Welcome to My Wonderfully Eclectic World of General Interest Through the 👀 of a Believer❖ a Songwriter❖ a New Yorker❖ a World Traveler❖ a Fashionista❖ an Intellectual
I mentioned in my June post, Running With Horses, the closer I walked with the Lord, the more I learned about managing disappointment. That statement was in response to the precipitous postponement of the gun violence awareness production the Lord gave me in January of this year. Originally slated for February, it was canceled before it got underway. Nonetheless, one month later it was revived with a June performance date. I was elated that this assignment received new life, but soon realized I was being catapulted outside of my comfort zone. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but there was an undercurrent surrounding the production which was bubbling right below the surface. I felt a consistent level of resistance, but since it was not overt I thought that I was safe in familiar territory. Unbeknownst to me, I had been snatched from the manicured lawns of my suburban New York neighborhood, and dropped in the perilous jungles of the Darién Gap bordering Colombia and Panama! I was in a foreign land with familiar people. So despite months of preparation and rehearsals, the undercurrent bubbled to the surface and the production was postponed four days before the scheduled June date.
When I received the bombshell news of the shutdown, I was very much in my feelings. I was ready to pack up my tent, leave the dangers of this jungle behind and flee for home. I was over this misguided camping trip, but the Lord impressed upon me that the 24 hours allowed to lick my wounds had passed. So after the production was canceled the first time; revived and then postponed at the last minute the second time; I knew there was still significant work for me to do. Against my better judgment, I accepted the third opportunity extended to me for the production to occur in October. Things moved along as preparations got underway in July. But soon it began feeling like a never-ending episode of Survivor. I faced numerous challenges and challengers on a daily basis. Though the opposition was great, I understood the assignment was greater. Having been battered by the trials from the first two rounds of planning, the naivety with which I began this undertaking had disappeared. It was replaced with understanding and revelation of a purpose that exceeded my desires and the fragility of my humanity. There simply was no time for prolonged fits of anger and hurt feelings. Indeed, there was no place for me to insert my judgment about calling the whole thing off. So I pressed on and took comfort in God’s undeniable presence during these trials. I persevered despite the incredible level of resistance, aware that the opposition would have to yield eventually. That perseverance was firmly anchored in the knowledge that God was on my side in the midst of all this adversity and that knowledge did not disappoint.
Against what seemed insurmountable odds, the production finally occurred. It not only occurred, but touched the hearts and minds of men, women and children alike. Each time the production was stopped, it came back stronger with more energy and passion. Had I had my way, I would have given up when it was canceled the first time. I certainly had no desire to show up for this final version of the production given all the resistance from round two. I wanted out of the jungle to get back to the safety of my comfort zone. But I am so grateful that I stuck around to see the production through to fruition. Every setback was the set-up for a comeback that was greater than anything I could have imagined. I believe the final version of the production was more impactful and achieved purposes far beyond what I am able to see on the surface. I know that the Lord is well pleased too. During the weekend that the production occurred, there were no shootings in any of the boroughs of New York. That has not occurred since 1993. Coincidence? I will let you be the judge but that would be a very long 25 year drought. I marvel at the long and winding road that this production traveled and how many people tried to stop or change it. Indeed, there were many times that I was poised to stand in the way of what it was determined to be. I am so glad I got out my own way to experience the fullness of God’s intendment for this production. In fact, I’m making it a habit of getting out my way to see what other miraculous things will unfold in my life. I’m already moving. Seriously.
In May 2017, after 146 years in operation, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus finally closed its tent doors. Its trademarked slogan, “The Greatest Show On Earth,” is iconic. Having attended their shows on several occasions, the slogan was fitting as it was quite an amazing spectacle. I wondered if there was another show that could make such a bold claim. I searched my mental database, reminiscing about concerts, theatrical plays, movies and magic shows. I couldn’t come up with a suitable comparison, but magic stuck with me. As I considered the allure of a magician, somehow I went over the river and through the woods to begin exploring creativity. I cannot trace the steps that allowed me to begin at a circus, take a pit stop at a magic show, then arrive at creativity, but just go with me. I suppose this prospect intrigues me because, as a creative, bringing something into existence that did not previously exist is my playground. I live in my imagination and I believe my influx of ideas are worth a king’s ransom. So the use of originality, artistry, inspiration and vision to bring into fruition random ideas that previously existed only in the mind, is quite fascinating.
Creativity is defined as the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, and relationships, to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods and interpretations. It is the ability to produce something of value from original ideas. In thinking about the act of making a thing that didn’t previously exist, or using existing materials to make something completely different, I considered my own creative process. Everything that I do is informed by a creative lens because that is my nature. I am a writer of many different things, including these posts, which require creativity to formulate content that is hopefully interesting. But just as I employ a process to write in the various mediums, I problem-solve and troubleshoot from a nonconventional perspective as well. My world is shaped by my creativity and it is as present as stripes are on a zebra. I haven’t taken a poll, but in observing creative people in my circle of friends and family, I suspect that many of their day-to-day decisions are informed by their creative lens too. But I find that I can become so fixated on the finished product of a particular thing, that I often forget the magic of its genesis. By way of example, I began a song in September 2017 that I only recently finished this month. In listening to my various recordings of the melodic and lyrical ideas over the last almost year, the song went through many iterations. On one of the recordings I lamented how this song would not allow me to abandon it, though it was causing me a great deal of trouble to finish. In looking back on the process, I had been so focused on finishing the song that the genesis was completely lost on me. There is absolute magic happening every time I sit down before a blank computer screen or piece of paper to write a song, poem, prose, letter or even this blog post. I am not saying that there is magic because of the brilliance of what is produced, but by virtue of having the ability to create something that previously did not exist. Whether it is good or not is up for debate and interpretation, but there is still loud applause for the process of simply creating.
So while Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus might have given the world a spectacular show, how many iterations of creativity did it take to get to the perfected end product that got all the glory? Though it is the successful magic tricks that receives all the praise, how many ideas were birthed by the magicians in attempting to perfect their tricks? The amazing concerts and plays that we have attended have added to the tapestry of our lives. But how many ideas went into the development of that production, from the genesis of a song idea to the blueprints and construction of the venues in which the shows were performed. Though it gets very little recognition, creativity is the very heartbeat of everything. The living within our imagination to bring original ideas back to reality is where the real magic happens. The end results always gets the glory, but it is the creativity that is the real showstopper for every greatest show on earth.
I finally took the plunge and answered the calling on my life a few years ago. Previously I dabbled here and there, dipping my pedicured toes in those murky waters. But since I couldn’t see clearly to the bottom, I opted to stay safely on the shore to live this good life that I carved out for myself. It worked for me until it didn’t, and I found myself at a crossroads. I had to decide whether I was going to chase who God intended me to be with utter ferocity, or simply settle for mediocrity. I had done my best to fit in, keep my head down, and tread water because that was comfortable. But the more I conformed, the more uncomfortable I became. I was meant to stand out, but striving to be exceptional has had its own set of challenges with both tremendous highs and abysmal lows. Thank goodness the lows have only rocked me rather than wrecked me. Nonetheless, what has remained consistent in this pursuit of happiness is the onslaught of advice suggesting that I return to my safe and comfortable good life.
