Manifesto

Templates. I’m tired of templates.

I’m tired of “Ten best ways to…” and “Five things you should know about…”

I’m tired of “best practices.”

I’m tired of Change Management. As though real change was somehow a thing that could be managed.

I’m tired of Strategic Plans and Bullet Journals.

I’m tired of Standard Operating Procedures.

I am even tired of Innovation.

Well, to be precise, I am tired of talking about Innovation as though it was a Standard Operating Procedure.

I’m tired of Life Hacks and Self Help.

I’m tired of motivational memes and inspiration porn.

I’m tired of the word “millennials.”

I’m tired of being bombarded with Big New Ideas that look like last week’s ideas with barely a fresh coat of paint.

I am tired of Facebook and LinkedIn.

I’m tired of clickbait.

And yet I keep clicking.

I need a break from the noise of the 21st century. I need to turn off the feed and find some genuine food for thought. I need to close the screen and open a book. An old book, with old ideas that will overwrite the neural ruts in my twitchy brain. I need to build something with my hands and travel somewhere on foot. I need to stop drowning in other people’s thoughts so I can sift through my own. I need to clear the clutter of content so I can mine the depths of my own creativity.

I need to retreat, not retweet.

I need less media and more message.

I need change of scene.

A change of seeing.

A sea change.

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Margin Notes

blank notebookFor a writer, a blank piece of paper can be both thrilling and terrifying. The crisp expanse of a new notebook. The open-ended  promise of launching a clean, new Word Document. Anything is possible on a blank page.

There’s such a temptation to treat the new year as a blank page. When we reflect on the changing of the year (and boy, do we ever feel called upon to reflect!) we either enumerate the highlights of the year that is ending or list the ways that the next year will be better.

The ways we will be better.

I think the reason New Year’s resolutions have such a woeful track record is that they are so often made on the assumption that wanting badly enough to change will make it so. When we resolve that the flipping of a calendar page will trigger a transformation, we are acting as though the new year is a blank page– a new notebook without a mark.

There are no blank pages. The notebooks of our lives are dog-eared and full of ink scratches and smudgy bits where we tried, not quite successfully, to erase our mistakes. They are smeared with tea-stains and tear-stains, and some of the pages are irredeemably stuck together with chewing gum and determination. There are pages that look like they have been crumpled and smoothed and crumpled again, and there are pages torn in anger and frustration. The closest we get to a blank page is the day we are born, but even then we are each handed a notebook already marked up with pencil sketches of the circumstances of our birth and a trail of notes on our family of origin.

Imagining that the new year offers a blank page on which to write a new story is folly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t write a new story.

It means that our resolutions for change are always margin notes. We fit them in around the edges and between the lines of what has gone before. We write them up the sides of the page if we have to. Or on the inside cover. As long as there is still a scrap of that notebook yet to be filled, we have the opportunity to rewrite the ending. But we don’t get to throw away the beginning. Or the middle. If we are going to change, we must change from where we are–not by magically transforming, but by taking a step. And another. And another. We only get one notebook, and the parts of the story we don’t like don’t go away. We just turn the page and write a better ending.

Wishing you the courage and creativity to edit your own story with the kind of margin notes that will make 2015 a year to bookmark and highlight.

Seeing the whole picture

Albert* was one of the old-timers who sat at the back of the room, moseying their way through high school on the extended plan. To be honest, I suspect that the unspoken consensus among my teacher colleagues was that Albert’s chances of graduating were pretty slim.

In a small Manitoba town in the mid 1980’s Albert’s outward appearance was guaranteed to evoke judgement.  He wore threadbare t-shirts with rock band logos, torn never-washed jeans, and long greasy black hair, perpetually falling in front of his eyes and draped across a complexion ravaged by adolescence and poor nutrition. I never knew whether he lived in town or commuted from the Reserve up the highway. I suspect that there was some degree of undiagnosed Fetal Alcohol Effect in Albert’s story. The teachers who attempted to teach him Math and English despaired over his erratic attendance. But I was the Art teacher, and Albert, I discovered, was an artist.

