C.S. Lewis and Originality

29 02 2012

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”  (C.S. Lewis)

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The Challenge Of A True Friend

28 02 2012

There is a proverb in the Bible that goes like this: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

We all survive and thrive on the comfort of those who know us best, who get us back on our feet and help us to carry on when the going gets tough.

Recently, I’ve been challenged to take my ability to be a friend to another level.  My wife and I have made some strategic decisions lately and are laying out goals for our personal development.  Often, in my desire to offer comfort I sabotage her by offering a way out of difficulty rather than challenge in the pursuit of her goals and dreams.  She’s told me, “I really need you to be a friend to me and not let me out of these goals when things are not easy.”

I have to admit, it’s far easier for me to soothe when I should be urging her on to the mark with affection and encouragement.

How about you?

As a friend, you are able to speak in love to those in your orbit and help them become the best they can be.  In fact, it’s your love and commitment that makes such direct challenges palatable.

Here’s some starters to help be a better friend:

  • “You’re overextending yourself.  Why don’t you get to bed a little earlier?”
  • “Come on.  You’re better than that!”
  • ”You really don’t need that second helping of goulash (or glass of wine).”
  • “There’s a trend I’m seeing in your attitudes.  Let’s talk about it.  I’ll walk with you  through this.”
  • “You need to take better care of yourself.  Why don’t you make an appointment to see a doctor?”
  • “Be a class act.  Don’t descend to the level of petty gossip and malice over what [insert name] has disappointed you with.”

Being a friend surely means offering solace and empathy.  But it also has the character of a good coach—you help those you love to win.  Be that friend.

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Lift Up Your Voice

27 02 2012

Martin Niemöller was a Protestant pastor in Nazi Germany.  Harrowing times call for unprecedented courage and social responsibility.  After the war, he spoke about his own failure to speak out against the madness of the Third Reich.

“When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.”

Francis Schaeffer once warned that personal peace and affluence—and lust for these things—would be the undoing of the West.  It is the easiest thing known to man not to get involved with messy things.  That response led to the murder of the six million in Hitler’s death camps, virtually the liquidation of European Jewry.

We cannot afford to be silent in the face of the things that are destroying us here in America.  Our values have been undermined, often by our own apathy and secret agreements with darkness.

You have a voice.  Pick an area to get involved in, for there are many.  Lives and values are at stake.

And speak up!

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Christopher Parkening On Excellence

26 02 2012

“You will always pay the full price for excellence.  It is never discounted.”  (Christopher Parkening)

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Vying For A Place With Vai

25 02 2012

In a month I will be playing guitars in the pit band for a local production of the musical “Little Shop of Horrors.”  It is a comedy with music and lyrics written by the Grammy Award winning team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.  Musically it is a combination of Sha-Na-Na meets Billy Joel meets Funk-A-Delic meets The Knack.  It is a hilarious story.

Playing in these shows is always a challenge.  I read music and that has helped me get these roles, which are a privilege.  I get to work with outstanding musicians.

Today I spent hours going through the score—a piano reduction—and the guitar lead sheets, learning parts and rhythms.  It puts one through the paces to be sure.

This music is challenging and multi-faceted.   Most Broadway music is.  It calls for focus and discipline, something I have to work at every day.  As I read through the musical today, I thought a lot about guitarist Steve Vai and his unbelievable work ethic regarding his art.

Steve used to divide his days up into twelve hours for guitar practice.  He may still be doing so.  Three hours for scales and modes, three hours for other things, and so forth.  If you’ve ever seen or heard Steve play, he is an extreme guitarist.  He does things most guitarists wouldn’t dare attempt.  His chops are precise, fluid and varied.  His execution of musical passages flawless.  His tones exotic, to say the least.

Vai’s genius, like Mozart and Tiger Woods, is rooted in deliberate practice.  Focus.  Distractions eliminated strategically.

He’s a graduate of the Berklee School of Music, so he knows music.  When he was breaking into the business over thirty years ago, he would transcribe the music and guitar solos of Frank Zappa—a musical genius in his own right.  And these transcriptions, of all parts in the songs, were written not as tablature (tabs) but as music proper.  That is an incredible feat in itself.  He eventually gave them to Zappa and worked with him.  The video below shows Steve playing and sharing about focus and practice.

Once again we are reminded that the key to mastery of any thing to which we aspire is time, focus and discipline.  Christopher Parkening, classical guitar virtuoso, once said, “You will always pay the full price for excellence.  It is never discounted.”

What things are you good and gifted at?  What kinds of changes can you make in their practice to take your skills to the level of virtuosity?  Are you up to the challenge?

I bet you are.

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Job Security By Design

24 02 2012

Living in the soup of a stagnant economy presents many challenges one might not otherwise face in a time of prosperity.  Navigating a volatile employment market takes ingenuity, drive, and out-of-the box thinking.  And not a little personal sacrifice.

Depending on where you reside, the unemployment rate currently hovers between 7-10%.  It is an employer’s market, even in the armed forces.  One career Army sergeant told me a few summers ago that the job security of being able to reenlist is a thing of the past.  Those who wish to do so are carefully scrutinized.  A record of poor performance, apathy, dust-ups with the law (read bar fights), etc., and your chances of being rehired are remote indeed.  Even the US Army can now pick and choose.

As well, many highly educated veterans in banking, IT, retail, and other markets, having been downsized, are now taking the simplest jobs, with high mortgages and school bills coming due without fail.

What to do?

I believe that job security is best stewarded in one’s own hands.  Labor unions can only go so far.  Those who keep their skills current, their work ethic stellar, their thinking creative, and their drive unimpaired stand the best chance of finding and maintaining gainful, even satisfying, employment in this competitive economy.

Here are some things you can do to hone your edge and increase your staying power:

  • Traditional continuing education.  This means everything from attaining or completing a degree program to adult enrichment courses at your local community college.  You must weigh the costs associated and determine the value of the investment.  It is a fantastic choice for many.
  • Internet tutorials.  There is so much free training material on the Web that one is able to complete a good deal of traditional education for little or no cost.  True, such training may not have the clout of an earned degree, but if it enables you to produce the results a company is looking for, you may get the job.  MIT and Stanford, to name just two outstanding schools, have a huge assortment of free courses online—computer programming to engineering and everything in between.  Avail yourself.
  • A second job outside your primary vocation.  It does not hurt at all to learn skills completely unrelated to your career.  I am an IT professional, but also a carpenter, musician and baker.  When the chips are down, I can look to these other fields for income and production.  If it means taking a second job at low pay and bottom of ladder, do it.  You will learn a new skill, valuable in itself.  And it may well keep you afloat in the days ahead.

Remember, you may have to train on your own time and dime.  Make the sacrifice.  Your sense of self-accomplishment as well as potential marketability are worth the effort!

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Peter Drucker On Risk

23 02 2012

“People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.”  (Peter F. Drucker)

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