Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Perfect Ingredients

After hearing an impressive soundtrack for a mediocre science fiction film, I was inspired to start composing an electronic piece. One of the challenges and pleasures of electronic music is determining what resources to use. If I compose a string quartet, I know that my resources are going to be the four instruments of that ensemble. And if I write a work for full orchestra, I have a broader array of colors at my disposal, but there are different things to consider about writing for a large ensemble that aren't issues for a chamber group. With electronic music, any sound is a potential resource, so determining which sounds to include and develop in a piece is an important phase of the composition process.

The challenge for me this week has been in limiting my resources. There are so many great possibilities, I have spent the week listening to sound files and taking notes about their qualities; imagining how they might sound if I combined them with other sounds; or what I could create from altering or slicing up a particular sound. I could do this exploration for weeks and never get to the actual creation of anything musical. Getting distracted by the wealth of possibility prevents me from moving forward in the process.

It is as if I determined to cook dinner, and so I set about collecting the perfect ingredients instead of selecting a particular recipe or dish to prepare. Once I have all of the perfect ingredients assembled, I will be able to create a wonderful meal from them. Except that I might never finish collecting perfect ingredients and move on into the meal preparation phase. If I know what I want to cook, I can gather the appropriate ingredients more effectively. And if I determine that I will just use the ingredients I have on hand, I can really streamline meal preparation.

In the purpose-building video course I recently created, I quote the composer Igor Stravinsky, as saying: If everything is possible, I can write nothing. He added to that sentiment, The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution. In other words, if I take a few particularly compelling resources and determine that the piece I'm composing will only use those resources, I open up space for my creativity to be expressed. I can focus on composing the piece because I have moved past exploring the possible resources. Limiting the possibilities I will entertain makes all of my decisions about this piece easier. There will always be another opportunity to compose some music and use a compelling sound I'm leaving out of this project.

And that experience this week has me looking at other areas of my life. Where else do I spend so much time considering the possibilities that I become paralyzed? Placing some purposeful constraints on my decision-making can serve to propel me forward. For the electronic piece, the resources I chose were somewhat arbitrary. Out of dozens of sounds I find compelling and interesting, I selected a few more or less at random, just to be done with the decision and move forward. In other areas of life, less arbitrary constraints might actually be more appropriate.
Recognizing my purpose in a given situation can have tremendous impact by allowing me to focus my boundaries and constraints precisely toward a specific goal.

It's tempting to wait until I have accumulated all of the perfect ingredients before I set about creating something. Perhaps I believe that once I have all of the pieces, they will simply fall into place. But I will never have everything figured out. I can set my creativity loose if I am willing to set some parameters for the journey. There will be opportunities to gather more resources along the way, but I have enough in this very moment to take a step forward.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

(Not) Accepting Defeat

Last week, my top priority was to complete a new video course for Envision Coaching Solutions, upload the file, and get everything set for people to purchase the course from the website. One of my goals with Envision is to reach more people than I can help through one-to-one interaction, so this video course on building purpose is an important facet of that objective. Since it's the first paid product I've put online, there were a few unexpected challenges in the process.

I had the actual course completed on Saturday, so I expected to finish uploading it and making it available to people by Saturday evening. But the file would not upload to the shopping cart program I am using. I tried using different web browsers and formatting the video into different file types. Eventually, I asked for help from technical support (feeling grateful that they were on call 24/7!). I learned that the file was too large to work with their software and that I needed to compress the file before uploading it.

So I went back to the original video and began a trial-and-error process of finding the right level of compression that would still preserve the quality of my work. This took some time, and in the course of my exploration I discovered .zipx compression that helped a great deal. It also solved the challenge of including a printable workbook with the video. Finally, I had a satisfying blend of quality and compression, so I tried once more to upload the end product. And once more there were issues. I wound up calling tech support again, and was told that .zipx files aren't compatible with their software.

Frustrated and feeling defeated, I resolved to find a way to make the course available. I made several calls and checked out several alternatives. On a lark, I even tried one more time to upload the .zipx file... and it worked! I called tech support again, concerned that if the file type was incompatible with their software that customers may have trouble downloading it. I learned that if I was able to upload it, others should be able to download it with no problem.

I also learned that there was no reason why .zipx files shouldn't work with their software. That's right, someone had just invented that because there was no other reason why my upload shouldn't have worked. And I spent the better part of a day hunting down other options. But I was happy that the process was complete, and I was able to celebrate that success. It was four days later than I had originally hoped, but I had prevailed.