Albert’s attendance in art, while far from perfect, was somewhat more regular than his attendance in his academic courses. He sat in the back corner of the art room, head down, eyes hidden by his heavy black hair, deeply entranced by whatever project I had conjured up for the week.  Whatever the assignment, Albert produced something beyond my expectations.

In a big city school Albert might have had the option to rack up all manner of high school credits in a comprehensive arts program. But all I had to offer him was one credit per year of his high school career. And at the rate he was going he was going to run out of art options before he ran out of years.

The more I got to know Albert, the more I ached over the disconnect between his artistic talent and the way that everything else about school conspired to beat him down. I wished there was something more I could do provide him with some validation.

One day I had a brainwave. Remembering that there was a process to create a special project for credit, I proposed to Albert the idea of creating a mural. To my delight, he agreed.

And then the bureaucracy began. First the principal hemmed and hawed. He was not a man given to making decisions if he could possibly help it. I suspected that, had Albert been a more conventionally studious student, the answer might have come quicker. Eventually consent was given, on the condition that I consult with the School Division office regarding the acceptable kind of paint to use on the school walls. After another lengthy runaround, I was informed by a bemused Director of Facilities that ordinary latex paint would be just fine. For a location, we agreed on a boring segment of hallway that joined the two wings of the school.

All that was left was the matter of the mural composition. Fearing that I was going to have to go to battle to defend Albert’s artistic freedom, I asked him to draft a prototype on paper before starting. I waited nervously to see what Albert would come back with, scarcely able to imagine what he would propose. Given that his overall school experience had been less than uplifting, I envisioned something dark and angrily abstract.

Albert sought me out late one afternoon. “I’ve got my picture for the wall.” He unrolled a sheet of poster paper, and revealed, to my astonishment, an exquisite sketch of a unicorn, rearing up on its hind legs in front of a backdrop of lush green forest. I said all the right approving things, but all I could think was “where did that come from?!”

Albert toiled for weeks, painstakingly recreating his work as a mural that spanned roughly 8 feet of hallway. The result was stunning. The other teachers didn’t say much, but once in a while I would catch them looking with veiled astonishment and grudging respect at Albert’s creation. Whatever else they might have thought about Albert, we all saw a part of him we had never imagined was there whenever we passed through that hallway.

I only spent two years at that school, leaving for a position in the city before Albert graduated. I don’t know if he ever did. I have always wondered what became of him. I hope that he found something worthwhile to take him far away from that town. I went back myself a few years ago, and had occasion to walk through the halls of the school.

Albert’s mural had been painted over.

It broke my heart.

When I knew I wanted to write this story, I combed through my albums in search of the one photo I remember taking of the mural. I couldn’t find it.

And it broke my heart all over again.

paint-wall-lg_A2

 

*name has been changed.

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Daily Prompt: Does it ever make sense to judge a book by its cover — literally or metaphorically? Tell us about a time you did, and whether that was a good decision or not.

Create the path by walking on it

Daily Prompt wants to know, “Have you ever become obsessed with something? Tell us about something that captivates your attention like nothing else.”

You may have noticed I haven’t been posting much lately. I have been doing a bit of non-blog writing, but mostly I’ve just been super-busy with other things. Chiefly, I’ve got a lot of papers to grade for the two (what was I thinking?) courses I taught this term over and above my already busy day job. I should be doing that right now.

I don’t know if I would call it an obsession, but at this point in my life I am focused on finding ways to live more creatively. Teaching is, for me, a creative pursuit. Grading papers is not. My job affords opportunities for creativity, but it also comes with lots of barriers to creativity. Sometimes I think my biggest barrier to living a more creative life is me.

