Sunday, August 29, 2010

Back to School

Throughout my college and grad school years, I had a real sense of what my long-term, short-term, and immediate goals were. I knew when the semester would be over, and I knew what I expected to learn or accomplish in that time. Now, with no advisor to inform my next steps and no professor with a syllabus to guide my journey through a course, it's really up to me to decide those things. Since I got so much from the structure of college semesters, I decided this fall to create a course listing of 10 courses and developed a semester syllabus for each of them. Essentially, I determined what things I want to spend my time and energy on for the next few months, and I found a way to share those goals with other people.

Five of the courses have tuition fees. One is the Basic Music Composition course I'm teaching at the Rice University Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, and another is essentially advanced composition lessons. I intend to take time for my own compositional endeavors as well, of course. The other three courses with tuition are the workshops I offer through Envision Coaching Solutions. The Power of Connection is on the calendar for October, and I'm in the process of locating a venue and scheduling the other two. I'm looking forward to how these workshops will evolve, and I am excited about being able to share skills and knowledge in a way that empowers other people to claim a meaningful vision for their lives.

The five free courses are a way that I'm basically doing that in my own life. When I was able to quantify what I want to create and learn over the next few months, I was also able to open space for partnership in those efforts. Basically, I advertised my "course offerings" to people I know, letting them see what I'm going to be spending time on and inviting them to join me. I've been thinking about how those courses fit together and why those particular topics are important to me personally.

Flow is a book I've been intending to read for awhile. I put it on the course schedule to invite others to read it at the same time and hopefully benefit from what it has to offer. It's about moment-by-moment creativity, which is something I strive for in my own life and want to encourage in others. I see it potentially informing how I coach coach and compose and connect with others.

The Artist's Way is similar is some ways. I expect to learn and grow as a composer and a coach, and I will have a chance to bear witness to the creativity of others in the group. This book is much more of a workbook than Flow, and its author, Julia Cameron, is an extraordinary creativity coach.

Since I know I'll be viewing and thinking about horror films, I included Morality in Horror Films in the fall semester. This has actually turned into a very compelling project for me. I expect a book to be created in partnership with the other participants, and there will be a lot of exciting lessons in organizing the project, over and above the entertaining subject matter.

Another activity I intended to keep on my calendar is a regular in-person role-playing game. For several months, I have been researching how role-playing games can be a tool for personal and organizational development. Unfortunately, lessons learned in a game typically do not transfer to real life. So, I have been working on developing tools to bridge that gap. Essentially, I believe that the opportunity for people to benefit beyond the fun of playing an imaginative game is too great to ignore. So I am dedicating time this semester to exploring Group Dynamics and Creative Strategy in Role-Playing Games.

Finally, I included in the fall semester Basic Ritual Craft. Much has been written about the importance of ritual, and how ritual can add depth of meaning to life events. We use ritual to celebrate all sorts of special events like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and promotions. It's been an interest of mine for some time, and I have created some rituals for use in previous jobs. I've been accumulating resources from many different perspectives, and I want to do something more with them. I don't know where this one will lead, but I am glad I committed to set aside time for it.

So, I am headed forward with a structure that has worked for me in the past. I don't know how it will work out, but it is an exciting venture filled with things that matter to me. And I am able to explore connection with other people in all of it. The biggest shift for me is that I have accepted that I am at the helm of my own life. Kind of a big deal I guess.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crying Wolf

You know the story. The shepherd boy is bored and lonely, so he yells WOLF! and everybody comes running to help defend against the predator. While this is great fun for the shepherd boy, everybody else is understandably angry about the whole affair. But the boy gives it another go and winds up playing the card too many times. By the time an actual wolf arrives on the scene, everyone ignores the boy's cries, and the wolf eats him. A harsh lesson to be sure.

I believe that there is certainly a lesson in that tale for the "everybody else," but today I am wondering how much I am identified with the shepherd boy. Once upon a time, I kept my cards pretty close to my chest. I didn't share with many people that I was going to a particular college until I had the offer and had made a decision. Same thing for grad school. There have been some major projects in my life I didn't really tell anyone about until they were close to completion. But something shifted several years back.

I started to tell more people what I was up to, and I found that there was support and motivation in the telling. Once I told someone that I was working on a particular piece of music, they would often inquire about it, and I would have another person's energy contributed toward its creation. Plus, just saying the commitment out loud made it seem a bit more real. Over the past several years, more and more people have known about the commitments I'm making, and I gain insight, feedback, and support from an ever-growing array of individuals.

