Thank God It’s Christmas

Oh my love, we’ve had our share of tears
Oh my friend, we’ve had our hopes and fears
Oh my friends, it’s been a long hard year
But now it’s Christmas
Yes it’s Christmas
Thank God it’s Christmas

Happy holidays from me and Queen (who, for some reason, were photoshopped with silly Christmas hats for one still in this video). Be good to someone today and every day.

A Responsible Adult: John Pickett

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If you’re a bicyclist in the DC area, I hope you’ve had the good fortune to meet John Pickett. You might have seen him at the 50 States Ride, Friday Coffee Club, or his daily commute on the Mount Vernon Trail. Although he’s an proud introvert, he also knows pretty much everybody and is always making new friends over apple fritters. With retirement in sight, John has a lot of perspective on careers and life that I was grateful to hear right now.

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A Responsible Adult: Miguel Vierya

imageMiguel Vierya had the good fortune/misfortune to live on the same block of P Street as a number of my friends, and when they moved out of Shaw, we osmosed him into our group of friends. Among his many good qualities, Miguel is kind, conscientious, and infinitely patient, essential traits in a person who puts up with us and especially in a social worker employed by the federal government. He’s also an expert planner of terrible bar crawls that end with tearing doors off hinges and/or comparing wingspans after last call, so he throws a great party. In honor of his recent move from U Street to Baltimore, I asked him about being a responsible adult.

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An Auspiciously Timed Broadway Musical

Right around the time last year that I found out my prospects at work were in the toilet, Hamilton exploded into the public consciousness. My brother had mentioned “the hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton” earlier that summer, and I believe my reaction was, “That’s not a real thing,” followed by, “Is it good?” We didn’t know.

A few weeks later, NPR streamed the cast recording. I remembered my earlier conversation with Michael when, a few days after it debuted, I finally clicked on the link, launching my own and many other obsessive fandoms. Seconds into the opening number, I told Michael, “I’m not sure what story they’re going to tell considering they’re running through his life story in the first song.” It seemed like an impossible task. In three minutes, we hear this sweeping overview of the major events that shaped Hamilton. We meet the characters telling his story. We find out how the story ends. To power us through the intervening years, we find out that Hamilton is driven by his relentless forward view through a life filled with tragedy and triumph. His tenacity resonated with a lot of people, myself included, who might be inclined to wallow in self-pity. And damn are these songs fun to sing.

Plenty of fictional characters have been subjected to this kind of abuse. Next door to Hamilton, every night, Jean Valjean spends his life atoning for a petty theft committed as a young man. But because it’s based in reality, Hamilton is almost a multidimensional experience. You can visit his and Eliza’s graves on Wall Street, Aaron Burr’s in Princeton, George Washington’s at Mount Vernon. You can see these characters’ fingerprints in the cities of the northeast, and you can see the humble places they lived and worked there too. The show connected me to the places I often visit in a way I’d never felt before. It helped me think about the people I surround myself with and the effect they have on my future. It pushed me to reconsider my fixation on my flaws, to instead see them as simply part of this larger, more complicated being. I don’t think the show pulls any punches in portraying Alexander Hamilton as kind of an asshole. He’s redeemed because the things that make him annoying also made him an exemplary worker. And also by his complex inner monologues, which contrast sharply with his dialogues of flattery, frustration, and ego.

If we’re being honest, dude had about 15 good years in his life. His family was poor, maligned, sick, and dying for his first two decades. His neighbors sent him to New York to be educated, but he dropped out of college to fight in a war that was going very badly. He had a remarkable run from Yorktown in 1781 until he published The Reynolds Pamphlet in 1797 and brought about his own political undoing. His rival was elected president in 1800, his son killed in a duel in 1801, and the same fate befell our hero just three years later. To know this makes it more remarkable that we still hear joy, hope, and aspiration through every number in this show.

So imagine being on the verge of 30, finding out that your job security is gone and your hard work was deemed institutionally insignificant, and hearing George Washington voice Hamilton’s early realization–“Alex, you gotta fend for yourself”–every time you start this album.

And then play “My Shot” a few times for good measure and think about your own modest, scrappy upbringing as you try to break into more significant social and political circles.

Listen to Eliza Schuyler sing, “Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” Think how that’s basically true of everyone at all times. Listen as character after character after character presses on in the face of defeats and loss. Hear the final thoughts of a dying man, reflecting on his legacy and accepting what Washington has told him all along: “You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

For the past year, I’ve needed this show. I needed the unrelenting optimism and gratitude of its characters, cast, and creators to avoid falling into complete bitterness and depression. And while I have slightly fewer conversations about it now than a year ago, I am pretty much always willing to geek out about the historical, lyrical, musical and emotional complexity of this show.

Image via Hamiltonbroadway.com

Confident People Talkin’ About Confidence, Part Three

I asked confident people, and especially people who have recently advised me to be more confident, to tell me what the heck confidence is and how to develop it. Check out Part One and Part Two!

ceri-gerrish-fogarty-dma_-soprano-head-shot-may-2016-2-e1469071411632-350x410In this edition, we hear from Ceri Gerrish, my most recent voice teacher at Cardon Studios. (I just started finance-induced hiatus from voice lessons but hope to return soon and wholeheartedly endorse Cardon and all of the instructors I’ve encountered so far.)

Ceri has a Doctorate in Vocal Performance and can talk at length about the anatomical, physical, aural, and emotional components of a song or phrase. She has challenged me to do things that make me profoundly self-conscious in the name of making me a a better, more confident and successful singer. I asked her about developing confidence as a performer and teaching the intangible notion of it in her lessons. Please enjoy!

How do you show your own confidence (in general, in teaching, or in performing)?