One of my greatest creative mentors is a woman I have never met, but who lives so vividly through her books that I feel as though I have. A few days ago I was having a sort of “crisis of faith”—as in I was seriously doubting my faith in my own creativity. I expressed it in this blog post. The very next day, as though the universe itself was responding to my shaken confidence, I picked up Julia Cameron’s The Sound of Paper from my nightstand and happened upon these words, written by Cameron in reflection upon a concert of Richard Rodgers’ lesser-known works:

All of us who make things worry whether or not what we make is “original.” Listening to the Rodgers evening proved this worry to be irrelevant. Clearly, Rodgers was the “origin” of all his work. The prism of his sensibility is what made it original. The same is true for all of us. We are the origin or our work. Our allowing work to move through us in the issue. As we suit up and show up each day at the page or easel or the camera, we have an “eye” that becomes the “I” present in all that we do. (pp. 57-58)

Julia Cameron is one of those rare beings who actually make a living being creative. She has published both fiction and non-fiction, and even composed opera. But Cameron’s greatest gift to the creative world has surely been her many books of gentle wisdom on how to unlock the creativity we all carry within us. Beginning with The Artist’s Way, and moving through multiple volumes of reflections and exercises that encourage the reader to dig deeper into the depths of his or her own creativity, Cameron has quite literally “written the book” on how to live a more creative life.

Mind you, she’s not alone. There are others whom I have found to be able guides in my quest to centre myself within my creativity. Twyla Tharp. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Stephen King. And others whose names escape me for the moment.

So many things escape me. So many times I have tried to take a run at living a more creative life, and before I know it all the things that have a tendency to squelch my efforts rush in and fill up all the spaces in my day, and in my mind. The truth is my willpower is not very powerful. I’m way better at starting projects than I am at finishing them.

But I’m not giving up.

There’s been a lot written about Disney’s new creation Frozen. For  me, the most powerful metaphor in this amazing film comes in the middle of Elsa’s iconic song “Let it go” where she essentially creates a staircase by walking up it. That’s how I see the process of creating a different way of living. Create the path by walking on it. One step at a time.

Meanwhile, I need to grade some papers.

 

Creativity, Bakery Bread, and Hating the Internet

Two true stories.

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First story. Guy loved to bake. He baked all sorts of things — cakes, cookies, muffins — but he particularly loved to bake bread. And he was good at it. After considerable practice he had mastered the mysteries of yeast. He had learned how much kneading is enough and how much is too much. He knew just the sound a “done” loaf of bread makes when you tap it on the bottom. He learned the ways of bread well enough to be able to experiment with ingredients — to combine things in new ways to create new recipes.

And that bread was good. Sure there was the odd doorstop in the early days, but Guy developed a reputation as someone who could produce good bread. When friends gathered for pot luck, Guy baked the bread to consistently rave reviews.

But there was one friend whose idea of a rave review was always some variation of this statement: “This is so good– it tastes just like you bought it at a bakery!” This particular “praise” always felt to Guy more like an insult. Even though he recognized that the statement was intended to mean “This bread is of a much higher quality than the processed stuff they sell at the supermarket, to Guy it always felt like, “This bread that you produced from scratch with your bare hands and brought to the party still warm from the oven is no different than the stuff I can buy from the bakery shop on the corner.”

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Second story. Gal had been playing music all her life. Piano. Guitar. One day she started playing around and before she knew it she had written a song. Then another. She started writing music all the time, and then she worked up the courage to start sharing her creations with friends and family. Everybody acted impressed and said nice things about the songs.

One person whose opinion Gal valued consistently praised Gal’s songs with the statement, “That one’s great. It reminds me of [insert name of famous song written by real composer here].” After hearing various versions of this feedback applied to song after song, Gal began to think perhaps her work wasn’t that original after all. Eventually she got busy with other projects. She hasn’t written a song in years.

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One of the fun parts of my current job is that I get to teach a workshop in Creative Thinking. We start that workshop talking about our Inner Critics — those voices we all carry around in our heads that call down our efforts at creativity. Sometimes those voices sound like the voices of real, human critics who were part of our upbringing. Sometimes those voices are less specific. Some of us are better at shushing those voices than others.

