary tasks, so I'm stuck with them. That's not exactly true, though. I have found willing people, I just keep finding more things to do that don't engage my deepest passions. So I recommit to shifting how I allocate my time, only to find myself doing a different set of mundane (but necessary?) tasks.

Now, I am thinking, how frightened must I be of getting what I truly want? There will always be easy choices about spending my time on more-or-less insignificant tasks, but the most immediately obvious task isn't necessarily the one that will serve my long-range goals. In fact, the most obvious tasks are often the ones that will rob me of the opportunity to get a little closer to what I truly want.

The life I envision for myself is not to make the easiest choices, but to make the most fulfilling ones. I am now looking at this decision again from a slightly different angle. I'm faced with re-learning the lesson, but I have made progress. I recognize the challenge, but I am getting more masterful and more determined. My commitment matters a little more to me now than it did the first time I claimed it. So, here I go again.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Odd Duck

It's the ones that don't quite fit in that often attract my attention. When I am standing in line at the supermarket and there is just one cheery, talkative, fat guy commenting on other people's food choices, he gets my attention. Not because he's conversational or overweight necessarily, just because his behavior is so far from what everyone else is doing. In a way, I find him more appealing. If he wasn't there, I might notice other people more, but that's a different blog entry.

I'm thinking today about that one house on the block that is more dilapidated and sad-looking that all the houses around it. If every home in the neighborhood was in dire need of repair, that one house would be of little consequence. But when every other home seems well-kept and structurally sound, that one home gets my attention. It works just the opposite way, too; if there's one brand new, two-story palace on a block with run-down ranch-style homes, I think most people would notice the one that doesn't quite fit.

It's about how "normal" becomes defined, I think. We accept something as normal because of its abundance, not because of its quality. We may prefer a certain type of house when we consider it in isolation from its surroundings, but what winds up attracting our attention is the house that isn't "normal." We then form whatever judgments we want to about that particular home (or person), for good or for ill.

Don't get me wrong. I am capable of judging large groups of similar people, or houses, or whatever it may be. Our human minds do this all too well. But I am thinking today about "normal" because I am realizing how far my own vision for my life is from that measurement. What I want is not "normal" life. In my own way, I want to be the cheery fat guy in the checkout line, only with regard to my career, my creativity, and my connection with other people. There is absolutely no reason for me to accept "normal" as a quality to which I should aspire. That a lot of people live a certain way doesn't mean anything about what I can create when I reach for the fullness of my capability.

Of course, I am aware that there are any number of reactions from others that I just can't control. Some people are attracted to what's not "normal," but some people are afraid of it. And some people can be downright offended or hostile toward it. When I notice all of those other people in the checkout line, how many of them actually find that talkative guy appealing? What are all of those people in the other houses saying about that one home that doesn't fit in their neighborhood? Honestly, I don't know. It's that simple.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fragments

Today it was a harp plucking E-flat unison with a soft sustained flute as a viola slides down its fourth string in an eerie decrescendo over three slow beats. On beat four, a bass drum quietly bathes the room in its wide rumble. And I hear something metallic there as well, I don't know what.

While my time is currently scheduled in such a way that I do not have lengthy swaths to allow my creativity to be completely unleashed, I cannot keep ideas from drawing my interest. In the midst of an email or organizing my desk or driving I get snippets of sounds that persist in my head. The first thought is usually how much I like the sound, and the second thought is usually "Where have I heard that before?" Once in a while, I'll be able to place it in a film score or some classical piece I enjoyed at some point in the past, but I am often convinced that it is original. Mostly at least.

With just a hint of inspiration, I am able to see a wealth of possibilities. From one sound or musical idea, any number of paths can emerge. Where does it want to go? How does it want to evolve? And when will I take the time to bring it to life? That last one is a bit frustrating, but I can accept that I don't know the future.

The bottom line is that I write down what I can of the sound. It may be a particular melody, a timbre, a contour, a rhythm. I usually have staff paper close at hand, but sometimes it winds up on a napkin or an envelope. They will wait for me, and I will continue in my journey with a purposeful intention to find ways to allow my creativity to have my full and undivided attention. At least long enough to develop some of these compelling sounds into something complete, whatever that looks like.

