At the recent Midwest Clinic in Chicago, December 2022, I had the opportunity to say a few words as part of a panel discussion on rehearsal philosophies in the orchestra classroom. As part of that brief talk, I mentioned that there are a number of core philosophies that I employ in my daily life and with my family and work. So, this is the second in a series of posts which outline some of those philosophies and give a little bit of background. I hope something here speaks to you.
First, I would just briefly say that these philosophies serve as guideposts in my life and leadership. They give me a solid foundation to use as I plan my strategies for navigating family life, work, relationships, personal ethics and integrity, and other elements of my daily life. Also, they provide a solid foundation for moments that are trying and difficult. It is so easy to waiver in difficult times. Having clearly articulated core philosophies is a great way to mitigate snap decisions that are regretted later. They are effectively a set of glasses through which to view the world. They make things just a little bit more in focus. When core philosophies are neglected, things can feel disorienting and uncomfortable. So, these are some of my guideposts.
Find a Way to Say Yes
Several years ago, I sensed that I was losing some of the joy that I had found in my work in prior years. I began seeking some answers for this changed perspective. I read a lot of books and sought the advice and perspective of many trusted friends. After a great deal of thought and consideration, I realized that I was encountering the many requests and tugs on my time with a negative attitude and approach. I had fallen into the pattern of starting by looking for reasons to say no as opposed to seeking reasons to say yes. I knew at my core that this was a dead end road. It felt like the beginning of what other people call burnout. I knew that this was not something I wanted to experience in any way at all. So, that summer, I decided to adopt a stated philosophy of doing my best to find a way to say yes to every request that came my way. Sometimes it's easy to say yes. We quickly see the value and purpose behind the requests that people make of our time and energy. Other times, it isn't so easy. In those times, it is appropriate to take a few minutes or hours or days to think about how an answer of yes might be achieved where everybody is fulfilled by the investment of time and energy. This might require an alternate recommendation or another way of approaching the problem. But in the end, it feels so much better when I start with an attitude of yes and find ways to honor those requests on my time.
This concept should certainly be self-explanatory. It is obviously easier said than done. I am fortunate that the example my parents set for me throughout my childhood was one of servant leadership. I watched my dad navigate the role of superintendent of schools for over 25 years as a true servant leader. I watched my mom navigate her role as teacher and parent with that same ethos. The concept of servant leadership has always made sense to me. Much of my religious education stemmed around the concept of servant leadership as well. I have always admired leaders who roll up their sleeves, get in the mix, and lead from within. I have aspired to that type of leadership since the day I started as a teacher. Like many of these philosophies, it is impossible to always succeed at this. But, as each day begins, my goal is to live the life of a servant leader.
Know the Taxonomy
Those of you that have spent time reading my blog know that I have thought a lot about taxonomies. A taxonomy is a hierarchical system of classification. It is, in some ways, an ordering of priorities. This has become an important way of thinking for me. It finds its way into my lesson planning, my long-term rehearsal planning, my personal goal setting, and also the way I think as a musician and artist. I used to say that I order my life and goals like an outline. I tend to see concepts in outline form as well. What I've realized in recent years, is that this is a nearly constant system of knowing the taxonomy of the topic at hand. When goal A is achieved, we can begin the process of all of the sub goals that lead to achieving goal B and so on. It is so important to keep the hierarchy of priorities in mind in nearly every task of my day. So, whether organizing a rehearsal or the multitude of tasks ahead of me in a given day, knowing the taxonomy is an absolute must for me.