excellence

So Good

"Be so good they can't ignore you." - Steve Martin This is the kind of reminder I needed this morning.

Right now, I’m sitting at home with my cup of hot chocolate/coffee with seven different tabs open in Firefox and I admit that I just spent the last 30 minutes jumping from one thing to another: posting, saving files, responding to emails, proofing, downloading, linking, etc.  Then, I read this quote (again).  Be so good they can’t ignore you.  Be that good.  Is the work I did in the last half an hour really that good?  It didn’t have my full attention.  It wasn’t that careful.  It was reactionary rather than thoughtful.

Let’s reset.

1. Choose the things that are most important for today. 2. Structure the day so that each task gets your full attention. 3. Eliminate distractions. 4. Do your best work.

Be that good.

Sail Away from the Safe Harbor

We’ve all heard these words before: Just put yourself out there!” “You’ll never know unless you try.” “Get out there and make things happen!”

Often times, it’s just the kind of push we need to let go of our safety net and well, float or sink.  After all, “A ship in port is safe but that’s not what ships are built for,” Grace Murray Hopper reminds us.  And yet, we waiver.  We hesitate.  We doubt.  Why is it so hard to let go?

The unknown is hard to accept.  Undefined, uncharted change is challenging and just plain uncomfortable for those of us who feel perfectly content in the little box we’ve constructed for ourselves.  But I keep reminding myself that there is so much more out there.  The future holds an indefinite number of possibilities and opportunities if I am open to receiving them.  So often, my fears include failure, not being capable (i.e. not being good enough), and getting stuck.

How do I work past that?  Well, everyone fails.  Perfection is not the goal.   Excellence is the journey, not the destination.  Failure is something I need to accept as part of the learning process – the important part is learning from it and moving on.  Being capable doesn’t mean I will always have all the answers.  It means I will always do my best and again, I am willing to learn from my experiences.  Confession: I learn new things from my students all the time.  I learn how to be a better teacher, what works and what doesn’t, how people learn, how to better communicate my thoughts and ideas, and how to facilitate learning.  This constant growth fights my fear of getting stuck and becoming complacent.  It’s impossible to remain the same if you’re open to learning and growing with the changes in your life.

You were not made to be stationary.  You were made to go places, to do things, to make a difference, to set an example, to learn, to grow, to love, to give, to collaborate, to create, to invent, to explore, to dream, and to discover.  What are you afraid of?  Failure?  Losing?  Making the wrong decision?  Starting over?  Write them down.  All of them.  Fear cripples us if we allow it but to name your fears is to destroy them.  So NAME them.  Take each fear – no matter how great or small – and take action.  What do you need to accept?  What needs to change?  What can you learn?  Is this really something worth holding onto?  How would you feel without this fear in your life?  Fear stretches us, challenges us, and makes us stronger in the end if we choose to take action and eliminate it from our lives, piece by piece.

One of my favorite quotes wisely states, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.” – Mark Twain

You have far more potential within you than lies within the safety net you’ve constructed for yourself.  Free yourself from the confines of the safe harbor and set sail.  Explore, dream, and discover all that is waiting for you.

Authenticity

Authentic.  Formally defined as genuine, trustworthy, reliable, honest, and truthful. 

In teaching, in collaborating, in my professional interactions, and in my personal life, I want to be authentic.  This is part of my commitment to excellence and being the best I can be.

I want to be GENUINE, my true self. I want to be TRUSTWORTHY and HONEST in the way I present myself and in the way I deal with people. I want to be RELIABLE by following through with what I say, being true to my commitments, and being responsible with my time. I want to stand behind my word and be TRUTHFUL in communication and action.

Maybe you’ve seen the quote circulating the blog/Pinterest world – “If you’re your authentic self, you have no competition.” – Scott Stratten/@Unmarketing.  Go out there and be your smart, successful, witty, personable, genuine, authentic self.