I completely understand the advice to surrender this pursuit of my purpose and retreat to the life I knew, because it is firmly rooted in logic. You hedge your bets by knowing at what point to cut your losses. The logical mindset demands a thorough and well planned strategy with numerous contingencies to minimize risk. That mindset isn’t a “Go Big or Go Home” mentality, but one that clings to a philosophy that says, “Go, See What Happens, but Be Ready to Go Home Quickly.” I have lived my entire life dictated by logic, so I have had thoughts of returning to the warm and fuzzy place of my good and comfortable life at least a million times in the last few years. In fact, doing so would solve almost all of the hardships that I have encountered. It makes perfect sense, and therein lies the problem. I am finding in my personal spiritual journey that the more sense it makes, the less likely God may be involved in the decision. God is indeed a God of order and logic, but He is also bold, sweeping and unconventional in His methodology. He is, after all, the Creator of the universe, and not a man, so His thoughts and way are higher than ours. As the maker of time and space, God is not confined, defined or constrained by it. Simply put, things don’t have to make sense in order for God to accomplish that thing. Did it make sense to appear to Moses in a Burning Bush or part the Red Sea so the Israelites could flee from the pursuing Egyptians? Was it logical for Joshua to follow God’s instructions to march around Jericho, blow trumpets and yell in order to capture the city? And I can promise you, despite the prophecies, God living amongst men on earth isn’t anything that anyone saw coming. So that whole virgin birth still has some people messed up and confused. That is exactly the point. Things are illogical to men because we are finite, but God is limitless.
The sovereignty and limitlessness of God are principles that were critically important for me to embrace in order to genuinely walk with Him through this process of becoming. The logical mindset that kept me safely in the cocoon, was inhibiting my metamorphosis. I had to bury the logical, the possible, the sensible and the security of being a caterpillar and entrust God with the illogical, impossible, insanity and vulnerability of the process of becoming a butterfly. The radical change from a caterpillar to a butterfly is literally a miracle and a completely awe-inspiring event. The caterpillar doesn’t submit to the process by expecting to come out as a fancier caterpillar. When it begins to spin its cocoon, it is fully committed, ceasing to exist in its former state in order to reach its maximum potential. So it follows that any metamorphosis is not a playing it safe; dipping pedicured toes in crystal clear waters; seeing what happens; warm and fuzzy kind of place. It is an all-in, all-consuming, all or nothing, fully transformational place that requires a “No Retreat, No Surrender” mindset. Be warned that this mentality is much less tactical than the logicians would desire. Nonetheless, this is the mindset that I have since adopted.
I am very human and sometimes I fall prey to my doubts, thoughts, fears, and yes, my logic. At times I wonder if I should cut my losses or remain fiercely resolute, yelling with the last gasp of my breath, “give me freedom or give me death!” But despite the dramatics, my soul has literally been bathed in a divine serenity that lets me know that God has walked with me every step of this process of becoming who He intends me to be. I have been provided for in inexplicable ways and my sanity has been preserved through utterly insane situations. The “No Retreat, No Surrender” mindset leaves me completely open to the inglorious slaughter of defeat. Yet I go willing because no retreat or surrender in trusting God is the only way that I will one day experience the glorious spoils of the sweetest victory of my life. I cannot become a butterfly without completing the metamorphosis, so giving up is not an option. I just had to get my mind right.
The more I submit to what I sincerely believe is God’s will, the more I recognize that I need Him 25 hours, 8 days a week. The more I endeavor to walk closely with Him, the more I learn about myself and how to manage disappointment. So it goes almost a week ago today. It was not my intention to write a post for this month because I had been utterly consumed with a gun violence awareness production the Lord laid on my heart in January. I have been living with the production for the better part of 6 months, but it began to take shape and form over these last two months when rehearsals started. From the inception I encountered hardship, but Jeremiah 12:5 immediately came to my remembrance when I complained to the Lord: 5 “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” I faced challenge after challenge and put out fire after fire, but I never felt inclined to stop or give up. The resistance was great but I understood the assignment was greater, so I persisted through all the adversity. But the Sunday before last, as the final week of practices was beginning, I was lead to read my journal entry from 9 months ago where I referenced, “For Every Mountain I’ve Ascended,” a previous blog post. That post was about processing the devastation of disappointment and hardship when the wounds were still fresh. It had no particular relevance at the time I was lead to revisit it, but I nonetheless made a mental note as I have come to realize that things don’t occur by happenstance. Fast forward to last Wednesday, in a flurry of activity and calls coming in from various sources, all the wheels came off the train when I was informed, four days before the production was to occur, it would not take place as scheduled. I was undone.
I recall several thoughts flooding my mind in the minutes and hours after receiving the bombshell news, but there was little time to process. I had a previously scheduled conference call with my production team occurring 20 minutes after I received the news. I sent a text saying that the production was shutdown and I would explain on the conference call. After that 90 minute conversation, I decided to send an email to the cast advising that the production would not occur at the appointed time but I would be at the venue the next day to address their questions and concerns. Thereafter, I completely unplugged from the world so that I could assess my injuries and lick my wounds in private. My mind was fluttering with tools to self-soothe, but I didn’t want to be consoled. I wanted to legitimately and honestly be in my feelings and I was totally immersed in every single feeling that I could muster. I awoke the next day wanting to remain unplugged but I felt an obligation to speak personally with the cast and those who had volunteered their time, treasure and talent to bring the vision to life. It wasn’t until yesterday that I thought that I should blog about this experience. As I sat down to begin writing today, the previous post on disappointment came rushing back with great relevance. I said in that post I was inspired to write the counterargument to disappointment as a means of encouraging another author who expressed his lament while dealing with the injury and hurt of disappointment. I now find myself being likewise encouraged by my own insights. Much of the post resonated with me as my wounds are still new, but I found the following insight of particular note: “… when we are freshly bruised and battered by devastating news, oftentimes we lose perspective. In truth, falling apart is a reasonable response to trauma, but we leave ourselves vulnerable to being ravaged even more severely. If disappointment is kryptonite then perspective is the antidote, the wonder drug. Perspective allows us to respond in gratitude for the things that we still have instead of being swallowed whole by the things that appear to be lost or dreams seemingly deferred.”
There is an awesome gift in having perspective in the immediacy of the calamity that gives such clarity. I was on the precipice of allowing my vision to be clouded by emotions, but instead I took a step back to experience the grief of the disappointment, while not allowing those feelings to consume me. My responses, moves and motivations in the ensuing days have been tempered by understanding, revelation and purposeful intention, rather than tinged with anger and hurt feelings. Today, six days removed from the injury, I see even more clearly that the setbacks I have experienced are preparing me to run with horses. Had I not used perspective as the antidote to begin healing my disappointment, the lessons I would have missed would have been innumerable. Every hardship has served to develop my character, build endurance and strengthen my relationship with God. My faith and trust in God’s promises is my sustenance, so I will not stumble on safe terrain when I was meant to navigate the thickets of the Jordan. Every disappointment gets me closer to running with horses and as I grow, I am learning not to allow myself to be worn out in a foot race with men.
One morning in November 2014, I had an encounter with whom I am sure was God, that would change my trajectory forever. In those minutes, which seemed like an eternity, I was presented with the option to maintain the status quo of the life I had planned for myself, or do something radical like trust God’s plan. I was living safely, quietly and peacefully as a “good Christian.” By all accounts, my life was successful and productive in not only my eyes, but in the eyes of men. I am generally a happy person who smiles a lot, so even when I need to make lemonade out of lemons, I am positive and resilient. Nonetheless, I knew that though I was reasonably satisfied, there was a mournful discontent in the deepest recesses of my soul. There was something gnawing at my insides; begging me to walk away from the safe existence I had carefully curated. It became clear on that fateful morning I was settling for something far less than what God intended for me.
