"When something in life is difficult, you put fear aside and you take one step forward." - Chris Hogan
Often we miss so many opportunities in life because we are too fearful to start. There is wisdom in waiting for the right time if something requires it, as stated in a previous blog post. However, many things in life are not on a deadline, except the deadline of missed opportunity, and we must seize on each situation that presents a possible favorable outcome. The web of decisions and consequences in life is too daunting to try to comprehend wholly. Rather, live and love fearlessly, one decision at a time, one step at a time.
One of my favorite scriptures says the following, "By small and simple things are great things brought to pass."
When you are building your credibility as an artist, or a professional in any field, you will at first take almost any opportunity that comes your way. Then, as your schedule expands, your time dwindles, and you achieve a higher "status" or "profile", you may start to turn down certain gigs. Perhaps they don't pay you anything, or the fee is very minimal. Maybe the crowd is too small. Maybe they're asking you to do something that doesn't align with your style or brand. I can respect all of those things, and very often they are necessary. However, I recently learned a wonderful lesson from the notion that "no opportunity is too small."
A few years ago, I was quite busy with concerts, teaching, and school. My debut album with Shadow Mountain Records had just hit #1 on the Billboard Classical Traditional chart, and opportunities to perform were plentiful. At the time, I was asked to give a workshop at a local music store. They asked me to speak on one of my favorite topics - how to market yourself as a musician. They said I would get to keep all of the ticket revenue. They said their numbers at previous events had been scarce. I was thinking maybe 20-30 people meant "scarce". Well, four people ended up coming. So I think I made a whopping $20 or so for all of the preparation I put into this one hour lecture, sharing some of the most valuable wisdom my parents and I had paid thousands of dollars and thousands of hours to accumulate.
Of those four people, one of them was a a seventeen year-old girl and her mom, who later became one of my favorite students I've ever taught. I helped her prepare for her college audition at the University of Utah for her undergraduate work, and she went on to receive a generous piano scholarship and study with my former teacher while earning her bachelors degree. As an added bonus, I was just hired on at the University of Utah, and will be teaching this same girl - who is now in her masters program - this coming semester.
Three days ago I got a text from a woman that said, "I'm not sure if you remember me, but many years ago, I was one of the people in attendance at the lecture you gave at a local music store. We'd like to hire you to come and play at our annual workshop for our teen group. My friend and I were both in attendance and we would love to have you also give a lecture to inspire our young students."
Are you kidding me? That's a 100% success rate!! Granted, there were four people there, but two amazing opportunities came from it. I was able to help change this incredible young woman's life in helping her prepare for a career in music, and now I again have the opportunity to hopefully inspire more young musicians.
I say none of this to boast, because I firmly believe that God places each of us in unique situations, of which we often do not know the outcome or impact. I only say this to reinforce the critical lesson of never allowing arrogance to have a place in our hearts. I'm no better than you, and you're no better than me. We are equal, and must use the talents and gifts we've been given wisely, which may often prevent us from seizing every opportunity. However, when we have the time, we should always take each opportunity afforded to us to bless, enrich, and inspire others, no matter how small the gig might be, for we have no idea what rich rewards may manifest at a later date.
I was talking to a wise friend the other day, also a musician (and a marketing genius), and he gave me some insight that I won't soon forget.
"When you have something of real value, of real worth, don't just throw it out there. Plan, strategize, and release the material at the best time possible. If necessary, make people wait for it."
I've always been one to start, to get going immediately, but this advice has caused me to reflect a lot on the success of certain projects, and the lack of it with others. Waiting for the right time, with any situation in life, can mean the difference between success and failure.
I recently listened to the best podcast I've ever heard, with Tim Ferriss interviewing Tony Robbins. You can check it out HERE.
In the podcast, Robbins talks about human suffering, and how it is inevitable during our mortal experience. However, choice plays into every situation in life, no matter the circumstances. This is easy to see in Nazi Germany, where certain prisoners basically gave up on life and died shortly thereafter, while others fought and persevered, through deathly and horrific circumstances, and ultimately prevailed, stronger than ever. Robbins discusses the choice we face in every situation - to live in a beautiful mindset, or a suffering mindset. Even in beautiful circumstances, people can choose a suffering mindset, and vice versa.
The highlight of the show was when he asked each listener to place both hands over their heart, and breathe deeply, feeling the power of their heart, feeling the strength of it, the care for it, the beauty of it. Do this for two minutes. While doing this, think of three distinct situations, people, or things in life you are most grateful for. At the end of two minutes, I was amazed at the results I had achieved. I like meditation, but something about the focus on the heart made it so much more meaningful than a normal meditation. It had power...it was more vivid.