As long as the sounds keep coming, I'll keep writing them down and watching for the chance. And each little inspiration gives me another reason to keep stepping forward.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Believable and the Realistic

Often when people are coming up with all of the reasons why something isn't possible, doing their best to convince another person not to try to achieve something extraordinary, they claim that they are "just being realistic." I wonder how this word has become synonymous with pessimistic. Are we so convinced as a culture that failure is more likely than success that we confuse being realistic with an unwillingness to believe, hope, vision, dream? Perhaps it is an effort to avoid disappointment or pain, but I'm not sure that this interpretation of what is realistic provides joy, satisfaction, or delight. And I would suggest that it is based more on fears than on actual reality.

What is believable for me right now is far from what I used to consider realistic. From being something of a cynic at one point in time, I have now taken as a basic principle that people are capable. Even as I wrote recently about the challenges that life is presenting as I continue to step into a vision of something more for myself and the people around me, I felt a buoyant excitement and an energy. My vision is very believable, and I think it is very much worth believing in.

Is it realistic, though? Who can say? I believe that it is realistic to assume that the earth will continue in its rotation and its orbit around the sun for the rest of my lifetime. I believe that it is realistic to assume that the basic laws of physics will not change overnight. I believe that it is realistic, in other words, to accept the big picture of consistency that I have experienced from the natural world. But I'm not so sure about people. What is realistic when it comes to people?

Often, I find myself making assumptions about people based on my previous experience of them. Sometimes I will make assumptions based on my experience of other people in the same category. The truth of the matter is that people can change. Even from day to day or moment to moment, moods and attitudes are not fixed in stone. So much of our experience in life is in relationship to other people, and yet we often make sweeping generalizations about individuals or groups and think we are being realistic.

As I envision various partnerships emerging in my life, and as I actively seek them out, I am going to put aside the temptation to call my assumptions and predictions "realistic." I'll know what is realistic by being awake to reality, and I can shift and adjust my approach toward my vision as I gain new information. Rather than close doors on the basis of a pessimistic assumption, I choose to believe in possibility. I am willing to base my actions on hopefulness, and I am willing to be surprised.

Friday, August 28, 2009

My Expectations vs. Reality


Say what you will about visualization, no matter how vividly or purposefully one sees something happening in the mind's eye, one can't control anything outside of oneself. When I visualize the outcome that I truly want, I do believe that I line up my intention and my awareness; I'm ready for it and I'm watching for opportunities to propel myself toward that outcome. But my expectations are still often in competition with what reality turns out to be.

In my job, I have spent a couple of years working toward a long-range vision. I have been redefining what "leadership" means for myself and for other people around me. I have encouraged other people to embrace their capability and I have become more intentional about my communication and my decisions. I want my choices to reflect that larger vision rather than be made out of fear or a desire to please people. The person I had worked most closely with in developing this vision is now gone, however. I am now reporting to someone whose purpose is to see things through a transition period, so the expressed expectations are relatively short-term in scope. Can we still have partnership with different visions.

With the new Power of Connection mentor courses I have scheduled, I expected that there would be a strong interest in a certain community. At least enough to reach the course limit of 15. My marketing for the course was based on that expectation, but the registrations have not been pouring in. I don't know the reasons, but I am recognizing that reality is not what I expected or even envisioned it to be. I am certainly learning something from the experience, but it's not what I had hoped for.

As a composer, I am exploring ways to spend more time with creative pursuits rather than spending my time sending out pieces to competitions and calls for scores in the hopes of getting performances and recognition. I envision a partnership with someone who has a complementary skill set and sees a way to benefit from truly acting on my behalf. I see a number of possibilities for this kind of partnership. It may even be several different people. But I don't know what reality will give me to work with.

When do persistence and tenacity become stubbornness and inflexibility? I don't know. My decisions for today are to hold to my larger vision and see where it carries me. It's certainly not something I believe I can create overnight, and I fully expect that it will continually fluctuate and coalesce in response to new information. My expectations are not really in competition with reality. It's just part of the dance. A partnership that constantly calls me into growth. And the fuel for the vision is a kind of hope and faith that is as boundless as I am willing for it to be.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Death of the Lone Ranger

Asking for help has not always been my practice. Perhaps I viewed it as a show of weakness or that I would be bothering someone else. Or maybe I just thought that if I wanted something done right, I'd have to do it myself. I wasn't isolationist about it. I would certainly ask people for small things. Things that didn't require too much of their time or energy. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto, right?

