Category Archives: do the work

When Hard Work Shows Up

I’ve often written on this blog about doing our work, doing our practice, taking small steps, one after the other. Our small, consistent efforts accumulate over time. Eventually we can see the difference.

In 2015 I began learning Beethoven’s sonata, opus 109. Since then I’ve learned and memorized both the first and second movements. I was hoping to skip the third movement (a theme with six variations) because I believed it was beyond my ability. The theme is simple, lovely, and slow, but variation VI has pages of trills in one hand while the other hand plays “thousands” of thirty-second notes. In my opinion, such music is best left to professional pianists. But Dr. B believes in learning an entire piece of music, so I had my assignment.

I delayed starting on it for several days. I felt defeated even before I began. Finally I began my feeble attempts to play the notes at a snail’s pace. After a few weeks of  work, I said to Dr. B, “I need help! I just don’t know how to play this.” He patiently explained techniques and practice methods, and explained the fine details of the tough spots.

During the few years I’ve been Dr. B’s student I’ve learned his practice techniques work. So I continued to work according to his suggestions.

After practicing variation #6 week after week, I finally began to see the possibility of actually playing it myself. Something  had clicked. Something had changed. A few hints of real music came from my piano, sounds that were more than a jumble of notes haltingly played. With a bit of progress, I felt encouraged to work even harder.

At my last lesson Dr. B and I worked for an hour and a half on Beethoven’s theme and variations. Page by page I played, he commented, then I played again, trying to incorporate his suggestions. After I played variation #6, the dreaded impossible variation, he said, “You’ve really improved! Good work!”

I was thrilled that my weeks of hard work had actually showed up at my lesson. My “home playing” and my “lesson playing” were the same. That doesn’t always happen — but that day it did.

He knows, and I know, I still have a long way to go. We both know I will continue to work hard and eventually I will get there. What was once impossible is now possible.

I write about music because it’s what I know best. What’s true of learning new music and the discipline is practice, works for anything else you want to accomplish.

Show up. Do your work. And keep doing your work. And then work some more.

Claim the results when they show up in your life.

Until next Tuesday . . .


Never Too Old To Learn

A few months back, I became the owner of an iPhone — not that I wanted one, but circumstances required it. I loved my old flip phone; phone calls were easy. I was not a happy iPhone owner. I struggled to accept calls; initiating calls was even more complicated. And there were no resident young ones to show me how to use this thing. Frustration was my constant companion.

I peppered other users with questions. Little by little, my phone skills and comfort level increased. But it was still more complicated than my flip phone — all I wanted and needed to do was make calls.

Eventually I tried the calendar function, though I kept my paper calendar just in case. Once I learned to view more than one day at a time, I was happy. I haven’t looked at my paper calendar in months — and didn’t replace it in January.

In preparation for my month-long December trip I read James Clear’s blog on ultralight travel and discovered a portable keyboard for my iPhone. As a writer he says he can do most of his work on his phone. “If he can, surely I can,” I thought. I checked for a similar keyboard both locally and on-line. My new nearly-full-size keyboard (with stand) arrived the day before my departure. With less than 10 minutes required for set-up, I was in business. Folded up, it’s the size of my phone.

Left my lap top at home.

That same week I remembered I had GPS on my phone so I spent an evening checking out its functionality.

Left my Garmin at home.

I checked out the book feature and downloaded a couple of books.

Left my Kindle at home.

At flight check-in I chose to receive my boarding passes on my phone. I showed my phone to the security guard. “This is the first time I’ve done this,” I said. “You’re doing great,” he replied, and showed me exactly how to position my phone on his reader.

No more paper boarding passes to keep up with.

Once on the trip my sister-in-law showed me how to take photos, how to zoom, and how to send. “You’ll be amazed at the picture quality,” she said.

Could have left my camera at home.

Over dinner with my daughter, son-in-law and cousin we got to talking about Siri. I knew about Siri but had never used her. We discovered I needed to change a couple of settings to enable her.

Siri is now part of my life.

Six new things I learned in very short order — all of which made my travel life incredibly easy. I was and continue to be amazed at everything I can now do on my phone. And yes, I am now a happy owner. I know I’ve only scratched the surface. I learn best on a need-to-know basis, so I know I will learn more phone things in the future.

I tell you all of this to say:

  • don’t be afraid of new electronics
  • ask for help
  • tackle one thing at a time; patience is a good thing
  • learn in your own time

If I can learn, you can too.

Until next Tuesday . . .




Bullets and Sticky Notes

I am a master of bulleted lists. My last boss and co-workers totally agreed. Charlie, my writing partner, also concurs. So do my children — and everyone else who has ever worked or lived with me.

Some would call me the Bullet Queen. That works for me. It’s how my brain works. It’s how I organize my life.

My lists work best on graph paper — it keeps the bullets aligned. I was totally excited when I discovered graph-paper sticky notes at Office Depot. I bought an entire stack. In addition, I have a sticky note dispenser on my desk, one on the kitchen counter, and another by the bathroom sink. These notes contain their own bulleted lists, lest I forget anything I need to do. On my desk, the repository for most of my lists, sticky notes pile upon sticky notes. A few migrate to my car’s dashboard.

Yes, I admit it, I’m an inveterate list-maker.

Recently I was re-introduced to the sticky note feature on my computer. I had known about it years ago, but it had somehow slipped into oblivion. Another moment of great excitement! I immediately filled my screen with varied note colors, and added a title to each one: Now, Christmas, Oregon trip, Writing, Garden, Movies. Then I took the pile of sticky notes on my desk and transferred the information to my screen.  Awesome. Totally awesome!! I created my own bullets so the lists worked for me. I can add and delete items without ever rewriting anything.