"As long as this heart is beating, you have the gift of life, and you live." - Tony Robbins
"Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight." - Marcus Aurelius
Our lives are a constant equilibrium of gain and loss. Some gains are good, some are bad. The same applies for loss. However, when we come to accept our situation unconditionally, peace can distill upon even the most heartbreaking situations. It is maddening when people say to "move on", "be tough", or "get over it" when we are at the height of emotion after having lost a loved one, a beautiful situation in life, had to move, or even lost an item of great sentimental worth. Rather, "I accept this", "I will make this situation beautiful", or "I am the change that will make this situation great" are elegant mantras that can ease the sting of loss or change. In this respect, loss is not really loss at all, just a change that is defined by our attitude. We and the world may label it as heart-rending, terrible, wonderful, or refreshing, depending on the situation. Each situation in life is an opportunity for us to grow or die a little more, no matter how bitter the pain may be, depending on how we perceive the present circumstances.
"Too many rules is legalistic, but too much grace is enabling." - Rachel Cruze
This quote is from Rachel Cruze's book, Smart Money, Smart Kids, and it can apply to many situations in life. When we endeavor to be successful, we often set up so many "rules" - a perfect schedule, habits that can't be broken, an ideal working environment, an inspired mindset, etc. - that it can seem impossible to live up to our own standards. On the flip side, some people are free spirits, and figure that it will all work out, somehow. Proper planning must be in place in order to achieve goals, but we must always be willing to "adjust in battle," something a wise leader once told me on several different occasions.
So many self-help books and motivational speakers say to stop comparing yourself to others. In a society where everyone gets a trophy, it's easy to push aside the health of good competition. Others' actions can push us to be better. Look at the Lochte/Phelps or Raisman/Biles combos in the 2016 Olympics. Can people honestly say that the absence of one would help the other?
Is competition good or bad? Most would say it's good. Is comparing yourself to others good or bad? Most people would say it's bad. Doesn't that seem ironic? We must realize this truth: the key to competition, or any challenging pursuit in life, is to allow others to motivate, inspire, drive, and encourage you, but to never let others define you. Only you can define yourself, and you must choose to define yourself in a light absent of others. This way, competition always remains positive, no matter the outcome.
"In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
These wise words from Emerson break down barriers we've created in our minds. As humans it is so easy to think our way is the best way, and sometimes (which is even worse), the only way. By adopting an attitude of constant learning, life becomes ever richer, because each conversation and interaction with others becomes a pathway to self-improvement. Additionally, life becomes more interesting, for this attitude brings about a fresh bout of motivation with each passing hour, trying to gather as much information as possible, as if gathering building materials to construct a beautiful home, and building yourself into the person you wish to become.
Yesterday I listened to a truly excellent commencement speech by acclaimed author, Neil Gaiman. I highly recommend that everyone listen to it, especially if you have a career in the arts. Here's a LINK.
There were so many incredible elements to the speech, but one of the more simple lessons was relayed when he was discussing his successes. He said he had the opportunity to talk to Stephen King. At the time, Mr. Gaiman was having a lot of publicity and book signings. Mr. King told him, "This is really great. You should enjoy it." Mr. Gaiman goes on to say, with a noticeable tone of sadness, "And I didn't. Best advice I ever got that I ignored. Instead, I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn't a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years that I wasn't writing something in my head, or wondering about it, and I didn't stop and look around and go, "This is really fun!" I wish I'd enjoyed it more. It's been an amazing ride, but there were parts of the ride that I missed because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit that I was on. That was the hardest bit for me, to let go, and enjoy the ride that I was on. That was the hardest lesson for me, to let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places."
I have to stop myself right there. I could sit and transcribe the whole speech because it is so amazing. But that, right there, that simple lesson - I wish I'd enjoyed it more - seemed to stick out more than anything in the entire speech. Each of us will have unique opportunities in life. Some people are more talented than you, more beautiful, more privileged, more accomplished, more sophisticated, more (fill in the blank). Regardless of where you're at, enjoy the ride. One of my greatest fears, and therefore one of my greatest motivators, is that if I'm lucky enough, blessed enough, to look back on a life full of accomplishment and success, that I won't have enjoyed it. It gives me reason, each day, to observe some small beauty, some tidbit of inspiration or revelation, and marvel at the miracle that I am blessed to still be living, breathing, loving, existing.
One of the greatest teachers in history was a Soviet pianist and pedagogue by the name of Heinrich Neuhaus. He wrote one of the most authoritative books in his realm of study, entitled The Art of Piano Playing. I recommend it to all musicians, regardless of their instrument of study.
In the book, Neuhaus gives an analogy that can be applied to everyday living. He talks about boiling water. Piano practice, or any endeavor in life worth pursuing, can be likened to the act of boiling a pot of water. When we first put the water on to boil, it begins to heat up slowly. This is like the initial stages of practicing a particular musical passage. The water then heats more quickly - the practicing intensifies. However, many people become satisfied with sub-perfection, content with something that isn't completely mastered. The heat is removed from the water, and it starts to cool. This process is repeated as many times as the student can handle, until he or she becomes so frustrated and discontent that they finally stick with it until it's perfected. The water finally boils, becoming pure.
In life, we often stretch ourselves so thin that we are only able to raise the temperature of a particular pot of water by a few degrees per day. We are attending to so many pots, that the "heating progress" on each is almost unnoticeable. When possible, get rid of all unnecessary pots, and you'll be left with boiling pots of the most important water.
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The musings of a (crazy) concert pianist
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