Now I am looking at my time and what I want to accomplish. I am recognizing the realistic limits of what I can do with the number of hours in a day, and I am seeing the shortfall. At the same time, I am in many ways content with my life. My job is no more challenging than I choose to make it, which is both a blessing and a curse. Although the schedule requires that I work when most of my friends and family actually have time to spend together, the schedule is also flexible in many ways. I am grateful that the steady pay is covering my bills at this time, and the compensation is a fair reflection of my experience and skills. And yet, I eventually want to have more time to compose and to focus on the publication and distribution of my music. I want to have more geographic flexibility and I want to be able to spend more time connecting with my wife and friends.

I know of several options. I could still try to do everything myself. In the past, that had led to me being driven and not taking care of myself. What I really want is to enjoy my life while I am stretching to the fullness of my capability. I could let go of some of my goals. This is the most tempting one many days. And yet, the intention behind that vision wells up from my truest self. I have chosen to limit myself for so long, and my recent stretching into the fullness of what I can do has been truly satisfying. And I haven't found my personal limits yet, even as I press against the practical reality of my current circumstances.

So, I am deciding to ask for help. I don't know what that assistance looks like just yet, but I know that I don't have to do everything myself. My vision has room for partnership. In fact, it is enhanced by it. I am passionate and skilled in many areas, but I really don't like the publicity side of things. I know that there are people who do, however. So, I am willing (and a bit determined) to partner with someone with a complimentary skill set rather than only do what I can accomplish by myself. And I'll see what possibilities are created.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ultimate Mystery-Thriller

Well done "suspense" movies are favorites of mine. Sophisticated horror flicks that keep shifting my expectations, mysteries that don't give away the answer until the very end, movies that engage my mind and constantly introduce new twists and turns. One reason I enjoy these films is that I love to figure things out. I feel pretty satisfied with myself when I am able to solve the puzzle or answer the riddle, but what I really get excited about are the times when I don't. I view a well-told tale that has congruency and yet stumps me until the very end as a phenomenal gift.

But I haven't often lived like that. I haven't often been very satisfied with not knowing. Only recently have I really started to revel in surprises from life. It started with a willingness to step into a goal without knowing what it would look like several years into the future. Now I find myself becoming increasingly willing to commit to what I would truly like to create or be, even when I don't know what the next day of that commitment will look like. I feel a bit scared about it actually, and I feel incredibly confident at the same time.

It is as if I am walking into a fog which gets deeper and deeper, preventing me from seeing the horizon clearly, and yet with each step I gain greater clarity about where I am in that moment. The choices that I am making are becoming less about what job I want or where I want to live and more about who I want to be, which (strangely enough) lines up with who I am when all the masks and facades are down. And it occurs to me that I could never really see the horizon clearly. All I have ever been able to do is to take a step and see what happened. And that realization changes so much about how I take that step.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Eating the Elephant

I have had several occasions this year for visioning, looking ahead at what I would like to have or be in my life and taking a stand or making a commitment toward it. When I really let my mind go, I can dream pretty big (although I am still conscious of limiting my visioning with my idea of being "realistic" sometimes). The problem is, there are a lot of things about which I've been dreaming. When I start making a list of all the different goals toward which my visioning leads, it's a pretty intimidating affair.

When I believe that I have to be doing it all right now, that is. What I have been doing is forcing myself forward on ten different fronts and what my body and brain are telling me is "Too much!" I focus my time so intensely on working toward so many commitments and visions that I frequently fail to enjoy what is happening right now. I'm even aware that I have written blogs on the subject before, and yet, here I am learning the lesson all over again.

So, my act of self-care now is to do a little whittling. I'm content to let some of the commitments I have made be future unknowns. I don't have to work at moving down every path all the time. My list of ten big, important goals can become three. It might even shift week by week, or maybe even from one day to the next. I don't actually know what it will look like, but I do know that I will need to check in with myself a little more honestly if I want a different result.

