I do it. Lots of people do it. When you are scrolling through your gallery of photos, you decide to post the most flattering photo or the one that lets you show off a little on Facebook or Instagram.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but what if we did the reverse? What does that mean? What if we posted the most unflattering photo? Or what if we were not so selective about what we chose to share?
What would that look like?
Perhaps its not so much about the image itself and more about our perceptions of the ways it would be received. Perhaps it is our reluctance against being so vulnerable on such a public forum.
There are many valid reasons for only showing the good and beautiful stuff on social media. Maybe you have a brand for an online business that you are cultivating. On some level, maybe it is a way to maintain a sense of privacy and personal safety–where the edge of what is presentable becomes the border at which you need to feel more protected and contained.
That is okay.
What I am suggesting is a willingness to be more real. Amid all of the fun vacation photos taken in exotic locales, the food and party pics, adorable baby pictures, and the scenic vistas of our hometowns, what if we could think about how we can be more honest and authentic about presenting who we are?
In the greatest likelihood, this would not be easy for the bulk of us who are not independently wealthy or do not look like a statuesque supermodel or live in a spacious, camera-ready mansion. Why should we only do things because they are easy? Sometimes, exploring our own discomfort can expand the possibilities of what we can do in our lives.
The benefit of authenticity is the personal strength you gain in your willingness to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability is power, even though it may not feel that way. That’s exactly what it is. When you are willing to be honest about your life, you are demanding that the world accept you for who you are and not for who they want you to be. There is immense power in this.
Yesterday, my post on social media was a step toward being more authentic to everyone who sees my feed. This is what it said:
“I’ve always been short and almost always in the minority in a group or a crowd. I’ve had problems with acne and the scars to prove it. I have an underbite and a slightly lazy eye (if you look closely). My left leg is slightly longer than my right. I have compared the color of my eyes and skin to the color of poop. (Not my shining moment.) I have many excuses for thinking that I’m not wholesome, beautiful, or good enough for anything, but I’m getting to a place in which I don’t believe any of it. I’m just going to focus on being actively kind to myself and to as many people as possible. I’m going to focus on doing creative work that is meaningful to me. I’m going to let the inside out because therein lies the true value of what I have to give. As for what’s on the outside? Well, I understand that I have no control over the way people judge me based on how I look. I will let go of that as much as my insecurities will let me, and I’ll be just fine.”
After I published this, nothing terrible happened. In fact, I received some lovely and affirming responses. My world did not implode. My arm did not acquire leprosy and fall off. I feel fine.
Maybe that’s the point. Quite possibly, the greatest challenge involved in being more authentic and vulnerable is the fear we harbor inside ourselves.
So, just think about it. You can still post all that is beautiful and sweet and blissful about your life, but don’t be afraid to share the less wholesome or less acceptable parts too–at least once in a while. There may be tremendous value in what you learn by doing so.
I move forward now with being more authentic on social media in the ways that I am authentic when people see me as I am in real life and in real time.
Ultimately, the truth of who I am is the most beautiful part of it all.
Sometimes, I find myself asking the darnedest questions, such as . . .
Why in the world did I go back to college?
Why in tarnation did I decide to major in video and film production when I already have a strong set of writing and musical skills to build upon?
Why in the world did I leave a cute apartment in a great location in Nashville to live in a cold hollow in the middle of the Tennessee woods?
Well generally, there are no simple answers to these queries, but they all point to one word.
I have always been an incredibly curious person. This is the reason and circumstance behind why and how I became an active musician and pianist. Originally, I did not know that I could develop my skills to the extent that I have. One night, I was sitting in my apartment writing a poem, as one does, and the thought occurred to me that this particular poem would sound great as a song. So, I dusted off my old keyboard synthesizer, and with the poem written on a sheet of paper in front of me, I started fiddling around with a melody.
About an hour later, I had the basic musical framework of a song. Each step along this process was lead by the words “What if . . .”
What if I tried this chord?
What if I added a line to the end of each verse?
What if I sustained this note or that vocal phrase?