So in that moment, I answered the call to abandon the good life I planned, for the great life that God promised. That decision compelled me to completely, immediately totally, and permanently alter the direction of my life. Some of the people, places and things that enabled me to live my good Plan B life were literally removed overnight. Others were excised with surgical precision, methodically purging everything that served as a hinderance to my calling. My life was not my own anymore; I was not my own. As I embarked on this journey toward my purpose, I began to receive insight that my life was really never my own because I had always been God’s treasured possession though I didn’t recognize my value or power. I received understanding that my truest happiness was being stolen from underneath me by allowing well-intentioned people to dictate what success meant. Even more egregious, I was fully complicit because my thoughts and fears were the biggest stumbling block to my happy ending. The difference between remaining unscathed in my good life and risking it all to reach the perfect fulfillment of my great life, depended on my ability to choose fearfully or fearlessly.
I chose to be fearless and go all out for my Plan A with reckless abandon. I have persevered even in the face of my fears and I have been richly rewarded. My journey toward my purpose, which I am still navigating, has not been easy. It has been filled with all sorts of pitfalls and valleys, trials and hardships. Yet at the very same time I am more fulfilled and excited than I have ever been about my life’s work. I am full of passion, conviction, exuberance and genuine contentment. I am in a full blown love affair with my calling and there is light virtually bursting from my seams. More importantly, I have had the awesome privilege of knowing God on a much deeper and inexpressible level. Amazingly, I have had perfect peace as I pursue my dreams, and align myself with God’s individual purpose for my life. I never imagined that peace and contentment could exist in the midst of hardship and turmoil, but I am proof positive. It is a blessing that no amount of money could purchase. My only regret is that I didn’t answer the phone sooner when my purpose was calling… but God’s timing is divine.
I am an optimist. I like to describe myself as an optimistic realist, but an optimist nonetheless. As such, when life occasionally drops a bag of lemons on my doorstep, I am usually armed with sugar to make lemonade. This disposition has serve me well in life. However, unintended consequences have worked to my detriment a few times. In trying to view challenges from a position of gratitude, I have sometimes remained in difficult situations longer than necessary. In those instances, making lemonade caused me to lose focus on what was important to my overall happiness and peace of mind. So it goes with my former profession. I was gainfully employed in a position with lots of status and great benefits. My salary and cushy assignment afforded me a nice lifestyle for which I was grateful, thankful even. I was comfortable at my job and knew what I was doing. I was often asked about higher career aspirations within my field by peers and supervisors alike. On the surface, it appeared that everything was clicking on all cylinders. However, what was brewing in my spirit is the reason for this post. I felt totally unfulfilled with my career, yet I was grateful to have a good job. I would imagine that the passion I had for my job would be akin to the passion that one would have to muster in order to watch paint dry for 8 hours each day. So every morning after I thanked the good Lord for opening my eyes, I prayed for the grace to manage the day effectively in order to overcome my indifference. To really drive the message home, I hated my job. Facts. However, as I look back in hindsight, the truth is it wasn’t the job but me.
As tortuous as a huge portion of every work day had become, I attributed the good life I had to a successful career. So with my totally unsatisfying but successful career in tow, I made an unlimited supply of lemonade with the daily delivery of lemons. In order to mask this empty feeling gnawing at my insides, I filled my free time with shopping and traveling to find my happy place. That worked wonders for a period until it didn’t. As much as I loved, and still love shopping and traveling, the source of my discontentment was not my career but my career choices. I believe that I was supposed to work in my chosen profession for a short time, but I became comfortable and chose to remain longer than God intended. I’ve heard it said that good is the enemy of great, and good was my greatest foe. The good life allowed me to settle for Plan B, when my best life was to live fully in Plan A. I had become such an adept lemonade maker, I didn’t realize that I was letting the lemons ruin my best life. By all accounts, Plan B was great from the outside looking in, but my happy was being stolen right from under me. There was nothing wrong with my good life, except that it was a life designed for someone else, making it impossibly wrong for me. I knew that I would never arrive at my best life living someone else’s Plan A. I was truly out of options. Plan B and a mouth full of bitter lemonade was killing me slowly.
So I changed. I answered the call on my life and abandoned the good life for the great life that God promised me. Let me be the first to say that I have made pitchers of lemonade with the lemon farm that I have acquired in the pursuit of my best life. But without question, this lemonade is the sweetest I have ever tasted. I am fulfilled and excited about my life’s work. My passion is so turned on that I believe I can illuminate Times Square with the light bursting from me. I am full of life and vigor, teeming with wonderment and married to a happiness that I only flirted with in the past. I was allowing lemons to steal this genuine contentment I am now experiencing, by settling for Plan B ’s good life. I am all in and going all out for my Plan A with reckless abandon. I will not let lemons ruin it for me one more second. If life is going to toss lemons on my doorstep, the lemonade that I make will be the absolute best that life has to offer me and not an ounce less.
Unless you are a new born or have been in a medically induced coma since the year began, you most assuredly know about the juggernaut known as Black Panther. Premiering in Los Angeles on January 29, 2018, and released theatrically in the United States on February 16, 2018, this critically acclaimed film has grossed over $1.1 billion worldwide, literally smashing records in its wake. In less than a month, it has become the seventh highest-grossing film domestically and the 18th highest-grossing film of all time. Let’s put that in perspective: Avatar, released in 2009; Titanic, released in 1997; and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released in 2015, are the top three grossing films of all time respectively, each grossing over $2 billion worldwide. Black Panther has held the top weekly box office spot since its release and is poised to continue breaking records for many years to come. Despite the box office stranglehold and well-deserved accolades that the movie has garnered, Black Panther is also groundbreaking in a multitude of other ways. The 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), a shared universe centered on a series of superhero films with common plot elements, settings and characters, it is the first to showcase a predominantly black cast. Directed by Ryan Coogler, an African-American director and screenwriter, Black Panther is not only showcasing what a more culturally diverse superhero movie can accomplish, but changing the landscape of the superhero role. T’Challa, the film’s namesake and king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, offers a refreshing view of a protagonist with depth and quiet reserve. But even more striking, is the savoir faire and strength of the leading ladies of Wakanda.
The Queen Mother, Ramonda, played by Angela Bassett, represents a grace, sophistication, wisdom and royalty rarely seen in this genre. King T’Challa is guarded by a battalion of women warriors called the Dora Milaje, a special forces outfit commanded by his fiercely protective female general, Okoye. His effervescent and spirited baby genius little sister, Shuri, is the big brain behind the technology of Wakanda and the Black Panther gadgets. Lastly, Nakia, T'Challa’s love interest and an undercover spy for Wakanda, is formidable in her own right. Each of these female characters have a depth and range that not only rival their male counterparts, but can easily outshine them. I would pay good money to see Okoye and the Dora Milaje hand out beatings under the leadership of Ramonda, the technological weaponry of Shuri and the diplomacy of Nakia. These leading ladies are not only beautiful and unashamedly feminine, but equally heroic, strong and awe-inspiring. Black Panther has been lauded in several areas, from its screenplay and direction, to the scene stealing performances, action, and costume design. But it is without question that every well-deserved accolade it has received, is due in no small part to the tremendous amount of Girl Power infused through the fabric of the movie. Well done indeed. Wakanda forever!
