Tag Archives: business coaching

5 Healthy Habits During a Job Search

Career transitions come in many forms, one of the most major ones being a new job search.  In addition to the obvious steps of networking and sending our applications (which I will cover in separate blog posts), it is important to consider how to support ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally during a job search.  In coaching clients who are in the midst of a job search, I have observed that they have the best chances of success, and weather the transition the most smoothly, when they follow these 5 healthy habits:

1. Get ample sleep.

Prime your mind and body by giving yourself the rest you need.  We are at our most productive after a good night’s sleep.  Most people need 7-9 hours.  Notice how much sleep you need to feel your most alert.  If you feel you can’t spare the extra time in bed, consider that an extra hour of zzz’s can result in several hours of added productivity, not to mention a more positive outlook.

Some people who are worried about a job search may find they suffer from insomnia and have a difficult time winding down at night.  If this describes you, go the extra mile to set up a cozy sleeping space, limit screen time at night, engage in a soothing pre-bed ritual such as journaling or listening to music.

2. Exercise regularly.

Exercise is wonderful for so many reasons.  It leads to better sleep.  It puts us in a good mood.  It activates endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.  It makes us calmer, less reactive, and better company for others to be around.

Have a hard time committing to exercising on a regular basis?  Consider the huge rewards it brings.  Sometimes it’s simply our resistance to a new habit that stands in our way.  Try scheduling exercise in your calendar and set yourself up for success:  pack your gym bag, set an alarm.  The more times in a row that we repeat a new habit, the more engrained it becomes in our minds and the more naturally it comes.

3. Do something just for fun.

Why?  Career transitions inevitably entail a lot of stress (both “good” and “bad” stress).  Doing something you enjoy, that’s just for yourself, can alleviate much of that stress.  It also has a profound impact on reframing the career transition as one part of your life, rather than an all-consuming part.  Whether it’s hiking, taking a painting class, or playing in the backyard with your kids, everyone needs time to be playful, silly, or creative.

4. Surround yourself with a support network.

This one is a double whammy.

First, you will feel more supported emotionally when you take advantage of the support that’s available to you.  You will have more optimism and resilience, and less risk of anxiety or depression.  You will experience more connection and less isolation.  Others matter.  Positive psychology shows that meaning is a key hallmark of happiness–connection to other people and to something larger than ourselves.

Secondly, you will be more likely to hear of useful resources or job leads that could ramp up your search.

This last one is important. . .

5. Be gentle with yourself.

Whether your search is a long or a short one, remember that it is temporary.  While you are in the midst of it, treat yourself with as much care and compassion as you would a good friend.  Before long, you’ll be at your new dream job, and your search will be a fleeting memory.  While you’re in the thick of it, do everything you can to make the process easier on yourself.

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Naptime and Growth Spurts

I don’t get a chance to blog as much these days, between mothering a toddler and coaching my clients.  I find that I miss it, though.  So today, as my son naps, I find myself with a precious hour or two.

Time is a hot commodity as a parent.  Whether working out of the home, full time, part time, or stay at home (what a misnomer!), all moms and dads find that there’s a new “normal.”  Yes, we can still carve out time for ourselves, but it’s no easy feat.  It takes compromises, trade-offs, and in many cases, communication with a partner.

For example, my husband often takes our son to the playground before leaving for work, so that I can coach a client without Herbie banging on the door, crying “door, door!”  Parts of daily life such as showers and ample sleep also take communication.  (Honey, remember the time I took a shower without warning you and we found Herbie had climbed onto the dining room table and was going through the mail?)

Point being, when even a shower is not to be taken for granted, there can be a lot of pressure when I find myself with an hour in the middle of the day to spend as I see fit.  I review my options.  I could clean the bathroom (we haven’t hired a house cleaning service, something that I would nonetheless advise ANY new parent to squeeze into a budget).  I could read any of three books that I had optimistically purchased on Amazon.  I could answer overdue emails and texts.

Or I could blog.