Excellence

Last week, I set some pretty big goals for 2012.  They may be ambitious, but I’d rather set new lifestyle goals – habits to build into my everyday life and work – than set temporary points of achievement that can simply be crossed off my list (i.e. finish reading the book on my nightstand).  Excellence is one of those lifestyle goals.

It’s one of those things that people talk about in an idealistic, undefinable sort of way.  Sometimes, it is equated with perfection; other times, it is described as a blissful moment of achievement and arrival.  While in music school, excellence was constantly at the forefront of my mind.  It was the expectation of my studio teachers.  It was the ideal quality of every performance.  It was the satisfaction of progress and success.  But still I struggled to define it.  After years of chasing the idealistic, undefinable form of excellence, I wanted more.

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle.  As a lifestyle, I want to re-commit to excellence every day.  I want to practice excellence in the dish-washing, piano-teaching, laundry-folding, house-cleaning, course-writing, bulletin-proofing moments of life.  In pursuing this goal in my own life, these things stand true:

- Excellence is a standard I set for myself, not based on others. - It’s the pursuit of high, artistic quality and the commitment to be the best I can be. - It is a commitment to invest myself fully in whatever I am doing (one.thing.at.a.time). - Along with that, it’s the simplification of what I do.  It requires me to re-focus my priorities and choose to do better at less rather than be mediocre at more (and live a life of grace). - It is the challenge of artistry. - Excellence is my measure of success.

Several years ago, I spent 7 months taking piano lessons from Louise Barfield.  I was finishing my bachelor’s degree at the time and preparing for grad school auditions.  After that first 2-hour lesson on a hot, summer afternoon and not making it past my scales, I knew I had my work cut out for me.  Mediocrity and middle-of-the-road standards were not going to fly.  Truth be told, I didn’t think I could be anything more.  One day, Louise said, “You can be as great as you want to be.  You just have to set your mind to it.”  I confess now that I didn’t wholeheartedly believe her.  Everyone can’t just go out there and be exactly what they want to be. . .or can they?  Together, we set ambitious goals.  I practiced more than I had in my life.  I drove two hours each way – twice a week – for 2-hour lessons.  I set my sights on getting into Eastman‘s Accompanying Program.  In February of 2008, I flew up to Rochester, NY, took an audition with the head of the department, and in a dream-come-true whirlwind was offered acceptance a few short weeks later.

Some may say that excellence is an arrival point – that Friday night phone call from the Director of Admissions – but for me, excellence is the journey – the months of dedicated, passionate work; the frustration, the tears, and the joy; the responsibility to myself to truly be the best I could be – that is the pursuit of excellence.  I didn’t know this at the time but Louise did.  Never before had someone had such faith in me and the determination to make me recognize my own potential.

Excellence is the journey.

Welcome, 2012

Happy New Year and welcome, 2012! We celebrated the final week of 2011 with four Christmases in three states! Today, however, we are back home and back at work. Though much of my work revolves around the academic year (September-June), there's something about the new calendar year that inspires me to set new goals, re-organize, and re-balance my priorities. It's a time to re-focus on the things that matter and start fresh. I saved this graphic when I came upon it a few weeks ago. I think it's a great reminder of important items that don't generally make my resolution list.

- Keep the faith. Think positively even when surrounded by negativity, stay strong even in the midst of frustration and weakness, find new ways to actively build my faith throughout the year, commit to worry less. Professionally and personally, these are words I want to live by this year.

- Pursue excellence. True excellence - a standard of passionate and dedicated work, a new definition of success (more on this later).

- Make more decisions. Powerful, effective decisions. Changing the pattern of indecisiveness, learning to make decisions without seeking outside input, and collaborating with others without deferring.

The other day, I re-encountered this quote: "Indecision is the seedling of fear." - Napolean Hill. I want 2012 to be a year of learning how to make more decisions, a year of overcoming fear, and a year of making excellent things happen.