Ironically, even though I can teach others how to manage their own Inner Critics, I tend to be less successful at taming my own. I tend to second guess myself. I tend to assume that any great idea I have has already been done, a hundred times over and more successfully than anything I could produce.

And I’ve decided that when it comes to talking myself out of my own creative ideas, my biggest enemy is the internet.

It happened again this morning. I woke up with a fantastic idea for a new blog theme– maybe even a whole other blog. And then I made the fatal error. I thought to myself, “I’ll do a little search and see who else is doing something like that.”

Bad idea. Bad. Bad. Bad. BAD.

source: http://wisdomheart.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/inner-critic-1-300x254.jpg
source: http://wisdomheart.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/inner-critic-1-300×254.jpg

Of course I found dozens of blogs. Granted none were doing exactly what I was planning to do. But enough were doing related things  that I began to question the originality of my idea.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the information at our fingertips. It’s easy to convince ourselves that there is nothing new under the sun. That it’s all been said. That there are no new ideas.

But that’s not true. Because creativity can be as simple as putting two things together that have not been put together before. And by that standard, an idea has creative potential as soon as it is something that has never before been put together with me.

Or you. Or anyone. We all have the capacity to be creative, and what makes our creations truly new is that part of them that comes from within the creator– from within us.

Guy’s bread was nothing like bakery bread. Gal’s songs were her own. And my new blog idea? I think it has potential. I’m going to give it some more thought–maybe work up a bit of a plan. What I’m NOT going to do any more is short circuit my idea by holding it up to other people’s ideas for comparison.

 

On tea bags, time, and running away to join the circus

I forgot to buy tea bags.

I could have bought tea bags at any number of points throughout the day. I knew when I went to bed last night that I was using the last one. But I forgot. And now, bedtime is looming without my usual cup of cranberry herbal tea.

This bugs me, just a little.

On the other hand, it bugs me a lot that the lack of my favourite bedtime beverage bugs me at all.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I talk a lot about how much I value change. So much so, that the word change looms largest in my cloud of most frequently used tags. So I admit to feeling considerable irritation at being forced to face the uncomfortable fact that I am a total creature of habit.

And now this small thing– this lack of a tea bag– has me reflecting on all the other too-comfortable habits on which I rely. My far-from-adventurous diet. My homogeneous wardrobe. My evenings spent in pretty mundane activities. My holidays spent at the same family vacation spot every summer.

Do I really love change as much as I say I do? Or am I just a great pretender?

Am I a creature of habit because I’ve reached the stage in life where I know myself and what I want, or because I’ve settled into a nice, safe rut. This question is causing me a great deal more consternation than my lack of cranberry tea.

Deep down, the changes that I crave the most are big changes. Quitting-your-job-and-running-away-to-join-the-circus changes. Dramatic changes to how I live and how I make a living. Substantial changes to the way I spend my time and the people I spend it with. But they aren’t the kind of changes that just happen. They need building, step by tedious step. Perhaps I need to run out of tea bags more often to jolt myself out of my cozy patterns into taking actual steps toward the big dreams.

Sometimes I fear that it’s too late for big changes. I worry that I’ve reached the age where I should be happy just to settle in and appreciate my comfortable habits and my nightly cup of tea. But then I see other people, older than me, courageously strike out in new directions– new businesses, new relationships, new homes in new cities. And I have to believe that there’s still time for a grand adventure.

With or without cranberry tea.

imagine

 

 

The good, the bad and the… pensionable?

The Daily prompt for today wants to know: How do you feel about your job? Do you spring out of bed, looking forward to work? Or, is your job a soul-destroying monotony of pure drudgery, or somewhere in between?