We do what we are to feed ourselves.  To remember who we are.  I am a writer who loves psychology and personal growth.  These fields are interwoven for me, personally and professionally.  As an INFJ, I tend to look at the world in terms of where I want to grow.  It’s my idea of fun to jot down goals in each area of my life where I want to focus in the coming week.  I love understanding mental processes, perceptions, and motivations.  This is why I’m a coach.  It’s also a part of parenting that I really love, as well.

So in the context of my new “normal,” I’m okay with a certain degree of clutter in our home.  I’m okay if my exercise is running around the playground and park (believe me, I have the biceps and quads to prove it).  I’m okay if couple time is family time.  There’s a season for everything, and other seasons will circle back around again.  For now, it’s a season of growth:  my growth, my son’s growth, and my clients’ growth.

My son went through three shoe sizes in three months.  I’m ready for new shoes, too.

Choosing Powerfully–In Spite of Fear

As cool fall weather is sweeping in, I’m enjoying seeing all of the yellow, copper, and red leaves, some still on the trees and others that have fallen. I have a lovely view of trees in the park across the street from my house. As I write this, the golden leaves match my living room curtains, making me grateful for both the beauty of nature and the comfort of home.

I used to work at a corporate job in midtown Manhattan and didn’t have very much time to spend at home, especially not in the afternoon. Mid to late afternoon has become one of my favorite times of day, when the sun sweeps across the sky, lights up the living room with its southern exposure, and sets elegantly over the park.

A couple of weeks ago, on an unseasonably warm October day, I took a solitary hike in the Watchung Reservation here in New Jersey, and basked in the beauty of majestically tall trees, sunlight playfully dancing on leaves, and birds singing their avian hearts out.

More time appreciating nature is just one of the rewards of having listened to my heart and followed the path that was right for me–changing careers and stepping into a very different lifestyle than I once knew. It was scary to leave the corporate career that I’d always known. It felt secure, dependable, safe. I was offered a position at the NY Times and had to rely on my coach to help me see that there was something else my heart was calling for. Something less known, but more in line with how I want to express my values today.

Through coaching, music, and preparing to be a mother soon, I’m living some of my deepest values: beauty, creativity, personal growth, curiosity, compassion, caring, health, family, and flexibility. Being rich isn’t on this list. I care about security and frugality, but only in service of my core values. Fear of not having enough no longer rules me.

Life can still be stressful. As I write this, my grandmother is in the hospital after having a stroke. I’m filled both with love and gratittude for my relationship with her–and the good that she has done for so many people in her 95 years–as well as fear and sadness.

This week, I also I went to traffic court. I wrestled with the checkbook to try to make sure I wouldn’t bounce a check. I tracked down electricians and several heating specialists, as part of my responsibilities as a landlady. These are necessary, if frenetic and unpoetic, parts of life. As someone who is an intuitive introvert (to borrow from Myers-Briggs), engaging in a lot of extroverted sensing can feel taxing to me, and takes recovery afterwards.

Yet, my life is essentially exactly as I would wish it, just for today. I have much room for growth, but right now, I’m celebrating what’s good. I’m savoring the fruits of how I’ve chosen to craft my life. My work is deeply meaningful to me–I get to help others be at choice in their own lives. I get to champion them as they create what they want, and celebrate what they’re learning.

I also get to design my own schedule and incorporate self-care. For the first time ever, I get to go to the gym for an hour and take a short nap most afternoons. I alternate between work and my personal life throughout the day, rather than work in an 8 or 9-hour block of time. This may not work for everyone, but it’s ideal for me.

Why can it be terrifying to leave what we know, what has its merits and we consider pretty good, in pursuit of something different, better?

Our saboteurs can be sneaky. I have a “good-enough” saboteur who points out that what I have isn’t bad, so why rock the boat? That belief can literally keep me stuck in a place of dissonance for years. Another saboteur masquerades as trying to protect me: “you’ll get hurt, it’s better not to try.” This often comes from fear of failure or not having enough. It takes good coaching to help me see more resonant perspectives that can move me forward towards what I really want.