Something else shifted for me over the past year. I started setting my sights on goals that are a bit bigger... paths that I can't discern fully from just the first steps. Committing to those targets is important for me, because otherwise they could just be wishes or dreams that never get realized. But the journey also gives me new information. For instance, I sometimes learn that there are things I don't really like about a destination I had in mind -- things I didn't know when I first committed to it. And in that moment, I have the opportunity to make a choice.

I could continue down a path I don't really want to travel simply because I have committed to it. People are depending on me, expecting me to follow through. That seems like a frustrating and dissatisfying choice that (at best) lacks authenticity. Instead, I have been exploring what was most meaningful to me about a particular goal, and I've been looking for more desirable destinations that offer the same benefits. Which is not to say that I would start a journey over from Square One. Rather, I have gained some knowledge along the way that I didn't have before, and I can see things that weren't possible when I started in a particular direction.

I'm actually at peace with this process. My concern is other people's perception. Since I am advertising my goals more widely, there are more people to notice when my commitment shifts. How many times can I veer off onto another unexpected path and retain credibility? There are some commitments I've made that just don't fit as I learn more about them, and yet I wouldn't have learned that information if I had never made the commitment. But when I choose to continue growing from that point toward something else, does it look like growth to other people or does it look like giving up? When do my shifts in targets for my life look enough like "crying wolf" that no one believes me when I stake a claim on another goal?

There is a part of me that retorts, "It doesn't matter what other people think." But it does. Partnership and meaningful support is such an integral part of creating big dreams that I want at least a few others to get the difference between "going back on my word" and shifting targets to something better for me as I gain more information. The real question doesn't have anything to do with how "everyone" will see me. Life sometimes seems as cut-and-dried as the story: there is the shepherd boy, and there is everybody else. In reality, there are probably people who would come running every time, whether there was ever a wolf or not. And my goals aren't just made up for attention, so the connection between the story and my life is flimsy from the start.

So my answer (to whatever the question is) is to trust myself, and to trust that there will be enough support and partnership in each leg of the journey. I know that I have a purpose, and I know that I never have to defend myself. It ultimately boils down to my willingness to keep connecting with others about what I am creating and why that means something to me. Strange how so many questions seem to have the same answer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Paralysis by Analysis

When I consider the big lessons I got from this week, it's striking to me that there were so many shifts. In fact, when I heard someone complaining after the fact about a situation in which they had been a willing participant, I recognized that habit in myself. In the recent past, I have chosen to go along with plans that weren't really desirable on the grounds that I didn't really have a choice. Or that the outcome would be worth the sacrifice. Then, I would complain about it, without really acknowledging I actually had made a choice. This week was the week after a decision to end that behavior -- the week after deciding that there are plenty of things I am passionate about that will carry me forward, and I don't have to follow any plans for my life that aren't satisfying.

Basically, I started measuring differently. The measurements I had been taking were based on assumptions and predictions... in other words, things I had no chance of really knowing. When I considered all of the possible outcomes that could result from a decision, the decision became impossible. I was paralyzed in a plan that I didn't necessarily like, just because I didn't really know how to evaluate it. And yet, there are ways to narrow down the scope of my observations so that I measure concrete evidence that can be evaluated. Once I started looking at reality instead of my own inventions of what could possibly happen, it was not only easier to evaluate my choices, it was also easy to recognize that they were choices in the first place.

It actually opened up the space for considering what is most deeply important to me. Beyond a particular title or a specific source of income, beyond a particular identity or set of accomplishments, there is a way for me to be authentic. Really, it amounts to trusting myself and recognizing that "I matter" is a simple statement of fact, without any criteria. Essentially, at the core of who I am, there is nothing to measure or evaluate. I need no justification or proof or defense for myself. I simply am. And that is a freeing piece of knowledge if ever there was one.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Blinded By Anger

I felt angry. My immediate response was to discount the feeling and list the myriad reasons why I shouldn't be angry. Anger doesn't solve anything. I had no right to be angry about the situation. Anger isn't attractive or inspiring. Anger is irrational. Anger isn't productive. In fact, it's destructive. So I denied myself the opportunity to fully feel angry for all of those reasons, and I told myself that I needed to just "let go" of my anger in order to create what I want. In essence, I needed to let go of what I was feeling in order to be acceptable to myself.