Each “What if” led to another one. This flowing stream of curiosity led me to discover skills that I never used in tandem. I integrated my singing experience (of having sung harmonies in numerous church choirs growing up), my writing ability (that involved a love of writing poems, short stories, and essays), and my musical ability of being able to remember anything that I play and to play by ear. Fast forward to many years later, and I have enjoyed the life of an active musician. There is a certain satisfaction in trying out a new skill only to find out that you can actually be good at it, but you never know until you try.
What if there is something more I want to learn?
What if I find opportunities I never knew existed?
What if I found true love?
In my life, pursuing my curiosity has meant having the willingness to take a chance at an opportunity even if you are uncertain about the outcome. It has also meant having the willingness to be vulnerable.
I will not stop being curious any time soon. Here are some of the more recent darnedest questions I’ve asked myself lately . . .
What if I directed a documentary about a topic I feel strongly about?
What if I stopped being so meek and started to speak out much more?
What if I dared to pursue some of my biggest dreams and ideas?
Cultivating your curiosity allows you to cultivate a sense of possibility.
Every accomplishment in life had to start somewhere, right?
This month, I wanted to write about how I work, both from an ideological perspective and a practical one. Work, in my mind, can be loosely defined as carrying out a series of tasks in order to accomplish a desired goal. Under this definition, many circumstances apply–from cooking a meal for your family to selling a car or building a cell phone app. Work is work. It can be thrilling and inspiring or tedious and soul-crushing. Either way, most of us have to work for different reasons.
In my life at the moment, I am primarily a college student, among various other roles. As such, I have figured out a lot about what works for me in terms of maximizing my learning and getting assignments done well.
Every week, I like to read a section of posts from lifehacker.com called How I Work. It includes interviews from a working professional that asks questions about how they get their work done. They’ve had corporate CEO’s, writers, filmmakers, chefs, and people engaged in all walks of life answer a specific set of questions. I thoroughly enjoy reading these interviews, and this week, I am going to answer the same questions myself. So, here goes . . .
Location: Liberty, TN Current Gig: College Student at Middle Tennessee State University Current mobile device:LG Stylo 3 Plus Current computer: 13″ Macbook Pro One word that best describes how you work: Obsessively
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I am a musician and singer/songwriter, and I spent the last few years as a performer in Nashville, TN. I was also employed in the non-profit sector when I lived in Charlotte, NC, directing programs for an LGBT youth support and advocacy organization called Time Out Youth. In Nashville, I worked for the Metro Public Health Department developing a program called Welcome Baby in which families with high-risk newborn infants were given information and assistance to help their babies thrive.
In 2016, I was needing a change. I relocated to a rural town southeast of Nashville, TN to live with my partner, and I went back to college to finish my degree. I am majoring in Video and Film Production at Middle Tennessee State University and will be graduating some time in 2019.
Take us through a recent workday.
My school days are by far my busiest. I usually get up by 6:00 AM. I do a morning meditation at my electric piano/keyboard. This is usually just a few minutes of fingering dexterity exercises and a small bit of noodling around. Playing the piano relaxes and grounds me. When I focus on the physical act of playing, I achieve a sense of calm and comfort that few other activities in my life provide.
Then, I shower, eat breakfast, and gather all of my materials (books, paperwork, laptop, DSLR camera, etc.) that I need for the day. I obsessively make sure that I have everything. Forgetting even one important element makes me mad. Sigh.
Between 7:45am and 8am, I am in my car and heading out of my really long driveway. My commute to school is 35 minutes. I rarely hit any traffic and the route I take is quite scenic. I get to campus at by 8:30am, and this arrival time assures me a good spot at the parking deck. Any later than this gets me a parking spot a quarter of a mile away on a gravel lot on the outskirts of campus.
I have an hour before class to review notes for a quiz or test, work on an assignment, or message classmates about group projects. My first class starts at 9:40am. From there, I have a midday break in which I drink more coffee, eat lunch, take a long walk, and do school work. I have another break in the late afternoon for more school work and a possible nap. My last class is done by 9:00pm at the latest. I drive the 35 minutes back home after that. I cuddle with my cat, and I finally go back to bed.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
This year, I decided to cut myself off from the google/gmail universe. Giving one entity that much access and power over my life felt too unsettling. I do not need a corporate big brother’s grubby hands all over my stuff. I use a secure service called Proton Mail for all of my personal email needs as well as for creative projects. My LG Stylus 3 is not the fanciest cell phone in the world, but I use it for the basic functionality it offers. I can text and call family and friends via wifi, post on instagram, and stay in contact with my class work groups. I do not need more from a cell phone than this.
