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


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.