Life’s Not All a Concert

I’ve had a dream since childhood of performing piano in front of a crowd. I imagine playing so beautifully and masterfully that it captivates the listeners.

What’s an impressive skill or feat you dream of? What would your big talent show moment look like?

I daydream of being fluent in a bunch of languages, too. Of singing an epic solo in a concert. Of being a published author or a successful public speaker. Of being a black belt in a martial art. Of winning a race. Of being a good dancer.

 

If you’ve ever seriously practiced piano (or worse, been in a house with someone else practicing), you know it gets repetitive at best–downright annoying at worst. To learn a piece really well takes patient, slow repetition. Today I came to a little part–just a measure long–that was just so tricky for some reason! It didn’t look hard on paper, but it just wouldn’t flow! I spent over 20 minutes practicing those 4 beats–slowly, quickly, left hand, right hand, all together–getting it right ten times and then suddenly losing it again.

Point is: Glamorous doesn’t start out glamorous.

 

Being a concert pianist is epic. But becoming a concert pianist takes a lot of very un-epic moments. And by a lot, I mean hours and hours, weeks and weeks, years and years.

Progress can happen very slowly. Success is rarely immediate or even quick. Mastery doesn’t happen easily.

And I think that’s why we DON’T go for the things we really want. It goes something like this. . . .

You dream of being fit and strong, of feeling confident and healthy. You feel inspired and you start going for it. You make a plan. You get excited. You start eating healthy and working out. Healthy doesn’t always taste great. Pizza sounds delicious. You’re tired. Planks don’t feel good. It’s been a week and you don’t see much of a difference. A month goes by and you’ve got some momentum, but you really miss taking it easy and eating all the sugar and dairy. You don’t really know how to take your workouts to the next level. You don’t know how to work on this muscle or use that machine. It’s too hard. It’s taking too long.

We give up on our dreams for 3 big reasons: DISCOURAGEMENT. DIFFICULTY. BOREDOM.

But those big obvious reasons disguise themselves as insignificant little moments: I can practice this part of the piece later. . . . I can go to the gym tomorrow. . . . I can cut this run short. . . . I’ve studied long enough for today. . . . This blog post can wait. . . .

 

The flip side is that finally “getting there” is AMAZING! Living your dream IS glamorous! Just close your eyes and imagine it.

Every time I master a beautiful piano piece, the unglamorous hours of repetition suddenly make sense. The beauty and happiness and pride make all the work more than worth it. . . . Every once in a while, one of my blog posts resonates with a ton of people and the feeling of helping–of making a difference–makes all the unconfident weeks of writing and scrapping and re-writing and wandering and writing again–all worth it.

 

Life is slow and difficult. It’s not all a concert. Most of it is the nitty-gritty, “boring” work to prepare for those concerts. But those concerts can be breathtakingly epic!

Do you love your dream enough to see it through?

 

piano#patience #youcandoit #instagramvsreality

Everybody is bad at something

Everybody is bad at something.

I’m really bad at handyman stuff. I don’t know how to fix things or maintain things. Whenever something goes wrong with my car, or something breaks in the house, I feel totally lost. I feel overwhelmed when I have to take care of it. Like I’m out of my depth. I’m always afraid I’ll break it worse. Even if I take my car to the shop, or have someone come do the work for me at home, I feel embarrassed that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I never know if I’m getting ripped off by someone who’s realized they’re dealing with a guy who doesn’t know the difference between an alternator and a radiator.

It’s one of the things I’m bad at. There are lots of things I’m bad at. There are a few big important things that I’m especially bad at and feel very insecure about or even ashamed about. Those big ones I think about a lot.

Do you ever get stuck seeing yourself and your life exclusively through the lens of that one big thing you’re bad at?

 

A while ago I was chatting with a young couple about their big thing: Credit card debt. They were feeling very defeated. Sad, scared, embarrassed, and most of all hopeless. They could have more than paid for a mortgage with their minimum monthly credit card payments. They were searching for options to pay it down quickly and avoid thousands upon thousands in interest payments for years and years, but so far everything had been a dead end. They said they thought about it all the time, and it was constantly weighing them down. It was starting to define their lives.

But this young couple was the sweetest couple you could meet. Their careers were off to a great start. They were stylish and funny. They clearly had the greatest friendship and partnership. In most ways, they were the couple everyone wants to be. All they could see, though, was their debt.

And sometimes all I can see are the things I’ve failed at or the things I’m bad at.

 

I think we forget sometimes–very often in fact–that there is so much more to life than the one big thing we’re bad at. So we’re insecure.

