Posted in mindset

Talent is an excuse

My career has been in teaching music.

Every job I’ve had has included teaching elementary band—teaching kids who don’t know which end is up how to play a band instrument.

(I’ve also taught middle school band, elementary and middle school orchestra, kinder through third grade general music, third grade recorders, middle school music theory, middle school hip hop, community college jazz history, and was a band assistant and percussion instructor for high school.)

Every year, I hear comments about this kid or that kid being so talented. (The implication is that the other kids aren’t.) They’re being cheated out of the work they’ve done.

A friend of mine has three kids. She’s a music teacher; until last year, her husband was also a music teacher. Her kids are all musicians and play really well.

Countless people have dismissed all of the hard work that the kids have done, saying that of course they play well—they have music teachers for parents!

Music teacher parents don’t ensure you play well. They know the value of practice. They can help you practice if you’re willing to accept the help. (Have you ever tried to help your kid with something they didn’t want to do? Or something they were doing wrong but insisted they were doing right?)

Her kids play really well because her kids practice and have practiced for years.

Being highly skilled (for whatever “highly” indicates) takes work. All of the people who are great at ANYTHING have worked at it.

A colleague had a student arguing (quoting for ease of reading, but paraphrased): “You’re better than me because you’re just good at it and I’m not!”

Her response: “Don’t take away my hard work so you can have an excuse to give up.”

Believing other people have talent and you don’t is just an excuse to give up, to skip the hard work.

With all of that said… this is how I explain it to my students at the very beginning of the year.

“Some of you will start to play your instrument and will just be able to play pretty easily. Some of you will start to play your instrument and it will be a little bit hard and you’ll have to work at it a bit, and then you’ll get it. Some of you will start to play your instrument and it will be hard and you will need to work on it a lot, and then you’ll get it. You all have the ability to get it. Don’t compare yourself to people who are getting it more easily than you—it will frustrate you. Don’t compare yourself to people who are having more trouble than you, unless you are able to offer them kind and useful help.

“This is the thing. At the beginning of the year, we all wish we were the kids who just pick it up and play, because it’s easier. But there will come a point when those kids get to music that is hard for them. Everyone does. And when they get there, they won’t know what to do, because it has always been easy, and they’ve never had to practice. A lot of kids quit at that point, because they don’t like it any more because it’s hard.

“If you are one of the kids who needs to practice in order to get it, that thing doesn’t happen to you, because you’re used to needing to practice to get the hang of it. Keep practicing. It’s good for you.”

Because no one, talented or not, gets really good without practicing. No one. You might pick it up without working on it, and as you go, you might get a little better, but you don’t get great without putting in the work.

(More on another day of what “the work” looks like…)

Posted in about me, ebb & flow, meandering, mindset

Perfectionism, skill, imposter syndrome

I am a recovering perfectionist.

For a long time, everything had to be just right. Edit, erase, start over. Make sure there’s always a straight-edge handy. No streaks, no cracks, no chips.

I realize this is fear-based.

I’m better about it. I don’t spend an hour carefully curating which font I’m going to use on slides for public presentations. Find one, make sure it’s good enough (primarily: legible), and spend the time on the real work.

I’ve hand-drawn cards for my students with music notes on them that are not each exactly the same. Someone volunteered to laminate and cut these cards for me, and they’re not all the same size. Deep breath, use them anyway, they still work fine.

However…

I am also not always a good judge of “good enough” versus “the best I can do right now” (which might not really be good enough).

I was looking through pictures from an old blog the other day. I had shared quite a few recipes, and there was one pic with each … and many of them were not good at all.

These kinds of realizations make it a little bit harder for me not to get thrown back into perfectionism, or into give-up-ism, or just into heightened self-consciousness.

Ultimately, my photography skills are limited (though that’s on my to-do list, and has been longer than I’ve been blogging) and my photography tools are limited (phone, though a real camera is on my wish list).

