Monthly Archives: May 2013

A Modicum of Effort; an Avalanche of Opportunity

In an effort to exhaust some of my remaining vacation days, I took this week off.  Across the week I have a smattering of projects and appointments I’ve set for myself, but for the most part I have unstructured vacation time on my hands.  This is proving to be trying, as without structure I tend to not get things done.

I tend to get really hard on myself.  I look back at my experiment in structuring time earlier this year and feel like I’ve gone backwards.  I had set up a system of accomplishing many tasks, taking on new projects, and making sure I keep on top of things.  Now that I’m not in experiment mode, I feel like I’ve forgotten the benefits I received from setting up my own schedule.

I also feel myself on the verge of productivity, but not making the final step, the final commitment to myself.  It’s even a small step!  For the last week or so, I’ve been telling myself I should make a list of things to do and cross them off.  Once I kick that off, everything else becomes easier.  But something is holding me back.

I’m reminded when I visited Katie the other day and her housemate was trying to remove a splinter from her six year old daughter’s finger. The young girl’s anxiety of how it might hurt was completely overwhelming her.  I wanted to explain that sometimes we build an experience up as a huge scary event, when in reality it’s a brief moment of discomfort followed by relief and happiness.  If I carry this metaphor over to my own situation, it’s also followed up by accomplishment.  It’s a modicum of effort followed by an avalanche of opportunity.

Hayley's BBBQ

What does that extra B stand for?

On Sunday I was at a BBBQ at my friend Hayley’s house and we started talking about ensembles we play in.  Lately, I’ve been hankering to get a brass quintet together, as there are often gigging opportunities with that kind of ensemble.  Hayley expressed interest in being the trombonist in such an ensemble, which would be great.

Often when I’m having such conversations, I’m feeling things out and testing the waters.  Frequently, I quickly move on to other ideas that are more within my comfort zone instead of taking initiative and making it happen.  The barrier that appears to be insurmountable and scary is often just a speed bump.  Once I get over that initial effort, everything falls into place.  I’m not saying that the work stops there, but the path is usually clearer after you cross over from thinking (and worrying) into doing.

My initial (self-defeating) reaction to my reluctance is that I obviously have a fear of effort (I’m lazy).  When I take a step back, I realize that it’s not just effort that I’m trying to avoid, but wasted effort.  For as long as I can remember, the act of losing something I put a lot of effort into; or the gut-wrenching feeling that I’ve been trying hard to make something work that was not reciprocated have driven me into berserker rages.  That’s not a justification, but rather a way of deconstructing my anxiety about starting projects that may not go anywhere.

Dan Berserker at Meeting

What do you mean the meeting was cancelled?!?!?

Besides, there’s a big difference between spending hours, weeks, and months on a project only to see it collapse, and the type of effort I’ve been shying away from.  Sometimes all it takes is a to-do list, a scheduled rehearsal, or a date on the books to make things happen.

That last one comes from another opportunity I’ve been leery about following up on.  A friend asked me recently if I would be interested in teaching a project planning software to his organization.  It’s a great opportunity to expand my freelance chops in a safe(r) environment.  All I have to do is schedule it, and it’s mine for the taking.

So for my own benefit and maybe yours too, here is my to-do list.  It’s not a list of things to do today, but it’s a list of how to get lists done.

1. Do it right away

While my email inbox is cleaner than most (5 in there at the moment), I do tend to put off the things that give me anxiety.  That means uncomfortable phone calls, asking for more money, turning someone down, committing to a project I’m not 100% sure on, and starting something I’ve never done before.  Granted, we all need time to compose a thought-out response, but we don’t need 2 weeks.  Besides, getting a phone call out of the way, receiving an answer about money requests, providing closure to a relationship, making a project concrete, and accomplishing something I’ve never done before all feel amazing.  Give yourself a deadline, and meet it.

2. Make it clear

I’ve been reading a book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers.  Probably the concept that has meant the most to me is that we are afraid of the things we haven’t done before.  That’s just the nature of things we haven’t done before.  So much of that fear has to do with not knowing what to expect.  There are two ways to figure out what to expect.  One way is to do copious amounts of research, discuss it with friends who have gone through the same thing, and do our own projected analysis.  The other is to just do it and see what it is I’m missing, then fill in the pieces.  While they both have their benefits, the former can go on indefinitely (how do you know when you’ve finally learned something comprehensively), while the latter can give a clear picture instantly.  So do what needs to be done to make it clear what you’re trying to accomplish.  That way, you know when you accomplish it.

