Friday, August 27, 2010

Comfortable in My Own Skin

From time to time, life brings weeks that are best described as rough. This week has been one of those for me. Lots of job responsibilities, disappointment, hurt, and stress have piled up in my world. So, at the end of this week, I find myself pulling away from the world for a bit and spending some quiet time alone. I'm not sad about anything really; I just need to spend some time getting comfortable in my own skin for a little while. Some would consider this self-imposed respite horribly lonely. Personally, I find solitude invigorating and refreshing.
Being alone allows me to get my thoughts in order and deal with some issues that are weighing on my mind. I am naturally an introverted person and very analytical. Finding time to just be at rest is a treasured commodity in my hectic world. These times alone are opportunities to replenish my creativity. After spending time alone, I normally experience some of my greatest times of productivity - and this time is already proving to be no different. In addition to writing a couple of pieces with which I am very happy, I have also made significant strides on several things that have been simmering on the back burner of my mind. Solitude often leads to successful ventures.
Solitude allows me to relax. Two of my greatest joys come from watching television and reading novels. For the first time in quite a while, I took the time for the past two days to completely lose myself in a story and let my imagination dream. The only bad thing is that I know that I ultimately have to return to reality. For now, though, I'm relishing the humorous world I find in literature and sit-coms.
Most importantly, solitude helps me to refocus on the things that are most important in life. When all is said and done, many of the things that cause me stress are of little importance. In my times of solitude, my heart and mind are drawn back to the source of my faith and there I find direction, peace, healing, and strength. I am reminded that the most important thing in my life is my relationship with my Heavenly Father who loves me beyond measure and cherishes these times of solitude as much as I do. It's only when the voices of the rest of the world are quieted for a while that I am able to clearly hear His voice gently singing over me. It is a beautiful song that I love to hear!
So relax, my friends, when you see me pulling away into my proverbial cocoon. I won't stay there too long – just long enough to get my bearings and find the Center of my Joy again. When I emerge, I'll come out stronger and ready for the challenges that lie ahead. Solitude is a wonderful remedy for a weary soul; you should give it a try.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Earlier this week, I experienced one of the most frustrating cases of micromanagement I have ever seen in my professional career. Before any of you begin to guess who the offending manager was, let me clearly state that most of you are not acquainted with this individual unless you are involved with my work in eastern Arkansas. Without going into details – because I really don't need to rehash them – let it suffice to say that this excessive involvement in my performance on the job was unnecessary, condescending, and insulting. Once I settled down and the smoke ceased to pour from my ears, I began to think of the message that micromanagement sends to those involved and why it is such a pet peeve of mine.

First, micromanagement suggests a lack of confidence in the employee's abilities. If an employer has hired an individual for a job, it is assumed that the person has the skills necessary to perform the required task. When an employer begins to tediously examine each step the employee makes, the employee's self-confidence is negatively affected and he ceases to be self-motivated and proactive. I am not suggesting that an employer should not supervise and follow-up on assigned tasks. What I take issue with is when I am given an assignment and then a supervisor sits over my shoulder while I perform the task – constantly emphasizing that I do not know what I am doing or I am not doing the job the way SHE would do it. If the process is that important, include the prescribed procedure in the task assignment and get out of the way! I can become a much more valuable member of your team without your constant presence in my shadow.

Secondly, employers who micromanage show that they are threatened by the success and abilities of those they supervise. These individuals are power seekers who do not have the confidence in their own skill set to surround themselves with talented individuals. When they encounter people who are extremely talented in their given field, the micromanager sets out to undermine the success of the one who threatens their prestige. Public appearance is of the utmost importance to the micromanager.