Power comes from choosing consciously. My future self is already living her ideal life, fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams. I get to play with discovering what that life is like and who that future self is. Then I get to step into it–again, and again.

“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.

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

Work with a Coach to Create Your Ideal Balance

Work-life balance is a term that gets thrown around a lot.  What does it mean?  Not working 60 or 80-hour weeks?  Having time with your spouse or kids every night?  Spending weekends on your hobbies, not glued to your computer or smartphone?

“Balance” would seem to imply that all things are in equal measure, all of the time.  In fact, this isn’t many people’s goal.  Some work hard and save up so they can have more free time a few years down the road (hoping they have time for other interests before retirement).

Some may want to spend 40+ hours on their career because it’s a passion; for them, balance means having a few hours here and there to explore other sides of themselves.  Others feel stifled by such a demanding schedule and thrive with more flexibility, perhaps working for themselves or freelancing.

What is your idea of balance?  What are you balancing?  When the pieces of your life are in ideal balance, how are you dividing your time?

Personally, I balance work, family, exercise, personal growth, fun and recreation, and other types of self-care such as sleep.  I need to do most of these everyday.  That can mean spending 45 minutes talking with my husband over breakfast, doing a few hours of work, going for a swim, making a healthy lunch, writing a blog post or answering emails from clients in the backyard, talking with my own coach, and watching “House Hunters” on YouTube.

I take time to pray or engage in meditative activities (including sitting by my bedroom window, watching sparrows dance on the grapevines) whenever I need to recenter, which could be 5 times a day.  While work and family occupy the bulk of my time, the other activities, though less in quantity, are just as important to my well-being.

Other tasks, such as monitoring savings or cleaning the house, fall under general upkeep and weekly to-do’s.  I fit them in when I feel the least resistance to them (usually mid-morning).

One coaching tool that explores these parts of our lives is the Wheel of Life.  It’s a circle with eight wedges:  Career, Family & Friends, Significant Other/Romance, Fun & Recreation, Health, Money, Personal Growth, and Physical Environment.  The sections can be tweaked; some people separate Friends & Family, or add a category of Spirituality.

Assign a number from 0-10 to represent your satisfaction with each area.  Your observations about your wheel of life can be illuminating.  Are you equally satisfied with each area, or are they wildly divergent?  Is your romantic life a 10 but your finances are a 2?  Is your career a 9 but your health a 4?

If spending long hours at work or a dislike of the gym are blocking your health from being a 10, consider an early-morning jog in a park close to home.  Do you want to be a  more available partner or parent?  The remedy is to clearly see where you are today, envision what you want, and take the first step to bring you closer to where you want to be.  Where we put our focus has the power to unearth possibilities.

Sound simple?  It’s deceptively simple, so much so that many of us are surprised when we wake up one day realizing we’ve jumped ship, abandoning our own dreams and desires.

What would an 11 look like?  It’s said that coaching begins when each piece is at a 10.  Through coaching, we get to stretch the limits of what we believe to be possible in our lives.  I’ve experienced this myself through being coached.  What mirage will be dispelled next?

Working with a coach ensures the support and accountability that are needed to make any lasting change.  August is a great time to start coaching!  Email me today at marywcrow@gmail.com to see how coaching can work for you.

The Power of Passion + Habit: What Can Flannery O’Connor Teach Us?

I love to write, but if I get out of the habit of writing regularly, I continue to put it off.  It’s like going to the gym, it feels wonderful once I’m in the swing of it, sweating through an elliptical session or a zumba class.  Doing it energizes me–getting there is the hard part!

Pain lies in procrastination, not in taking action.  Devising a plan and taking action are empowering.  Whether I want to stay fit, keep my coaching blog up-to-date, or (dare I say it) finally organize my file cabinets, there are concrete steps I can take to reach my goals. Taking these steps honors my commitments.  I’m showing that I keep my word to myself, and that my goals matter.

