Earlier this week, when I inquired about purchasing some lily essential oil (for a little "aromachology" exercise), the gentleman behind the counter said, "You won't find that here or anywhere else for that matter... genuine lily essential oil is highly poisonous and is absorbed easily through the skin. You may want some lily fragrance oil instead." Immediately, I felt very ashamed for not having had that knowledge, and I remember being in classroom situations in which I was expected to arrive with built-in knowledge rather than actually learn. I quickly realized, however, that the only way to learn something is to admit that you don't already know it. As someone who values learning, it is something of a gift to realize that there will always be something I don't know. The humility to admit that I don't know something opens the door for me to keep learning.
That little lesson got me looking back at what I have learned over the past year, and so I share with you now just a few of the things that have stuck with me from my journey of the last several months. I'll go ahead and start with: It's alright to admit I don't know something. It bears repeating, for my own sake at least.
Another big one from 2010 is: Money isn't everything. So many of the paths I have started down over the past year have ultimately been about finances. I wanted to be a responsible person, I wanted to monetize my passions, I sought guidance from a variety of sources, and ultimately I have come to realize that, for me, it doesn't work for me to focus on a dollar figure. The things that matter most to me are not things I can purchase, and when I become focused on the financial equation, it's easy to lose focus on the things that matter most to me. I have learned a lot about money this year, and I have crossed some thresholds in how I think about money. I know now that it isn't something that I want to pursue. Money is merely a byproduct.
There are a lot of voices chattering about money, though. And they chatter about success and freedom and all sorts of other topics. Testing what people say and observing the results in their own lives is a great way to confirm who to trust. Sometimes I really want to trust what someone is saying, and sometimes there is something within me that just cringes at a particular idea or individual. Without any actual data, I'm just going on my own intuition, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but data helps cement my trust of a concept. The challenge is that sometimes the data goes against someone or something I had really wanted to trust. As difficult as it may be to admit it, if a hypothesis doesn't hold true in the laboratory of my life, honesty with myself is still the best policy.
I've also come to realize that: Fiefdoms aren't worth the battle. In different roles, in different organizations, I have encountered people who operate as if they are running their own little kingdom. While I may have something of value to add to the organization, and while I may get something out of my participation, when it comes down to it, it's a poor use of my energy to challenge someone behaving like a local lord. It's easy for a person rooted in their beliefs and their pockets of power to develop a closed mind.
This has come up for me in part because I have begun to really understand for the first time that: It's good to play out loud. As a pianist, I have constantly found myself in places where I am asked to back off on the volume. Sometimes, as a thinker I have met with similar resistance. Recently, I have had a few opportunities where I was urged to play out louder as a musician, and it has been a lot of fun. There is a tremendous amount of freedom when I know I can play loud, and it is immensely satisfying to know that people genuinely want to hear what I have to offer.
Which is why: It's important to find a place where loud is accepted. After hearing for so long that I need to be a bit softer, it sometimes bleeds into my own personal evaluation of myself. In my own life at least, I want to encourage my own peak volume. But there are other places, too, where people want to hear me, as a musician, as a composer, as a thinker. Finding those places is more satisfying in the long run than screaming in a library. Especially since, most of all, I believe that what I have to offer has value, and I would prefer to find ways for that value to be what people notice first.
So, that brings me to two last big ones that I have known for a long time, but have only started to really believe. Focusing on what's most important to me is the best way to live a meaningful life. Of course, it can be a challenge to know what's really most important, but for me it includes having creative outlets, making music, the connections that I have with other creative people. It's important for me to respect and tolerate other people's spiritual expression, even as I seek an ideal way to define and live out my own spirituality.
Lastly, as much as I want to be understood, admired, and respected, as much as I want to be able to use my strengths and capabilities in service to others, my first priority is to live in a way that makes sense to me. To live in a way that I understand and admire and respect. To make choices that magnify my strengths and capabilities. I don't have to justify my life or choices to anyone, but I want to be act with integrity in accordance with who I am at my core. When I choose things that don't really make sense to me, why would I expect to be understood, admired, or respected by anyone else? Harmony within hopefully paves the way for harmony without.
It has been a very fruitful and satisfying year, all things considered. If you stick around on the journey, we'll see how many of these lessons I keep learning further up the spiral...