3. Do it with integrity

Whatever you do, do it with the full intent of doing it as well as possible.  My friend Samantha wrote an excellent blog about her experiences as a vendor at a craft fair.  After she ended up not selling anything, she considered that perhaps the things she was selling had no value, or perhaps the nature of the event (rain, poor advertising, etc.) colluded to keep her from selling anything.  But instead, she decided to do the work of analyzing who her customer was, how to reach that customer, and whether it was worth her time to try:

I think this is an approach that artists (and I use that term broadly, encompassing visual artists, writers, musicians, etc.) across the board don’t take nearly enough.  Of course, it’s much easier to take either of the first two approaches when something doesn’t go according to plan.  It’s easy to make excuses, and it’s easy to get discouraged.  The third approach requires some introspective thinking (and possibly some market research) around where one’s art fits into the larger artistic–or maybe even less glamorously, consumer–landscape.  The successful artists have found a niche to fill–a customer to sell to–and they do it in a way that makes it worth their time to produce the art.

Approach your projects with integrity.  Mindless autopilot is not especially fulfilling, and the successes attained from using your full brain power are far sweeter.

4. Explore the branches

This is more of a follow-up, but it’s good to remember that once the things are crossed off your to-do list, the work doesn’t end.  Inevitably, there are new ideas that emerge from exploring the other ones.  These branches can form whole new root systems that open up even more opportunities.  Take some time to explore the directions your new ideas branch to and figure out what kinds of new projects you have on your hands.

So Dan, do you hear that?  Get some paper and write out your to-do list for the day.  Give Hayley a call and find the rest of the players for the brass quintet.  Schedule a rehearsal.  Put a date on the books for your Project class.  Take the effort to flick that pebble down the mountain, and let the avalanche begin!

A Curious Mind

Lately I’ve been flooded with projects, and it has been glorious glorious glorious!  I’ve been cramming about as much gigging as I can into my 40 work week and the weekends.  I’ve had the opportunity to play with 20’s trad jazz bands, 2nd line wedding bands, orchestras, and impromptu jams.  I also started a polka band (Polkadelphia!) and have been busy learning and playing a whole new style and repertoire.  I recently recorded a new song I wrote about Dungeons and Dragons to be used as a Kickstarter reward for my friend’s project, Kobolds At My Baby… in color!  I have been teaching piano lessons and developing a songwriting class for teenagers.  I have been honing my design skills and am currently working on revamping a friend’s website.  I’ve been taking (c)old projects out of storage and working on finding viable venues.  I’m about at the end of my wits, and I’m loving it!

On a parallel track, ever since I graduated from college in 2000, I have been absolutely terrified of going back to school for “formalized” education.  Many of my friends went for their masters degrees, and I went off and did my own thing.  For the past 6 years I’ve worked at a university with free tuition benefits.  Yet, except for a semester of German, a music and technology class, and an audited yoga class, I have eschewed using those benefits.  Many friends and colleagues think I’m crazy for not taking advantage and getting a free masters degree.  But I have my reasons, the biggest being that I don’t want to commit myself to classes and projects that may become a burden over time.

While I know it’s not a direct parallel (and frankly, what is?) I look at these two areas of my life and see some incongruity.  In one, I am tearing up my free time and immersing myself to be as busy as possible.  In the other, I am fiercely guarding my free time from waste.  Let’s debunk a few things here too.  It’s not a fear of learning new things, because in my current projects, I’ve learned more than I have in my whole life.  And it’s not that I perceive formalized education as a waste of my time any more than my projects might turn out to be.  It’s entirely possible that I commit myself to a project of my own devising that turns out to be draining and lackluster.  I think the biggest difference between the two for me is the quality of self-direction in my own projects.

Before any academics get in a huff, I do believe that when someone enters into a program for a graduate degree, there is a significant amount of self-direction required and encouraged, as opposed to undergraduate degrees which tend to be a bit more cookie-cutter.  I’d also like to point out that while my experiences with graduate degrees are second-hand, I have spoken to a lot of people who have gone through such programs.  However, at the end of the day, there are prerequisites to finish, auxiliary tasks to perform, and a standardized finished product to turn in.  It all seems pretty externally directed to me.  My many friends who have advanced degrees also attest to the bureaucracy and the “old guard” of the system that detract from the learning process.