How do I go about making this happen?  Mindful scheduling and rewarding my efforts.  Often the reward lies in the doing itself.  Three paragraphs into a new blog post, I already feel rewarded and am asking myself why I waited a week or two to blog again.  It feels great to get on a roll.  I also get a reward when I post my blog to social media and see your likes, shares and comments.  Similarly, when I make it to the pool and swim laps for 25 minutes, the relaxation, renewed strength, and mental clarity I gain are my rewards.

How does a schedule serve my higher purpose?  Isn’t a schedule tediously boring, constrictive?

Flannery-OConnorOn the contrary, most successful people rely on a schedule in one or more areas of their lives.  Flannery O’Connor, whose home I visited earlier this month in Milledgeville, Georgia, wrote every morning (after attending daily Mass in town) from 9 AM to noon on a typewriter in her bedroom.  Her room was in the front of the house, near the front porch and yard, where her dozens of peacocks, ducks and geese would roam. Watching her beloved birds fueled her creative fires.  If she hadn’t carved out those three daily hours, though, when and how would she have accomplished her writing?

Rituals and habits make an enormous diference in what we accomplish.  My weekday rituals–after having breakfast, looking out at the park and playing with the cat–include practicing the organ, and swimming or going to the gym.  I’m most alert in the morning, so that’s when I practice the organ, which takes more concentration than anything else I do these days.  When I exercise, it gives me more energy for the afternoon.  I put both of these in my daily calendar, as a reminder not to get sidetracked.  If it’s around 9:30, then it’s time to grab my goggles, swimming cap, organ shoes, music, and get out of the house.

What happens when I get off track?  I am constantly recalibrating my life, like a finely tuned Swiss watch.  Hopefully, one of our goals temporarily slides because another goal has taken precedence.  Our priorities naturally ebb and flow.  We can’t say yes to everything all of the time.  However, we can achieve a sense of balance among what matters the most to us.

What if that’s not the reason we got off track–what if we are simply scared or stuck and watching Netflix for five hours a day?  We can take that as a sign that some kind of action is needed.  One strategy is to write down where we are today, where we want to be, and one step we can take this week to move towards that goal.  Then put it on the calendar.

This exercise alone is usually enough to get us off the couch.  When we identify what’s important to us, and name the first small step, it becomes more manageable and concrete.

What’s on your list of goals for today?  What change do you want to make in your routine to make that happen?

I coach people who want to make some sort of a change in their lives.  I offer free sample sessions so you can see what it would be like to work together.  I invite you to contact me to schedule your sample coaching session.

Wishing you great success!

Harnessing the Creative Process

Creativity is such an important resource for both our professional and personal lives.  Whether you work at a large corporation or are an entrepreneur, whether you are a marketer or a musician–all of the above which have applied to me–creativity allows us to think in new ways, unearth novel solutions, and construct the world we live in.

Think of a seven-year-old with a Lego set.  From our earliest days, we are primed to create.  It transforms work into something that is both playful and productive.

So how does creativity happen?  Where does it begin, and how can we follow it to completion, rather than giving up?

This recent piece on the HSP Health Blog explores the creative process in concrete, tangible ways.  The key steps are:

  1. Determine what you want to create:  a new system for working as a team?  A piece of music, writing or art?  Visualize the results to build resonance and commitment.
  2. Identify where you are today.  If you want to publish a novel but have never written more than a page, that’s good information.
  3. Focus on the next steps to take that will bridge the gap between where you are and where you’re going.

Step 3 is critical juncture and is often where people throw in the towel.  However, rather than grow discouraged, focus on Step 1 again to recommit to your purpose.  Then return to Step 3, breaking down what needs to be done into mini-goals.

The piece also specifically explores creativity’s benefits for highly sensitive people.  It proposes that HSP’s often experience less agency when working with others, since they are outnumbered.  In contrast, by tapping into creativity, they can better control their agenda.  Using their natural creativity, allows HSP’s to be more influential.