(That’s why I’ve given myself permission not to have a photo with every blog post. If I don’t have one or can’t relatively easily take one that works for the post, I’m going without. It’s not a photo blog—they’re here to enhance or to attract, but the words are what I’m here for and, I assume, what you’re here for.)

And you see how defensive I immediately became? Oof. Brains are funny. And this post isn’t supposed to be about photography! So then I debate: edit those paragraphs down (or out) and stick more closely to the topic, or keep them in and let it be more real?

Today, real wins. Paragraphs stay. (Sometimes, I choose to stick to the topic more closely.)

This rabbit hole occasionally brings me to this: what is life like for people who don’t have this problem? People who can create the details (like the font, or the photo), and be satisfied with it, and be correct that it is satisfying, and then move on? Or is that one of those things where I’m comparing my insides to others’ outside and everyone who creates anything has this struggle in some capacity? Or am I expecting to be able to do something easily that others have spent hours working on?

That happens with my students. Often. They see that I can play instruments easily. They see some other students who can play their instruments easily. And they assume they “just can’t do it.” When really … they need to put in the time.

I would take better photos with more practice, for sure. Would I choose fonts more easily?

How do you differentiate between imposter syndrome and just needing more skill?

What’s your experience?

Posted in about me, mindset, vulnerability

Some days, I look tired

There’s a new-to-my-awareness probably-MLM line of products being hawked in my Facebook feed.

“Total makeover. Only takes 10 minutes!”

But you know what?

I like my face.

Some days, I have bags under my eyes, because I’m tired. Some days, I’m exhausted and have full-blown suitcases.

I’m at the point where I have creases in my forehead and crows feet next to my eyes.

This is me.

My path has not been easy, and I have the creases to show for it. But I’ve laughed a lot along the way, and I have the creases to show for that, too.

Also, I’ve spent 20 years raising my eyebrows at kids, and I have the creases to show for that.

The last five years have been especially unkind to my skin. Stress is unforgiving like that; age was a sidekick.

This is me.

I could buy stuff and try to cover it all up, but then who you see wouldn’t be me any more. It would be some weird likeness. A china doll version.

I’ve been spoken to pretty harshly for my opinions on makeup.

But really, I wish we could all just like our faces.

Posted in about me, food, mindset

Food adjectives

We need to change some of our language surrounding food.

I do my best not to use the words “good” and “bad” when talking about food. Except when something doesn’t pass the sniff test. Then it’s bad.

“Good” could describe tastiness, it could describe healthiness, it could describe virtuousness.

We’ve made some unfortunate connections between those three things.

If it’s healthy, it’s not tasty, but it’s virtuous. If it’s tasty, it’s unhealthy and transgressive, unless it’s a reward, then it’s not transgressive…unless it’s too big a reward—then it’s transgressive again.

You know those things don’t inherently connect like that, right?

Let’s quickly pick apart those three things.

Tasty

You like how it tastes or you don’t. (Or sort of do, or like it in small quantities, then that’s enough, or wherever it lands on the yummy continuum.) This is completely subjective.

Healthy

It provides nutrients, vitamins, minerals, water that are necessary for optimal body functioning without providing too much (or any) of other substances that are unnecessary and/or toxic.

There is some variation in this because people have different sensitivities and allergies to foods, but there are some basic things that all bodies need.

Virtuous

This is a cultural thing and is completely tied to the first two, but only because we tied them together.

Because the virtue is tied in, when we want to rebel, we can eat a bunch of food that makes us feel physically sick but emotionally satisfied. We can do that often enough that we don’t feel physically sick any more when we do it, but the emotional ties are still there.

Because of all of this, and because of the additional boatloads of baggage emotionally connected to food, I do my best to be specific.

“This food is tasty.”

“I’d like to find something healthy.”

And I do my best to take the virtue out.

What I eat either moves me towards my goals or it doesn’t. Or it doesn’t but I’ve made a decision to let that go for whatever reason.

There’s no use in eating something and feeling guilty about it. Either eat it and enjoy it, or don’t eat it. But that’s starting a new thread for another day…

Posted in gifts, mindset, thoughtfulness

Random acts of kindness

I was the recipient of a random act of kindness yesterday. Even though it was “useless,” it made my day. Here’s what happened.