When I told this story to a friend of mine, her response was shocking. "You really let people give you run around sometimes." What? I had overcome the obstacles! I prevailed! The project was online and available for people! True enough. But some of my time had been spent trying to find solutions to problems that didn't exist, just because someone told me that what I wanted wasn't possible. It was easy to believe that. I'm getting better at believing that I can have what I want in my life when I'm the only one responsible. But when someone else is involved, it's still almost automatic to accept that I can't have what I want. That life isn't easy or simple. That things won't go the way I plan.

I'm still celebrating that I got the course online, and I am proud of the end result. I'm also looking at how much I still expect defeat, or at least a struggle. There's really no reason why someone else being involved should limit my success. In fact, some facets of my success are all about partnership. It's worth it to me to start expecting that there is a way for me to have what I want, even if it isn't immediately obvious in every circumstance. In fact, that can help me to inspire creativity in the people with whom I partner, rather than expecting people to disappoint me or make my life more challenging. I'd much rather live in the truth that others can be inspiring, creative, and supportive, too.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lessons in Partnership

Some significant experiences this week have centered around leadership and partnership for me. In general, I have been forging ahead on the things that are important to me, accomplishing meaningful goals, and soliciting feedback from others. It's been rather different from waiting for feedback or approval before I take a step, and I am finding it to be invigorating and fun. Here, briefly, are a few brief situations and what I have been getting from them.

Charging Ahead. One person this week asked whether I was just charging ahead and doing my own thing rather than accepting partnership from others within a group. My first impulse was to be defensive, but it didn't take much to see that this person was expressing a desire to be a part of what I was planning. I was giving people something to notice by being proactive. And I was very much wanting that kind of partnership to surface, so it was easy to receive.
The activity of moving forward toward your vision attracts capable partnership more than inspiring words alone.

The Critic. I showed a project to a friend this week, and his feedback was initially enthusiastic. As he continued, he became a bit reserved and was hesitant to say something critical about what I had created. In the end, he was able to provide some great constructive observations that will help me continue to improve upon things. His critique was oriented toward building up what I was doing, rather than tearing it down, and that contribution is incredibly valuable.
When you share what you are creating with others, their perspective can provide fuel to carry you forward in your endeavors.

History Lesson. In a conversation about future plans for an organization, some historical data was brought up. Instead of treating it as "the way things must be done," the discussion was geared more toward the question of what has worked well in the past and what hasn't. There was a great deal of honesty in that perspective, and knowing the history of a group or situation can help make decisions wisely. Historical data becomes detrimental when we ignore it or blindly adhere to it.
Know your history... create your future.

My own self-criticism is that these little vignettes are a way of avoiding getting something deep from the experiences, but I truly have found value in realizing how vital it is to take action while embracing partnership. And I am now on the lookout for more opportunities to partner with capable co-creators, insightful critics, and those who have gone before me to create the foundation where I stand. My path is my own, but the journey is made richer by appreciating a wealth of fellow travelers.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Celebrating Freedom


I'm certain that the observation has been made before by many others, but a certain irony is hitting home for me today as I consider America's independence. As much as we seem to value our freedom politically, we sometimes make odd choices personally. In fact, many people I know have chosen their own form of slavery in their lives, whether it is slavery to a job, to certain relationships, to an addiction of some form or another, or just a set of beliefs about themselves.

I don't mean to say that work and relationships are bad things, but there is a potential for us to use the circumstances of our lives as chains that prevent us from truly living rather than wings that carry our most authentic and noble selves forward. Perhaps it stems from a fear of what will happen if we are accountable for our lives. When we can blame the prison of what our career demands, or focus on how our addictive behavior limits us, we don't have to take responsibility for our lives. My sense is that most people could be living much more satisfying lives if they weren't so afraid of what might happen.

For me, the slavery has been an unreasonable schedule. I load my calendar down with all of the things I want to do, and suddenly they become the things I have to do. And all of the incredible and creative plans I formulate transform into burdens. I beat myself up for not doing everything I want to get done in a day instead of celebrating the milestones I reach. And then I continue to hold myself to an unreasonable set of expectations, as if my ideas will somehow escape if I don't follow them through to fruition in this very moment. It doesn't feel very free.

And "independence" starts to take on a rather ugly connotation in that frame of mind. I want to think of it as:
"I have the freedom to follow any path I choose (within my capability), and I can choose the alliances I build along the way."
But it winds up feeling like:
"I have to do this all by myself. Now that I've started it I have to finish it. If I can't handle this, I'll be a failure."
So on this holiday weekend, I am keeping the calendar clear. I don't need to keep pushing forward and accomplishing more. My vision can have a realistic time frame. And I can enjoy creating it rather than being burdened by it. My intention now is to create more freedom in my life by being kinder to myself with the way I schedule my time. And I want to be more conscious about what prisons I'm choosing to live inside. Realizing that I'm both warden and prisoner. And that I don't have to be either.