Refusing to fully acknowledge the emotion didn't change the fact that I was feeling angry. And one of the things I was angry about was not being able to clearly see my next step in developing my business. I was angry at myself for being so busy doing that I wasn't leaving much time for enjoying what I was doing. Sure, I was doing lots of things I expect to contribute positively to what I'm creating, but I wasn't seeing results from some of those activities. And I didn't know why. Was I not being patient enough? Were my expectations off base? Would those particular activities actually benefit me? I couldn't answer the questions, and I felt angry about it.

I was actually angry about a lot of things. Little things that I told myself I really shouldn't be angry about. But whether I wanted to be or not, I was angry. Thanks to a good friend, I was able to see that I had trapped myself by wrestling with the emotion instead of just feeling it and expressing it (in a safe and non-destructive way). It made sense that I couldn't see a way forward from where I was standing. My energy was focused on denying myself a legitimate emotion.

Once I accepted that I felt angry and expressed it, I realized one of the issues that had me frozen in my journey. I was doing things without a means to measure them, and it is impossible for one to evaluate something that isn't being measured. I also realized that part of my anger was stemming from the fear that if I stop engaging in one of those potentially valuable activities, I could sabotage my efforts. So I was caught in a snare of not allowing myself to stop doing something that may be effective, and not giving myself a way to determine its effectiveness. No wonder I was angry about that.

With my anger expressed, I started to see that I can create a way to measure what I'm doing, to evaluate whether it's really having the result I expect. And I started to see that there are plenty of things that I enjoy doing that will support what I am creating. If I stop putting my effort into one ineffective activity, I'm not hogtying myself or limiting my potential for success. There are other ways to create what I want. I don't have to lock myself into one particular irrevocable path.

In the midst of my anger, I was the victim of everything, including my own decisions. As long as I wrestled with whether or not I should be angry, I would remain a blind victim. On the other side of that anger being expressed, my vision is much clearer. And I can laugh at my perceived victimhood as I step through the chains of my self-imposed limitations.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Lessons from Karaoke

Maybe karaoke really is Japanese for "You're doing it wrong," but three things I noticed while out with some friends at a karaoke bar seem bigger than karaoke. So this week I'm sharing them with you so that they might have an impact in your non-karaoke activities. And mine, too.

When I looked at the head-spinning array of songs in their catalog, I found myself thinking Ah! I know that one!, only to realize as I thought of the tune that I didn't really know it as well as I believed. I knew the chorus perhaps, but not the verses. Or I knew some words, but couldn't for the life of me remember the actual melody. Disappointed, I kept searching for another song that I actually knew with a little more confidence. My mind sometimes thinks I have knowledge that I don't actually have.

Having experienced getting up on stage and singing, I may actually try one of those almost-familiar songs next time and see what happens. Who knows? The lyrics may all come rushing back. But being on the stage has challenges all its own. For instance, I couldn't actually hear the key of the song I was singing when it began, I just had a general sense that there was accompaniment. So I started in what seemed like the appropriate key and went for it. As the music became more distinct at the chorus, I realized that I was way off. But I couldn't quite make the shift to a new key until I stopped and listened for just a moment. Then, I jumped back in, more in sync with the accompaniment. My mind had been so locked in to what I was doing, that I couldn't comfortably make that shift without a little break in my own inertia. When I realize I am off course, sometimes the best thing to do is stop and get my bearings -- rather than continue to barrel forward.

The greatest phenomenon of karaoke bars is that everyone gets acknowledged. Whether you sing a song like the original artist or your performance lacks any recognizable melody or rhythm, people will acknowledge you. And the applause and cheers are quite sincere, even if someone tanks. Sure, people may really go crazy for a great performance. They also recognize that it takes guts and commitment to even be on stage in the first place. You might not be ready for American Idol, but it is an accomplishment just to get up and do your best. It doesn't cost me anything to acknowledge someone for doing their best, and there will probably be someone in my life to recognize me for stepping forward.

And even if there isn't, the whole point behind the evening was to have fun, and it was obvious that people did just that. People who were natural entertainers and people who were singing on a dare. And it was fun for everybody, whether we were on stage or enjoying someone else's performance. Of course, there is a little anxiety that goes along with any kind of public performance, but the bottom line is: Life is too short not to enjoy what you are doing. When I am willing to have fun with everything I choose to do, my whole life perspective is transformed.