There was A Thing I saw at Costco and debated buying for a friend. Debated a bit, decided with The Climbing Daddy that yes, we should get it. Went back, and it was gone. Checked back a bit later and it was not restocked (and was not going to be).

The thing about Costco is that you can’t call and talk to someone about general stock. Or I couldn’t.

I’m not a phone person AT ALL, but I’m even less a “drive around to all of the local Costcos” person.

So we checked another (also sold out) and then asked them if they could tell us if any locations had it.

Yes, one. About half an hour from here.

So after work before picking up The Kid from school, I drove out there.

As I entered the section where it would be if it were still to be there, a chipper employee asked me if I needed help.

“I’m looking for A Thing and [other location] said you have a bunch.”

“Hm. How many is a bunch?” he asked as we started to walk towards the answer.

“They said you have nine, but I only need one.”

The conversation went on a bit before he clarified, “You came all the way up here from [other location]?”

Yup. No one else has them.

“We have to take care of you!” And he put A Thing in my cart. I thanked him, considered myself “taken care of,” and on we went.

A minute or so later, as I was finally getting out of that area (it was crowded! and Costco carts do not squeeze through anywhere…), he leaned over my cart, put in a roasted chicken with a note on it, and said, “Lunch!”

The note indicated to the cashier that it was free.

It was such a random and nice thing to do.

I don’t eat meat; been vegetarian for almost 11 years. No way he would have known that. Doesn’t diminish his kindness a bit.

(I texted The Climbing Daddy to see if he wanted it. If not, I would have offered it to a friend or given it to one of the panhandlers.)

So if this little kindness made my day, imagine what you could do for someone—whether you know them or not—with something unexpected and nice. Doesn’t have to be a gift.

(And if you know the person, it should be something that reflects them. If someone in my social circle gave me a cooked chicken, the reception would be different…)

I’ve gotten better about complimenting people I see out and about. I’ve been on and off the wagon with regards to sending people nice notes in the mail. (Real mail. Handwritten.)

How can you make someone’s day today?

Posted in ebb & flow, gifts, hope, mindset, podcasts, storytelling, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Podcast quote: creativity (and so much more)

TED has started a new podcast series called TED Interviews, where Chris Anderson interviews people who have give TED talks about their talks, and they get more in depth.

I haven’t quite listened to all of them, but all that I’ve listened to have been captivating. (As of this writing, there are only six of them.)

I listened to an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, mostly known for writing Eat, Pray, Love. (I haven’t read it.)

First, they got into creativity. She talked a short bit about the history of creativity (who knew there was one?!) I loved the imagery in what she had to say:

“The way I describe it is the way I’ve empirically experienced it, which is broken down in my life to this notion: that ideas are living entities. They have consciousness. They don’t have matter. They can’t be seen, they can’t be felt, they can’t be proven, but they have will. And the way I picture it—and it’s sort of whimsical but I have also literally based my life on this—is the universe is sort of swirling with these ideas that wish to be created and they’re constantly looking for human collaborators because for some reason we have this oddly sensitive consciousness that can hear them and find them. And so the way I picture it is they sort of just roam around being like, ‘Are you my mother? Are you my mother? Are you my mother?’ And every single human who is struck by inspiration describes the experience exactly the same way … there’s this distraction where the idea sort of consumes you and in that consuming which can take months, weeks, years, the idea is interviewing you and asking you, ‘Do you wanna do this thing with me or not?’ And that’s the most important conversation that I think human beings can have, is that dialogue between your willingness to cooperate and show up and make something with this idea and manifest it and the idea’s desire to be made and the question of whether you are indeed the right partner.”

Whimsical was a solid word to describe the idea, but I love the imagery. Even more, though, I love the ownership of the work, and how the idea doesn’t just come and magically happen—it’s a partnership. “Your labor is the contribution to the miracle.” (She says that later.)

She talked more about that in other places in the podcast as well.

