I’m fortunate to be able to spend a little time at a cottage during the summer. One of my favourite things to do is to get up just before sunrise and take the canoe out for a slow paddle.
As the sun creeps upward, it’s a time of awe-inspiring silence.
The water is like glass. Only the bow of the canoe and my paddle cut through its smooth shiny surface.
It’s not really silent though. You can hear some birds singing and the odd fish jumping out of water, but it’s as close to silence as I can get without finding a anechoic chamber somewhere.
I know that, very soon, the silence will be overcome by fishing boat motors or the splashes of an early morning swimmer, or worse, by jet skis and skill saws.
I’ll often head over to an old beaver dam and just sit there in the canoe. I’ll let my ears search the forest and water for a chirp, rustle or splash. I hope for a chance encounter with a beaver perhaps. But my paddling has probably tipped them off long before I arrive so that’s never happened.
This is a place where I remind myself how to listen.
And that’s important. Because without an appreciation for silence, we can’t really listen to what others have to say.
My wife and I recently did a small renovation to our home. We even brought in a couple of designer guys to help us out.
It was surprising how emotional it was.
As the old furniture, travel trinkets and cheap art on the walls got given away to family or sold to strangers, I couldn’t help but look at most of it with some degree of affection. Weird, I know. It's only stuff.
But they were items we had bought together when we got our first house. Some items were even from the apartments we lived in before becoming homeowners.
As attached to that stuff as we were, we knew it was time for a change.
It was time a couple years earlier but we couldn’t see it yet. My thanks go out to our friends and family for not mentioning that.
As time went on, we began feeling that much of what we had accumulated didn’t fit who we were and how we wanted to live.
At that point, changing it became a big priority. We spent every spare moment surfing furniture sites on-line. We looked at catalogues and gathered ideas. I know - we really know how to live!
As each new item entered our home, the older pieces still around became much less attractive. Once we had made all our furniture choices, we couldn’t wait for the new stuff to arrive.
But here’s the thing... Even though we orchestrated this change, we weren’t completely sure we were going to love the new as much as the old.
Well, guess what? This doesn’t only happen with furniture. It happens in many other aspects of our lives.
Why? Because change is fraught with fear, but, as experience has taught me, you just have to go for it anyway.
The trick is to know how to give yourself the confidence to make the big move
I have been making my living on stage for a long time, first as a musician and now as a speaker. I am pretty comfortable up on stage. But there was a time when my nerves ruled my life, a time when I was so scared to get up on stage that I would spend hours awake at night worrying about it.
Funny thing is, I didn’t start out that way. I didn’t have those nerves until I got into university. Before that, I was a loud-mouthed kid who loved telling jokes, and getting up on stage at a moment’s notice. I was always hungry for the spotlight.
If you’re scared to speak in public, I bet there was a time when you weren’t. Maybe you were a carefree kid and then something happened to make you self-conscious about speaking in public.
That’s what happened to me, and then I figured out how to overcome it.
I had just flown half way around the world, a grueling 33 hours from Toronto to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on the Island of Java. I was there on a concert tour / study intensive with the Evergreen Club Gamelan (the ECG).
The ECG is a group of Canadian musicians based out of Toronto. Gamelan is a beautiful collection of bronze pots and gongs, which are native to Indonesia. We were in the motherland.
After checking into our hotel, we made an attempt to socialize, yet our heavy eyelids put a stop to that and it was early bedtimes for all.
Around 4:30 am, I was woken up by the call to prayer as it rang out from a nearby Mosque. I went out on the balcony to listen. This was a first time experience for me. I listened curiously as a magical and mystical voice cut through the still morning air like a citywide alarm clock.
Within the next two days I would visit one of the worlds most famous Buddhist temples - Borobudur, and the largest Hindu temple in South East Asia - Prambanan.
I began to realize that this wonderful exotic place had many things to teach me and that I would never be the same after. I was totally up for it.
One day, I was taking a train. I got on at one of those little milk run stops between two cities. It was one of those little stops where you bought your ticket at the station before you boarded.
Once on the train, after a few minutes, I could hear a man coming up the aisle, calling out “Tickets please, tickets.”
He was an older gentleman with white hair and a pleasant demeanour. He, of course, looked very official in his deep blue and red suit and conductor’s cap.
By the look of him, you could imagine that he had done that walk up the train aisles hundreds, if not thousands, of times.
When he got to me, he asked me how I was. “Fine, thank you,” I said, a rather standard response that doesn’t really tell anyone how you are.
I said, “How are YOU doing today? He answered”, Oh, I have my moments.”
I’m not sure why this rather unusual response has stuck with me all these years. But I remember thinking at the time, “What a great response”.
It seemed to say that there were some occasional highlights in his day and that was good enough for him.
He seemed happy and content.
Have you ever done any of the following?
· Said to someone “Let’s do lunch” and never set it up?
· Promised to have something done by a certain time but didn’t meet the deadline?
· Said you’d take a look at something for a colleague but never got around to it?
I know I have and I know I am not alone.
Since the New Year is upon us I have been thinking about things I would like to be better at, and this intrigues me.
It intrigues me because not fulfilling promises like these chips away at trust.
Not fulfilling promises chips away at our personal brand.
I once made someone cry because of the feedback I gave them.
I didn't mean to, of course. But it happened.
I spent many years pursuing my dream of becoming a professional percussionist, wanting to play in an orchestra or any ensemble, for that matter, that would pay me to hit a drum. And while there was a bit of a transition period between being the student and becoming a pro, one day I was there. I, dressed in my second-hand tuxedo, was being hired and making a living (albeit meagre) as a freelance player in the big smoke.
Shortly after that, I found myself no longer the student but the teacher when I applied for and got hired by the Royal Conservatory of Music as a percussion instructor.
And while my playing resume was not too shabby by then, my teaching experience was limited and no one had ever talked to me about how to give good feedback to my students.
All I had was what I had experienced myself, the way I had been taught, the good and the bad.
I left the Conservatory a few years ago after having given feedback in over 15,000 private lessons and in some 2000 rehearsals.
While I did make someone cry once (ok maybe twice), I did figure out a few things about getting people to really want the feedback you have to offer.