Lastly, micromanagers are often facing their own ineffectiveness. Sadly, many people who find themselves in positions of leadership do not exhibit the charisma or interpersonal skills to lead a group of intelligent individuals. Their excessive management is an attempt to give the false appearance that they were intricately involved in the successful project's completion. Talented employees that find themselves under the direct supervision of the micromanager are quick to begin looking for fulfilling work opportunities at locations that allow them to fully exhibit their skills without interference from management.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reconnecting with Old Friends

Recently I have had several opportunities to reconnect with people from my past. Some have been coincidental encounters; others have been planned reunions. Most have occurred online although some have had the added element of personal contact. Seeing these names and faces from my past has brought a few things to mind. I have had a very good life thus far – not that I'm planning on seeing it end any time soon – and have developed relationships of different qualities throughout my life. I am noticing a few trends, though.
My closest friends – those that I communicate with on a fairly regular basis – come from two areas of my life: my undergraduate years of college and church relationships. As I watch one of my young friends begin her studies at Delta State University in Mississippi, I am reminded of the bonds and connections that were formed during my freshman year at Pepperdine. Those friendships continued throughout our time in Malibu and many continue to this day. I'm excited for Courtney – and also a little jealous; my undergraduate years hold some of my most treasured memories.
Church has always been an influencing aspect of my life. Living deep in the Bible Belt, the son of parents who were – and continue to be -- highly committed to their faith, I found myself attending weekly church services regularly as well as traveling around the South for various meetings and conferences. As a result, I had friends throughout the region that I looked forward to seeing every time we got together. Our interests were diverse. We were not all the same age. An outsider looking into the scene would never have expected us to have much in common. The basis of our friendship was our commitment to Christ and our desire to serve Him unfalteringly. Today, many of those friends now live throughout the country and we rarely see each other; when we do get together, though, you can be sure there are lots of smiles and celebrations. Personally, I am thankful that technology such as Facebook reunites us across the miles and brings us into each other's homes again on a regular basis.
As I thought about this blog, I anticipated that music would be a connecting force for me as well. Many of my closest friends are involved in music, but as I explored my graduate studies I realized that I didn't walk away with many close friends. Don't misunderstand – I did make friends and there are a handful of people who crossed my path while studying in Memphis that I consider treasured friends, they are just few and far between. (Many of those close friends from my graduate work also shared a common faith that was central to the friendship and those that I bonded with while traveling overseas). Why is this the case? I can only come up with two explanations at this point. These may have merely been my experiences, but I tend to think this may be common to graduate students around the world regardless of their discipline. First, the graduate study focused on developing our musical careers. We were spending more time developing professional relationships (networking) rather than deep, lasting friendships. Second, many musicians treasure relationships with those outside of the field. After performing such intensely emotional music, some performers simply want to get away from those with whom they make music. That's definitely one of the downsides to this profession. I personally fall into that category. I have found very few of my performance colleagues who are capable of separating the personal from the professional – and it has created rifts in relationships. Often when the two aspects are not separated, the result is the end of both relationships. I hate that fact, but that's just the way it is. That's another blog entirely though.
So, my dear friends, you are treasured. I do not use the term "friend" lightly. Thank you for the impact you have made on my life. You will probably never fully understand how special you are to me!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Change of Plan

The original plan was to write this post from high in the air while I was flying from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Sometimes life has a way of throwing our plans into a tailspin. Instead, I am sitting on my couch with remains of a headache as I write. Needless to say, my plans underwent a serious change and even though I know it was the right decision to stay home, I am a bit disappointed. Truthfully, I don't really feel much like writing tonight, but I have gotten out of the routine so I am forcing myself to get something posted tonight – no matter how short it may be.
When I woke this morning, I wasn't feeling well at all. My body ached, my arm hurt, and the room was spinning. I tried to convince myself that I had just had a bad night's sleep and that I could still make the flight. As the morning went on, I soon had to admit that a trip to Los Angeles was simply not going to happen today. I was traveling to the West Coast to participate in the wedding of two very good friends…at least, I HOPE they are still my good friends when all of this is said and done! I was to play piano for their ceremony on Saturday afternoon. When I emailed them this morning, they were both very gracious and understanding, but I also know that their stress levels went through the roof.
I am feeling better now than I did earlier today, but I'm not going to push it, so this will remain a very short post. My left arm is still not 100% and my headache is now just a dull nagging ache as opposed to this morning's pain. Lots of things are changing in my world right now. I just hope that I am able to handle them all with grace and integrity.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Things Happen for a Purpose

Beijing, China is hosting the World Conference of the International Society for Music Educators this week.  Early this year, I was invited to attend the conference as a guest artist with my collaborative partner.  Due to complications with my passport and my personal situation, I am not in China at this time.  My mood has gone from frustration to relief and finally to contentment.