They also talked about curiosity vs. passion, enchantment vs. empiricism, fear, memes (not the pictures on the internet), secular magic, dark night of the soul, why to do the work if it’s likely to fail, and quite a bit about grieving.

It’s an hour long, and it’s well worth your hour. I listened to it twice, in addition to the bits I listened and paused so I could transcribe.

Posted in about me, know better do better, mindset

Black Friday deals

When I was very first starting out as a personal trainer, I used to run Black Friday deals in preparation for New Years.

Eventually, I stopped, and if/when I have more services to offer, I won’t offer deals.

Why?

1- Twice now I have been on the consumer end of “I just bought that a week/a month ago but now it’s way cheaper. The retailer’s response is always “too bad so sad” (my paraphrase). That doesn’t feel good, and it doesn’t leave me wanting to do business with that retailer again.

In my business, I have always been about building relationships and, when practical and possible, community. The above is antithetical to that.

1b- In response to “You could always just retroactively apply the discount”… To purchases back how long? For all purchases or just people who ask? Do I want to establish a culture of people asking me if they can pay less for my services?

2- I price my services in such a way that my clients feel at least like they’ve gotten their money’s worth, or hopefully like they’ve gotten a great deal. I don’t need to discount it.

That said, I do occasionally throw in freebies or discounts for repeat customers.

What do you think? Do you like periodic big sales? Have you been on the losing end of that?

Posted in about me, differences, mindset

You can’t always put on more clothes

I run cold.

If I’m in a room with a lot of people and I’m comfortable, I assume that the majority of the people in the room are somewhere between a bit warm and uncomfortably warm.

This is part of why living in Phoenix is a good choice for me (though the ridiculous amount of air conditioning in public spaces in the summer is an argument against).

Some people run hot.

We’re just different. It’s OK.

I have one or two friends whose temperature comfort zones do not overlap with mine at all. I have quite a few friends whose comfort zones do overlap, but not by a lot.

But the argument I hate is “Well, when you’re cold, you can always put on more clothes. You can’t keep taking clothes off when you’re hot.”

The implication is that by adding a potentially infinite layer of clothes, I would no longer be cold.

Except I don’t buy shoes in multiple sizes to accommodate a variety of layers of socks.

Even with careful planning, I don’t think I could get more than three layers on my legs (stockings or tights under leggings under pants). There have been a few occasions where three layers was insufficient.

More tops than that would be possible, but there are limits.

In all of the above scenarios, the under-layers are the ones that would need to be added for cold (and then eliminated when the ambient temp is warmer), which requires a bathroom or other private space to change and time to do it.

I don’t carry unlimited layers with me in order to be prepared for every temperature occasion. I don’t even carry with me limited but versatile layers. I bring a sweater. (I also keep a sweater and a sweatshirt in the trunk of my car.)

Even if I had a pack animal with me to carry everything I’d need to be prepared for all temperature occasions (would that be considered a service animal? Restaurants and airplanes are some of the worst…), this doesn’t take into consideration parts of the body that aren’t typically covered by clothes: hands, neck, face, ears.

If I’m going to be outside in a cold place, I can prepare for those things, and I can cover them. And I do. (But only if I know or suspect it’s going to be cold. No cold-weather pack animal means sometimes it’s colder than I expected and I’m unprepared.)

But I don’t bring hats and mittens to meetings at work. Or to restaurants. Or to bed. Unless I’m camping.

I do wear scarves sometimes, even if I don’t need a jacket. My neck gets cold. If you’re a knitter or crocheter and want to make a scarf, I’ll happily be a recipient. My current one is a lovely long, thin purple one. Perfect for chilly-but-not-freezing, and made from yarn that doesn’t scream “it’s snowing!” which is nice for both indoors and out. I like to fold it in half and put the loose ends through the loop.

But even if I’m wearing all of those things, my nose is cold.

Outdoors, I can cover it with a scarf. Indoors…?

I’ve seen ads for some little nose cover thing. I can’t imagine very many scenarios when I would want to wear one of those. They look ridiculous, even for me.

