What I most want people to know

March 30, 2009

I was recently part of a mini-workshop on authentic speaking, in which each of us was asked to answer the question, “What do you most want people to know?” It was a difficult question for me to answer in the 60 seconds we were given in that workshop. I’ve been thinking about it ever since then, mainly in the context of how I describe what I do in my work.

Here’s one version, and my thoughts related to it:

I give parents the tools and community to become better teachers and role models of  lifelong learning for their children.

What we’ve collectively forgotten as a society is the fact that parents are teachers, consciously OR unconsciously. We’ve separated learning from everyday life. But it’s not separate. It IS everyday life. Children are learning from their parents, their peers, their teachers – in short, from every situation in their environment, all the time. What they learn has something to do with who these people and what these situations are, but it also has a lot to do with how these people and situations are explained to them. In the process of going through experiences, and hearing them explained, children eventually develop the ability to explain things for themselves. Lack of explanation is also a form of teaching. It’s called modeling. It’s a lifelong process to continue consciously learning from the people and situations you encounter – a process I believe is instilled from an early age, constantly reawakened in adulthood, and refined throughout a lifetime. This is what I call “lifelong learning”. And somehow, we’ve run out of time, energy, or ideas about how to explain the world to our children. It’s worth it for all of us to remember that even if we don’t explain in words, it is the model of our actions that does the teaching for us.

How you see things changes the things that you see. – Wayne Dyer

How’s that for inspiration?

Imagine that you have the power to change what you see by changing how you see. Imagine that by teaching someone a new way of seeing, you can actually change what that person sees. Read the rest of this entry »


Do you think like a fox or a hedgehog?

March 26, 2009

I often find myself grappling with the tension between being a “businessperson” (I am self-employed and founder of my own school) and being an “artisan” devoted to perfecting a craft, practicing it, making a life’s work of it. I often wonder what “it” is. What is my craft? I am a teacher of children, a teacher of parents, a teacher of music, a philosopher on learning, a writer, a yogi, a meditator, an entrepreneur, an artist.

But when I’m really honest with myself, I know that I cannot possibly practice all of these crafts to a level of mastery. And there is nothing more dissatisfying than being a dabbler. I am curious about everything around me, so I find myself thinking about lots of ideas, and borrowing from lots of disciplines, all the time. But what I know to be my deepest truth is that choosing, in each moment, the deliberate practice of life is the true path of happiness, success, fulfillment, purpose, all those things we say we are in search of.

We live in an information-rich, media-rich time, where we can only take in snippets of the world being thrown at us in so many ways. We process sound bites. We read microblogs. We send 150-character messages as our primary way of connecting with many of the “important” people in our lives.

So no wonder we value condensed versions of the truth. We want the Cliffs Notes. The summary. To get to the point. Tell me how it’s relevant to my life. Make sense of it for me, because I’m too busy (or tired) to do it for myself.

And so we value – economically at least – hedgehogs over foxes. Read the rest of this entry »

John Wooden: LIFE coach, basketball coach

March 26, 2009

I’ve written before and shared with the parents in my school that one of my personal heroes is the Hall of Fame NCAA Basketball Coach (AND Hall of Fame NCAA PLAYER), John Wooden.

Here on video is his talk at TED in 2001: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/498

The words flow from him – without notes – because it is obvious that he lived his life from a set of deep beliefs, embedded from childhood (he mentions his Dad several times). He is at his heart a teacher. He ended up finding NCAA basketball as his vehicle for teaching, after some time as a junior high school English teacher (mentioned in the talk). He was discouraged by so many of the parents of his young English students focusing on the grades, wanting their child to have an A, when in fact not everyone is capable of earning an A. Talk about “old school” ideals! When do we hear anyone publicly discuss the reality that not everyone has the same ability in terms of getting a certain grade in school? Wooden says, “No one wanted their own child to get a C. The C grades were for the neighbors’ children.”

So he found basketball coaching as a way to promote his beliefs and nurture young people in their paths toward adulthood. A way to directly influence their thinking, and to make an impression on them at a pivotal time in their lives.

I watched the entire video with rapt attention, and a grin pasted on my face. I felt I was in the company of someone whose beliefs felt real to me. Whose intentions were steadfast. Whose entire life’s work was consistent with those intentions. And who was lucky enough to eventually see those intentions manifest “results” that were recognized to the point where he got to talk about them at TED, the conference about “innovation”. Wooden is about as “old school” as they get, but his principles are timeless and universal. Below are some notes I took from the video, which I am tempted to post on the walls of my studio.

His three rules:

1. Never be late. Start on time, AND end on time.

2. Be neat and clean. Not one word of profanity. Dress respectfully.

3. Never criticize a teammate. Coaches are paid to do it – its their job, not a teammate’s job.

His steadfast belief: We must BELIEVE, not just give lip-service to, the fact that things will work out as they should, IF we do what we should. Too often we focus on things turning out the way we want them to, without being willing to do what is necessary to make those things happen.

