Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hedging My Bets

Not long ago I wrote about finding focus. The multitude of things I have been building and developing in my life are all meaningful and valuable in some way, and yet I made a startling realization this week: I have been hedging my bets on my own success! Instead of going full throttle toward my passions, I have had other plans waiting in the wings just in case. In many ways, I have been putting out my terms of surrender to the universe, even as I strove for forward momentum.

This week, I received inspiration from a number of sources, and I started trimming the hedges from my plan. What I actually want to surrender to is my inevitable success at being authentically me. Keeping a Plan B in my back pocket is only necessary if I believe that I'm going to fail. In truth, I know that I will always have the opportunity to make new discoveries, course correct, and find a way forward. My journey may not look like what I expect it to, but building a Plan B or C only robs me of my commitment toward what I most want.

My friend, James Towell, wrote this week: "You might know that I do a fair bit of running. After a while, I had to look for a deeper purpose that just getting back in shape. I got that 'I have a body, and I'm going to use it, and enhance its capacity to help me have a full life'.

"Well, I had my first ever singing lesson on Wednesday. I sensed that I'd get more out of it than just an understanding of the voice. Apart from it being tremendous fun, I noticed a similar theme. 'I have a voice. I'm going to see what it can do, and enhance its capacity to see how it can support me in living life to the full'.

"...My running and singing helped me connect with a deep purpose for my [personal] work. I want to see what I can do with my heart and my mind. I want to enhance their capacity for no other reason that to help me live a full life. I'm going to see what I can do. I didn't settle for 'I wonder what it would be like to sing', and I'm not settling for 'I wonder what it would be like to live life without resentments, and with love for myself and others'."

I'm with you, James. There's really no point in betting on my failure or spending time figuring out my eventual terms of surrender. I'm going to see what I can do.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Having What I Want

Last month, I told you about a piece I had begun for solo flute. Since then, I made the time to complete the piece and enter it into music publishing software (so that a performer is looking at a page of professional-looking music rather than the original hand-scrawled version!). A few days ago, I received feedback from a couple of flautists about the piece.

What I wanted from this piece was to tap into my own playfulness and compose a piece of music that would be satisfying to play and accessible to young performers. And I wanted to write something that had the potential for multiple performances. Composing this piece also gave me an opportunity to conquer the belief that I need several hours set aside if I want to be productive. Much of the actual creation of the piece happened as I had a few extra minutes waiting in a restaurant or a parking lot, which was possible because I had such a clear impression of the piece in my mind. For that alone, the project has been valuable to me.

My fear was that I had made some sections too virtuosic or that I had written a piece that sounded cliche. I learned about the capabilities of the flute. I've heard dozens of solo flute pieces. I've worked with several flautists as an accompanist. And yet, the underlying fear was that I didn't know what I was doing. It was important to me to run the piece past a performer or two, in order to verify that I had accomplished what I wanted. To be blunt, I wanted someone else to tell me that I knew what I was doing so I had an external reason to let go of that fear.

So much of what I have been wrestling with has been the belief that I can't have what I want. Whether it's about my music, my business, my relationships, or my finances, my first hurdle is convincing myself that I can actually have what I want. It's a challenge to even clarify what I want if I believe that I can't get it anyway. And my fears seem very reasonable in that space, even though I know that they are products of my creativity running unproductively rampant.

Deep down, I know that I am a capable composer, and I know that this piece is all that I wanted it to be: playful, playable, short, accessible, idiomatic, and fun. I didn't really need someone else to tell me those things. But the confirmation from other trusted sources helped me to verify which beliefs were on target, and that in turn weakened the bite of my fears about the piece and myself. By getting feedback from others, I also learned that I had written a piece with pedagogical value, which means that a flute teacher has more of a reason to give it to a student.

So my next step is to find performers who are interested in programming the piece. Which brings me to the realization of what I most want. In everything that I am doing, in every aspect of my life and career, the thing that ties it all together for me is connection with others. That connection even plays an important part in keeping me centered with myself. What I want most is deep connection and meaningful engagement with others. And I believe I can have that.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Phone Call

I want to tell you about a phone call I had a few days ago, but first I want to give you a brief update of where things stand. I recently signed a 5-year exclusive contract with a publisher for one of my pieces. This is an incredible stepping stone, and I am very excited about the possibilities that can spring from it. It means essentially that I have an advocate for my music who has contacts and connections that I don't. And he has a vested interest in getting my music heard.