Really, does anyone actually “spring out of bed?” Ok maybe I can think of one or two possibilities — like my car-pool partner of many years back who started the day in overdrive and was still in high gear for the ride home. But I don’t know anyone who isn’t at best a teensy bit ambivalent about their job.

I have a good job. It pays well and has great benefits. I have a nice office in a good location. I work with interesting people. I get to do things that matter. I get to exercise my creativity. I get to do things I enjoy, like writing and teaching. I have a boss who appreciates what I do and lets me know it.

My job sucks. I have to waste time jumping through bureaucratic hoops and doing mind-numbing administrative tasks. I have to sit through long, tedious meetings. I lost my parking spot. Some days I go home completely fed up with other people’s problems.

It’s the same job.

Do you have a “dream job?” I did. In fact I got my dream job. At least four times. With a couple of exceptions early in my career, most of my working life has been spent at jobs I really wanted. Every one of those jobs has been fantastic. And, at some point, every one of those jobs drove me crazy. Sometimes all in the same day.

That’s life, folks.  Nothing is perfect. When the point comes in any job when the balance begins to tip ever so subtly away from the fantastic and towards the crazy-making, then I know it’s time for a new adventure.

In the meantime, I don’t expect employment Nirvana. I know there will be good days and less-than-stellar days in any job. In fact, some days there with be good minutes and downright dreadful minutes. Most days, the good minutes come out ahead. Even if I don’t “spring out of bed” to get there.

 

Agley Again

 The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

— “To A Mouse” by Robert Burns

I swear I am the queen of good intentions. I know how I want to live. More vegetables; fewer donuts. More healthy meals prepared from scratch; fewer drive-by processed calories. More fitness activity; less Facebook. More focused writing; less aimless surfing. More mindful budget decisions; less impulse spending.

More time to do the things I love; less time wasted on things that don’t really add value anywhere.

And yet so often I catch myself sliding into a state of being I call “Surviving the Week.”

Surviving the Week is about having a fridge full of fresh vegetables, but not having the mental energy to assemble them into a salad, so I go to the cafeteria and spend money I don’t need to spend on a lunch entrée in which gravy is the dominant element.

Surviving the Week is about adding more paper to the “miscellaneous” pile on my desk instead of filing it away when I’m done with it.

Surviving the Week is about collapsing on the couch to watch mindless TV, even though I know I would feel better about life if I went for a walk.

Surviving the Week is about trolling old Facebook photos when I really want to be writing, because I didn’t go for that walk, which probably would have unlocked an idea and given me something to write about.

Surviving the Week is about beating myself up for not doing the things I really want to be doing, because I am distracted by things that are easy to do at the end of a tiring day.

I encountered this little creature on a walk back in the fall.
I encountered this little creature on a walk back in the fall.

I don’t want to be Surviving the Week. I want to be living mindfully, creatively, healthfully. And sometimes I do. But other times, like Robbie Burns’ wee Mousie, my best-laid schemes do “gang agley,” and I find myself  slipping into survival mode.`

Often that means I have simply overloaded my circuits by taking on too much. The irony is, that the things I take on that leave me feeling tapped out are typically things I want and like to do.

Like staying up way too late to write this blog post.

Strive to thrive

Today’s Daily Prompt asks, “Do you thrive under pressure or crumble at the thought of it? Does your best stuff surface as the deadline approaches or do you need to iterate, day after day to achieve something you’re proud of? Tell us how you work best…. show us PRESSURE.”

Do I thrive under pressure? Frankly, I’m never sure how to respond to this question. Do I handle myself well under pressure? Absolutely. I have a reputation for being able to do good work quickly. I’m good at improvising solutions. In a crisis, I’m the one who copes.

The truth is, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I have high expectations. I’m apt to hand things in ahead of the deadline– sometimes just because I worked quickly and got the task done early, and sometimes because I set my own deadline, earlier than the real one, so that I could be absolutely sure I would be done on time.