Three more rules (also from Wooden’s father):

1. Don’t whine.

2. Don’t complain.

3. Don’t make excuses.

And from this 10-time National Champion coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team?

“Never mention winning.”

People shouldn’t be able to tell from your actions whether or not you were outscored by your opponent. You should always do your best, and in this way you can win even if you have been outscored in a game. You can also lose, even if you outscore your opponent, if you haven’t given your best. Only YOU know whether you have been successful, because only YOU know if you have given your best.

Wooden’s definition of success:

Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

“Never mention winning.”

And these words, coming from a true winner.

Deliberate practice…it is what you think

March 23, 2009

Last week’s Wall Street Journal ran this article on the realities of really practicing golf (or any discipline – the article mentions music, chess, sports, science, and business management). “Deliberate practice” refers to a repetitive training regimen involving both mental and physical demands (even if the movements are largely physical), and specific feedback, usually from an expert mentor, to guide the training.

From the article:

The bad news is that deliberate practice is very hard, and usually unpleasant. “It has to be. Otherwise everyone would be an expert,” said Mr. Colvin, a Fortune magazine columnist [and author of the book Talent Is Overrated]….

For golfers, this can be a buzz killer. Take what for most of us comprises the bulk of our practice: hitting balls at the range. Mr. Colvin, a lifelong golfer, narrates a typical range session as a way of conveying exactly what deliberate practice is not. We drag over one ball after another and hit, with no plan and no particular goal. We may vaguely aim at targets but we don’t closely monitor the results or otherwise seek meaningful feedback. Our minds wander. Most fatally, we often find the experience pleasurable and relaxing.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” said Mr. Colvin. “But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that when we hit balls this way we’re accomplishing anything at all.”

Effective deliberate practice is about committing yourself mentally during the time when you are practicing. How often do we “go through the motions”, just hoping that by showing up and “getting through” the practice session, we will automatically improve?

Yes, showing up is the FIRST step. It is a very important step. But it is not enough for development of mastery.

This might be OK with you. You might be happy with the way your golf game is (or with whatever you are trying to practice). But the question we should ask ourselves is, “In what area of my life will I choose deliberate practice in order to improve my experience and mastery of it?”

What will you choose?

What the path taught me

March 17, 2009

I went on a hike this past weekend at Mount Diablo. It was my first time, and I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was the name of the trailhead (where to park the car) and the name of the peak we were headed toward. No idea about elevation change, or what the path might look like.

But I learned something about walking the path by….well, walking the path.

The beginning...and the mystery of what the path would bring.

The beginning...and the mystery of what the path would bring.

Read the rest of this entry »

What if…?

March 17, 2009

Despite the economy’s woes, apparently students are undaunted by the pragmatic (ie, financial) challenges of choosing music as a college undergraduate major. This recent Chicago Tribune article on the soaring number of applicants to college music programs and conservatories not only indicates that there are opportunities in music that never before existed – such as video game design, digital music composition, and other new media involving music – but also suggests that the skills of training as a musician may translate to success in other fields.

Here, a quote from the Dean of Oberlin Conservatory, David Stull:

“They know what it means to chase excellence. Musicans have the discipline to work in focus for hours, they can collaborate, they can attain high performance levels in the 10 minutes that count. If you ask a CEO what are the great life skills you need to succeed, it’s a lot of those.”

And this from the Admissions Director of Indiana University School of Music, Townsend Plant:

“Music students – we’ve seen for a long time – exhibit a remarkable set of transferable skills which can be applied to many careers…..They are good at collaborating and building consensus, they’re great at public speaking, they have drive and focus that comes from a real desire to master something. And that’s a remarkable collection of traits that make you successful in many fields.”

Of course, I’m sensitive to the broad-sweeping generalities that characterize these comments, which were made by people whose very livelihoods may depend on the veracity of these statements. However, can we consider for a moment the truth that may be embedded in these observations? What if the entire process of mastering both the skills of playing an instrument and the skills of bringing that instrument into a collaborative ensemble were actually the very training that would produce more effective leaders in society? Leaders who are more compassionate, who listen more carefully, who focus more intently, who have more perseverance to work through problems, who understand the beauty of collaboration?

What if?

A long-term strategy for a short-term crisis

March 13, 2009

I was fascinated by President Barack Obama’s speech last Tuesday at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He proposes education, a long-term investment, as an integral part of the solution to our current economic crisis.

In it, he lays out a call to action for education reform in this country. More importantly, he urges young Americans to remember the historical roots of our nation’s path of greatness, and he ties economic progress with educational investment.

The source of America’s prosperity has never been merely how ably we accumulate wealth, but how well we educate our people.

This brought back memories of many a dinner-table or car-ride conversation with my parents, who are both immigrants from Taiwan. They arrived here in the 1960s, fresh out of National Taiwan University’s College of Pharmacy, having been admitted to PhD programs at the University of Illinois at Chicago. My father studied pharmacology, my mother the more esoteric field of pharmacognosy (medicinal botany). Read the rest of this entry »