Tag Archives: music

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.

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

Seeking Adventure in Small Ways

On Sunday, I went to three cafes and spent time in three towns.  In the morning, after singing at church, I picked up breakfast at a cafe before driving to Weequahic Park where I walked around a lake.  Later, on my way to play the organ (at another local church), I sipped a decaf latte on the bench of a cafe facing Independence Park, around the corner from my house.

That evening, my husband and I were ready for another outing, so we drove to Belleville, adjacent to Newark, and ate dinner at Topaz Thai.  I was happy to discover there was a Thai restaurant within a 20-minute drive from where we live.  I’ve missed eating Thai, Indian and Ethiopian food regularly since moving here from Brooklyn close to three years ago.  In my neighborhood in the Ironbound, Portuguese, Brazilian and Italian food predominate.  I’m still exploring all of the nearby towns and discovering what cuisines they have to offer.

After dinner, we drove a few minutes down the road into Lyndhurst and enjoyed a bavarian cream lobster tail and pignoli cookies from an Italian bakery.  Then my husband realized we were practically in Rutherford, which was home to William Carlos Williams, so we looked up his house and checked it out.

I started a notebook the other day to keep track of some of these outings.  It actually has three sections, “Music” (where I record the pieces I’ve practiced on the organ), “Outings” (for hikes, new towns, new places), and “Special Projects” (various priorities).  I process and remember things better by writing them down, so this helps me remember that we hiked in the Palisades two weeks ago, or practiced a Bach prelude and fugue that I want to revisit soon.  I don’t write everything down–but I like writing down what’s important to me.  The act of writing it affirms that it’s important.

I’m grateful that I live in a city that has such easy access to many different types of places.  I also feel grateful for having honored my desire for a little excitement.  Maybe it wasn’t a trip to Europe–but even a little outing, devouring Thai food, bavarian cream pastry, and seeing W.C. Williams’ house, in three new-to-me towns, temporarily satiates my yearning for excitement and adventure.

I suppose it’s adventure on a modest scale, with a lowercase “a,” quite different from ones I’ve taken in the past such as circling around Sicily for a week, or living in Paris for a year.  Yet when those capital-A Adventures on a grand scale aren’t possible, modest adventures go a long way.

Yesterday was quieter.  I cooked breakfast, did some cleaning, worked out at the gym, went to the hardware store, played the organ for a bit, gardened, had two client calls, and talked with family.  A quiet, productive day–and for today, it felt just right.

It always feels wonderful coming home after being out, and conversely, going out after staying at home for awhile.  Something about the varied pace feels important.  I need stability, and I need excitement.  When my schedule doesn’t allow for more, simply walking around a lake or trying out a new restaurant really does provide that sense of newness and discovery.  My need for fun and adventure can be honored by seeking out simple pleasures.

Which needs and values are you honoring?  Which ones are getting stepped on or overlooked?  Small tweaks to our routines can make a big difference.  A small step can often have a huge imapct.

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

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?

Reaching for the Stars

I have always been an amateur psychology buff.  In college, I had a class in perceptual psychology,  but mostly I have dabbled in it on my own.  It is part of what led me to coaching.  I am endlessly curious about how our minds work, how we see the world and interpret what we see–what information we gather, and what meaning we assign to that information.

Over the years I have taken a few personality surveys.  I have also encouraged my loved ones to take them, with varying responses.  They aren’t for everyone, and that’s OK.  Personally, I find it fascinating to reflect on what drives and motivates us, what makes us flourish.

I find Myers-Briggs (MBTI) to be revealing and mostly on-point.  Like any paradigm, it has its limitations, but most of its insights resonate with me.  I took the MBTI twice, several years apart.  Interestingly, while my overall type hadn’t changed, my Intuition (I) and Judgment (J) factors had both mellowed considerably–allowing more room for their counterparts, Sensing (S) and Perceiving (P).  I believe we have innate preferences, but through our experiences and choices in how to see and engage with the world, we change.

Another survey I like is the VIA Character Strengths Survey, which measures 25 character strengths and lists them in relative proportion.  My top strength was “Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence,” followed by “Gratitude,” “Love,” and “Perspective.”  For me, this test is revelatory because it points to what I need to flourish–where I thrive and what saves me, as it were.  My top strengths remind me that to be happy, and fully myself, I need to seek opportunities to enjoy beauty, to love and be loved, and to practice gratitude.

