What is important to me/Taking risks and finding joy

I have, today, a personal story to share. My hope is that there is a lesson in here somewhere that will be of use to some of you out there. Please comment and share your stories.

In a previous life, I was a singer. A serious vocalist. In high school I took private voice lessons during the year and went to music camp every summer. I went to college on a vocal scholarship, and earned a Bachelors of Music degree. I sang with a semi-professional opera company in Chicago, and then paid for my grad school musical studies through an internship. My plan was to be an opera singer.

Then tragedy struck. Three days before I was to give my Masters recital, I lost my voice. Completely. Gone. Not even a whisper. For three months. It might as well have been forever.

Looking back, I have realized there was an incredible mountain of stress burying my voice alive. I was preparing for my recital while simultaneously singing in a mainstage opera production. With my practice regimen, I was singing close to 8 hours every day, if not more. I was nearing the completion of my degree and did not have a clear path forward after graduation. Talk about stress! Though I had learned my craft, I had not yet learned how to turn my craft into a career. On top of all of this, my voice professor was wildly unsupportive – one may even say cruel. Cruel to the point of making me doubt just about everything that came out of my mouth.

After losing my voice, I saw doctors and therapists and vocal coaches. I took medications and vitamins and underwent analyses and procedures. Basically I did everything I could think of, or anyone else could think of, to recover. At some point during those three months I came to a conclusion: My body was not to be trusted. I simply could not put my future and my security in the hands of something that I could not rely upon.

So I stopped. Completely.

For the next many years, I rarely sang. I would sometimes do Christmas caroling with my husband (an amazingly talented classical guitarist), sang intermittently with a church choir, and sang a wedding or two. I sang nightly to my children, but talk about a non-judgmental audience! Plus they usually fell asleep by the second note. But in reality, very little singing. I put all of my effort into my family and into my career. My (now) non-musical career.

And I missed it. I missed making music. I especially missed being on the stage, sharing my music, my joy, my stories, with an audience. But for some reason, I stayed away. It was just too hard.

This year, I made a new choice. I decided it had been long enough and I needed to take a risk. I needed to try again. I wanted the specific joy making music brought to my life. So, I took a bold step and signed up for voice lessons. I knew it would be hard, and in fact, just figuring out who to study with, what my story would be would be tough enough.

It was even harder than I imagined. I anticipated difficulty in reaching the high notes and the low notes. I knew I needed to get my support system (breathing muscles) back into shape. I understood that I needed to find new ways to fit in practice and regain that discipline (still working on this one). What I did not anticipate was how much I had changed. And how much baggage I was carrying.

My body, my instrument, has changed, and not in inconsequential ways. I have given birth to three beautiful children. I have gained weight (I blame those three children for that!). I have, unbelievably, gotten older. I am now working with a completely different instrument. And boy does she sound different! She is richer, fuller, deeper. It’s taken several months to realize this, but she is beautiful!

As for the baggage – I have had to recognize the ‘voices’ in my head. Even after all this time, every time I open my mouth to sing I hear my professor tell me I can’t sing, that I shouldn’t even try, and that I should give up. I have nothing riding on my singing – no career ambitions, no expectations – and yet her voice keeps me scared from really trying. It has taken weeks and weeks of lessons to even recognize the voice, and who it belonged to. Now, I am working to ignore it and/or work around it.

So the lessons here – there has to be a lesson, right? One might be that it is never too late to start – or restart – anything. Another might be that change is inevitable, and many times it results in something beautiful. Yet another might be that old habits (or voices) die hard, and we must be vigilant and persistent in dealing with them. Still another could be that unused skills do not come back to us as easily as we might think/wish, so we must not let them go.

For me, the big lesson is that I need to take more risks. I need to keep in mind what is important to me as a person, what brings me joy, and do those things. It may have no connection to my career. It may be no bigger than me in a room with a piano. But I needed to find more of my joy, and I found it in a song.

Are there things you aren’t prioritizing in your life that would bring you joy? Are there risks you aren’t taking? What is holding you back? Please share!

As always, keep it positive, and smile!



Leaders “Must Read” (#1) QBQ!


This is an unsolicited, unpaid review of this book.  I write this simply because it is a great book that all leaders should read!

I want to share with you some of the great books that all leaders should have in their personal libraries, and I am starting with my absolute favorite, QBQ! by John G. Miller. This book was given to me by my father while I was in my MBA program back in 2007. Since then, I have purchased more copies of the book than I can remember and passed them out to all of my management and many of the associates in my departments. I re-read this book often and find value in doing so every time. This book is an essential component to any leader’s collection.

The topic of the book is Personal Accountability, a quality that needs significant understanding and practice in today’s workplace and society.  The “Question behind the Question” (QBQ) is the question we ask after we have dismissed the questions that place blame on someone else, complain, procrastinate, or play the victim.  They are the questions we ask when we take ownership of the solution to a problem, when we make better choices.

Here are John’s 3 rules for asking QBQs:

  1. Begin with “What” or “How” (not “Why,””When,” or “Who”)
  2. Contains an “I” (not “they”,”we,” or “you”)
  3. Focus on action

In order to show QBQs and personal accountability, here are some lousy questions, followed by a QBQ (from the book):

“When will other people pull their weight?” becomes “What can I do to improve the situation?”

“Why aren’t my people motivated?” becomes “What can I do to build engagement and excitement for my staff?”

“Why don’t they tell us what is going on?” becomes “What can I do to ensure I have the knowledge I need?”

Hopefully you can see the power this brings to an individual. Instead of giving away control it puts the power directly into an individual’s hands to fix the situation. As John points out, the only person we can ever change is ourselves. When we don’t own our situations, there is nothing to be done! Nothing will ever improve.

In my experience, this is a hard habit to build. It is so much easier to blame, to play the victim, to explain our current circumstances in terms of what has happened to us instead of what we have done. But it is necessary. We must take control back and ask the questions that have the ability to improve ourselves and our world.

John says, “We need the QBQ so our organizations can be places where, instead of finger-pointing, procrastinating, and separating ourselves into “we” and “they,” we bring out the best in each other, work together the way teams are supposed to, and make great things happen.”

I highly encourage you to check out this important book, use QBQs in your life, and as a leader, teach your teams to do the same!

One other suggestion: I linked to the book on Amazon.com above, and encourage you to use Amazon Smiles so that part of your purchase benefits a non-profit of your choice.  Yet another way to make the world a better place!

Happy Friday!  Keep it positive, and smile!


Positive Monday

The best way to start the week is with as much positive thinking as possible.  It’s a new day, a new week, a new chance to do what you want to do, to accomplish great things, and to be the person you want to be. Take hold of that, and make the most of this gift you are given each and every Monday!

Sometimes that can be a challenge.  Life is not an easy thing, and despite all our efforts to keep the negative voices at the door, they can find a way in.  The best thing we can do is to recognize those thoughts for what they are, and then find a way to turn them around.

I recently discovered that my father, who I lost two years ago to cancer, wrote blog posts on a share site for others dealing with the same illness.  Every one of his posts ends with the same tag: Keep it positive and smile! :).  He wrote this even on days when he did not feel well or his test results were not what he wanted.  He went so far as to call himself Mr. Positive – and others on the site joined in!  What an amazing example he set – finding happy, positive thoughts to share with others even in their darkest days.

If he can do it, so can we.  Positive energy can be contagious – spread it around!

Happy Monday!