I am a bit of a strange bird with many interesting facets to my personality. I can definitely be verbose but other times, though much less frequently, I am as quiet as a church mouse. This is particularly so when I am in a new or unfamiliar environment. Though I am present and fully engaged with my surroundings, when this side makes an appearance, I have very little to say at all. This generally causes some discomfort in those who know me to be gregarious and affable because they think something is wrong. In actuality, I am enjoying the thrill of observation, taking a second to appreciate my surroundings, and slowing the world down so that I can pay attention to the details. I like to call it, “Smelling the Roses.” In this highly charged, fast-paced society, where we communicate in characters and emojis, and ingest information and content voraciously, it seems virtually impossible to peel ourselves away from the never-ending pinging of social media notifications. It’s almost as if breathing is some kind of lost art because we barely have time to catch our breath, no less take time to live in the moment and savor the here and now. I get it. We’re busy. There are only 24 hours in any given day and the demands on our time are great. Who has time to stop and smell roses, when we are too busy buzzing around to notice that the roses are there in the first place. That is exactly the point. We all need time to decompress, recharge and take in our surroundings without the hurry of the world. That requires a purposeful decision to create pockets of peace and solitude.
By way of example, during this past Christmas season I took an evening ride to Pennsylvania with one of my good girlfriends to visit her parents. I was a dutiful front seat passenger, adhering to the responsibility and rules of engagement associated with co-piloting. There was witty banter and hilarious chit chat, as friends normally share. But, like me, she also enjoys the sanctity of solitude so inevitably, there was a lull in the conversation. After making sure she, as the driver, had what she needed, I fully understood I was free to go off and roam with one final instruction… keep a look out for deer. Though I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, I happily made myself busy looking out the window to observe the scenery. I asked an occasional question about the locale but for the most part I was totally engrossed in my observations. At some point, however, my friend broke the silence with a playfully scolding remark because I was so busy taking in the environment and reading street signs, that I failed to alert her to the orange eyes staring at us on the passenger’s side of the road. Thank goodness she noticed the deer and took measures to avoid an accident if it darted into our path, but I did get a hand slap. Danger averted, I honed back into my co-piloting responsibility for the next 30 minutes until we arrived safely. In that pocket of time, I made a decision to smell the roses, appreciating nature and experiencing new surroundings rather than plugging back into the matrix.
So fast forward to this past week, I have been smelling the roses everyday since February 9, by watching the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics Games. I am super busy but I am making the time to see all these awe-inspiring athletes compete at the highest level. I witnessed American snowboarding domination with gold medal wins by Red Gerard, Jamie Anderson, Chloe Kim and Shaun White. White, having had a horrific accident in New Zeland while training for the Olympic Games just 4 months earlier, made a remarkable comeback at the age of 31. His 11 competitors averaged 21.9 years of age, with the silver medalist, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, being just 19. I fell asleep on the final run of American sensation Mikaela Shiffrin’s gold medal effort in the Giant Slalom, but my heart was with her! I did, however, witness pairs ice skater, Aliona Savchenko, who has skated in five Olympic Games for two different countries and with three different partners, finally win gold for Germany with new partner, Bruno Massot. I know they weren’t skating for the United States, but you have to love a feel good story about never giving up, ever. It took Savchenko 16 years, from 2002 to 2018, to realize her dream of Olympic gold. Just thinking about that level of tenacity and commitment is worth every second of the time I am investing to draw inspiration for the pursuit of my own hopes and aspirations. I am committed to PyeongChang for another 10 days and I am enjoying every second that I can keep my eyes open! With all these remarkable accomplishments and dreams realized after years and years of dedication, hard work and determination, I certainly hope that each of these Olympians are taking time to slow the world down around them. Let me put this into perspective. There are 2952 athletes competing in 102 events from 92 different countries. That means than less than 15% of those competing will walk away with a medal of any color and less than 5% will obtain that elusive gold medal. Nonetheless, I t is a true honor to achieve a level of mastery at a discipline to be able to represent your country in front of the world, knowing that almost everyone will leave empty-handed. If this is not the best testament to the reason why we should stop and smell the roses, appreciate the here and now, and value the magnitude of the moment. I will be right there in PyeongChang in spirit, smelling the roses from the comfort of my bedroom. Go USA!
It’s that time of the year when people are resolving to do everything under the sun. Millions of resolutions are made with the best intentions, and hope springs eternal that this year, unlike the previous ones, our selfie-promises will not be broken. Oftentimes the focal point of the resolution is establishing a good habit or breaking an undesirable one. Either way, it’s two sides of the same coin, as the gauntlet is thrown down every January 1 and we are challenged to maintain the change in behavior. Success or failure begins and ends in the mind, where we fight an ongoing battle against good and evil. Good says to throw out that emergency pack of cigarettes but evil says that would be a waste of money. Good says to put down that jelly doughnut and take the stairs, but evil says carrots will turn our skin orange and we’re not wearing the proper shoes to walk anywhere. Our perseverance, or lack there of, is determined by how badly we desire to change the things resolved, and how tired we are of remaining the same.
Apparently resolutions are made to be broken because statistics are bleak when it comes to their success rate. Research seems to indicate that only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are successful. Indeed, some have resolved not to resolve because it has been futile in the past. When our best intentions fall apart, we are often left feeling defeated, deflated and maybe a bit disillusioned. If we mess up our new eating regime or skip a workout, we sometimes just abandon the entire project, discounting any success we had before the foible. We assign tremendous significance to one date on the calendar as the benchmark to judge whether our daily behavior should receive a stamp of self-approval. If we fail to live up to that standard set by the January 1 Mystique, we sometimes feel like…well…failures. It’s my humble opinion that the pressure associated with this date creates an illusion of perfection leading to a lower likelihood of success and a higher degree of stress to maintain the resolution. In effect, we are chasing an unattainable goal. Try as we might, perfection is God’s domain and out of the reach of humans.
So this year, I resolved to drink a gallon of water daily. I had hit my goal for 14 consecutive days but my streak was in jeopardy Sunday night. I was out of the house all day and had only managed to drink 32 ounces by 9pm. I have an 11pm cutoff to ensure that I’m not floating to the bathroom all night. My first inclination was to apply logic, reasoning that I would miss my goal because I didn’t have enough time left to gulp down 96 more ounces. However, the optimist in me also made a rational appeal, saying who cares about the January 1 Mystique. Tomorrow is another day to begin fresh, so accomplish what I could in two hours and forget about what streak I might break. My logical side made me feel like I had failed to achieve the goal, whereas the optimistic side completely freed me from that self-imposed pressures inherent in resolutions. I was able to remind myself that I was free to begin again tomorrow and establish a new streak. With that freedom, I persevered last night and drank the remaining three quarts of water in 90 minutes!
I suppose the freedom to fail and try again is the beauty of the Great Restart. January 1 comes once annually, but the Great Restart works 365 days without judgment or pressure. Had I felt pressured to maintain the streak, I would have allowed logic to rule my behavior with feelings of failure, and not made the attempt at all. But because I was free to start again another day, I was able to meet my daily water intake goal. As long as there is breath in our lungs, we have another opportunity to begin anew and get it right, so failure or success is dictated by our mindsets. Though each New Year’s Day seems to bring with it a feeling of newness and a smell of eternal hope in the air, the pressure to be perfect may make our resolve fade when the luster wears off. I have decided that I will not be held hostage by my resolutions. If they fall apart despite my best intentions, I know that all hope is not lost. Each day brings the promise of newness and an opportunity for the Great Restart to work its magic better than the allure of January 1. There are 350 days left to try again. What are you waiting for?