How do I do this?  For example, taking my top strength, I look for oases of beauty in the drought of what could otherwise be a sterile week:

  • On a lunch break, I find refuge in a park around the corner with a waterfall and yellow hyacinths in bloom.  It truly restores me.
  • I make time to play the piano, organ, and sing.  Even on a busy weeknight, if fills me up and I leave feeling like myself again.
  • I listen to and watch others who are more talented than I am.  It inspires me and makes me feel alive.

Looking at our less-developed strengths is also a good learning opportunity.  One of my “less developed” strengths is “Bravery.”  The creators of the VIA survey write: “Identify an area in which you generally shy away from confrontations.  Practice the phrases, the tones, and the mannerisms that will enable you to effectively confront the situation next time.”

My first reaction to reading that was, “Are you kidding?”  Identifying confrontations is about the last thing I want to do.  My mind isn’t naturally wired for it.  Nonetheless, our minds are pliable–we can actually forge new neural pathways by changing our thoughts and habits.

And thus, we change and grow.

stars

Coaching asks for openness to seeing ourselves as we are today, seeing ourselves at our most magnificent core, and dedicating ourselves to moving bravely toward our truest self.  It can be a little scary.  At my Fulfillment class at CTI, one of the leaders drew this picture of our comfort zone, with stars outside of it, illustrating that to reach for the stars, we have to step outside our comfort zone.

So, if we’re uncomfortable, we’re doing something right.  Yet we don’t have to be constantly uncomfortable.  We’re allowed to take a step or two forward and stay there–or dance up and down the steps we’re familiar with–till we’ve gathered the resolve to take another step.  We get to be at choice.

CTI led us in a visioning exercise to develop a life purpose, phrased as “I am the ___ that ___.”  I was initially drawn to the image of a lighthouse, that illuminates others’ strengths.  Later, I was drawn to the vision of a lake where I canoed in rural Quebec, out of which came this working life purpose statement: “I am the deep lake that holds beauty within and around it.”

What does it mean and what is its impact?  I can honestly say that I don’t completely know, but that it centers and directs my life journey.  There is something compelling about the beauty of nature, art, music and writing that inhabits me–even simply the appreciation thereof.  What does it mean to hold beauty?  I hold it in my eye, ear, mind, and heart.  How will it impact others?  That story is still unfolding.

What are your top strengths and values, that when engaging in them, you feel the most like yourself?  Who are you at your deepest, most magnificent core?

I’d love to offer a sample phone call to explore your values and what you most want.  What matters?  What are you drawn to?  Call or email me to set up a session to move toward the stars.

Spring Kitchen Decluttering: Turning “I Should” into “I Want”

In honor of spring, I spent a good few hours over the weekend de-cluttering my kitchen.  It had become painfully obvious how much inconvenience I had been tolerating: my microwave was about a foot off of the floor, requiring me to bend down to make a cup of tea; one of the cabinets in prime real estate was filled with paper plates, camping dishes, i.e. junk; and the coffee maker was on a porous stand so that when we poured coffee, drops would leak onto the floor.

IMG_1841[1]The best case in point is the Tupperware Saga: pictured to the left, in a yellow Hoosier cabinet passed down to me through my mother’s side of the family.

I have a hard time throwing anything away.  Consequently, most of my tupperware containers were either missing lids or were 10 years old and showing their age.  Also, any containers that didn’t fit in the Hoosier cabinet spilled over onto the counter tops, competing with space for food prep.

Frugality has served me well in many areas of my life (I attribute it to subscribing to Pennywise magazine when I was a pre-teen)… but this wasn’t one of them.  I finally reached a breaking point.  I didn’t always know where to find things in my kitchen.

I threw away 98% of the tupperware and kept only matching ones that were in good shape.  I used the newfound space for pots and pans.  I moved the coffee maker to the counter, and filled its old space with the microwave, which now sits at eye level.

Why do we tolerate things that we have the power to change?  There can be more than one reason.  In my case, the disorganization of my kitchen was neither urgent nor hugely important.  I was adaptable enough to make it work–until I no longer wanted to put up with it.  Gretchen Rubin has blogged about putting aside an hour a week to do such things, as part of building good habits.  Otherwise, we can procrastinate endlessly, and what begins as a small inconvenience snowballs.

Our time is important, and I have so many more meaningful things to do on the weekends (e.g., practicing music, playing bocci in the park with neighbors) that I hadn’t set aside time to organize the kitchen.  However, the disorganization eventually turned into a big time sucker.  All those wasted seconds and minutes add up.