It’s true that any industry has its old guard and bureaucracy, but I’ve been finding that approaching my projects with a degree of experimentation and innovation helps to dispel some of the feeling that I’m playing the game.  It’s kind of like that moment as a songwriter when you stop trying to write songs in the style of people you admire, and start to really focus on your own modes of expression.  All of a sudden, there’s this sense of newness and genuine connection.  When done in the right circumstances, people really sit up and take notice.
Perhaps I’m being naive, but the naivete is part of the joy of it.  I’m approaching the parts of my life that I want to change with many ideas and few expectations.  I’m learning about the things that matter to me, and while I’ll never feel in control of the outcome, I do feel quite confident about the direction I’m going.

Metroid with Tuba

TUBA – BAILEY

I’m also really enjoying how each new morsel of knowledge opens up new avenues.  It reminds me of classic NES games like Metroid; after you get certain items, you can unlock new areas that were previously inaccessible.  Likewise, with a CD pressed, I get access to venues I couldn’t play before.  With Polkadelphia, I get access to a new market, and the people who manage that market.  I can see these webs spreading out before me as I go.  Also like Metroid, I can choose the order in which I make these discoveries.  And also like Metroid, it’s pretty fun.

At this point, I don’t know necessarily what the take-away is for this post.  Certainly you should try to be in touch with what it is you want.  It’s both fun and fulfilling to explore what it is you want from a variety of different angles.  I suppose what I would impart is that you don’t have to give up the process of self-directed exploration just because you are an adult (or because you are a child).  It increasingly seems to me that only by continuing to explore and expand the parameters of our lives in directions that we choose can we truly live a life that is glorious glorious glorious!

A Year of Blogging

Happy one year anniversary to my blog!

About a year ago, I had just begun working with Mike from Departure Consulting on how to take a more entrepreneurial attitude towards my music career.  One of our first exercises together was listing out my strengths and combining them into different combinations to explore ways to utilize them.  One of the ideas I came up with was a blog (which tied together my skills in teaching, writing, and technology).  So in mid-May, I wrote my first post, and it’s been going ever since.  Here’s how I described my blog in that first post:

I want this blog to be about those different parts and sums that are my life.  I am a songwriter, educator, empathizer, baker, skeptic, atheist, boyfriend, Microsoft Office expert, puzzler, iconoclast, tubist, gamer, accordionist, self-doubter, stone skipper, satirist, and designer. It would be too easy to pigeonhole and squint to find the label these different components add up to.  But I’d rather relish in the incongruities.  I want to talk about how a tuba player approaches skepticism, how a game-lover perceives Microsoft Excel, and how an educator fosters and transforms self-doubt.

stone skipping

Upon the water, I noticed only one path of stone ripples. But it was then that I carried you.

I think I have covered each of those parts of my life (except perhaps stone skipping and atheism) across the past year.  I’ve really enjoyed the process of letting my thoughts take shape.  The other day I was sifting through past entries, feeling a growing sense of pride about the volume and quality of material I’ve put together here. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of that process too.

This is often the point where someone says they’re taking a break or stepping down.  Nope!  While occasional fluctuations of inspiration or mood create gaps in my blog record, I plan to keep writing and keep exploring.  I do feel like I have a lot of information and experience to share.

Here are some of the stats from my blog:

  • Since launching on May 15, 2012, I have had 3,225 views.
  • This is my 67th post.
  • My most popular post, with 269 views was Depression and the People You Love.
  • My least popular post, with 10 views is a tie between It Just Feels RightDan Nosheny is Neon and ShyTreading Virgin Water, and Expertise for Non-Experts.  Several of those are about the benefits of approaching projects without much prior knowledge of the subject.  I get it, I get it, you don’t want to hear it anymore.  But c’mon, Treading Virgin Water is an awesome title!
  • My post last week, Networking for People Who Cringe at the Word “Networking”, had a whopping 109 views.  This more than all the other views from the last month combined (including the home page).  Combined with my most popular post, it tells me you like stories about people who feel marginalized and out of the mainstream.  In that case, you are in luck, as I’m rife with those stories.
  • I have 5 drafts that I started and was disappointed with the direction they were heading.  They are titled :
    • Where’s the Next New Awesomeness
    • Swept By the Tide of Culture
    • All Hail Open-Ended Play
    • The Cubist Coin
    • Surviving the Session
  • I have 30 followers, most of whom I do not know.  I also don’t know if there’s any credibility in having followers on WordPress, but I’m going to pretend there is.

Thanks again for joining me on this fun experiment.  I feel like I’m constantly learning new things and finding new ways of expressing myself.  Next up on the docket: Atheism and Stone Skipping.

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