The journey of entrepreneurship has been a thrilling one with many ups and downs, peaks and valleys. As I travail this long and winding road, I have traveled to places and had experiences that I never imagined. While I have felt like I stumbled into a bear trap a time or two, I am absolutely in love with this road less traveled. While answering the call on my life and leaving the creature comforts of a traditional workplace has exceeded my expectations professionally, it has also had many unintended personal benefits. The theme that resonates is expansion, as my thoughts, ideas, perceptions, judgments and emotions have been stretched to levels previously unknown. My capacity to do just about everything has been increased and strengthened in ways I never fathomed. I have more drive, perseverance and intestinal fortitude. I am more patient, resilient and have an increased level of sensitivity that honestly makes me uncomfortable at times. Prior to this journey, which has been just as much spiritual, as it has been professional, I was a bit of a monster. I would like to think a lovable cookie monster, but a monster nonetheless. I am honest, perhaps to a fault, and very much a straight shooter. My mentality was more “suck it up,” than “you need a hug.” For much of my life I embraced the black and white of life, avoiding the murky abyss of the grayish, whitish, blackish unclear areas. I preferred to write a check for a cause than to personally invest my emotions. But as my experiences are broadening, I find myself in the unchartered waters of the grays of empathy.
While I have always been sympathetic to the concerns of others, I have realized that my empathetic meter needed some adjusting. Though empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, I am understanding that the emotional factors are very different. Both have components of concern for another’s well-being, but empathy requires the investment of a shared emotional connection as if that experience is your own. It is the act of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeking to understand their emotional response to a particular situation. Clearly, there is not much room for a “suck it up” mentality when you are truly desiring to do more than feel sorry for someone else’s plight, but share the experience with them. This pursuit of music, with its twists and turns, has definitely increased my capacity for understanding and relating to the plight of others. In fact, I recently took an empathy quiz and scored a 97 out of 110. The results said that my score suggested that I have a strong ability to sense other people’s emotions—the dimension of empathy known as “affective empathy.” If others seem happy, I feel their happiness and if they are suffering, I feel their pain. My ability to sense others’ emotional states make me feel more concerned about their welfare, and more likely to want to help them when they are distressed. The results further indicated that I can easily put myself in others’ shoes and imagine what they might be thinking or feeling—the dimension of empathy known as “cognitive empathy.” The ability to take other people’s perspectives helps me communicate and negotiate more effectively in my personal and professional relationships, and may also make me less likely to rely on stereotypes when trying to understand others’ behavior. This assessment is spot on with the newer, softer, “you need a hug,” me. I look at people in pain now and my eyes well up. It’s almost ridiculous but I am appreciative of this more enlightened way of interacting with the human experience. The deeper I foray on this spiritual and professional journey of becoming me, I am learning that the black and white of life is ripe for judgment, condemnation and punishment, but compassion, grace and empathy are found in the beauty of the grays.
In my most recent post, I mentioned how awesome it is to have music on a continuous playlist in my mind, being a songwriter and all. Lady Muse shows up whenever she desires to sprinkle her sparkling fuchsia pixie dust all over the place. But all too often, her cantankerous counterpart, Edgy Editor, is an uninvited guest. He is an absolute monster whose unmitigated nerve knows no bounds. He is constantly scrapping lyrics and melodies, ready to snuff out the brightest of ideas and rewrite songs playing on the radio. Savage. Edgy’s weapon of choice is his lightning fast, sharp red pen, a lethal but necessary evil. As essential as Lady Muse is to the creative process, Edgy Editor, in my humble opinion, is actually more critical. His primary job is to vet an idea to ensure there is actually a worthwhile song to be written from Lady Muse’s flurries of inspiration. If the idea survives the initial red pen onslaught, then Edgy makes sure the song remains on task and conveys the intended message. In other words, he keeps the pixie dust out of our ears and eyes so that the song is not drowned by all that pretty glitter. He is essential, but timing is everything.
There is a thin line between inspiration and expiration. While Lady Muse can float in and out, freely moving about the sacred creative space, Edgy Editor needs to be kept in his place and invited to the process in due course. When he’s allowed to barge in like a party crasher, he often kills the feel good vibes of inspiration that Lady Muse is creating, with all his critical thinking, early editing and “that’s a silly idea” banter. In a cowriting situation, his red pen is one of the leading causes of death, killing the inspiration and likely putting an expiration date on that creative partnership. As I am learning and growing as a songwriter, I definitely see the beauty in allowing the lyric and melodies to flow in a continuous process so as to give the song some shape and form. Edgy is always chomping at the bit to jump in and massacre everything, but I resist him. He’s invited to do his initial job of vetting the idea to make sure there is a viable song, and then I send him to sit quietly in the corner. Once the song begins to take shape and I have a clear idea of the message I desire to convey, I allow Edgy to hover over my shoulder but his red pen must remain in his pocket protector. Though he doesn’t get a seat at the creative table, he has carte blanche in the editing room to do what he does best. That is his playground and Lady Muse is sent to the corner of the room to sulk. Sometimes his cuts are deep and unyielding, but the end product is always better having undergone Edgy’s red pen. His editing and rewriting is just as important, if not more important, than writing the initial song. I would even dare to say that though Lady Muse gets all the credit, Edgy Editor’s red pen is where the real magic happens.
Music is playing on a constant loop in my head. I suppose as a songwriter that’s a pretty good problem to have, but admittedly, Lady Muse does show up whenever she desires. I remember a few years ago a video showed Beyonce sitting courtside at a Nets game swaying while there was no music being played in the arena. The accompanying article surmised that she was an alien from outer space and felt her behavior was extremely bizarre. I, on the other hand, recognized that spaced out, disconnected gaze instantly. I totally understood that she was a million miles from the Barclay Center creating a masterpiece in her head, while trying to be present at the basketball game with her husband. I will take it a step further and say she probably wished she could run to a studio to get that melody out of her head! Lady Muse is no respecter of persons and she will indeed have you out here in these streets looking crazy. Unfortunately for Beyonce, everything is newsworthy when you’re famous. Speaking of famous, her amazingly talented other half named his latest and highly acclaimed album 4:44 because he was snatched out of his sleep at 4:44am by Lady Muse to write the title track.
Though I am neither rich nor famous, I am humbled to be in the excellent company of talents like Jay-Z and Beyonce, where Lady Muse is concerned. I can attest that she randomly makes her appearances at many inopportune times. I too have looked like a space cadet on the streets of New York as I sway and replay melodies and lyrics in my head. I have had countless “way too late night and way too early morning” encounters where I was snatched out of my sleep. I use to try to ignore the interruption but Lady Muse is unrelenting. The music, melody or lyrics would just continue to play and gradually increase in volume until I grabbed my iPhone and recorded a quick voice memo. Usually that was sufficient, but sometimes I actually had to wake up and get out of bed to empty out all the inspiration she had for me in the moment. I have been in the middle of church service where she has made several uninvited appearances. In those instances, I had to keep letting the melody replay until I could get to my phone immediately after service. I have also been in places where I could only whisper the inspiration into my phone and pray that it was not inaudible when I played it back. I could barely hear some of the recording more times than I care to share, but thank goodness voice memos have replaced relying our memory. In fact, Lady Muse comes through so frequently and unexpectedly that my voice memos are almost at the double digit gigabyte mark.