After I finished reorganizing the kitchen, my feet and back hurt.  Still, I felt pleased and took pride in telling my husband what I had done.  Even to my own ears, it sounded so pedestrian, so mundane–yet it was satisfying to have some control over my physical environment, like a bird building a nest.

What worked?  For me, it helped to turn the job from a “should” into a “want.”  As long as I thought, “I should organize the kitchen,” I didn’t do it.  As soon as my thought became, “I want to have an organized kitchen where it’s easy to find things and do food prep,” I was motivated to take action.

By keeping this “want” in mind, and banishing the “should,” I intend to prevent the kitchen from escalating into a big project again.  Even if orderly tupperware falls into the “not urgent” category, it actually falls under “important,” when I consider the effect that my living space has on me.  It may not be as important as taking my Little Sister to a jazz concert at the Montclair Art Museum, but it helps me to feel happy and grounded.  As with to going to the gym, building momentum and discipline transfers over into other areas of my life.

For most of us, there are higher priorities than home organization.  Nonetheless, it’s helpful to realize what we’re tolerating in a given area of our lives, to question why we’re doing so, and ask whether it’s necessary.  As for me, I’m glad to have an organized kitchen, and feel a little more comfortable and secure in our nest–just in time for spring.

Life Vision: Balance & Priorities

This weekend I was sick with a cold.  My cubicle neighbors at work have been hacking up a lung and the germs must have circulated.  Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I take zinc lozenges, which usually make the cold half as bad as it would have been otherwise.  I can’t stand the idea of being knocked out for 5-7 days, given all that I do in the course of a week, and I also just don’t like feeling rotten.  Taking zinc, along with drinking water and getting extra sleep, allows me to feel semi-decent and not cancel too many activities.

I remember the last time I felt a cold coming on, I had run out of zinc lozenges.  I considered stopping by a drugstore for more, but decided not to.  Maybe it was laziness or lethargy, or maybe it was the fact that I’d been going at full speed for weeks (months?) and simply wanted a break.  I wanted to crawl into bed at 8 PM and sleep till 8 AM.  I wanted my job to be blowing my nose and drinking tea.

Why can’t I give myself permission to take a break when I’m not sick?  It seems there’s always something to do.  I need to print tax forms, dust and sweep the house, get groceries and do food prep, choose music to play for Easter.  The list can feel practically endless at times.

I can take steps to reduce my stress and the length of my to-do list.  For example, I’ve been meaning to hire a cleaning service to help me once a month or so.  I can ask for help, I can leave some things undone, and do other things in a cursory fashion.

When our out-of-town family stopped over for tea and dessert, I was a little embarrassed that the house wasn’t without a speck of dust (I regret to say the bed may have been unmade).  But the dishes were done, there were comfortable places to sit, free of clutter– and besides, they came to visit, not to inspect every corner.  Do I want to enjoy a full life, or do I want to become a crazy person who stays up till 2 in the morning, cleaning?

There are ways to let life be more manageable.  There is room for more ease, more routines that will help me with my goals.  In the meantime, I can give myself a break.  I work in publishing in the city, am a professional coach, landlord, musician, and wife.  I volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which I love, but it too takes time.  I also try to make it to my yoga mat or the treadmill a few times a week.

I enjoy stretching myself and doing things that make me feel truly alive–more connected to others, and to who I am at my core.  Sometimes I do enjoy plopping down on the couch to watch a movie, and I need that to recharge–but I’m glad that a sitcom binge is a relatively rare occurrence.  I can practice being mindful about how I inhabit my own life–how I structure, stretch, and play with it.

When I’m sick and want to absolve myself of any responsibilities beyond sleep, it’s a sign that I’m craving more balance.  Perhaps I’m craving time to prop up my feet and look out the window–just look, and let my thoughts come and go like clouds.  I might need time to write in my journal, to reflect or meditate.

Life is lived both internally and externally.  Both are important and they complement one another.  The time I spend reflecting or journaling powers me up to engage more willingly and productively in the world.  Once I’ve been active, I have much more enjoyment in a quiet night (or weekend) at home.

I’ve made a list of my top priorities the next couple of months, so that I’ll know if I’m on track or veering off:

#1 Wellness: this means sleeping 8 hours, doing yoga, and running.  Trying to eat real food for lunch, and enough food that I don’t raid the candy drawer at 3:00.

