Friday, February 10, 2012

You Are Not Your Talent

I love what I do. It is such an honor to be a part of people's lives and musical journeys; to be allowed into the sacred space of their hopes, fears, and dreams.

There has been a whole lot of the above this week in my studio. One terrific singer is on her way to compete at the Apollo Theater in New York. The other is in Los Angeles beginning this season of American Idol.

Any performance can be nerve-wracking, but there is something about competitions—especially televised ones!—that really ups the ante.   I sang backup on Idol a few years ago, and vividly remember how crazy things can get for those young men and women. So much is at stake, so much is on the line... it can seem barely possible to hold it all together, much less to have a wonderful time and savor the experience.

Yet that is exactly what I am telling them to do.  And there's only one way to do it.

To remember the following: You are talented. But you are not your talent. Your specialness has nothing to do with what you do. It is an internal quality—an inherent gift—that is yours forever, whether or not you ever sing another note.

This should be reassuring to singers. And it would be, if they believed it.

Our culture does quite a job of blurring the lines between having a talent and being talented. As a result, we tend to celebrate people for what they do, not for who they are, reinforcing the notion that "it" is more important—and more valuable—that them.

This seems all the more real for those who, at an early age, get too close to this cultural view and start to intertwine the talent with their self-worth. From that moment on, failure is no longer an opportunity to learn and do better next time. It is the feared confirmation of being truly, completely, and utterly unworthy.  Which explains why for so many people competitions—and even performing—are painful, traumatic, and nerve-wracking experiences.

It is wonderful to have a talent. But talent is not what makes us wonderful. It is remembering this distinction that gives people power, freedom, and the ability to develop and share that talent—as well as themselves—without reservation.

I look forward to that sharing from Ericka, Nick, and all of the truly wonderful men and women that I have the pleasure—and the honor—to work with.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Taking A Permanent Vacation

There is nothing like a vacation. The to-do lists go away, the nagging "should" voices quiet, and time seems to slow down. Spontaneous walks and naps are welcomed rather than resisted. A latte at a café is a sensory experience to remember, rather than a hurried and even guilty pleasure.
Writing vacations are especially fun for me. Recently, my friend Vivian and I traveled to her house in upstate New York... for five glorious days we lounged on the couch and read, brainstormed about ideas in front of the fire and sipped warm, comforting teas while pecking away at our laptops. When the desire for a break came on, without hesitation we'd drop everything and take a walk in the snow, the fresh air and glorious views refreshing every aspect of ourselves.
Why does a day filled with the same activities seem entirely different when I'm back at home? I feel guilty for reading when I "should" be writing. I berate myself as unfocused when running out for a coffee. When I do allow myself to take a walk, I spend the time wondering how much I have or will accomplish that day.
It's never enough, by the way. What's more, it's always less than what I achieve when I'm on vacation.
What's going on here?
As opposite as our "real" and "holiday" lives may seem, there is really only one thing that differentiates them. It's not location; many "upstaters" flock to the city for a getaway. Nor is it circumstantial; dissatisfied with our "real lives" as we may be, our attitudes and perspectives travel with us and in time reveal themselves, even in the most ideal of locations.
What differentiates the two is perspective.
When we're at home, we're surrounded by a set of expectations -- our own and those of other people -- that we have taken on in the interest of being successful. And we imagine that rigid determination and dogged persistence will somehow create the conditions necessary for this success, productivity and even creativity to unfold.
We think by working harder -- and often, being harder on ourselves -- that somehow more will get done.
What we miss in this view is that the time, energy and attention required to create and maintain such vigilance takes away from the ability to actually accomplish anything. To say nothing of the additional stress that reduces, rather than rejuvenates, the mind's ability to imagine and create.
A vacation, therefore, is far more than an occasional respite from the real world. It is a state of mind that is always available; an invitation to escape self-criticism and expectation and surrender into the present moment. And then this one. And then this one.
Counterintuitive as it might seem, this state is the precise environment that breeds productivity, as well as pleasure, peace and playfulness. If you want all four, whether working or playing, it's time to consider a permanent trip...

Originally published in The Huffington Post

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