I read a quote last year by Robert McKee, who said, “if the Muse exists, she doesn’t whisper to the untalented.” Though that seems a bit harsh, I believe there is truth to that statement. When Lady Muse whispers, I believe that she does, in fact, whisper to the talented, but only the ones who are not lazy. So that sounds just as harsh, but in my own experiences, I am clear that I was not roused out of sleep at 4:44am or looking crazy on a public street until there was a higher level of dedication and discipline to my creative process. I have always been a writer since I was a child, but I have not always actively engaged my creative center. When I was playing around and dabbling with music, prose and poems whenever the inspiration struck, the striking was fairly infrequent. But when I began to show up and develop a higher level of skill only achievable through dedication, it was like Lady Muse took notice. I would like to think that I invited her over for tea the first few times, but now she has made herself a key and moved in. I don’t really know how it all happened but despite the inconvenient and often obtrusive manner in which she functions, I think she’s super dope. I am grateful that she has decided that I am a good vessel in which to pour her multitudinous inspirations. I have to tell you, when Lady Muse whispers, it’s always something that I am excited to hear.
Yesterday morning I looked at a blank screen having no idea what I was going to write. In truth, I was begrudging having to write at all because these posts commit me to showing up to say something insightful every 15th of the month. Sometimes I feel super deep and learned, like there should be volumes dedicated to my pithy sayings. Then God kindly taps me on the shoulder, and in my humbled submission I acknowledge that the more I learn, I learn that I know nothing. Let that marinate for a second… but that’s an entirely different post. Nonetheless, despite feeling uninspired, I showed up for the worthy cause of being a small voice in this clanging noise called life. Several equally uninspiring hours later, my spirit was lead to look at a post I was invited to read last Sunday. The writing began with a beautifully vivid picture of those rare times in life when the sun and wind and the moon and stars all align to bolster that unshakable feeling of invincibility. Then, like any good movie script, the scene cuts to a stark reality when the sun and wind and the moon and stars literally fall out the sky and come crashing down in an inglorious mess. The S on the chest is quickly replaced by H, because it is in those moments we realize we aren’t invincible at all, but human. In layman’s terms, that kryptonite that brings us to our knees is called disappointment, a palpable emotion from which no human is immune.
As I became totally immersed in the story, I found myself agreeing with the insights expressed about dealing with the hurt of disappointment. Having ruminated on the woes and vicissitudes of life, particularly during my own seasons of lament, I know how easily the most optimistic of spirits can be dampened and snuffed out when life shows up, hands out beatdowns and takes no prisoners. So immediately I was inspired to encourage the author of that eloquent lament, and began to write the counterargument to disappointment. See, when we are freshly bruised and battered by devastating news, oftentimes we lose perspective. In truth, falling apart is a reasonable response to trauma, but we leave ourselves vulnerable to being ravaged even more severely. If disappointment is kryptonite then perspective is the antidote, the wonder drug. Perspective allows us to respond in gratitude for the things that we still have instead of being swallowed whole by the things that appear to be lost or dreams seemingly deferred. Life isn’t fair. That is a truism, for the rain falls on the wicked and the righteous alike. No one is exempt from experiencing disappointment. But as I am reminded by one of my earlier post on this topic, it is not the Tragic Symphony of the Terribles that wreak havoc in our lives, but the way in which we dance to the music.
Make no mistake, there is definitely value in the troubling valley of disappointment when all hope seems lost. I am a testament that the lessons are innumerable and are divinely designed to continue to grow and develop our character, while strengthening our relationship with God. When trouble comes, sometimes we forget the Lord is sovereign and He is the same yesterday, today and forevermore. He is bigger than our problems and that is not one of my pithy saying, but a fact. If He has seared a dream into our souls, deferred, though delayed in our human timetable, does not mean denied. In the valley, perhaps delay is to teach more patience, more compassion, more reliance upon the divine and less upon ourselves. If relationships fall apart, perhaps the valley is the preparation ground for learning increased self love so we show up whole and healed for our next relationships. If we are experiencing financial collapse perhaps the valley is the training ground to make us excellent stewards over the little that remains, so we do not mismanage the abundance that God has stored up for us. The takeaway is to keep perspective and not begrudge the lessons that are inherent in hardship and disappointment. The lessons are more valuable than silver and gold because pressure makes diamonds in the underbelly of the valley. When I look over the hardships and disappointments of my life, I realized For Every Mountain I’ve Ascended, there was a valley. So if there must be a valley, then there must be another mountain to ascend. Stay prayerful, faithful and grateful for the valley. The view from the next mountain is going to take your breath away.
What is your purpose? If the question makes you squirm, then good, because it should. This is particularly so if you are over twelve and have not thought about it. You may be doing substantially more than squirming if you have pondered the question, received the answer, yet continued the status quo rather than embracing who you were designed to be. Let me say that I totally get it. I am certainly not casting any aspersions because I did my own substantial squirming for far too long. The old adage, “better safe than sorry,” comes to mind. Indeed, I was safe, successful, secure, but ultimately, I ended up sorry nonetheless. Why? I was busy living someone else’s safe life and rotting away from the inside out. The truth is I was too afraid to fully own who God intended me to be. I call it walking in my light.
Regardless of whether we believe it or not, we all have purpose. I’ll go one step further and say that each of us has been given a multitude of talents which are uniquely apart of who we are as people. These individual talents and capabilities, are gifts to be given back to each other, not to lie dormant, used sparingly, or solely for our own benefit. 1 Peter 4:10 says that each of us should use whatever gifts we “have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” This scripture reminded me of two of my friends with very different viewpoints. I was recently talking to one of my lovely sorority sisters and she was thoroughly convinced that she didn’t have purpose; a thing at which she was good, or even excellent. She wished she had something to share with the world, but felt that she was not particularly gifted in any way. We had several discussions on this topic, eventually unearthing her thoughts, passions and unique gifts that she never considered talents. As a result of her willingness to examine her thoughts about purpose, she has been able to identify several areas for exploration. She is excited about the possibilities of her new frontier and is looking forward to walking in her light. Conversely, I have another friend who is definitely in his light, but that light is reserved for the discerning and tenacious who persevere to find it. Through our various discussions, it appears that he is unconcerned about sharing his gifts with others. Public consumption, even on a local level, seems to be an aversion to him. Basically, if you are not diligently looking, you will certainly miss his light.
As I thought about the juxtaposing viewpoints of my two friends, I was lead to Matthew 5:14-16: “14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.” This is a reminder that we are all responsible for how we show up in the world. We are to unearth our purpose and let our light shine. In practical terms, my two friends both received beautifully wrapped boxes filled with their individual gifts. My sorority sister never opened the box to see the gift she received until recently. At the opposite end of the spectrum, my guy friend opened the box immediately, happily uses the gift daily, but is selective with whom he shares what he has been given. When I reflect on my journey, I have been both of my friends. There was a time that I walked right past that box, not even wondering what was inside. Then, when I finally opened it, I kept it to myself. I was not willing to share and walk in my light. The “lucky few” who got to see my light were good enough for me. However, I eventually came to realize that no matter how hard I tried, my light could not be dimmed or extinguished, anymore than a town built on a hill can be hidden. Walking in my light has been the single best thing that I have ever done because it has allowed me to become my authentic self. I am who I am by God’s design. I am learning every single day, to let this little light of mine…shine.