The Envision Coaching Solutions site is on track, with a target date of June 7 for the first official newsletter. I've been working on a free download to provide to people who sign up for the newsletter, and I am very pleased with what I have put together. It is very rewarding to be consistently following a realistic plan for this endeavor, and I want to share the whole process with you soon. For now, I'll just say that a big inspiration for the site has been David Wood's book, Get Paid For Who You Are.

So now to the amazing phone call I had last week. Over the past several months, I've been reading a lot of books about entrepreneurial skills, leadership, and success. I really value what I have been learning, but I don't often give the authors of these books much thought beyond assessing the credibility of what they've written. As I was marking my place in one of those books, I noticed the author's bio on the jacket cover and saw that he was local. I decided that, when I finished the book, I would give him a call and let him know how much I enjoyed it.

Well, I made that call just a couple of days ago, and I was completely unprepared for how rewarding it turned out to be. I simply expressed my appreciation for what he had written, and I told him the biggest lesson I had gotten from the book. He commented on that insight. Then he took things a bit further and dug in with me about owning some of my personal advantages. It was one of those conversations that just helps things click into place mentally. Before we hung up, I asked if there was a way to keep posted on local events at which he would be speaking, because I want to let other people know about the opportunity. As a result, I wound up getting invited to an event I would never have known about otherwise.

I walked away from that call ready to embrace my strengths and find more opportunities to connect with people in a meaningful way. At the time, I thought it was a bold move to pick up the phone and call a stranger to say how much I appreciated his book. When I think about it, who wouldn't want to take a call of gratitude from someone? It was still a different behavior for me, so it seemed to be riskier than it actually was. And getting past that perceived risk was incredibly rewarding.

By the way, the author is Garrison Wynn, and the book I was calling him about is The Real Truth About Success. You might have your own set of people to connect with. Expressing sincere gratitude is not as risky as you might think.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Finding Focus

At a recent recital, I was playing piano for several high school musicians. We had rehearsed together a few times, and I felt confident going into the performance. Then little details started whittling away at that confidence. The piano was arranged in such a way that I could not see the performers well, so I missed some opportunities to coordinate. The room was cold, and the resulting stiffness in my fingers reduced my dexterity. I hadn’t had a chance to practice in that space, so my ears were not accustomed to the reverb…

It looks like a list of excuses from where I am sitting, and perhaps that what it ultimately is. But my performance that day was not what I would have liked it to be. I am convinced that the real reason is simply that I don’t practice as much as I used to. Without frequent practice, the muscles and the mind lose a bit of capability, and I no longer spend the 4–6 hours practicing every day that I once did. If I were to focus my career on being a pianist, I would need to make some adjustments.

Instead, I have concluded that having money is the result of helping other people. I want to find ways to engage my passions in helping other people, and I want to create ways for that to be an income stream, so I am not sacrificing my own well being for the sake of my passions. In fact, that kind of sacrifice is the stuff of martyrs, and I’m not submitting any more applications for that position. But not every opportunity to help others is equally satisfying or equally compensated. As much as I have enjoyed playing the piano and the connections with young musicians, accompanying middle- and high-school musicians frankly doesn’t pay well enough for a person to make that their entire source of revenue.

So I am faced with a challenge of focus. As I began exploring what I wanted my life to be, I realized that I had been playing small for a long time. My first goal was to spend more time creating music and seeking opportunities for it to be heard. Pursuing that goal initially resulted in some short term jobs to meet immediate financial needs, and in less than six months, I now have an exclusive publishing contract for one of my pieces, which can be a stepping stone toward long-range success as a composer.