 

Maybe someone has massive debt that they can’t see past, always stressing them out. But maybe that same person has a fantastic career going, one they should be very proud of, and if they focused on that they’d feel confidence and hope.

Maybe someone else without much of a career–still delivering pizzas or washing dishes–maybe that someone is looking enviously and insecurely at that first person with the great career, thinking that if only they were so successful, they’d be happy. But maybe the delivery guy is also fit and athletic, playing sports with friends all summer, hitting the gym every night.

Someone else is watching the athletic guy, wishing they looked like him–that they weren’t overweight, wishing they could go running, or at least climb the stairs without feeling short of breath. They focus on their weight problem until it seems like the only thing in their life. But they’re forgetting they have a couple hard-earned degrees from prestigious universities–an education many people only dream of. They’re smart and well-read. They have a great understanding of politics and current events. They have ‘Harvard’ on their resume and an almost automatic leg up on their professional competition.

And there’s another person who can think of nothing but how badly he wants and needs that education. If only he had taken out the loans to go to school, life would be so much better now. He constantly regrets it and feels inferior to his professional peers. He dreads getting asked where he went to school. But maybe he’s taking for granted what a great family he has. He has a couple kiddos that think the world of him. He gets to come home every night to warm hugs and smiles. And maybe in reality, that can make him a lot happier than a degree.

And maybe there’s someone else who doesn’t have a family. She doesn’t fit in with her siblings and she isn’t respected by her parents. She’s had to move on, and she’s lonely. She sees happy families everywhere and it hurts her. But what if she chose to focus on what she’s good at–the great things in her life? Maybe she gets to go on adventures, exploring the great outdoors, traveling to beautiful cities and exotic mountains.

 

The point is this: There’s always a hole in someone’s heart. There’s always a big thing someone’s bad at. Something they don’t have. Their big insecurity. But that’s never all there is to them.

 

What’s the thing you’re bad at? What’s the sad thing in your life? What’s your big insecurity?

If you find yourself thinking about it constantly, defining yourself by your weakness–you’re not alone. So many of us naturally focus on the sad or bad thing about ourselves.

But there’s also always good stuff. Good stuff we may not be seeing, because we’re so distracted by the bad stuff.

When you’re feeling discouraged about who you’re not, try thinking about who you are instead. There’s amazing stuff there.

Craig Lounsbrough - We focus more on our weaknesses

Slowly but surely

Life happens slowly. Painfully slowly.

Today I feel like I’ll never have the things I want. And lots of voices tell me I should or could already have them, and make me feel even worse. (#socialmedia)

But things take time and money and hard, hard work. And patience. And perspective.

When I look back at life a year ago, I notice there are a number of big steps I’ve taken. Big, important purchases–like a new car. And other progress. Like weight lost and a more healthy lifestyle. Like becoming a serious runner. Like a new job.

When I got that new car, I felt so awesome about it for a couple weeks. And then my focus drifted back to the other important things I haven’t been able to get or do yet. And that’s where my focus stays mostly.

When I look back at life two years ago, I remember living in a cramped studio on a not-so-nice street. Made a lot less money. But then my best friend and I took each other on a dreamlike adventure to get married and honeymoon on a lake in northern Italy. Made memories and got pictures that we’ll treasure for a lifetime. We got new jobs. Raises. Took a few more steps. Got an awesome new place to live and some new furniture to go with it. Threw a wedding reception for all our friends. Helped a friend get on her feet financially.

Even just the last two years have been so full of progress, growth, gifts, and adventures. But throughout the years I’ve felt again and again like I’m not making progress. Like I’ll never have the time or money to move forward and realize some of my dreams.

And the year before. Another painfully slow year. But I bought a ring and got engaged. And won speech competitions. And got promoted.

I know I’m not the only one who feels like progress happens way too slowly. Life takes so much patience.

When you feel like you’re just running in place, look back at what you didn’t have one or two or three years ago. Look back at what you’ve gotten to experience in the last year and more.

I’ve had an incredible life. I lived in Uganda and Ethiopia and learned Amharic. I’ve spent years enjoying the company of my best friend and sharing together in adventures–with no end in sight. I’ve taken awesome road trips. Made great friends. Spent lots of money on things that make life easier and more fun. Made a home. Learned to cook like a pro and make some killer guacamole. Bought and received so many meaningful gifts. Spent endless hours pouring my heart onto the keys of piano after piano. Put many, many miles on too many pairs of running shoes to count. The list goes on.

And my life doesn’t seem to be nearly over. Which means that list really will keep growing.