OK, all that said, I understand that it sucks to be hot, especially in dress clothes. Even as one who runs cold, there are times that I’m hot. (Summer temps here are always over 115. That’s hot. And as a traveling teacher, I get in my car that’s been baking in the sun multiple times a day. No shortage of hot.) And I’m OK with wearing an extra layer (ONE extra layer) indoors to accommodate people who run hot.

I’m not saying that being cold is worse than being hot. I’m just saying that “just put more clothes on” argument is stupid.

</rant>

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset

Toxic families

The thing about families … it’s most often the people who are unpleasant who “win” because we don’t want to cause problems. We somehow take ownership of others’ bad behavior.

When we avoid saying something or trying to change something, when we show up even though it’s awful and silently wait for it to pass, we’re letting ourselves be treated badly.

“We don’t say anything because s/he gets angry and it just makes it worse” is a sign of an abusive situation.

Stop placating the abusers.

It’s hard. It breaks relationships, because those people are vested in making everything your fault. You can’t have a rational conversation with them. You can’t reason. You can’t say, “When you do this thing, it hurts me,” because they aren’t emotionally equipped to acknowledge hurting you.

This is really variations on a theme from Sunday’s book quote. They’re taking their hurt out on you. It does not help them to heal, and it makes it harder for you to become/stay healthy.

But it’s wicked hard to set boundaries, to take a step back, for three reasons that I can think of.

1- The immediate situation is hard. Standing up for yourself (or for your spouse, or for you kids, or for whomever) when you know you’re going to get yelled at is hard. It’s hard to summon the courage to do it, and it’s hard to withstand the blowback, especially when setting a boundary is a new thing.

2- People who are not on board with you setting and maintaining a healthy boundary are going to blame you for making The Mean Person angry. You ruined the day by making them yell. (I’m here to tell you it is not your fault.)

It’s really hard, when you’ve just summoned the emotional grit to get through both parts of the boundary-setting (summoning the courage and withstanding the blowback) to get more blowback from others in the room.

They do it for so many different reasons, and I don’t want to prattle on about all that right now. Suffice it to say, until this moment, you were acting in such a way as to protect yourself, and they’re acting in a way to protect themselves. Even if it’s at your expense.

3- People at large expect us to “be nice to your family,” regardless of how you’re being treated. (No one tells The Mean Person to be nice to their family because they spin it so they are the victim. Always.) I know of one person who was regularly hit—as an adult—by family, and was blamed by (former) friends for cutting ties.

If people won’t accept physical abuse as a reason not to show up, they certainly don’t accept mental or emotional abuse. (Don’t get me started on girls being blamed for “seducing” their uncles.)

Don’t let those people weaken your ownership of the problem. (It’s so easy to second-guess yourself. Especially if you happen to be in the role of Family Scapegoat and have always been blamed.) No, you are not perfect. But when reasonable and healthy requests are met with ire, it is not your fault.

I’m here to tell you—there are people who believe you, who empathize, who will not blame you. Find them. They are your lifeline in this journey.

Break the cycle. Find support. Get a good therapist. Take care of yourself.

Posted in know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

Happy Thanksgiving?

This holiday is such a big part of American culture …

I think that gathering with people who are important to you is important, and we’ve created such a culture of busy-ness that we need a holiday to make us stop and do it.

I think preparing a large, formal meal is something lost (see: busy) and there’s something to be said for it. For people who like that sort of thing. Or for people who can delegate well. Or both.

I think that showing gratitude and taking a moment or a day to be mindful of what we have is important (and needs to be done way more often!).

But I think that we should disconnect the holiday from its roots. I think we should get rid of pilgrims and Indians happily sharing a meal and the feel-good fiction that goes along with it.

(Ideally, we’d use this opportunity to teach the reality of the relationship between those two groups of people, but I think that would be Step 2. Which I think would naturally lead to Step 3: working to right wrongs as much as possible. Or at the very least, ceasing to continue wronging…)

What do you think?