Sunday, July 16, 2017

Developing and Sharing Your Talents

As a child, I started playing the violin at eight years old with my elementary school's orchestra. After a few months, I asked my mom if I could have private lessons in order to become a better violin player. My violin teacher growing up was Mrs. Helen Mendel, and during one of my violin lessons with her, she had me listen to a recording of a performance by Itzhak Perlman. I remember listening to his violin playing and being so moved by the sound he projected that I told my violin teacher that I wanted to play just like him one day. She responded to my ambitious goal by reminding me that in order to play like him that I needed to practice as much as he had in his lifetime.

Some background on how Perlman became one of the greatest violinists in the world - he started playing the violin at three years old, and just a few months later he contracted polio and lost the use of his legs. He now walks with crutches and performs while seated. Even though he has played in concert halls around the world, appeared on Sesame Street, done a solo performance for the movie Schindler's List, won 4 Emmy Awards, 15 Grammy Awards, and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, all of these accomplishments pale in comparison to his true passion which is to teach the violin to others.

He and his wife, Toby, founded the Perlman Music Program in 1993. Seven years later, they purchased an old 28-acre resort and made it into a campus on the shore of Shelter Island, New York. When the wind is right, the sound of music carries across the channel to Long Island's North Fork. Between tours, Perlman teaches at the Julliard School in New York. Perlman also has done several benefit concerts to end polio, a cause that is very close to his heart.

How did Perlman develop his violin talent? It might surprise many of you to learn that as a child, Perlman hated to practice the violin, but one day he asked himself "Why am I practicing the violin and what are my goals in practicing the violin?" This made him do a self-examination of his motives for practicing the violin. He soon realized that in order to become a better violin player, that he needed to change his attitude on WHY he was practicing the violin and HOW he was practicing the violin. He started to focus on practicing the violin with a purpose like creating a better sound or working on his intonation. The more he practiced the violin, the more he realized he had to be organized with specific goals each day of what he wanted to accomplish

His advice to his students is this, "If you practice something wrong-without knowing it-then you have to undo it by practicing even more." He tells his students that if they practice slowly and with true concentration, that they will be more productive in their practice time. This reminds me of the scripture Matthew 25:14-30 about the three servants who received five, three and one talents. I find it interesting that the servant who received five talents created five more new talents.

I admire those individuals in life who not only are willing to develop new talents, but are also willing to share their talents with others. In the Liahona Magazine October 1993, President Elaine Jack reminisces about her grandmother’s talents. "She made all the children’s clothes, knit their socks and mittens, milked cows, churned butter and sold it, raised chickens, ducks, and turkeys, was a counselor in the Relief Society, and gathered wheat.As hard as all that work she did sounds, is any less required of me? I don’t have to do the same physical things Grandma Low did, but I have to be just as industrious, just as compassionate, just as frugal, just as prepared for the winter as she was. This is my heritage.”

What experiences have you had in developing and sharing your talents with others?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Saying "No" in Order to Say "Yes"

Last month, Angel Zimmerman (Managing Partner, Zimmerman and Zimmerman, PA) gave an excellent webinar on time management. If you missed it, you can catch the webinar here. One of the things I love about webinars - you can listen to the recording later if you over-schedule yourself and run out of time.

If you're anything like me, time is often a struggle. I personally always think I have more time than I actually do. "Oh, I can squeeze in just one more email before it's time to leave." And then I'm late. At one of my prior companies, my colleagues joked about Michelle Standard Time, which is precisely 2 minutes late to everything. Not the best way to gain a reputation. 

So how do we fight the urge to do just one more quick thing? One of the points Angel made in her webinar was the importance of saying "No." And the reason for saying no is that you want to say "Yes" to the next opportunity. Sometimes saying no can be difficult - perhaps you're a chronic over-achiever, or a deeply-rooted people pleaser; however, saying no to things that are less important actually gives you the freedom to say yes to the things you really want and need to do.

A couple years ago I read Greg McKeown's book "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" which addresses this very notion of the power of saying no. Greg asserts that by saying no to the wrong things, we have the time to pursue the right things. I actually read this book just prior to having my first baby, and it was the best book I read in preparation for motherhood. I felt freer to say no to unimportant tasks and focus on time with my brand new baby. And when I returned to work, I focused on the most important work items and let go of a multitude of unimportant tasks that would have taken more time away from my family.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson summed up these ideas about essentialism in his April 2015 General Conference talk:
Many things are good, many are important, but only a few are essential.
How has saying no helped you better focus on the essential things in your life?