I recall tugging on my father’s elbow during a Peristyle concerto and whispering, “That’s what I want to play!” The French horns were so beautiful. They were golden, shiny and elegantly awkward. At the tender age of three, this would be the first of many audacious dreams. The second, formed in high school, was to become a well-known and respected author.
Most brass musicians know the French horn is not for novice players. Actually, a recent New York Times article called it the wild card of the orchestra! How ironic.
I waited “my whole life” for 4th grade so I could finally play the French horn in my school band! To my dismay, my kind but stern band instructor adamantly advised against it. In plain words, the French horn was too hard to learn as a first instrument and I was advised to start off on the flute or clarinet. Whahhh?? It took mom’s diplomatic but southern advocacy to convince my band teacher otherwise. I recall sitting teary-eyed, hanging onto every word as mom dosed persuasion and intellect through our land-line, “Cynthia has always wanted to play French horn and when she says she can do something, it’s done.” I’m grateful to Mrs. Dukes for obliging my mother and letting me try. Our audacity proved beneficial - and now I had to rise to the occasion.
Many hours of isolated and miserably loud practices ensued before I successfully taught myself how to read sheet music and play in F alto. For many years, I dragged my obnoxiously large French horn case down my street, on and off the school bus - through long hallways amidst the echoes of ridicule and relentless teasing. I was bullied for different reasons for many years and that horn case did NOT help the situation. Hahaha. Anyway, I was usually the only French horn player [in both the intermediate and advanced bands] so everyone knew it was me whenever I played off-key or out of sync. I quickly learned that I had to keep practicing. I worked relentlessly to memorize note sequences in order to keep an eye on the cues from Mrs. Dukes. In all, I held confidence through my less than stellar performances. And my parents were proud.
I eventually perfected my pitch, emboucher, and posture -- and learned to play beautifully. It took some years but I finally became the musician I envisioned as a preschooler on my father’s knee at the Peristyle. Finally, I mirrored the beauty and elegance of my shiny horn … and could play that thang too. Ayyyyyy …
Okay, okay, thank you for allowing me to take you down memory lane. I have enjoyed sharing -- but really, I only re-emerged to communicate four lessons:
"That's how you know you're dreaming big ... "
One, clarify your dream and be audacious. What do you want, exactly? Fearlessly ‘point it out’ like the three-year-old me. Or, consult with your inner-child … remember when you believed that anything was possible? Can you love yourself enough to believe that way again (Get Boss, 2019)? Why and when do you want it? Create a vision board and set specific goals with timelines. Clarify your intentions and make them bold. Make them borderline delusional, in fact, your "peers" should question your audacity. That’s how you know you’re dreaming big …
Two, try, try again. Before I taught myself to read music, I could hear (aural visualization) the melodies in my mind. I played for so many hours that eventually the tune in my head matched the notes on the page and the sounds coming from my horn. I would play for hours upon hours: from my living room floor to the band rooms of Mt. Vernon, McTigue and my childhood church orchestra. Today, when I know an aspect of my dream requires me to build muscle in an underdeveloped area of my skillset, I practice. There is no shame in admitting growth areas.
What muscles do you need to build? Is it time to earn a credential or degree through an online program? Will a skilled trade or professional development program boost your esteem and resume in a meaningful way? Are either necessary to accomplish your goals?? Sometimes what we really need is a soul-scrubbing, mindset adjustment. All the education in the world won’t make you successful without the grit and the willingness to fail. Publicly. Privately. Exquisitely.
"Lean on your own resilience. You already have what it takes to win."
Three, lean on your support then lean into yourself. I am blessed to have an artistic father and a kind, Pit Bull of a mother that support(ed) me in ways that have proved critical to my achievements. Even my band teacher became one of my greatest supporters but I had to prove her wrong first.
We expect our networks to be evergreen or on-call and that isn’t always the case. Support, like all networks, can be temporary. There will be times when you will walk alone. Courage and audacity can be hard to maintain when people don’t understand your vision. Long nights of the soul seem to reconcile slowly. Yet when you’ve calculated the cost, studied all angles, and prayed … faith and tenacity will carry you through. We all have spiritual teams ready to assist but at the end of the day, you must support, love and trust yourself. Your Self. Lean on your own resilience. You already have what it takes to win.
Four, risk the ridicule. If people can’t find a reason to criticize, judge or look at you ‘sideways’, you may not be working to your potential. If you’re fitting in (and good for you) but most likely you will be forgotten - quickly. Balancing of the root, heart, solar and sacral chakras can help us connect to our creative aspirations while developing the courage to go after them. More on this later. At the end of the day, an innovative and authentic life means taking the risk of being unpopular, misunderstood and talked about. Oh well.
In the words of Grammy award-winning rapper, singer (remember that song Happy?!), songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, and fashion designer Pharrell Williams:
“Anybody ever had an era
when things could've been better?
Feeling like you were on a stretcher
and all you remember was the hecklers?
But the Universe lifts that weight
then you shine like a new feather
Blessings on blessings, et cetera …
Feeling like the best year ever!
I can do anything …” Nice (The Carters, 2018)
I really can … and 2019 is my best year ever. So are 2020, 2021, 2022 and many years to come. So grow with me and curate your own versions of success. Join my commitment to shifting personal, spiritual and professional paradigms in 2019. Let’s be audacious … even when we have to play out of tune.
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