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


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


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


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.