Tag Archives: NYT

A riff on ‘The Compassion Gap.’

A riff on ‘The Compassion Gap.’

I seek out Nicholas Kristof‘s opinion pieces for the NYT because they always illuminate a dark corner of which I was wholly unaware. Not surprisingly, this article about the Compassion Gap really touched a nerve for me.

I cannot count the number of people I’ve spoken with, in reference to this blog, who thought that teaching and performing were their only options, because those two professions were the only options that were familiar. 

When you magnify that myopia by whole communities, towns, cultures? It’s terrifying. 

Using this as a small lens on a small field?  It has reenergized me. These stories need to be told -to illustrate that there are options, to temper the shame of opting out of performing with the knowledge that fulfillment lies elsewhere, to justify (again, always again) the value of pouring one’s heart and soul into studying something that traffics in beautiful intangibles. 

I want to help you tell your stories. If your love of music didn’t fall neatly into “perform” or “teach,” I’d love to talk with you. 

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I bet Moriarty was a multi-tasker…

Elementary, my dear Watson!I am a new convert to the BBC Series Sherlock. Being able to (correctly – there’s the rub) infer personality traits, circumstances, travels through observing someone? Well, that’s a superpower that I’d like very much to have.

So, when I ran across an article in the New York Times alluding to my guy Sherlock? It immediately caught my attention. The article challenges the concept of multitasking, and focuses on mindfulness. Author Maria Konnikova writes:

More often than not, when a new case is presented, Holmes does nothing more than sit back in his leather chair, close his eyes and put together his long-fingered hands in an attitude that begs silence. He may be the most inactive active detective out there. His approach to thought captures the very thing that cognitive psychologists mean when they say mindfulness.

Ack! The inactivity! Where is the knee-jerk response, the running out of the room, the mad dash to the crime scene? Sherlock slows – nay, stops – the clock and contemplates before he makes a move. (I find the concept thrilling, as it is so foreign to me.)

Ms. Konnikova goes on to talk about mindfulness having similarities to meditation – that its core principle is to drown out distractions and to focus attention. She cites studies that track mood boosts, greater relaxation during timed tasks, and improvement in memory and cognitive function.

My “a-ha!” moment: isn’t that what we were doing in the practice room??

We spent hours of focused attention, ignoring distraction (well, for the most part) to concentrate singularly on our craft. Afterwards, leaving the small space I remember my brain being exhausted, but feeling good about the work that I’d accomplished. (Again, for the most part.)

My job, while in the arts, is an administrative office gig… I am a slave to email and the phone and instant messenger. I need to drop things at a moment’s notice, and so I’ve become more adept with juggling several things shallowly than really digging into one task or problem.

I’m considering a more measured approach to 2013. One that might make me calmer, happier, and even a wee bit smarter. (Heck, I’ll take any help I can get!)

 

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Follow your passion.

Cal Newport, a Computer Science professor at Georgetown University, wrote a great article for the New York Times about discovering one’s passion, rather than choosing and following one. He talks about having doubts when in graduate school:

Had I subscribed to the “follow our passion” orthodoxy, I probably would have left during those first years, worried that I didn’t feel love for my work every day. But I knew that my sense of fulfillment would grow over time, as I became better at my job. So I worked hard, and, as my competence grew, so did my engagement.

I think we do tend to single-track students into finding their ‘passions’ much too early. Isn’t it lovely to have someone advocate on behalf of fulfilling work, without the pressure of calling it a ‘career’?

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Artistry + Kindness = Leadership?

One of my great pleasures post-opera season is catching up on reading. I’ve slammed through three books, countless magazines and a daily date with the New York Times, and am trying desperately to get rid of all of the (1,000+) notations on my Google Reader.

(It’s a bit of a task, as I am something of a virtual hoarder. Before you ask, I will not be going on Bravo tv to reveal the size of my email archives or the shopping lists from 2006 that are still on my computer’s hard drive. The answer is an unequivocal “No.”)

I stumbled across two great articles in the Harvard Business Review that really speak to me.

The first (which you can find here) focused on the traits that great artists and great leaders share. The author, Michael O’Malley, calls out twelve specific traits ranging from Intent (the desire to be superlative) and Skill (having the tools to bring a vision to fruition) to Pleasure (providing occasions for emotional buy-in and fulfillment) and Criticism (looking for and incorporating feedback). I for one think that any kind of arts training sets up these building blocks in concrete ways, and can cite several examples from my own experiences. (I’d share mine, but I’m guessing that you’ve got one or two yourself – I’d love to hear yours, either via email or in the comments.)

The second (you can find it here) is about the importance of kindness in business. William C. Taylor cites some beautiful examples about businesses who made a personal connection -and tangentially won significant attention – because they did the right thing and were nice to someone in need. It’s easier in the arts I think to cling to this idea, because we all know how negativity can sabotage the most promising production/process. It’s one of the areas in which my boss excels (although she’s pretty darn clever to boot – make no bones about it.), and that contributes to a wonderful atmosphere, high retention, excellent product and strong word-of-mouth press. It’s not a surprise that I found this book on her bookshelf several years ago…and if you know me, also not a surprise that it’s still being held hostage on my bookshelf.

I keep coming back to one particular kernel of truth: once an artist, always an artist. I am encouraged to see the for-profit sector embracing the thought of artistry in leadership, but I wonder if the gatekeepers – those HR personnel charged with finding creative problem-solvers – know enough about the training to actually place some of those non-traditional resumés in the Yes pile, to take a risk on someone who might have the skill base but not the industry experience. I challenge the industry, and all of us who have started as performers and art-makers, to find actual, practical value in an arts education, and to once and for all lose the tired stereotype that artists are scattered and unreliable and far too difficult to work with. You cannot value the traits without also valuing the artists who exhibit those traits, who study to perfect those skills, and the institutions who shape their careers as working artists, recreational artists, arts consumers, and at-large members of the national workforce.

Thanks for listening. Let’s all try something a little out-of-the-box, shall we?

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Taking it for a Test Drive

Along the same lines as Wednesday’s post, here’s an article from the NYT about the new prevalence of online educational resources. Coursera, Khan Academy, heck even YouTube tutorials. There’s so much knowledge for the taking! Perhaps the hardest aspect of the whole process is choosing what to study…

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