Everything I need to remember or do or plan is all on my screen, organized in a way that works for me.  Life feels so much simpler — and my desk is clear.

My questions for this Tuesday are . . .

What small things are a hassle in your life?

What can you do to eliminate the hassle, to make your life easier?

Sometimes the solution is as simple as a new app, a new feature, a new tool, that will improve your life. It’s worth the search and discussion to find a solution.

The elimination of small hassles frees up time and energy for more creative endeavors.

I’m not suggesting you reorganize your entire life, just get rid of one small hassle at a time. One can make all the difference.

Until next Tuesday . . .





Chaos happens.

Things go out of control. Sometimes at home. Sometimes at work. Sometimes in an organization. Sometimes with our children — or spouse — or extended family. Sometimes at church. Sometimes in government.

Chaos doesn’t usually happen on all fronts at the same time. That in itself is reason for gratitude.

For much of my life, the chaos reigned either at work or at home. And over weeks and months it shifted from one place to another, with an unpredictable schedule.

What I know about myself is that I can deal with chaos in one area of my life, but not in multiple places simultaneously. Chaos in all arenas causes me to throw up my hands, and say, “What’s the point? There’s nothing I can do!” With that said, I’ve given myself permission to sit down and let things continue to spin out of control and I don’t have to lift a finger. “Not my fault,” I say. “Someone else can fix it.”

Though it’s one way to deal with life’s messiness, it’s not my method of choice. I have a time-tested strategy for dealing with the chaoticness (yes, I just made up that word):

  1. Assess first: what exactly is “out of control?” I may feel like everything has gone crazy, but the truth is it’s generally just a couple of things — not my whole world.
  2. Name the items that are beyond my specific influence or control. Set those things aside; there is nothing I can do about them.
  3. Identify things in the situation that I can influence or control. This becomes my point of focus and action.

Case in point: years ago, when I had been grousing around about the messiness of our house, one of my  nearly-adult children said, “Mom, you think the whole house is a mess when the kitchen bar has stuff on it!”

“No, I don’t!” I argued.

“Yes, you do!” came the accusation.

I had to ponder those words. Turns out the statement was totally true. You see, I considered that counter, which separated the kitchen from the living room, to be my personal space and when other people put stuff there (out of convenience or laziness), they robbed me of my space. And when I don’t have my space, I’m not pleasant to live with. My anger and frustration weren’t really about the entire house — just about one counter. Once I understood that, the chaos was whittled down to it’s real size and could be easily fixed.

When things get messy in relationships — which I really can’t fix — I look for things that are within my control. Often it’s restoring order in my physical space — my desk, my kitchen, my files, my closet, my garage. You see, spending my energy on what I can control, changes my perspective from victim to strength. From “woe is me” to “yes, I can.” Attitude adjustment often accompanies my work.

Focusing on things I can do, resets the balance of my world.

And resetting the balance changes my perspective. Even the chaos doesn’t seem so big any more.

Until next Tuesday . . .


In June I wrote about  creative counting — about how we count some things in our lives and not others. I wrote then of friends who say I travel all the time — and how I consistently deny their assessment.

The other day over brunch, a close friend suggested, “Perhaps this traveling all the time is your reality. You’re definitely traveling more than when I first met you.”

Perhaps. Perhaps.

There was indeed a time when I traveled a lot — while I was taking care of my mother. I made the 200-mile round trip several times each week. Her health needs determined everything, or so it seemed. After her death I returned to my introverted life.

Since then I’ve moved to a larger city. Beyond my own efforts to get established here, an unexpected life has found me — one full of people and shared meals and travel and events.

In my mind I’m a homebody: I read, write, and practice piano. In reality my days are punctuated with comings and goings.

Fact: I’m traveling a lot throughout October, November, and December. I’m struggling to find time to read and write and practice.

My mind life and my real life are obviously disconnected — a disconnect beyond my awareness until my friend made casual mention of it. How often have I explained my homebody lifestyle — and didn’t catch her look of disbelieve? How often has she wondered when I would finally see this glaring truth?

Some life shifts are easy to recognize — retirement, marriage, job change, new child in the family, a relocation — and we prepare for them.  But other shifts occur over time — often without our permission or awareness.

To tell you the truth, I’m often surprised when friends share an observation of my life. I consider myself very self aware — the result of years of introspection. Yet they see things I’ve never noticed — habits, mannerisms, truths. They know I’ll ponder such revelations  and eventually adjust my actions or thinking.

So I’ve been wondering how my life shifted from “a homebody who seldom travels” to “a body who is seldom home and often travels”? Did it slip in when I wasn’t paying attention? Was I so busy making plans that I didn’t notice the days and miles piling in the corner? Did it just happen a little bit at a time — one weekend away, then another, and another?

How it happened doesn’t really matter. The bigger question is, “What will I do now?”

First, I have to acknowledge my new truth which will eliminate the disconnect my friends have observed for months, even years. I will tell a different story: while I love being at home doing my stuff, I travel a lot.

Second, though I love road trips and cruises and sharing events with friends, I need down time for my survival and well-being. Because homebody time doesn’t magically appear, I have to plan and protect such sacred time.

Our disconnects are not always obvious to us, the owners. Other people can plant the seeds for our pondering, but we must do the work to decrease the belief-reality disconnect.

Until next Tuesday . . .