Initially I was very frustrated when I realized I would not be attending the conference.  It is fairly obvious that it was a remarkable opportunity and one that would have looked wonderful on my resume.  After my most recent move from Los Angeles, I entrusted my passport with my parents for safe keeping.  It is quite safe now -- so much so that it cannot be found!  Frustrating, but not a huge problem.....or so I thought.

Once terrorist attacks occurred earlier this year in Moscow, the Chinese government demanded that visas be applied for immediately.  I didn't have a passport and was having difficulty obtaining one since I had listed China as my intended destination and my job was listed as "minister."  It quickly became clear that I would not be able to attend.

My frustration moved into relief rather quickly.  Without going into too much detail, I had not had pleasant travel experiences in the recent past and was not looking forward to a trip that would involve language barriers, unknown food issues, and traveling in groups.  I also felt at ease that I was not going.  I cannot fully explain why, but I never felt peaceful about the trip from the beginning.  No matter how much I tried to rationalize why I was going, in the back of my mind I knew that it was not the best situation for me.

I wanted a way out but did not want to disappoint my friend.  Honestly, I didn't want to deal with the conflict that would certainly ensue.  When the issue became a government problem, I knew that I had a legitimate reason without having to state -- again -- that I simply had no interest in visiting China.

Where am I now?  I'm in a good place!  I know that I made the right decision for me.  I am not currently in a financial bind as a result of a trip that I could not afford.  And I am experiencing opportunities here that I would have missed if I were on the other side of the world.  Was it the right decision?  While everyone is welcome to their personal opinions, there is only one of us that can truthfully give an authoritative answer.  For me and my situation, not going was the right decision.  I am certain that those who are in Beijing right now are having a wonderful time and are making memories that will last for a lifetime.  I'm making memories too -- and they are the right ones for me at this time in my life.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Rest of the Story....

No need to fear; I am not channeling Paul Harvey!  At the end of a busy, emotional, and exhausting Monday, I truly know that my mini-vacation is officially over.  I am not entirely ready to let it go, so I will give you the rest of the details of my trip to Branson, Missouri.

On Friday morning, I began the day quite late and headed to Silver Dollar City.  I expected a small-scale theme park that was unable to compete with the larger parks I have visited.  What I discovered is a charming park that is content with its own identity without attempting to compete with any other place.  While not filled with spectacular thrill rides, Silver Dollar City has a certain charm that was relaxing and exactly the experience that I needed.  And I can't forget to mention the amazing taffy that I bought;  I just finished off the last of it tonight (and I haven't decided yet if that's a GOOD thing or a BAD thing). 

I left the park a few hours later than I intended, so I wasn't certain I would be able to get tickets for a show that evening, but I decided to give it a try.  When I walked into the discount sales center, I was a bit shocked when they laughed at my request.  Now I realize just how funny my introduction must have been.  "I want to see a show tonight and need some suggestions.  Let me tell you what I don't want though:  no country music at all and nothing that is completely driven by the music."  What else is there in Branson?  My request shouldn't be that unexpected to some of you.  I wanted to get as far away as I could from everything that was stressful in my life at the time - that included my work in the musical field.

To my delight, the ticket agent had a wonderful suggestion:  the Chinese acrobats of the Shanghai Circus.  Even though I was late for the show due to Branson's heavy traffic, I was mesmerized by the dazzling display of skill and artistry that I experienced.  I won't go into too much detail about the show here as it is going to be the basis for my next blog on Collaborations

Saturday morning, I got up to get everything packed away for the trip home.  Before leaving I was to have lunch with a dear friend who is now living north of Branson.  The food and the company was wonderfully insightful, uplifting, and encouraging.  All in all, my lunch plans at Fuddrucker's was a fitting end to a great vacation.

I don't know when or where, but I am confident that another mini-vacation will be in my future.  It lowered my stress level, renewed my creativity, and enabled me to come home with new-founded vision and drive.