Citizen, Father, Leadership, Marketer, Musician

Discovering competence

Most of us have been in situations where we arrive on a scene, especially when joining a new group, and learn that something is going terribly wrong. The Boy Scout group planning an activity is disorganized. The band uniforms to distribute are all in a giant unsorted pile. The last guy wasn’t enforcing the rules so violations are commonplace. The previous leadership didn’t put key systems in place to make it easier to make decisions. So you must decide whether to let it rot, or whether to step forward and exert your will to course correct.

But sometimes, you discover competence. The people in the group you’ve joined have already figured things out. Processes are in place and they work. There are precedences which guide behavior, or a positive culture focused on getting the job done. Inventory is organized; leaders are stepping up, setting examples, and giving direction; exceptions are flagged and handled. Sure there are problems, but they are identified, triaged, and assigned an owner. The primary decision is not whether to help, it’s to decide where and how you can contribute to them moving faster and being more successful.

Don’t let that joy of discovering competence go unacknowledged. Remind the competent that they’ve come a long way and are doing a great job. Give hearable praise about why what they’re doing is making a difference. Because there’s a good chance they’ve forgotten while they target the blemishes and try to keep the positive energy moving forward.

Husband, Musician

Admiration for amateurs

Sometimes we’ll see a next-door-neighbor type everyman doing something — for their job, as a hobby, in an instructional video  — and think, “That’s easy, I could do that.” Or even, “They’re screwing that up; I’d be much better.” Entire TV series and YouTube channels, from gameshows to reality shows, are partially based on this concept. Can you believe he didn’t solve the puzzle? Why did she make that terrible decision? I wouldn’t screw that up!

But sometimes, you see someone you know accomplishing something, and you think, “Whoa. I could never do that.”

Like your wife painstakingly detailing the frets and strings on the guitar-shaped cookies that she’s making for the Rock of Ages middle school musical bake sale, “just because” she’s learned how to do it now and it’s fun.

Or your son, casually recording himself playing a portion of a complicated solo marimba piece that he’s working on. “Is this for an audition or something?” Nope – it’s just the next challenge for him and he wants to learn how to do it to get better.

We all know we’re good at a lot of things, from the career-defining to the trivial. And we can appreciate when “professionals” catch their Super Bowl footballs, sing their Met operas, bake their British Baking Show cakes, and otherwise perform at a high 99th percentile level that gets them on those fields, stages, and programs.

But there’s joy in admiring that mastery up close and personal, where you can see it developing iteration after iteration, and truly appreciate the work that it takes to get there.

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C Major Musser etude on Epic sauce rosewood

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Athlete, Father, Leadership, Marketer, Musician, Runner

Showing you still know how to do it

Ever find yourself in a situation where you have to tackle a specialized task, and flex muscles that you haven’t used in a while? And imposter syndrome starts to set in?

Maybe it’s helping your child with his algebra homework.

Maybe it’s cooking or baking a complex recipe for company coming over.

Maybe you’re taking the field/pitch/gym/rink as an athlete for a sport you abandoned years ago.

Maybe you’re up in front of others and you have to convince them that you know what you’re talking about, like teaching a class, leading a group exercise, or presenting at an event.

Maybe you’re showing off a talent of yours in a performance, like singing or dancing or acting, but it’s been a long time since you last took the stage.

It’s like riding a bicycle – once you learn how, you can always do it… right? You know that you know how to do it. Well at least, you knew how to do it, once upon a time. You’re pretty sure you can do it again. All the evidence shows you can do it. And yet, deep down inside, there’s a tiny but convincing voice saying oh my god what are you thinking you haven’t done this in forever how dare you think you can do it again oh god oh god this is crazy you know you can quit now and you won’t be embarrassed this is nuts stop stop STOP…

There’s joy in re-discovering that yes, you can still do it.  And in the satisfaction of telling the tiny but convincing voice of your lizard brain to shut the hell up.

Father, Musician

Admiring perseverance

Sometimes we run into people or things that should be more flexible, but instead become obstinate obstacles. We can accept them as they are. Or, we can decide to do something about them.

Case in point: my 9th grader received a vibraphone rental for Christmas this year. However, being a cheap rental, it did not come with an adjustable height frame – a problem for my 6′ tall son. Grandpa to the rescue!  But… not without lots of experimentation and failures. The holes drilled in the stilts weren’t wide enough. When they were wide enough, they didn’t deal with the curve of the frame. Then he stacked them to get the height right… but the adjustable pedal couldn’t reach the ground. I was about ready to give up and lobby for acceptance. Instead … we got this masterpiece:

There’s joy in seeing others persevere to overcome an inflexible obstacle.

