Sunday, April 29, 2012

Big Changes Come in the Littlest Moments

Many people consider life to be a journey, and while I think that word is a little overused today (thank you, reality TV and Oprah), I do love to think about the unexpected twists and turns you encounter on this path called life. I especially enjoy looking back and realizing how one small act or comment may have changed the course of my life.

One recent and relevant example in my life is Pandora. I LOVE this music service, and if you haven’t used it yet, check it out now – you’re in for a big treat that will change how you listen to music forever.

Pandora is the outcome of the Music Genome Project, in which a group of musicians analyzed a ton of music, identifying each song’s “genetic” makeup based on nearly 400 music “genes” they had identified – things like the type of harmony used, kinds of instruments and instrumentation, the beat, the rhythm, the key signature, and so on. After you enter a particular song or artist you like, Pandora builds a custom radio station for you by pulling in other songs with similar attributes.

The result is the perfect radio station, featuring music that you already love along with new songs and artists that you’ll instantly fall in love with too.

Pandora (and the story behind its genesis) is fascinating, but to me, the really interesting thing is how I first discovered it. I learned about it from a colleague at work – and not even someone I know very well, just a guy with a cube somewhat near mine. One day we somehow got to chatting about what we listened to while working, since we’re both among the few of us who have headphones on all day, and he told me he listened to Pandora.

I had no idea what it was, so I checked it out when I got back to my desk, and I was immediately hooked.

Through Pandora, I started listening to songs by artists I’d never heard of, hearing new sounds and getting exposed to different musical flavors. I didn’t even know what traditional radio stations (if any) played these kinds of music, but I knew that I was discovering whole new genres and artists that I would never had heard of if it weren’t for Pandora.

One of my favorite aspects of Pandora – aside from the actual service and the music – is that they typically include a lengthy background of the artist. I absolutely love to read stories about people’s journeys (there’s that word again!) and how they got to where they are today, and nowhere is this truer than in the world of music.

Whether they were born into a musical family or didn’t discover music until their 40s, whether they started as a background singer or a winner on that American-Idol precursor Star Search, I love to read about the path someone’s life took and their own little twists and turns.

Discovering new artists and genres and their stories through Pandora truly rekindled my love of music and made me want to get back into it…which lead me to search for a violin teacher so that I could dust off my violin (which I hadn’t really played in about a decade) and start playing again.

While looking for a violin teacher, I had the crazy thought, hey, why not look for a voice teacher too? And lo and behold, this led me to my current wonderful teacher, my newfound love of singing, and a whole new world of possibilities laid out in front of me.

So to my colleague, it was nothing more than a little throw-away comment during a quick water-cooler chat – but for me, that one brief sentence honestly changed my life forever.

I’ve had other moments like this in my life, but this is the most recent, so it sticks in my mind most clearly.

What little thing affected YOUR life in a big way? I’d love to hear about others’ little/big life-changing moments in the comments – share yours!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Nothing Like a Deadline

The company through which I take voice lessons, Musika, has announced that their end-of-the-year recital will be held on June 3. This gives me just six weeks to prepare for what will be my second public singing performance (if you don’t include all my cantoring at Mass).

At first, six weeks sort of sounds like enough – after all, American Idol contestants learn a couple new songs every week, right? But in addition to working full-time, singing at church, and being a mommy to two young kids, I’m also going on three trips that will have me out of town for a total of two full weeks over the next month, not to mention celebrating both my daughter’s and my husband’s birthdays, getting ready for my mom’s and my sister’s birthdays, hosting five family members staying at our house, and having our entire family participate in my sister-in-law’s wedding. All fun stuff, to be sure, but a little stressful and time-consuming too.

Plus, in looking at my calendar this week, I realized that due to all of this busy-ness and travel, I’m currently scheduled for exactly ONE lesson between now and the recital. (Eek.)

Did I mention that I haven’t even chosen a song yet? (Double eek!)  

And that, in addition to singing a solo piece (whatever that ends up being), I’m also going to be singing an a cappella group piece with the rest of my teacher’s students? TRIPLE EEK!!

