“What Fulfills You?”

“What fulfills you?”

When we run into someone, we usually ask “How are you?”  Since it’s rhetorical, this question usually garners the expected superficial response, “I’m fine, thanks, how are you?”  The question doesn’t dig deeply, doesn’t attempt to make a meaningful connection.

I recently assisted at a 3-day Fulfillment class with CTI, the Coaches’ Training Institute.  Students had come from varied backgrounds in terms of geography, career, and life experiences.  I volunteered to assist the leaders and help to make sure things ran smoothly.

In our first exercise, everyone circulated, introduced themselves to another person and asked, “what fulfills you?”  It was fascinating to see how fast we got to know meaty things about each other:  what we do for fun on a Saturday, who we spend it with, where we like to travel on vacation…

…in short, what lights us up and made us feel alive.

Aliveness and connection are the foundation of a fulfilling life.  I see this emerge in my coaching clients when they move towards what they’re passionate about.  It’s easy to be complacent and pretend that what our heart tells us isn’t really important.  We resist what’s new because the unknown feels scary.  We settle for what we don’t enjoy but think ought to be ‘good enough.’  Sadly, this leads to flatness, deadness.  Picture a heartbeat on an EKG that has flatlined.

In contrast, coaching offers a vision of life that is resonant and full of purpose.  Values are clarified, goals are determined, and actions are aligned with values.  Now, that’s a life with a pulse!

Living a fulfilling life is a radical act.  A coach finds out what someone really, truly wants to do, and asks them to take action to get it.  How often are we asked what lights us up, and are held accountable for taking baby steps toward making that happen?

How many times do we think about taking that step, then back down, shrugging it off?  “Maybe one day–if things change…maybe not.”

What’s a radical act for one person may not be for another.  Someone who never exercises may find that working out 3 days a week is radical and life-changing, while someone else may sign up for a triathalon.  We are all unique.  The important part is what that action means to us as individuals–what direction it has us pointed in, what we learn, and how we grow from doing it.

We have the power to visualize a fulfilling life and to go out and get it.

Call or email me for a free 30-minute sample coaching call today.

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Practice Makes Perfect? It Depends.

Bulletproof Musician recently wrote this insightful blog post about how to practice effectively.  Perhaps surprisingly, the most important factor doesn’t turn out to be length of practice time, or making few mistakes to begin with.  Rather, improvement made during practice depends on how mistakes are addressed.

Progress appears to hinge on the proportion of times that a passage is played correctly.  Musicians who stop immediately to understand and correct mistakes, drilling the same passage at a slower tempo until they have mastered it, do best.  Those who plow through without taking time to understand the exact nature of the mistake do not fare as well.

This may sound like a basic insight, and it is indeed straightforward.  It surprises me, though, that practice length and willpower (a limited resource) are relatively unimportant.  Rather, awareness, focus, and corrective action are paramount.  If our brains don’t consciously understand what mistake was made, we’ll continue to repeat it.  Only by slowing down and figuring it out will we correct it.

I am an imperfect student of the organ, which has become my favorite instrument.  I have alternated between taking lessons with a very accomplished organist (and very talented teacher) and studying on my own; currently I do the latter.  When I practice, I have some structures in place to keep me honest, such as tracking length of time and the pieces that I practice in a notebook.

I do repeat difficult passages several times, often playing just the pedals, then adding one hand at a time.  I do slow down the tempo so my brain can process what I’m doing wrong, and correct it.

However, full disclosure:  I don’t do these things consistently.  It can be tempting and way too much fun to zoom through Bach preludes & fugues as though skiing on a black diamond.  If I wipe out, I may have no idea what happened to get me there, and often little desire to be a detective about it.

I don’t want to return to the bunny slopes.  I want to go down a double black diamond again like the big kids, whether or not I’m ready for it.

Playing brings me joy.  When I practice today, it’s first and foremost because I love doing it, not because anyone is demanding that I do it.  Playing well, however, also brings me confidence and satisfaction.  My choice lies in how to preserve the joy and spontaneity of playing for fun, expression and enjoyment, at the same time challenging myself to be rigorous and set the bar high.

In July, I had an opportunity to substitute for St. Anthony’s organist and music director in Jersey City  for two weeks.  It was a memorable experience, playing sacred music in support of a full choir.  Playing with the registration to find the right mixture of sounds, choosing interludes, and conducting a cappella motets all come to mind.

What stands out the most for me, though, is that I was able to play Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Minor as a postlude.  I wouldn’t have been able to do that six months prior.  It felt like a crown, a gift that I was able to share with others.  I wouldn’t have had that to offer if I’d only zipped down the black diamonds like a speed demon.  Methodically slowing down–having the patience, humility and trust to do so–got me to that point.

A confession–I will still play at times like a black diamond skiier.  But the more I realize I have it in my power to play well, the more I want to get curious enough to slow down and figure out the parts of a piece that are befuddling me.

My coaching practice is called Passion + Persistence for a reason.  Identifying what makes us truly alive and sticking with it (rather than getting derailed) enables us to achieve our life purpose.  In the case of music, I could have also named it Practice + Persistence–which apply to so many areas of life!

One reason that I’m challenged to write my blog as often as I did in the past is that I have many creative outlets (such as music).  I’m grateful to say that I feel fulfilled.  Yet it helps to remind myself that like music, there is no “should” about writing.  I enjoy expressing myself through both music and writing, and using them as mediums for connecting with others.

Music, writing, coaching, and connecting with people make me truly alive.  What lights you up?  I’d love to hear from you.

Warmly, Mary