For me, it was my education that gave me my confidence within my craft. Once I read a tremendous amount of research in my field and understood my art on this deeper, academic level, I began to have my own strong –but vetted– opinions. Putting these opinions into practice was then just a matter or finding students to work with. Seeing how well my hard-learned practical knowledge worked in real-time with real students gave me a huge confidence boost.

I remain confident in my work by always allowing myself to make mistakes and reminding myself that I do not know everything. I do not fear failure or the unknown which allows me the opportunity to learn through my failures and continue to evolve in the areas I’m less confident about. Also, failing gives me perspective for when my students come across the same or similar pitfalls that I’ve found myself in. My experiences help me anticipate various issues so I can help my students avoid them.

Perhaps more importantly, my negative experiences make me a better coach when things aren’t going well for my students. Above all, seeing my students thrive and/or overcome obstacles shows how confident I am in my teaching.

How do you help your students develop their confidence, and how do you know when you’re succeeding?

First an foremost, mistakes are the golden ticket to success. If you don’t fail, then you haven’t lived. Everyone fails… everyone. The important part of failure is how you manage the aftermath. It is in this crisis management mode that students test their limits and learn who they are –which directly impacts their confidence.

It is my job to create a safe and positive learning environment so that students will take the risks that will boost them up to their next ability level. I strive to be a beacon of kindness and support, while also setting standards for them to grow. When a student fails it is my job to congratulate them on trying. I don’t let them dwell on their failure, instead I challenge them to persevere without fear. I know when I’ve succeeded if a student takes challenges in stride and lets go of their inhibitions to take risks and to fearlessly move forward in their training.

Confident People Talkin’ About Confidence, Part Two

To better understand confidence, I asked confident people what the heck confidence is and how to get it! Check out Part One here.

imageIn Part Two, we hear from a local career coach, the aptly named Alyssa Best. I worked with Alyssa for about four months this year on goal-setting, the anguish of the application process, and the strain of the job transition. Although I spent solidly 50% of our time together crying, if you hire her, you can choose to use your time together in whatever ways you find most helpful. Crying included. 

In one of our most striking sessions, Alyssa printed out the update I had sent her to frame our conversation that afternoon. Then she highlighted every time I put myself down in about two pages of text. There were a lot of them. Way too many. I’d been feeling lousy that week but that kind of negative self-talk was so deeply ingrained that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. She reassured me that many of her clients struggle in this way, so I asked her to describe how she works with them on this common career impediment. Please enjoy! 

Among your clients who struggle with confidence, what do they have in common? How do they differ?

A common theme among the clients I serve is that they’re tackling big and important goals in their lives. Continue reading

Not-So-Confident People Talkin’ About Confidence

Welcome to my series of posts about confidence! You’ve already heard from Caitlin Berczik and I have at least three more fine folks lined up to tell me what in God’s name confidence even is, which I hope is as enjoyable to other people as it was to me.

I tried for weeks to write something about my own confidence, or lack thereof, to share here and contextualize those pieces. My journal is full of thoughts on The Artist’s Way, failure, competence, and the lingering Catholic belief that all people, but especially this person right here, are inherently flawed or sinful, so I must forever compensate for those flaws. Nothing has really come together nicely.

I’ve listed times that I felt confident, when I’ve thrown myself into an activity with love
and enthusiasm because I didn’t know better than to feel so capable. Early school years, high school marching band, running, triathlons. Writing. These were escapes for me, ways of churning through times of otherwise extreme discomfort. By having these outlets, I could get away from the stresses of being a barely-tolerated know-it-all child, struggling with dramatic middle-school friendships, getting absolutely no romantic attention from boys, entering an entirely new world in college, hating college, and moving into a white-collar working world. I wasn’t innately talented at all of the things I used as escapes, but I did them anyway and felt proud of it.

On the other hand, I say I felt confident in these things but maybe I was more cocky. For many years, I stopped working on the things I considered strengths or passions. If you’re good at something, I thought, you’re just good at it. You either do it, and the writing or music or whatever flows out of you in perfect form, or you aren’t actually any good. I didn’t understand developing skills or nurturing talent or putting in the work. Instead, I tried to shore up my weaknesses, taking jobs I was only okay at, pushing myself to be less shy, fixating on my perceived flaws. While this was a good strategy for overcoming my crippling shyness (thanks, Toastmasters!), it was also a

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This looks confident, right? 2007

good way of fostering terrible self-esteem.

Until recently, I could not articulate any of my strengths, but I could rattle off a litany of weaknesses. I hate working in teams. I don’t speak up. I’m bad at saying n0. I’m cranky and irritable and judgmental. I spent my adult life deep in this mindset, dwelling on it, mistaking my own meanness for honesty and authenticity. But every so often I felt that I was doing a good job. I could occasionally recognize moments of competence. At least competence felt real.

Confidence, in my mind, was a man in a suit bullshitting his way to the top on the labor of competent people below him (cough cough cough cough cough election joke, cough cough cough cough cough). Confidence was not knowing you were a complete asshole who was terrible. Competence was just fucking crushing it day after day, and maybe you toil in obscurity forever, but at least nobody could accuse you of arrogance. If you’re competent, you’re not terrible. If you’re confident, how would you know?!

I know I’m not the only person who struggles with this dichotomy. There’s a wealth of research on imposter syndrome, socialized self-diminishing behaviors, and others doubting women’s expertise in a way they don’t doubt men. Recently, I decided that if so much outside is working against me, it probably doesn’t need my help. Nothing and nobody is guaranteed to stand up for me except for me. So I’m practicing more positive self-talk, forgiving myself for mistakes, and trying to let go of the things I can’t force to align with my principles. Most importantly, I started asking other people what confidence is. I’m trying to relearn the concept with more positive associations and figure out how to demonstrate confidence so that other people acknowledge it. So. We’ll see how it goes.