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?