Much like the seven-year-old with the Lego set, seeing our dreams come into reality is satisfying.  It offers a sense of purpose and completion.  Creativity is about more than having an idea.  It is about making something new in the world–taking something that is within us, following the thread of our vision, and bringing it out into the world so others can also experience it.

When I coach clients on creativity, we explore all three of the above steps to identify a purpose or goal, articulate the current reality, and brainstorm ways to bridge the gap.

If a goal has enough resonance, the work that needs to be done will be clearer.  Focusing on just one small step at a time builds momentum.

Are you working on a creative project?  Have a vision or goal but seem to get stuck before the finish line?  Email me now at marywcrow@gmail.com to schedule a creativity coaching call.  I offer a free session to see if we would be a good match for each other.

Wishing you great creative success!

-Mary

The Secret Catalysts in Successful Career Transitions

I recently participated in an interactive talk given by Ron Renaud, “Unleash the Power of Your Values.”  Ron is a senior faculty member at CTI and author of “The Uncompromised.”  He has identified four personal standards that allow us to live more authentic lives, in line with our unique values.  These standards are:

  1. Enthusiasm: a positive attitude, energy.
  2. Courage: doing what’s challenging and what most won’t do.
  3. Endurance: physical, emotional and intellectual energy to consistently and sustainably do what must be done.
  4. Integrity:  doing precisely what you say you’ll do; requires self-knowledge & wisdom.

How do these standards unleash the power of our values?  For example, if independence is a high value of mine, by practicing enthusiasm, courage, endurance, and integrity, I will attain a greater degree of independence.  Similarly, if community is a strong value, these standards can help me build a stronger sense of community.

In a future post, I’ll delve more into endurance.  As a runner, I know the importance of looking at the long haul and keeping at it.  It won’t do any good to run 1K and stop if it’s a 3K race.  This concept is so critical and it’s the reason I named my coaching business Passion + Persistence.

For now, let’s look specifically at the four standards as they pertain to career transitions.  A career transition could mean seeking a promotion, or changing fields.  In order to build a successful career and identify job opportunities, both inward and outward perspectives are required.  Let’s break this down further:

An outward perspective asks questions such as:  what is the market like?  How many job openings are in that field?  Where does one find those types of jobs–in a large or small company, at a nonprofit or an academic institution?  In which parts of the country?

Looking inward is at least as important.  An inward perspective seeks to know:  where do I see myself in five years?  What types of tasks have I enjoyed the most in my past jobs?  What values most fulfill me at work–creativity, security, autonomy, or interdependence?  Do I enjoy mentoring others?  Do I like to engage frequently with coworkers or to have long stretches of time alone?

Self-reflection leads to self-knowledge and, ultimately, yields greater job satisfaction.  Moreover, it makes it possible to have a more profound impact on the world.  When we understand our own values, we live and work more authentically, because we’re going with, rather than against, the grain.  Our natural talents and abilities find fuller expression.  We are doing what we were meant to do in the world, and equally important, being who we were meant to be.

Reflecting on the parts of ourselves that we both like and dislike grants the power of choice.  Am I nurturing?  Intellectual?  Playful?  Driven?  Am I jealous of coworkers? Do I fear economic insecurity?  It’s powerful to choose which parts of ourselves we’ll hold onto, and which parts we’ll change.

Once we see ourselves as we are, we can choose to let go of the obstacles standing in the way of our own success, and embrace those characteristics that make us uniquely ourselves–whether we are fierce, radiant, intuitive–whichever traits make us the most alive and allow us to share our greatest work with the world.

Yes, it’s important to study the market and to be realistic about our options, when considering a career transition.  It’s also critical that we not choose passively, or out of fear that we won’t find anything better.  By delving deep into our vision of our future selves, our best selves, we can choose wisely when considering such a transition.

Where do you see yourself in five years?  Where are you now and where do you want to be?  What’s one tiny baby step you could take this week to move towards that vision?  I invite you to consider how you might use the standards of enthusiasm, courage, endurance and integrity to move closer to it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please leave a comment or share this post.  Wishing you great success and authenticity in work and life!