I didn’t make any resolutions for 2017, however, I did resolve to actively seek cowriting opportunities. I had become a bit of a lone wolf in my creative process over the years because I have tried to fit several square pegs into round holes. I love the idea of working cooperatively but after a few crashes and burns, I became more hesitant to collaborate. However, as I began to find my authentic voice as a songwriter, I realized that I am comfortable writing in several genres and the Muse, if you will, has carte blanche to do whatever she pleases. I am often amazed at the end of a solo writing session because my songs cover such wide spectrums; from the totally absurd to the cerebral and provocative. I never know what is going to happen when I sit down to write. So when I previously brought my unchecked crazy into a creative situation where the other writer only functioned in complete sanity, I often felt stifled by the inability to explore. Through trial and error, I have learned that there is an art to collaboration.
I have heard cowriting described in many ways: a business arrangement; partnership; marriage; therapy session; and one of my favorites, a date… some collaborations will be good, bad, and down right ugly. With some you will go on another date, maybe even several before you determine if you are compatible. Others, you know from the moment you order the appetizers that you want to ask for the check and run for the hills. I have, fortunately and unfortunately, had all of these experiences. I think those descriptions are all accurate in varying degrees, but I personally like to compare collaboration to shoes, a subject very near and dear to my heart. For me, collaboration has been like trying on shoes to see which ones fit well. I love shoes. It is almost like they call out my name when I am window shopping. That’s a post for another day, but suffice it to say, when I am looking for a pair of shoes, I browse and look at all the ones that interest me. I might like a purple pair of ballerina flats but think to myself, “I have nothing in my closet to wear with those,” so I won’t try them on. Certainly, I’d come across a functional black pair of wedges, but since I have several black heels and flats already, I wouldn’t necessarily be looking for another. Then through patience, I would find a pair that isn’t exactly what I already have in my closet, but not so “outside the box” that I don’t have anything to wear with them. I’d try them on and sometimes they’re too narrow and pinch my toe. They’re nice, beautiful even, but not a good fit. So I keep looking for the right pair of shoes. As I browse, I would come across a pair of lovely D’Orsay heels that feel really good, comfortable, but only work for the right occasions. They aren’t your everyday shoes but they are killer for a black tie affair where stilettos are required. Sometimes I just need a pair of Js, so I head for the sneaker store. They are comfortable and do the trick most times, but just like I can’t play basketball in stilettos, neither can I wear Jordans to that black tie affair. For the record, I can’t play basketball in Jordans either, but the point here is I continue to window shop and try on shoes until I find the pair I need for each occasion.
To be clear, I have not turned down anyone who desired to collaborate. I think you become a better team player and songwriter, so I am open to collaborating with anyone who is serious about pursuing music professionally. I have it on good authority from several hit songwriters that they wrote with everyone when they were first starting out. There is something to be said about the humility that you can gain by being in a room with someone who you are better than, as well as with someone who is better than you. Conventional wisdom says to always “write up,” but I have found that some of my most beneficial collaborations have been with people who are less experienced. I think sometimes the best things can happen when you are simply open to being in the room with someone who is present and giving 110% effort regardless of their ultimate contribution to the final lyrics or melody. I have written songs that I never would have thought of but for collaborating. But the only way I learned to be open is through collaborating and trying on lots of shoes.
There is, however, a science to my window shopping. I am not just wandering around the mall with no objective as time is an expensive commodity. I believe before you can master the art of collaboration, you have to learn who you are as a songwriter and a creative. No one else can define your authentic voice and until you do so, you are simply imitating others… sometimes cheaply. In discovering my voice, I now know what I bring to a room and when it needs to be there. I have identified my strengths and weakness and window shop to find writers that compliment those strengths and bolsters those weaknesses. So no more trying to fit square pegs into round holes and inviting a cowriter whose authentic voice is alternative pop to write a country song. I have cowriters who are genre-specific as well as ones who write in multiple genres. Shoes for every occasion. In practical terms, two strong lyricist who are mediocre at melodies and do not play instruments may have a more challenging cowrite than a strong lyricist matched with a strong melodist who is decent at guitar. This is what I mean by having an objective when you look for cowriters. If you don’t know what you bring to a creative environment, then you don’t know what you need to make the song the best it can be. The goal for me these days when collaborating is not to complete a song, but make the song its best version; better than it would have been if it were written alone. Lastly, laughing and enjoying spending the precious commodity of time with you cowriter is essential. If there are personality clashes, its hard for creativity to flourish, so those shoes that pinch my toes stay at the store.
There are another pair of shoes I didn’t mention because they are already in my closet. I don’t know what guys do, but every woman has a pair of shoes that she slips in the bottom of her bag when those stilettos have worked overtime. In shoe talk, they are your old faithfuls, like super comfy flip-flops or slippers. In human talk, these are the cowriters who are your go-to people who you write with on a consistent basis. I have heard these writers described as your tribe. Finding your tribe is only possible through patiently window shopping and trying on shoes on a consistent basis. Admittedly you are opening yourself to situations that may not be favorable. But the only way to find a good fitting pair of shoes that’s right for all occasions is to try them on. There’s an art to this thing called collaboration, so window shop wisely.
In my professional pursuit of music, I have learned many invaluable lessons. The first and hardest lesson was the realization that talent is not enough. Wait what?!? This seems to be an overlooked concept in the minds of musicians. As songwriters, we perform the magic trick of literally making something out of nothing each time we sit down to create. If we are able to write something that remotely resembles a song, we believe that we possess a particularly excellent aptitude to make music, even if we don’t. With that misguided belief, the logical conclusion is each of us has what it takes to be successful in the music industry as a music professional. Wrong answer. If talent were enough in any pursuit, then everyone would be wildly successful with zero effort because everyone has gifts and talents by virtue of being human. But I am learning on a daily basis that talent is the starting point not the destination. According to Malcolm Gladwell, author, journalist and staff writer for the New Yorker, there is a phenomenon known as the 10,000 Hour Rule. In his 2008 New York Times bestselling book entitled, Outliers, Gladwell contends that in order to achieve a level of mastery in a particular area, “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” In expounding on this concept several years later, he stated “that practice isn’t a sufficient condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.”
So does practice make perfect? When I thought about the concept more deeply, what came to mind was the facelift that the adage was given by famed football coach, Vince Lombardi, when he said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Meaningful practice and dedication seems to be the hallmark of the 10,000 Hour Rule, which makes perfect sense. The combination of talent and deliberate preparation, through the meaningful dedication of time and energy to a particular vocation or pursuit, will likely yield successful results. Though Gladwell later stated that the concept doesn’t apply to sports, I submit that even Serena Williams, LeBron James, Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter all became upper echelon athletes because of meaningful practice and the intangibles, like attitude, determination and work ethic. If each had their innate natural athleticism but never dedicated themselves to the learning and mastery of their respective sport, would any of them have reached world class status in their area? Conversely, the stories of those who had all the natural aptitude but never reached their fullest potential, are legion. Sometimes they were products of their environment and circumstances prevented their ascension, but in other situations, they had the talent but lacked the character to dedicate themselves to the pursuit in any meaningful way that ensured success and longevity.
Don’t get me wrong. God-given, natural talent is necessary. It is, in my opinion, the foundation. Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer for the prestigious American Ballet Theater, did not begin ballet classes until she was 13. In the dance world, she was virtually a geriatric. But her natural talent, in combination with the meaningful dedication of her time and energy to ballet, played a significant role in her success. Then add the intangibles: the good attitude; the stellar work ethic; the never quit mentality; and a million other strong character attributes and positive outside influences, and voila! As a soloist during the ballet season, she rehearses from 10am-7pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Clearly, it is more than talent that allows her to maintain such a rigorous schedule and keep her performing at such an amazing level.