I was in grade four when I first appreciated the tyranny of my own high standards. I had a big social studies project due: something along the lines of “Everything There Is to Know About Australia That Can Be Derived from Back Issues of National Geographic.” (This was, after all, pre-internet.) I had done a fair bit of work, but I had also done a fair bit of procrastinating. The project was due on Monday morning. Sunday night rolled around and I wasn’t done. I went to bed with my stomach in knots. I had never failed to hand in an assignment on time unless I was sick. I didn’t know what the teacher would say, but I could imagine no  consequence more horrifying than Miss Miller’s disapproval.

Morning came, and I got up and got dressed for school with the demeanor of one preparing for execution. By breakfast, I had worked myself into such a state of anxiety that I was feeling physically ill.

My mom was astute enough to see through the root cause of my ailment. She gently suggested that if I wasn’t feeling well I should probably stay home for the morning, and we would see if I felt better after lunch. I asked her if it would be OK if I worked on my project. She just smiled, nodded sagely, and said that would probably be OK — if I felt up to it.

By lunchtime the project was finished and, miraculously, so was my mysterious stomach ailment. I went off to school for the afternoon, vowing to myself that I would never again put myself in the situation where I was late with an assignment.

There, have, of course, been times since then when I have had to ask for extra time to complete a task. I learned that I could ask for extra time without making myself ill over it. But I still don’t like it if I can’t meet a deadline, no matter how legitimate the reason. The truth is, I think I’ve learned to cope well under pressure by taking control of the pressure — by exerting the lion’s share of the pressure on myself.

Do I thrive under pressure? I’m not sure thrive is the right word. I get a lot done under pressure. I do good work under pressure.  But thrive?

A better path
A better path

When I was on leave recovering from my hip replacement, I had a glimpse of what life would be like without the kind of pressure that has become my norm. I was in better physical shape than usual — in spite of just having had surgery– because I was exercising more  than usual every day. I was more creative — and more creatively productive– than I have been in a long time because I had time to focus, and because the daily walks fuelled my imagination. In short, I experienced something far closer to what I would call thriving than I have ever encountered under even the most exhilarating pressure.

At least now I know what I’m really striving for.

How majoring in Theatre prepared me for everything else

I started writing a comment for my friend Matt over at Must Be This Tall to Ride, but the comment took on a life of its own.

I always chuckle a little when people talk about “career planning.” Aside from a last-minute decision to get a degree in something vaguely employment-worthy, I’m not sure there has been anything about my career that was planned. I went into Education entirely as an afterthought. At 18, my intention was to major in theatre, but on my way to register I decided to get an Education degree so I would have teaching to “fall back on.” It turned out that not only do I like teaching, I’m actually pretty good at it. In the thirty years since graduating from the Faculty of Education, I have taught Theatre, English, Physical Geography, Music, Art, Study Skills, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Policy Development, Adult Learning Theory, Adult Education History, Consulting Skills, and Government Values and Ethics– to students who ranged from grade 2 to university. Along the way I also managed to wander into an extensive management career.

I did do a little theatre along the way, but– aside from a gig as a high school theatre teacher and director of a handful of school theatrical productions– nothing anyone ever paid me for. But I have never felt like it was something I left behind. In fact, in my thirty year “off-stage” career journey, I have used the things I learned in my theatre studies on a daily basis.