But next week I’ll probably have some “I’m-not-making-progress” feelings. Some “Why-can’t-I-afford-that-yet?” frustrations. Some “Will-I-ever-get-there?” moments. And if the past couple years are any indicator, life is sure to throw a few more curve balls my way. Setbacks. Expenses. Discouragements.

This time next year, though, I’ll re-read this blog post. And I bet I’ll be amazed at how many more things will have been added to the list since today.

What about you? What’s on your list? I bet if you sit down and start writing, you’ll feel a little better about where you are and where you’re going.

pjimage

 

6 Steps to Stay on Track When You’re Discouraged

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I’ve been struggling with some personal things lately. Just some discouragements I’ve had to work through. Sometimes when you’re discouraged, it’s easy to lose sight of where you want to go–to doubt you’ll get there. And when you’re not fully expecting to get somewhere in the future, it’s not easy to discipline yourself to do the hard work today.

I remember learning this the hard way in my first job. But then I learned how to keep going anyway. Staying diligent through discouragement is hard, but it’s not impossible. Here are 6 steps you can take when you get discouraged. They’ll keep things in perspective and help you stay focused and productive.

     1. Calm your mind.

This is the first step I take in just about any personal challenge. When your mind is fighting (with itself or with outside influences), it is full of adrenaline and doesn’t think clearly or make careful decisions. So the first step to solving a mental and emotional crisis is to just calm down.

I like to go to a quiet place if I can, where I’m not surrounded by people or distractions. Sometimes I close my eyes and just breathe deeply. I let go of some emotions like anger and panic. I relax my mind until I am in a better state to think carefully.

     2. Acknowledge how much you change.

Your mind, heart, temperament, passions–they fluctuate by the day, by the hour, by the minute. Recognizing this helps keep things in perspective. How you feel right now does not have to define who you are. In fact, you are most certainly going to feel differently later.

Part of emotional maturity is being able to make decisions that are no longer based on current moods and feelings. But that takes perspective. It requires really understanding your mind, and appreciating how inconsistent it is, so that you stop basing decisions primarily on your mood. And take hope: You’ll feel better about it later!

     3. Get rid of unnecessary discouragements.

Don’t focus too much on the negative, but do take time to figure out what may be bringing you down. Maybe it’s problems on the job or in your relationship. Maybe you just didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Maybe you’re paying too much attention to one friend’s opinion. Or maybe you’re getting down on yourself for putting on a few extra pounds.

Some of these things will take longer to work on and will never be perfect. Like your relationship, or your career. You can’t just ignore those. But is there anything bringing you down that you can deal with immediately? Could you get more sleep tonight? Could you make healthier choices in your diet? Sometimes just getting rid of or changing your attitude about a little struggle can completely re-energize you.

     4. Ask yourself what you want your future to look like.

After deciding what I need to get rid of, I remind myself of what I’m trying to create. Try asking yourself where you want to be in the future. Be specific. What do you want to be able to do? Who do you want to be serving? How much money do you want to be making? Why? What do you want to be able to provide for family and friends? What experiences do you want out of life?

Dreaming of your future helps put things back in perspective. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to get re-motivated. What you’re doing today is not just for the sake of feeling good today. What you’re doing today is because you want to have something later. Whether you want to travel the world, start a charity, or send your kids to a good school, today’s work is for the sake of that future, not your mood.

     5. Ask yourself how you’ll get where you want to go.

Once you know what you want your future to look like–the place from where you want to be looking back on today–ask yourself two tough questions. They’re easy to answer but the answers demand your hard work and self-discipline:

Will you get there by being disciplined and productive? Maybe, maybe not (though if you do miss the moon you may land in the stars). But will you ever get there without being disciplined and productive? No. Definitely not.

6. Ask for help.

This might be the hardest step to take, but it’s often the most valuable, and sometimes the only one that’ll do it for you. When you’re struggling with discouragement, whether it’s laziness or depression, or just a little mood swing, reaching out for help can be a game-changer.

You can find encouragement, teamwork, accountability, or another form of support. And lots of people are ready and eager to help you. But you have to ask for it. You can ask friends and family. The most helpful teammate I have is my girlfriend, who knows me and cares about me more than anyone else. If you’re a religious person, you can reach out to God. An impressive amount of highly productive and successful people say one of the biggest anchors they have is prayer and church. Wherever you find support, don’t be afraid to go there. And when you feel embarrassed for needing help, that’s probably when you need it most.

These six steps help me a lot. I hope they help you, too!

We’re all in this together. What are some other ways you’ve learned to keep going when you’re discouraged?