#2 Fun, love, and friends:  for me, this means spending time with those I love–especially my husband, friends and family–and doing things simply because I enjoy them.

#3 Mastering the organ pedals:  if not now, when?  I have an excellent teacher, and my year will only get busier as it goes on.  So I’ve committed to practicing 4 or more times a week.

#4 Expanding my coaching business:  I’m taking more workshops at CTI and going to events through Meetup.org to connect with people who may be curious about coaching.

If I’m craving down-time, the non-essentials have to go.  As a result, there are other activities I’ve turned down because they don’t fit with my vision of my future self.  At this point in my life, while I might derive certain benefits from them, they ultimately get in the way of my top priorities.  If they divert from where I want to put my focus, they don’t serve me–even if I would enjoy them.

So right now, I can forgive myself when the house is a little messy.  I can feel good about leaving things undone and getting a good night’s sleep.  I can be proud when I devote time and energy to my coaching and music businesses.

Having a vision reminds me of who I want to become, and what trade-offs I’ve decided I’m willing to make in order to get there.  Let the rest fall by the wayside… there will be another phase of life when I could pick some of it back up.

Are you ready to explore your life vision?  Who do you want to become?  What’s something that if you never did, you wouldn’t feel fulfilled?  Visit my coaching page for ways to connect with me.  You may find that setting up a free sample call with me could be an important step towards creating an even richer and more fulfilling life.

A 35-Point “ZAG”: Scrabble and Singing

On Sunday, I sang at our local church where I volunteer as a soprano.  I love singing there because of the beautiful and often challenging music.  The five of us in the choir loft that morning sang “Forty Days and Forty Nights” and three other English-language Lenten hymns in four-part harmony.  During Communion, we sang chant with psalm verses in Latin.

By the end of Mass, I felt filled with breath, music, and gratitude.  We stopped in the parish hall for a light breakfast, where a few older women in the parish chastised us:  “good voices, but the Latin’s got to go.”  Was this what I’d signed up for?  Their remarks stung and I felt unappreciated for what I had offered, until I remembered that a gift benefits the giver, no matter the reaction of the recipient.  Then I was freed of an expectation of a wholly positive response.

Sometimes as a musician, whether it’s singing or playing the organ, I long for appreciation.  In a musical performance, I am offering a gift to the listeners, and hope it will be well received.  However, its value is determined by creativity and self-expression, rather than the reaction of the listeners.

I will probably continue to volunteer my singing, whether the reception be effusive, lukewarm, or nonexistent.  It’s something in which I have some measure of talent.  I’m not a bad singer–sometimes I even think I’m pretty good.  You won’t be hearing me at the Met anytime soon, but I sing better than I could two years ago, before taking lessons.  (I had thought I was an alto until my voice teacher proved otherwise, and now I can sing a high A-flat, like in “Missa Choralis” by the little-known Refice that we’ll sing tonight.)

I sing primarily for two reasons, which are intimately linked:  self-expression, and the joy of giving.  The pleasure a recipient takes in a gift has value, but it doesn’t determine the value of a gift.

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On Sunday night, I was playing Scrabble with my husband’s cousins, who were in town for a few days.  It was a close game.  My first play was “ZAG” with a triple-letter score on the “Z,” for 35 points.  I had an early lead, but none of my subsequent plays lived up to the glory of the first. 

As we neared the end, all four of us had around 100 points, give or take.  We all had strange combinations of letters in our remaining titles.  I had three E’s and two O’s.  My cousin-in-law had a J but nowhere to play it, as I discovered later.  He was considering skipping his turn because he felt that anything he could play would be too low-scoring.  I suggested that scoring any amount of points would be a good thing.

Not every play will be 35 points, not every musical offering will be loved by everyone, and not every blog post will go viral.  It’s okay to risk failing, rather than become paralyzed and prevent future successes, as well as failures.  Success comes in different forms at different times.  As a former yoga teacher of mine, Molly, used to say, “No effort along the path is lost.”

I don’t know what my current or next project will teach me.  If I think I know, it’s my ego talking.  If I think I know what the results will be, it’s really my ego talking.  I don’t have to let fear of not being perfect–or not being appreciated by everyone at all times–stand in the way of doing a good-enough job.

I finished the Scrabble game with all three E’s still on my rack.  My cousin-in-law finished with his “J” unplayed.  And it was OK.  It was good.