  1. I learned how to take direction. Taking direction well is harder, and more complicated, that just “doing what you’re told.” Taking direction as an actor means listening to what is being asked of you, trying it as many times as necessary until you achieve the desired result, and then internalizing it so that you keep doing the desired thing without the director having to check up on you constantly. Taking direction well as an employee is essentially the same process.
  2. I learned how to give direction. Directing actors in a play is all about bringing out the best in each individual and guiding a diverse group to work together effectively.  It’s about motivating people to act in a certain way to get certain results. Sounds  a lot like teaching doesn’t it? And management.
  3. I learned how to perform. In order to teach you have to be able to hold the attention of a classroom full of students. It’s really difficult to do that if you just stand in one spot and talk. A good teacher needs to make effective use of space and movement. As a manager, I also discovered that being comfortable in front of an audience was a big help in staff meetings, stakeholder consultations, and all manner of presentations.
  4. I learned how to improvise.  Good improv is not a complete free-for-all. There are rules and structures underlying the most spontaneous-looking improvisation. The better you understand those rules and structures, the more effectively you can go with the moment. Teaching and management are both highly improvisational in nature. I can’t remember the last time my day directly correlated with what was written in my calendar. The art of improvisation taught me that there are always an infinite number of potential paths from A to B, and it’s OK to take a different path than the one I had planned.
  5. I learned how to observe and respond to other people’s behaviour. Theatre is all about human behaviour and the emotions that drive that behaviour. Taking on a theatrical role is all about stepping inside the psyche of a person who is not you. As such, acting lessons are in large part lessons in empathy. It’s not a big leap from imagining what it would mean to be Lady Macbeth to imagining what it would be like to be that rebellious student in the third row. Or that employee who is struggling.
  6. I learned to be part of a team. Performing in a play meaning paying attention to the other members of the cast, responding to what they are doing, and giving back to them what they need. It also means being in a similar give and take relationship with your audience. Even when you are playing a tiny role, you need to show up for all your cues on time or everyone else on the team is impacted.
  7. I learned that the show must go on. The tickets have been sold. The audience is waiting. There are no “extensions” in theatre. You’ve made a commitment to being ready at a particular date and time, and you will therefore be ready. Even if you aren’t ready. I learned that “good enough” is often good enough, and that if you wait until you feel ready, or the circumstances are perfect, you will never achieve anything. As a teacher, my best lessons were almost always the ones that I was still fine tuning as I walked into the classroom. As a manager, I don’t get to wait until I feel fully prepared to deal with an issue if the issue is staring me in the face and interfering with everyone else’s productivity. It really does work to “fake it ’til you make it.”
  8. I learned that the audience isn’t following the script. While this lesson was certainly reinforced in my theatre training, I have to admit that I learned it first from my piano teacher. “The audience doesn’t have the music in front of them. They will only know you’ve made a mistake if you telegraph it to them through your reaction. If you hit a wrong note don’t make a face. Just keep playing.” When it comes to our failings, we are typically far harder on ourselves than anyone we imagine to be judging us.
  9. I learned that the right costume helps you get in character. There’s an adage in the business world that you should dress for the job you are striving for, not for the one you have. The role that costuming plays in the theatre taught me that, whether you like it or not, appearance can make a big difference to how people perceive you. When I first started teaching high school I was only 25. I felt like I wasn’t a lot older than my students, but I wanted them to see me as more mature, so I invested in suit jackets and introduced myself as “Mrs.” When I have a particularly challenging meeting or presentation at work, I pay attention to what I wear, not because of how I think other people expect me to look, but because of the way certain clothes make me feel stronger and more confident.
  10. I learned the value of a good stage crew. The best advice I was given when I started my teaching career was that, in any school I ever taught in, there were two people with whom I needed to establish a good relationship immediately: the secretary and the custodian. As an actor you learn that you are completely dependent on the work that is being done by the “backstage” crew, and it behooves you to show those people your gratitude and respect. That stage manager whose job it is to make sure your prop is in precisely the right spot when you reach for it is a lot like that administrative assistant who hands you the right file seconds before you knew you needed it. As an actor, or a teacher, or a manager, you typically have a lot of people backstage working hard at making you look good. Appreciate them.

In theatre, you typically don’t do one thing for very long. You learn a role, perform it for a while, and then move on to another role. I’ve carried that craving for variety into my non-theatrical career. I gravitate to the type of work where each day can be expected to bring something new. Admittedly there are times when I wish I knew my lines a little better and my entrances and exits were a little smoother, but so far it’s been a good run. There has even been the odd moment for which I could have sold tickets.