Singing Italian in a Jewel Box

At a friend’s suggestion, I recently made a list of challenges and achievements, and discovered that many of my greatest accomplishments have been things that scared me silly at the time.  Here are some items on that list:

+ Lived and studied in Paris
+ Ran a half-marathon
+ Finished first on my team in a regional cross-country race on a rainy, muddy day
+ Canoed through rural Quebec
+ Studied Italian and traveled through Sicily
+ Studied and played organ professionally

All of these experiences involved adventure and challenge. Some entailed physical anguish:  aching at mile 10 of a half-marathon or portaging on a canoe trip.  Other times, the anguish was mental: realizing I had a ways to go at speaking French fluently or being a virtuoso at the organ.

Stretching my limits is both exciting and nerve-wracking.  Since it’s Easter weekend, I’m doing a lot of singing and playing the organ–activities that are very rewarding but make me nervous, because improvement is always possible. When I’m offered an opportunity to play, my inner response tends to be, “This makes me nervous, and I really want to say yes.”

I’ve played the piano since I was seven, but only started learning the organ a couple of years ago.  It’s easy to think people will notice every mistake, but the truth is, no one’s standards for my playing are as high as my own.

Before playing, I often think, “It won’t be perfect, but it will be beautiful.”  This mindset helps me to stay present.  Playing is worth the nervousness–it’s creative, rewarding and fun.  It’s also gratifying to see my progress, no matter how slow.  It gives me a sense of achievement, and hopefully has a positive impact on others.

How can we light the path to our achievements?  Visions can be powerful tools.  I use visions in many areas of my life:  work, family, health.  My “music vision” continues to evolve, but core components are a pipe organ, choir loft, beautiful sanctuary with stained glass, singing a foreign language, decently paid, and pastoral support.

One church where I played last summer checked nearly all of these boxes.  It was gorgeous, like a jewel box or music box–a music box decked with jewels, perhaps.  I played on a 3-manual pipe organ and sang Italian hymns.  It had a choir loft, so I didn’t feel conspicuous.  It didn’t check one or two boxes, but otherwise, it was a music dream come true.

I knew less about the pipe organ when I began playing at that church than I do today.  When I sent in my resume, it was because I believed that I knew enough to get started, to pick up what I didn’t know, and to do a good job.

I had enough passion that I took the right steps to get hired, and filled in the gaps later.  I studied registration more closely–principals,  flutes and reeds; 8, 16, and 4 foot stops.  I learned about couplers.  At first, I relied primarily on pistons (pre-sets), but after a few weeks, I was doing my own registration (or selection of stops).

My vision got me to that point of playing the organ and singing Italian in a jewel-box of a church.  I can look back at various mistakes I’ve made–playing at the wrong time, missing a note or two, ending a hymn too soon–and congratulate myself.

Why?  In most lines of work, someone who is successful fails more than someone who isn’t successful; she just recovers more quickly from her failures.  Who remembers a missed note–or even notices? If I always played it safe, I wouldn’t leave my house.  Some of my “peak experiences,” or vivid memories that reveal my core values, involved stepping way out of my comfort zone, being scared silly, and taking action anyway.

Speaking of leaving my house, the first month I lived in Paris, I barely ventured outside my new neighborhood as I acclimated to new surroundings and a new language.  Yet by the end of the year, I felt at home in the City of Lights.  My comfort zone had widened.  I had learned to navigate the subway, shop for groceries and order lunch at a cafe–all in French.  I certainly hadn’t felt comfortable doing those things when I arrived.

Passion conquers fear, but not without courage and persistence.  We need to be willing to fail, and keep moving forward anyway, to make our dreams a reality.  So keep failing, keep succeeding, and you’ll move ever closer to your wildest dreams.

What is something that you’ve achieved in spite of adversity, because your passion was greater than your fear?  What challenges have you taken on because deep down, you knew that you had it in you?  Most importantly, how can you apply that learning to what you want next in your life?