I am relatively new to the Apple universe. I switched to a Macbook Pro from a regular PC because my coursework demanded it. I was not a fan of the price tag, but honestly, my Macbook is incredibly robust. The built-in functionality and interface are smooth, simple, and oh so elegantly designed. I may be a Mac user for life.
The camera I use for filming and photography is a Nikon D5600 DSLR. It is super easy to use and offers the capabilities I need for my courses. I will upgrade to something more grandiose someday, but this machine checks all the boxes for now.
What’s your workspace set-up like?
At home, I connected two desks to make a large L-shaped desk that allows me to spread out my work. I have a large flat screen tv that I connect to my Macbook through an HDMI cable. This makes video editing work so much better. I have a power strip on my desk to make charging my laptop, cell phone, and camera batteries more convenient. I also light up my space with multiple lamps so that I get sufficient light for reading. I must have good light.
What’s your best shortcut or life hack?
I give myself earlier deadlines. For school assignments, for example, I have a rule that I get them completely done and turned in by the day before it is due, if not sooner. My life is so much less stressful when I am not facing a dire last-minute scenario. This also gives me time to face any technology snaffoos that can occur. Extra time for downloads, uploads, and back-ups is a good idea for any and all gadgets and online portals. Early deadlines are essential to all of my work.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
Working in groups with other college students can be quite challenging. No two students are alike, and we are all super busy. Some folks handle their time and workload better than others. What I do is to always make sure that everyone has an easy way to stay in contact, and that everyone is aware of upcoming deadlines. Strong lines of communication are vital.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
As a student, I absolutely rely on myself, but otherwise, my partner MaxZine is incredibly helpful. Despite my school life, our pets, garden, and household still need much tender loving care. He cooks delicious meals for me every day and is a champion on the home front.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I use a paper calendar for school-related deadlines. After trying out every to-do-list app ever invented, I decided to go with Trello for my school work. It lets me make separate lists for each class, and the interface is easy and intuitive. I can access it on my laptop and phone. I’ll be using this for multiple projects from now on.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Playing piano never feels like work to me. That recharges me more than anything. I love taking naps, but otherwise, I read lots of books that are not school-related. I love to take walks and cuddle with my cat.
What’s your favorite side project?
I actually have lots of side projects, but the one that gives me the giggles is Where Pianos Roam. I’m on a break from it right now, but it is basically a photography project in which I follow the exploits of a traveling miniature grand piano and her rowdy bench. I migrated the project from a blog format to Instagram. It’s a lot of fun.
What are your own reading habits like? What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
Ever since I became a student again, I am much more of a voracious reader. It is the distraction from school work that I fight against the most. I like to read to give myself a break from studying. I generally love to read in bed (especially on rainy days). Falling asleep to a book and waking up to one are the best bookends. I mostly read through the kindle app on my mac, cell phone, or Kindle e-reader; however, I still read actual books too whenever possible.
There are so many wonderful books out there. This morning, I just finished reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. It chronicles the daily work habits of some of the most important creative people in history such as Einstein, Matisse, Beethoven, and many more. The book is broken up into small chapters that discuss each person. The information is well researched and well written. I’m bummed that I finished it. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is deeply engrossed in creative work and interested in personalizing their own work habits.
I am also reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck for my book club.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Follow your intuition. This is advice I’ve been given from multiple people, and it took several times of not following my inner voice to learn the value of this practice. There are intangible and inexplicable aspects of life that connect more with impressions, feelings, and varying sensibilities. These require paying attention beyond the constraints of language and traditional logic. When you practice following your intuition and go with your gut, you get better at it. It means that you are intentionally heading in the direction that you deeply desire the most and is fully aligned with your values and goals. This degree of honestly with oneself is vital to our personal well being and success.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
I am becoming progressively obsessed with plastic. It is a massive problem created by humans that threatens our natural environment. It bothers me, and there are no easy solutions. At least, not yet.
There is one word that sums up the vast majority of my time as a pianist.
Yes, lots and lots and lots of practice.
