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.

Go for it

Here I sit, surrounded by textbooks, paper rubrics, reading lists, and a 52-page teaching guide that I’ve compiled over the past several weeks. Can you tell I’m in the final week of writing a new course to teach this semester? It’s been a bit overwhelming at times. But, last week was very productive and I feel good about that. My class was assigned to a classroom in another building on campus – across the quad from the Fine Arts Building where I have been teaching (and will still be teaching this semester) and where my office is located. I’ve let myself get bogged down with worry: How do I get there? What does the classroom look like? What kind of technology will I be able to access? Will I be able to get in there with enough time to get everything set up before class? In addition, I’d love to have a piano in the classroom to use as a teaching aid and I knew that would only happen in the Fine Arts Building. Can you imagine? Talking about Copland’s “American” style and actually being able to play open fifths and octaves to demonstrate that signature sound. Then, I got an idea.

Why don’t I just ask to move to another classroom?

It couldn’t hurt to try. Go for it, I told myself. One email, one simple question. Within two days, my class had been successfully re-booked in a classroom with a piano in the building where I’ve been teaching (just one floor down from my office, in fact!). What a relief. . .and what a valuable lesson.

Why let yourself be consumed with worry or depressed by the dreams of “if only”? Go for it. Make the change. Ask the question. Run the risk. Take that leap. Make it happen.

Cracked Wide Open

You know those times when you feel like your head is in a million places?  You're so busy trying to keep all 10 plates spinning that you're not really 100% present and that responsibility, that weightfeels like the weight of the world upon your shoulders.  Can you relate?

We had a busy weekend.  I spent six hours in the car on Saturday (dropping Steve off for a weekend away, picking up my dress in CT, and running a few last-minute errands: who knew chalkboards were so hard to find?)  The weight of Sunday morning began to set in.  I stocked my night table with a box of tissues and cough drops (battling a cold since middle of last week) and bought an extra alarm clock, just to be safe.  Good thing I thought to take it out of the box before going to bed - another trip out to buy AAA batteries.

Sunday morning, 6:45 a.m., neither alarm sounded.  Thankfully, my night was restless and I was awake anyway.  I dressed for the foggy, cool morning, grabbed a coke, and ran out the door at 7:45 a.m.  To-do: run-through music, pick up chairs in Choir Room, make seating chart for children's choir, rehearse.  At 8:45 a.m., I had four of the twelve children I was expecting to sing.  At 9:00 a.m., I had half of the adult choir I expected.  We started rehearsing nonetheless.  A few more faces joined the group and panic set in as they realized Steve (their unofficial "leader") was not there.  After a 60-second counseling session ("really, y'all will be just fine"), they were on their way.

I took my seat at the piano and waited for the announcements.  Are the choir members leaving enough room for latecomers?  Are they being quiet?  Lifting my hands to the keyboard for the prelude, I saw the pastor stand up and make his way to the center.  I scrambled to change books when I realized he was skipping ahead.  No worries, crisis averted.  And so we proceeded:

Gathering Song Call to Worship Opening Hymn: four verses - melody on the swell manual for the third verse, it's just one wrong note - let it go Passing of the Peace: old language in the bulletin - remember to fix that in staff meeting Don't slip running down to the piano! Scripture readings Time with the Children: will that children's choir member remember that we're singing today, since he missed the rehearsal? Combined anthem (three choirs): it's worth the split-second pause to make sure the page is turned Meditation: why is my contact so blurry?  Will I have to play the rest of the service with one eye closed? Middle Hymn: three verses - fix melody second time through based on how the congregation is singing it Joys/Concerns - moment of panic when all eyes turn to me with announcement of our wedding next weekend Lord's Prayer (sung) Offertory Doxology Offertory Prayer: bolt to organ for Closing Hymn - no time to hesitate, play introduction, hear whispers, see people sit down, read the word, "Communion!" on choir members' lips.  (This prayer is new in the communion service and for over a year it's been my cue to run to the organ.  So, like a well-trained dog, I heard the prayer, and I ran to the organ.  Completely blind once back there, I completely skipped the communion portion of the service.) Skulk back down to the piano. Bread, music (wait for pastor), cup, music (wait for pastor), prayer: dash to the organ Closing Hymn: four verses - make sure choir leaves on verse 2, after the deacons have extinguished the candles Benediction: dash to the piano Benediction Response: who is talking in the back of the church? Postlude

Cracked. wide. open.  Do you know how that feels?  Do you know how hard it is to not let yourself fall apart but instead, to pick up your broken self and keep going?  I suddenly felt much more sick than I really was.  Foggy lightheadedness felt like it could just consume me.  But I had to keep going.  It's not that I expect perfection - I know things can never be perfect.  I strive to be invisible in worship, to be an instrument, per se.  I want the music to speak for itself and I don't want to do anything that detracts from that.

Yesterday, as hard as it was to come out from behind the organ to play the rest of the service - broken and embarrassed, I managed.  I struggled with showing grace to myself.  It's hard for me to just accept such a public moment of fault as "okay."  I took a risk.  I didn't hesitate with the hymn introduction - I came right in, boldly and confidently.  This is one small consequence for that level of risk-taking.  Is it worth it?  Is it better to take the plunge and play your heart out at the wrong time or hesitate, play with half of yourself, and perhaps avoid such public errors?

I'd rather be known as someone who brings their whole heart into what they do; someone who takes those risks and is willing to make those public mistakes; someone who can be cracked. wide. open. and still keep going.  Grace is part of the process.