Athlete, Father, Friend, Husband, Marketer, Musician

Self-care and recovery days

There’s a lot on the calendar some weeks. It could be fun stuff like holiday celebrations and gatherings of friends. Or it might be a nonstop schedule of family chauffeuring. Sometimes it’s long hours at the job for a crunch week.  Sometimes it’s an array of previous commitments (choir rehearsals, weekly basketball, networking events) — chosen responsibilities that individually are worthwhile but eat up a lot of combined time.

Even for those of us who love being active as much as possible, over time all that activity adds up, like sleep debt. That’s when self-care comes into play. It’s up to us to take care of ourselves so that we don’t devolve into a harried state that prevents us from enjoying our chosen activities.

Over time, we learn where our limits are. Over time, our limits start to pull in. Over time, we begin to recognize when we need a power nap, a day off to vegetate, or a quiet weekend to recharge our batteries.

Be joyful whenever you have the luxury to take that hour, day, or weekend of self-care to recovery.

Human, Marketer, Musician

Finding the Opportunity

Finding opportunities out of obligations is about more than the old optimist’s creed of “making lemonade from lemons.”  It’s about efficiency.  It’s about attitude.  It’s about shaping your reality.

Once my dad was told to attend a dinner event 3 hours away to represent the company, accept an award, and shake hands with the governor for a 5 minute photo-op.  My dad’s initial reaction was annoyance – this disrupts my work day and takes me away from home, there’s so many other things that need to be done, why me, and so on.  Then he realized that he was doing this anyways – why not make it an opportunity?  He decided that he’d use those 5 minutes with the governor to draw his attention to a project that wasn’t getting attention.  There’s evidence that those 5 minutes actually contributed to that project’s approval.  He created value out of what could have been a waste of time.

The chorus I sing with is requiring its members to do 9 holiday concerts this year instead of 7.  Like many, my initial reaction was a mixture of panic and disappointment – especially since the news was communicated without fanfare, gratitude, or acknowledgement of the change. How could they do this to us? How much more will this cost our family to ‘volunteer’? And so on.  Then I realized that the holiday concerts have really changed from years ago, when they were perceived by many as a burden, an obligation, a mandatory exercise with a substitute conductor and a high temptation to mail it in. The new approach is to treat each concert like a music-making experience, and the rehearsals and pedagogy associated with them are basically a voice lesson for me every time.  I’ll take two more cheap voice lessons and performances this December, especially given that this may be my last season if I’m not in the chorus after next spring’s re-audition!

Life is more enjoyable when you reframe obligations as opportunities.

Father, Musician, Uncategorized

Metallica

I am not a heavy metal fan.  I rank it just above gangsta rap and country music in my mental list of “least favorite music genres.”  I tend to dismiss the songs as so much noise, much as a connoisseur on the other side of the spectrum would be dismissive of an operatic aria.

Perversely, my 13yo son is now a huge Metallica fan.

It’d be too easy to slip into the role of doddering father, shaking my cane and muttering “turn that crap down” and “kids these days” and “back in my day”, even though technically I’m pretty sure Metallica was “back in my day.” I’ve been humoring his excited explanations of why he liked certain songs. I’ve marveled at his ability during drum practice to capture the patterns of some of his favorites. I’ve been perplexed at his recall of song names, albums, lyrics, band member names as they’ve come and gone… these are from the 80s.  I guess it’s the equivalent of if I had been a teenage fan of alternative 50s music — not Elvis Presley, but perhaps Tony Bennett or Mitch Miller.

(Of course, play a symphonic piece and I can almost certainly name whether it’s from 100, 200, or 300 years ago, if not the composer and the piece itself, but I digress…)

Today he played me “Spit Out the Bone” on the way home from soccer practice.  As I was adjusting to the percussive assault on my brain, he explained the lyrics and the post-apocalyptic man vs robot setting.  He pointed out how Lars Ulrich is achieving those sounds from the drum set, and the different “fills” involved. He mentioned it’s from a recent album rather than something from the 80s.  He noted the patterns and rhythm and how there’s actually some music and chord structure going on. That evening I read up more on the song.  I learned about the philosophy of transhumanism which is, to some degree, advocated by the song’s narrator, implying criticism by the band given that said narrator is trying to convince humans to give themselves over to technology and essentially commit suicide.  It’s commentary on our smart watches and faces buried in iPhones and desire to stay plugged in all the time.  Given that context, the music makes sense, and I understand the emotion behind it.  And suddenly I have a glimpse as to what a lot of heavy metal is about, and why it’s music, and why he likes it.

In short, I got a music lesson from my son.  That was awesome.