There is more practice than the time spent actually composing music, writing lyrics, being creative, and performing. It is time spent getting a fingering sequence to sound effortless on the piano, hours learning a new piece by playing it over and over again until it sounds and feels right, and fingering exercises to maintain and enhance the flow and dexterity of movement on the piano.
This is the part of being a musician that most people would find dull and uninteresting. The constant repetition of music and singing during practice would drive most people insane. It’s also not particularly glamorous. I actually like to practice in my pajamas and under the most mundane and comfortable conditions possible. If I am practicing a new finished piece that I am excited about, I will sit there for HOURS meticulously working on several details until I am playing it just right.
It is ironic that I put so much time into practicing now when it was the repetition of nursery songs when I was young that pushed me away from learning how to play. The difference was that, in time, I grew more patient, and I eventually recognized the deep value of practice.
Sure, practice makes perfect, as the cliché goes, but it’s actually about more than just getting better at playing. Over the years, I have found that those rare moments of inspiration-those lightning bolts of a new song that light a fire under you-they would not happen without the tedium and persistence of practice. The repetition and memorization buys you the physical space and time to seek out musical textures and understand them. You build this understanding into a personal catalogue in your musical brain.
It’s also like going to the gym for your fingers. You build muscles and muscle memory every time you repeat something. Your hands get stronger. Your body grows to know the rhythms, ebbs, flows, highs, and lows. Your ear grows more refined and selective.
Practice is the act of growing what you know, of cultivating an instinctual and multi-sensory language that only you can understand.
I practice every day, and I have done so for many years. If I do not manage to play on a piano for some reason, I try to play another instrument. My ukulele and cello enrich me as much as my first love.
For those of you who might be wondering, my piano practice is built on a foundation of fingering exercises from the book, Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises for the Piano. I have a vintage, old, and worn-out copy that I have used forever and a new one that I lend out to aspiring new pianists or for travel. I have done these exercises so much that they feel more like meditation to me. I focus on the flow of movement of my fingers and the rest of the world fades out into the background.
I love to practice on the piano just as much as I love performing on it. Along with writing, it has served as the deeper infrastructure for all of my creative work.
I do it as constantly, vigilantly, and lovingly as possible.
I am well aware that all of this sounds new-agey, mystical, preachy, and weird, but this is a phenomenon that has consistently played itself out in my life over and over again. In fact, the MORE THAT I GIVE, the better off I become.
In the world of science, in which all phenomena must be questioned, proven, and exacting, this aligns with Isaac Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion which states the following:
When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.
In other words, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It’s simple physics, and I find that it literally applies to every action, intention, and movement in the universe.
Without a doubt in my mind, it applies to generosity. Over the last year, I’ve made the monthly intention to give my money, gifts of physical objects, or my time to something that does not directly benefit me in any way whatsoever. I carried out any of the three options of Part 1 of the generosity loop. Within the same year, I was approved for EVERY scholarship that I applied for toward school, and I even received other school funding that I wasn’t even anticipating. You can call this coincidence, but I see it as the intention that you put out into the world being reciprocated.
Energetically, I strongly believe that you get back what you give. People who horde their money and belongings and share nothing will stay closed off from the world. If you do not let anything out, nothing is able to come back in.
To be clear, one must engage in a generosity loop wholeheartedly and gladly accept the likelihood that you will get nothing in return. The objective is to give for the sake of giving and to help others. Do so without any expectations whatsoever.
There is one major bonus that comes with living your life inside of a generosity loop. In my case, it simply feels good to give and help others. It is deeply gratifying to know that I made someone smile or made someone’s life a little less heavy. With all of the suffering and misery that exists in the world, generosity is a gift that gives to everyone involved. It is a classic win-win scenario.
Please seriously think about doing this yourself. See if you can live inside of a generosity loop. What may or may not happen might surprise you . . .
The mind will wander where it will. It will take you back to times that may have been happier. Traumas of the past may haunt you. Sadness born many moons ago may still dwell among newer ones.
The most frustrating thing about the past is that it cannot be changed. There is no time-travel machine that exists. We cannot undo past transgressions and mistakes, but what often happens is that we beat ourselves up about them long after they have happened. They become awkward bedfellows–spooning you comfortably with their familiar presence, but holding you a little too tightly.