So I guess it’s a good thing the universe has been pounding a lesson into my head lately about being diligent, organized, responsible, and proactive, because I think I’m gonna need it over the next six weeks!

Then again, I tend to do my best work when coming up on a deadline...and I have found myself a little lacking in the motivation department in regards to practicing lately. So I think this looming potential public humiliation upcoming recital will really help me buckle down, prioritize my practicing, and perfect a couple of pieces, which will give me a boost of confidence, which will be a huge help in working toward my next goal, which is: to sing at an open mic night.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Lesson Learned – Again...

I believe that we’re all here on this earth to learn, progress, and grow. And I also believe that you will keep being given the lessons you’re meant to learn, until you learn them. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself making the same mistakes, or going through the same trials and tribulations, over and over, and wonder, “Why me?”.

But rather than thinking of these things as happening to you by chance, or worse yet, because the universe is out to get you, I think it’s better to take a closer look and see what lesson is being taught to you. What can you learn from this situation and how can your own actions help you avoid it again?

I’ve recently found myself in a number of discouraging situations that can all be traced back to my own lack of action. Whether due to being overwhelmed and disorganized or just plain old procrastination, it was always a matter of me not being responsible or diligent or following through on something.

I think for a while, I was so on top of things that I let myself get complacent. I took on the attitude of “Yeah, I got this” and stopped working so hard at keeping up with everything I needed to get done. I had been working so hard for so long, I felt I deserved a break…and somehow I never got back to working hard again.

It’s been really humbling to see all the results of my mistakes – we lost out on a big chunk of money we were due to receive; my credit score dipped; my professional reputation at work may have taken a little hit – but rather than wallow in self-pity, I’ve resolved to be grateful.

I’m grateful that I got these wake-up calls to stay responsible and organized and proactive, and I’m thankful that we’re able to weather these setbacks without any long-term or serious consequences.

But most of all, I’m grateful that I was able to recognize them for what they were: a lesson that I’m being taught, and that I need to start applying every day. It’s an ongoing effort, but when the universe puts a lesson in front of you time and again, the best thing you can do is learn the lesson and move on.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Write Your Own Story

All my life, I’ve loved to read, ever since my big sister taught me my letters when I was just three. I read serious fiction, humor, memoirs, how-to books, chick lit, you name it…but lately I’ve been thinking of a special book I used to love when I was a kid: Harold and the Purple Crayon.

If you’ve never read it, it features a young boy (Harold, naturally) who wants to go for a walk in the moonlight. But since the moon isn’t out, he decides to draw one with his purple crayon. He draws a path and begins to walk, and as he continues on his journey, he’s creating his entire landscape, his whole world, with his purple crayon as he goes – a forest, an ocean, a monster, and more. He experiences all kinds of adventures on his journey, and eventually draws himself right to where he wants to be.

I keep thinking of this story because, about a week ago, I was contemplating my life, and where it’s going, i.e. the Great Unknown, and fretting a little about those pesky questions like “What am I doing with my life?” and “What am I meant to do, what am I here for?”…and then a little voice said so clearly in my head:

Write your own story.”

And suddenly it all seemed so simple. For a brief moment, everything was crystal clear: I am the author of my life. No one is writing a story in which I’m a puppet acting out what’s written for me – I am the author, the playwright, the storyteller. I control where the story goes.

So like Harold with his purple crayon, I realize that I need to write myself to where I want to be.

If I don’t like how this story is going, it’s up to me to take it in a new direction.

I may not always know where that direction is going to lead me or where I’ll end up, but along the way I’m sure to have experiences and adventures that are uniquely mine. I just need to keep writing, both literally and figuratively, to tell a story I’ll be proud to say is mine.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Taking Action (or Not...)

Today, I found a great blog that really resonated with me. It’s called The Unlost, and the writer, Therese Schwenkler, is out there asking questions like, “What should I do with my life?” and “When will I ever be happy?” and my favorite, “Who the heck am I?!” It feels like it’s written just for me.* (Except that I think I’m a little older than her target audience – does a 34-year-old count as a “young person”?)