There have been other things occupying my attention, however. I became an independent contractor in a wellness business in order to develop residual income which would allow me to take full advantage of the freedom of time and location I had gained. As a result, I have been learning and honing some entrepreneurial skills I never saw a use for in previous positions. It has definitely ramped up my personal development, and the skills I am learning are transferable to every other area of my life. Although I haven't yet replaced my old salary, if I were to truly focus on developing this business, I can see the potential to do so in a short period of time from where I stand.

And yet, I still have a passion to help others deepen their purpose and build a strategic vision for their own goals. Although my wellness business can offer this in a very focused way, some people aren't looking for an entrepreneurial opportunity. They want to engage their passions differently, create something bigger than what they thought possible, or just find greater meaning in what they are currently doing. Helping people find purpose and create a vision energizes me and fuels my own creativity. So I am creating Envisionability, a newsletter about purpose, vision, and creative solutions. I see how this can help other people, serve my own personal growth, and ultimately serve as another revenue stream so that I can keep spending my time helping people, composing, and simply enjoying life.

My challenge now is focus. Do I focus on the thing that I most want to do, or the thing that can bring the most financial freedom? Do I split my focus on three different endeavors, recognizing that they all provide some transferable skills and learning? How will that impact my ability to accomplish my goals in each of those arenas? Will other people see how the different elements of my path are linked, or will they judge me as lacking credibility or clarity? Or is my focus actually on something other than the activities of my journey?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Big Dreams, Small Steps

Although there isn't what I would call an abundance of wildlife in our neighborhood, I do see and hear a few birds from time to time. Usually, they are distant enough that they just sound like a natural part of the background. Except that one day, I heard a chirping that sounded like it was in the hall near our front door. It was very much a part of the foreground, distinct and difficult to ignore. I was certain that a bird had somehow gotten into the coat closet.

When I looked out the front window, however, I saw a little bird perched on the mailbox by our front door. I'm no ornithologist, but this was probably a sparrow or maybe a finch. It was about that size. The mailbox is one of those upright deals attached to the house next to the front door. The top of the mailbox was open, and as I watched, this little bird took a sprig of pollen and dropped it into the box. Then he flew off, only to return a moment or two later with another contribution. And he was so proud of himself that he wanted somebody to know about his accomplishment. He made so much noise in that little echoing alcove that he sounded like a whole flock.

Well, it didn't take me long to figure out that he was building a nest in the mailbox, and although I was greatly amused watching him, I knew that his residence of choice wasn't going to work for me. Before anybody got too comfortable, I put on my heartless villain persona and cleared out the mailbox. The thing was over halfway filled with pollen and twigs and leaves, so I know he had been at this for awhile. I wondered how long I had left the mailbox lid open in that tempting and inviting position. Not only was this little fellow angry, but I heard at least two other noisy little birds chastising me from the bushes as I callously tossed aside their future home and blocked any hope of reconstruction by closing the mailbox lid.

Since then, I have been very aware of whether I have closed that mailbox. I have great confidence that he found another, even more impressive nesting location, but I didn't relish dashing his hopes of raising a family in a cozy little nest by my front door. I thought about that little guy this week, though. I considered how much he had accumulated by taking just one little sprig or leaf at a time and adding to his construction. And I'm imagining that he took some care with just which perfect spring of pollen to place next in his lush abode. He created something pretty impressive by taking it one piece at a time.

That was an important lesson for me this week, even though it's one I've learned many times before. As I looked at my calendar, I saw time blocked out for big projects on various days, and yet I felt like I was spinning my wheels on some things. I was not celebrating each day, I was bemoaning how little forward motion I had created. So, I changed how I was scheduling my time. I took each big project and I decided what the next few steps were. Then I scheduled the sprig-sized tasks instead of just blocking out time to work on the nest. I can imagine that building a nest could be daunting, but going out and getting the next twig or leaf seems simple enough.

I have written before about eating the elephant one bite at a time, and I have learned time and again about strategic planning. But still I get caught sometimes in the temptation to beat myself up over not accomplishing "enough." Like that upward spiral I have described, I am encountering the same lesson from a slightly different vantage point, and hopefully I am learning it a little bit deeper this time. The result for me this time was not only a sense that I am actively creating the big dreams I have set before myself, but also that I have something to celebrate each day as I take that one next step or add that one next little sprig.