There is a basic truth that I have come to know. If you keep your mind stuck in the past, then you will always live there, and any way that you look at it, living in those places for very long can undermine your efforts to be well and better in the present moment.
In my case, I grew up on a lush and breathtaking tropical island in the South Pacific Ocean called American Samoa. Do I miss the sandy beaches that border the glistening and warm turquoise water? Do I miss the thunderous sound of the ocean as waves dive willingly into the land? Do I miss the smell of ocean salt that is exhaled by the ocean’s breathing? Do I miss the tropical shades of green that adorn every corner of the island–in every swaying coconut tree and along every different color of hibiscus flowers?
Yes. I MISS IT ALL.
There is a part of me that wishes I could go back. It was the magical home of my childhood, and it feels like it was all a dream–a gorgeous deception my mind devised just to fool me.
However, in the present moment, I live deep in the hills of middle Tennessee. It is an entirely different landscape for the most part, and at first, it paled in comparison to what enchanted me as a child. Because I kept reverting to my past, I created an impossible standard that prevented me from appreciating what I have in the present moment.
Where I live now, my house resides deep in a hollow. Green hills rise steeply on all sides. Breezes ripple through the leaves of trees–moving in undulating waves across the treetops. There are trees everywhere. Birds of many varieties swoop and sing outside my window. In the absence of an ocean, a gentle fog blankets these hills in the early mornings, saturating the landscape with its richness.
This is my home in this moment, and it is so beautiful here.
Once in a while, my mind wanders back to my island of the past, but in this moment, I am embraced completely by the landscape of the present.
My past taught me to appreciate my surroundings. This is a lesson I put into practice to this day.
Is there a part of your past that keeps you from enjoying what you have in this moment?
This is a good question that is always worth asking.
Over the last few months, I’ve been honing in on getting down a regular daily routine. I am close to getting one down, but there is still much to tweak. Beyond that, I am working out a simple weekly routine as well.
What’s the point? Well, if we only have a finite number of days to live our lives, then we only have a finite amount of time to get all the dreams and tasks done that are meaningful to us. A routine helps us accomplish goals at a steady and consistent rate. It goes along with doing a little something every day toward a project or personal goal.
Let’s use my goals as an example. Here are three goals of mine:
1. Progressively improve my piano skills.
2. Write more and write better.
3. Keep my body weight at a healthy and stable number.
So, how do I incorporate these goals into a daily routine?
I do something about them every morning after I wake up.
1. In the morning, I play on my electric keyboard (at a quiet level so that I do not wake anyone up) for at least 15 minutes in the morning. I always start off with finger dexterity exercises and then I explore a little with chords or progressions I am not as familiar with.
2. I write a paragraph in a daily journal every morning, and I am now starting to write my blog posts in the morning as well. Practice makes perfect, and being able to compose my thoughts in smooth, engaging, and coherent ways is what this helps me do.
3. After I wake up and before I eat anything, I step on my scale to check my weight. This acts as a reminder to keep doing what I do to stay healthy.
In addition to these three practices, I also spend some time with my cat as well as give him his morning feeding. Whether it is water or coffee, I also make sure that I start to take in fluids to nourish my body at the start of every day. The next addition to the morning routine will be adding some sort of simple physical exercises that involve some weight training and stretching.
Here are some other suggestions for morning rituals that relate to personal wellness:
Sitting outside on a balcony, deck, or backyard to have a quiet moment surrounded by nature.
A morning shower to feel cleansed and refreshed.
Two or more minutes of mindful breathing and meditation.
Saying or writing down something for which you are thankful.
Making your bed to create a sense of calm and order in your bedroom.
There isn’t much to it all as long as you keep your rituals simple and easy to accomplish. It may also help to wake up earlier to give yourself more time to do them.
When I start my day with my morning rituals, I move forward with a sense of accomplishment. I create a foundation for my day that involves practices that make me feel good and stronger. It gives me a sense of groundedness knowing that I have addressed my own wellness and inner desires first and foremost. If the rest of my day becomes miserable, I will at least have accomplished my daily rituals, and as such, I do not feel so bad.
Think about creating morning routines/rituals for yourself. How would you like to start your day? Start every day well and make it your own.