Sunday, April 13, 2014

Put in my Place

I have never suffered from a deficiency in ego. Ever. As far back as I can remember, if I tried my hand at something, I was the best at it. In fact, this blog is the best blog anyone has ever written (at least, in my mind). I have been called pretentious before, and it’s probably not that far off the mark, but my response is simple: someone has to think we are good at what we do - why not think that about ourselves? Anyway, today’s post isn’t about how good I am. It is about how good someone else is. 

As a bassoonist in middle and high school, I always believed I was the best. People beat me in competitions from time to time, but I had a rule: they could only beat me once. If someone beat me, I would beat them every time afterwards. Only a few people managed to break this rule, and I always carried a grudging respect for their talents (one who didn’t break the rule is now the Principal bassoonist in the Houston Symphony, so I think we know which of us ultimately won the war, even if I did win a few battles).

I carried the same intensity into college and worked to place myself at the top of the bassoon hierarchy on campus. I felt comfortable being the best. Unfortunately, I lacked the vision to see the bigger picture. My short-sightedness refused to recognize talent beyond my own borders and it held me back. I lost some local orchestra auditions and didn’t understand how the audition committees failed to recognize my skills. At the end of my undergrad, I auditioned for grad school and wasn’t offered the fellowship I wanted - again, I blamed it on the lack of vision in other people. I refused to see the problem was me.

Fast forward to now. I am playing a Palm Sunday gig on contrabassoon this weekend with two other bassoonists. In the past, I have always compared myself to the others with whom I’m playing. Of course, I always feel my skills match or better those around me, whether true or not. Until this week. 

Amanda Swain - the first bassoonist - plays amazing. This is the first time I can remember not even trying to compare myself - because I can’t. Her total mastery of the instrument is remarkable. She sings through the horn, and though the contrabassoon part is 95% rests, I sit and listen happily in the best seat the house offers.

I haven’t felt put in my place in a long time and I am glad it happened. It needs to happen more.

So far, I have gleaned two lessons from my experience this week.  The first I wish I had learned at an earlier age (though it is never too late to learn a lesson like this). Surround yourself with people better than you and learn from them. They provide a fire to your passion, they offer vast learning experiences, and, as long as you keep the right frame of reference (not the one I had in college), they will lift you higher than you can lift yourself.

Trying to always feel like the best is exhausting. The second lesson: recognize your skills and be honest about them. Feel good about what you do well, but don’t let yourself become blind to areas needing improvement. Only play the comparison game as a means to better yourself. Don’t manufacture a fake throne on which to place your misguided behind.

I feel relieved at my discovery. I’m now allowed to put down the burden I unknowingly carried all these years and enjoy myself. I have freed myself to improve if I choose to do so. Finding the path has become so much clearer.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Knowing Yourself

Given a mirror, most of us could do a fantastic job describing ourselves to someone else. We could sit down at a sketch pad and ink out a fair approximation of our physical likeness. Our faces have floated across the sink day in and day out for years, and though our features wear more wrinkles than in our youth, we always know our face.

I am not so sure we could describe our personalities as well.

Years ago, Samantha introduced me to the DISC personality model. DISC uses four distinct personality aspects driven by different motivations, and helps leaders identify how to communicate with and motivate their people. 

  • D stands for Decisive. D personalities focus on quick problem solving with the highest payoff. Assertive and direct, they accept risks.
  • I stands for Interactive. I personalities focus on people to people skills. An I personality has never met a stranger commands a room with their outgoing presence. They are impulsive and open with anyone.
  • S stands for Stabilizing. This personality type places importance on environmental pacing. The S prefers a controlled, deliberate, and predictable work/social environment. Security and and disciplined behavior motivate them. They demonstrate loyalty and patience and dislike change.
  • C stands for Cautious. C personalities appreciate protocol, standards, and rules. They are perfectionists, neat, balanced, and analytical. They respond well to respected authority and adhered to the adage “rules are made to be followed.”

For the longest time, I thought our personalities had an all or none approach. Based on quick testing, I connected more with the S personality. I appreciate stability in my life, abhor extreme change (unless instituted with extended deliberation), and want success to provide a safe and steady environment for my family.

Recently, I took a more comprehensive personality test on Tony Robbin’s website (it's free, click here to try for yourself). I discovered we are all combinations of each one, sometimes balanced, often dominated by one or two with the others operating in the periphery. We reflect facets of each one and demonstrate different elements depending on our circumstance.

Discovering personality is a spectrum, rather than a pigeonhole, has become remarkably freeing. My results gave me the opportunity to see myself differently, appreciate elements of my personality I had ignored. It felt like discovering the mirror I used every morning to see my face had been warped all this time. Now, I am able to truly see, and appreciate, my full personality.

My test results confirmed my S personality - 99%. I had guessed I would also be a high D based on my drive to succeed, but I wasn’t - 14%. My drive comes from different motivations. My I personality score registered where I expected - 53%. The big surprise, and the most liberating result, came from the C quadrant - 99%.

For some reason, I had long viewed the C personality as bad, though I had no reason to. I viewed C as controlling and too interested in perfection. Rules seemed boring. After reading the results and the analysis, I can see where this aspect of my personality has struggled to assert itself - and where I have always squashed it. Knowing I am a C personality has given me permission to accept and create order in my life.

I trimmed my crepe myrtles yesterday and understood why I like it so much - I create order from chaos. I know why I hate looking in my pantry - it is a mess and I don’t have time to fix it. I frown on people who whistle and catcall at orchestra concerts. I respect symmetry and balance in art. I like doing my taxes.

I feel like I can now explore aspects of my personality I have previously eschewed simply because I didn’t know about them. Looking back, I see where they have struggled to emerge and I have ignored them.  Now, I can recognize my own personality and create an environment around myself aimed at success and happiness.

It is nice to know who I am.