So what am I saying? In a nutshell… it takes talent to get in the race, but a lot more to get across the finish line. At my stage in my own music marathon, I don’t even know what it takes to cross the finish line in first place! I suppose you have to ask Misty, Serena, Lebron, Peyton and Derek. lol I am still working out the particulars but if I find out, I will let you know. What I know now is practice is a necessary component to add to your natural talent, and lots of it, if you desire to become a music professional. But let’s be clear that practicing just anything and reinforcing bad habits are not the solution. If you want to be a professional guitar player, practicing on a guitar with one string for 10,000 hours is not the meaningful practice, the perfect practice, that will achieve that goal. I read in a recent blog that if you apply the 10,000 Hour Rule to songwriting, assuming that it takes 4 hours to write a song, then one would have to write at least 2500 songs to become an expert. While I believe that number to be a benchmark that simply cannot be applied without consideration given to talent, meaningful practice and intangibles, the theory is not wrong. I am a much better songwriter today than I was even last year because I have dedicated myself to learning about the craft and practicing deliberately and meaningfully. I am absolutely getting out what I am putting in and I believe that my efforts will continue to reap benefits. Just yesterday I was issued a challenge by a music professional who basically told me to dare to be great. Good writing is not good enough because greatness is possible. Well amen. That statement brings me back full circle to the first and hardest lesson I have learned: Talent isn’t enough… so practice perfectly!
I was stumped as to what I was going to write about this month. I had three solid options but none resonated with me. Then I had a lightbulb moment: I decided to review a Dream Deferred, a post I wrote this time one year ago, and revisit the topic of chasing dreams. The original post began with a little sage wisdom from my teenage self, mentioning that I coined a phrase, “becoming kinetic with your potential.” I use to say all humans have potential, but it is the momentum that counts. I then went on to point out how this brilliant teenager blossomed into a foolish adult! I didn’t say it so overtly, but I believe some of what I did say bears repeating:
The irony is that I knew the power of movement as a child, but as an adult, I allowed my dreams of becoming a songwriter to be hijacked by the fear of failure. I gave fear permission to let my dreams lay dormant. I convinced myself that making music was too lofty to attain what appeared to be the unattainable, so I let my potential remain just that, potential… But then one day, I woke up and decided that my dreams, though deferred, were worth chasing after all… So just like that, I moved. I changed. I became.
I concluded the post with how amazing and dramatically different my life was almost one year after leaving the legal profession and becoming kinetic with my potential. I said I had an inarticulable happiness and a surreal disbelief that I gave up my good, safe, comfortable and profitable life to chase my dreams. This is where the metaphorical needle scratches across the vinyl record and the fun and revelry at the party stops abruptly! Fast forward one month after that giddy entry, the consequences of my bold moves began to set in when my world began collapsing around me. The reality that I gave up my good, safe, comfortable and profitable life to chase my dreams began to pulsate in my head. As my assets began to dwindle, every other day I heard the erratic drumming of my panicking heartbeat. But nevertheless, I persisted. In August 2016, I wrote “Life Begins In the Arena,” where I shared that life repeatedly punched me in the mouth when I left the comfort of the sidelines and became a gladiator fighting for my dreams in the arena. In the September post, “If At First You Don’t Succeed,” I said that I was in the midst of adversity with the door off the hinges and the walls falling down around me, bruised and battered but striving and never giving up. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to quit, like a billion, but I don’t have a quitter’s mentality. So I kept telling myself that I have the heart of a champion, and champions never give up, especially when that is all they want to do. So I did the hardest thing; I dug deep and didn’t give up, when it was the easiest thing in the world to do.
It has been almost two years since I have been pursuing songwriting on a full-time basis. One year into that pursuit, I thought I had hit my stride and everything was going according to plan. I wrote the Dream Deferred post, stating that I use to believe that I would never reach Never Never Land where my dreams existed, until I did. The very next month, I was ready to quit and crawl back to my safe life where reality was kicking my hind parts. Thinking back on my journey thus far, I realize that I had a serious determination that served me well when things got real. I told Destiny that I was ready, but in reality I was not ready at all. I thought songwriting existed in some fantastical world with pink puppies and fairy dust. It does not. As expensive as some of these lessons have been, the cost for quitting on my dreams was something I simply could not afford. If I am being honest, despite all of the adversity, the decision to abandon my good life and seek my most authentic life has been one of the very best decisions I’ve ever made. That is a monumental statement, not only because I would like to think that I have made a few solid decisions in my life, but adversity often makes me feel like I have made a HUGE mistake. What I now know is greatness is achieved in adversity, not in spite of it. I am working harder than I have ever worked and I am getting closer to who God has me becoming on a daily basis. I am a more complete and informed songwriter than I have ever been. No, I was not ready at all, but there is no shame in not being ready after you jump. The shame is in standing still and spectating, too afraid to even try. I moved, I jumped, I leaped, I got punched in the mouth, but that movement away from the comfort, stagnation and mediocrity of my former life to this fantastical world that actual does exist, no pink puppies and fairy dust, is the real magic. The magic is in the movement.
I was recently talking with one of my friends about a disagreement she had with a mutual friend. In laying out the issue, she said that the mutual friend is a know-it-all, which is true. Then she said… wait for it… “But not like you. You’re a know-it-all too, but you fall back and let the other person figure out that they are wrong!” Clutch my pearls…the nerve! lol I laughed and fully agreed with her characterization of me. In fact I said, “truer words were never spoken.” I could have been offended, but I wasn’t because her words rang true on some basic level. So in true know-it-all fashion, I googled the meaning and the Merriam Webster Dictionary defined the term as one who claims to know everything; one who disdains advice. Another site, dictionary.com, stated that a know-it-all is a person who acts as though he knows everything and who dismisses the opinions, comments, or suggestions of others.
Now, in light of my newly acquired information, I have to retract my statement because I am NOT a know-it-all. I hate being wrong so I work very hard at learning, knowing, and researching things, so I can speak with authority. That is not to say that I am right all the time… here is where I can insert the names of a few ex- boyfriends… but nonetheless, I strive for truth and accuracy. This is even more necessary to me now that just about everything said and done is fodder for the world, existing, living and breathing in perpetuity. As such, I try my best not to speak out of turn or speculate. I don’t talk out of my gluteus maximus like so many people, who have virtually made a career out of speculation and spinning information. Trust and believe if I say it, it is closer to fact than fiction, and if I do not know, I am lightning quick to say I am clueless without shame. In fact, I say “I don’t know, Google it,” so often that I should become their spokesperson. At the very least, I may have coined a phrase.
The point I am making is that knowledge is infinite. It is the gift that keeps on giving. I love learning and finding out about different things and it is easier than ever to learn and become knowledgeable on just about anything. Yes, I google everything, even things that I know I know, only to find that occasionally, there has been a thing or two that I thought I knew but I did not. The more I seek out knowledge, the more knowledge there is to seek. The more I increase my knowledge base, the more I have come to the conclusion that I know nothing! lol I promise you I learn something new every single day, not only because I am voraciously seeking information, but mainly because I am open to learning new things and fully embrace that I know what I know and I don’t know what I don’t know. Does that make me a know-it-all? According to my friend, yes… but at least she acknowledges that I have the good sense to fall back and let the other person figure out that they are wrong. That sounds like a perfect set up for a “I told you so” moment, but that seems like it would only be fun to know-it-alls. Just saying!