I've been convinced that I have to eat the elephant(s) one bite at a time. Now I am remembering that sometimes I prefer game hen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Waves

I went to the beach for the first time in a long time today, and I was delighted to be in the presence of my four-year-old nephew. The big attraction was wave jumping, and I noticed a ton of things as I observed and participated in this simple activity.

First off, I couldn't predict much about the waves. I could see them coming in, and I could be fairly confident that more were on their way. But there was not a regular interval between them, and there was no way to predict exactly where they would break. Sometimes they would look immense as they approached, only to break far enough out that their impact was minimal. Sometimes they would crash against us one right after the other. Sometimes I was surprised, and once even knocked over, by their unexpected force. And the waves didn't impact everyone equally, even people standing fairly close together.

My nephew's reaction to them was also very educational. He was primarily concerned with how the waves would impact him, nobody else. It was utter playfulness. He would mostly jump to try to clear them. Sometimes he would hold on to someone, jumping up but staying more or less in one place as a wave passed. Sometimes he would let the wave carry him a little bit. Once or twice he even got a face full of salt water unexpectedly, after which he quickly wiped off his face, smiled at his miscalculation, and got ready for the next one.

As much for myself as for you, I'll just connect the dots here. Life will happen. I don't know what it will throw at me, and even if I notice something approaching, I don't really know that I will accurately predict how hard it will impact me. My experience will be uniquely my own, but I can hold on to others when I want to maintain my stability. I can let life carry me or I can exert my own effort, but I can't control anything beyond myself. In any case, I can be playful with life. I might get an unexpected splash, and I might even get knocked down, but I can stand back up and smile and get ready for what comes next. And there will always be something coming next. Something moving. Something calling me into motion.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eating the Covers Off

My grandfather used to say, "Buy 'em books and buy 'em books; they eat the covers off." Meaning, of course, that you can provide people all the knowledge or tools they could possibly need, but the benefit derives from their willingness to use the knowledge and tools. Eating the cover off of a book certainly won't grant you the greatest benefit it could offer. Well, I have been eating my share of covers recently, and I am ready to stop.

I had a conversation that didn't go the way I wanted it to today. It wasn't because of anything the other person said or did; it was my own lack of purposefulness that caused my goal for the conversation to go awry. My intention had been to listen to this person's point of view fully, articulate what I saw as a more effective way to deal with a situation, and convey a boundary that I want to put in place. I missed.

Instead of expressing that I had heard this person's words, I engaged in defensive behavior that didn't serve the intention I originally had. There were probably all sorts of reasons for this, but the bottom line is that I lost my purpose in the course of the conversation. The irony of all of this is that I recently learned how to teach a set of incredible tools for effective communication, and I just threw them out the window when I let my buttons get pushed. I lost sight of what was most important to me, and I ate the covers right off of those valuable books.

The good news is that I will have another chance. I can take a stand again and recommit to that purpose, and I can acknowledge that I know how to be the way I intended to be in that conversation. I can put the tools and the knowledge that I have to use. It creates a strange buoyancy when I look in the mirror and say, "OK, let's try that differently next time."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Powers of Observation

Tonight I enjoyed an Alley Theatre performance of Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood. It has been awhile since I read any of Doyle's original stories, but I always enjoyed them. In tonight's play, however, I saw the character's remarkable powers of observation in a slightly new light. The claim that his conclusions were "elementary" had a bit of a gift in it.

Although many people fail to see what is there to be seen, the potential to notice still exists for all of us. It is not beyond human capacity to be awake and aware, it is simply not what many people choose to be. "Coasting along" or "sleepwalking" or whatever one wishes to call it merely requires less effort than consciousness. Or at least that is the way it seems sometimes. But the ability to notice is always there when we choose to tap into it.

For Holmes, at least in this depiction, the opportunity to use his powers of observation was a source of elation. He felt most alive when he was noticing all there was to notice and drawing connections between every detail. While I am not advocating going out and trying to solve mysterious crimes, I would like to suggest that Holmes was not all that unique. In many ways, I believe that willingness to notice life is what gives me a chance to feel more alive.