Therese’s quest for knowledge, purpose, passion and living true to who she is really speak to me and reassure me that I’m not alone in my searching for those same things.

But blogs like hers also make me wonder…what am I waiting for?!

Therese has just quit her job – her safe, comfortable, “normal” corporate job (does any of this sound familiar??) – to travel across the country and spread her message, meet new people, and pursue what is now her passion. From major life decisions like this to her everyday writing, everything she does seems infused with energy and action.

So I'm forced to contemplate why I find it so hard to get off my ass and actually DO the things I know I want/need to do. What is keeping me from taking action? I have all these great ideas, but seem no closer to any of them than I was 6 months ago! I’ve narrowed the reasons for my inaction down to a few things:

1.      Fear of being wrong.
I don’t want to take a step unless I know it’s the “right” one – God forbid I should look foolish or make a (gasp!) mistake – so I end up taking no steps at all. Typical perfectionistic tendency.

2.      An insatiable need for information.
Going hand-in-hand with not wanting to be wrong is the idea that doing copious amounts of reading, pondering, research and self-reflection will somehow lead me to the “right” next step. So I wile my time away doing all the prep work – prep work for action that I never take.

3.      Lack of self-confidence.
It’s so easy to admire people for being “fearless,” who embrace life and jump into new adventures – I’m always in awe of their self-assuredness. But something I’m coming to realize is, a lot of them AREN’T self-assured – they’re just as scared, nervous, and confused as I am. The difference is, they don’t let that stop them from taking action.  

4.      Laziness.
Ok, this one is harsh, but true. Making major life changes, discovering who you are, pursuing goals – this stuff may be fun and exhilarating, but it’s also hard work! And sometimes, I admit, I just want to sit on the couch and relax for the few minutes I have left at the end of the day, rather than try to dredge up the energy to jump into the whole life-changing thing.

So, ultimately, what’s the point of this post? Well, frankly, I think I needed to call myself out on this stuff. Because, let’s be honest, it’s all RIDICULOUS.

Inaction is a surefire way to remain, at best, no happier than I am now, and at worst, a hell of a lot unhappier.

And taking action isn’t actually as hard as I always think it will be – in fact, the times I’ve been most successful in taking action have been when I’ve done it without a lot of forethought, moving quickly enough that I can’t stop myself and spend time worrying about taking a misstep, and basically ignoring what I’m doing until – oops, too late! I’ve actually already taken action while my head was turned the other way.

So this is a stern but loving reminder to myself: You’re being ridiculous! Nothing good comes from inaction. Taking action is NOT as hard as you make it seem. And p.s. you’re not alone.

~ Jenn

* Note: I was already done with this blog, but hadn’t posted it yet, when I read Therese’s article called Save Your Soul From Shoulditis in Twenty-Twelve (which is fantastic, by the way - go read it!), and I nearly fell off my chair at this paragraph:

I was restless. I just knew that there had to be more to life than this— more than coming into work every day, staring at an Excel spreadsheet, and then returning home every night to reruns of Friends. I felt like Belle from Beauty & The Beast, spinning around in the middle of a field and singing at the top of my lungs. “There’s got to be more than this provincial life!”

Remember how I said earlier that if felt like this blog was written just for me? Ok, so it’s not such a coincidence that I, too, constantly think about how there has to be MORE than what I’m doing…or that I go to work every day and stare at Excel spreadsheets. But every night before bed, I unwind by watching Friends re-runs…and most eerie of all, I literally just thought of that song from Beauty and the Beast two days ago – I'm talking that exact phrase from that song. (I remember because I had a whole argument with myself about how the sentiment was exactly what I was feeling, but my life isn’t really “provincial” per se. I’m weird like that.)

So…yeah. I’m a big believer in “signs” and that there are no coincidences in life, so I think this was a call-out to me that I was meant to find this blog today. (Thanks for the confirmation, universe! You rock!)