Equal Time for the Arts

My family wasn’t a “sports family,” so when I joined the business world I was perplexed by the volume of sports metaphors embedded in meetings and conversations. Over the years I’ve heard them all: “Batting a home run,” “teeing it up” and being a “team player” are sprinkled throughout sales meetings and boardrooms all over the country.

I’d like to expand our business metaphor repertoire to include a world beyond sports: the world of music. Around fourth grade, when I was ducking any ball that came my way in the outfield, I began to the play the cello. My love of the instrument, my family’s interest in the arts and a strong strings program at my school resulted in a life-long interest in music.

For nine years I played in orchestras—school orchestras, regional orchestras and ultimately, I sat first chair in the cello section of the Johnstown Youth Symphony in Pennsylvania. Through those years of playing music I learned the importance of following the leader, our conductor—in sports terms, the coach. I understood that everyone plays a part and only by following the conductor and the musical score–the “playbook”–did the music come out the way the composer intended. We even had contests so there was a level of competition and sportsmanship in there, too.

Maybe I never played first base, but I had been, in fact, part of a team. In a symphony orchestra, the first violins sway in unison, playing the melody as if with one voice. The oboe’s solo depends on everyone else knowing it’s their time to be quiet, or pianissimo. The woodwinds, the brass and the percussion surround the strings with trills, glissandos and the boom of the timpani. Then the instruments come crashing together in the final movement and as the last notes hang in the air, the word “team” is redefined.

Sports metaphors will, no doubt, continue to dominate the business world (sigh). But allow me to share, if I may, the same thrill of victory that comes from practicing, working and then performing music for an audience, communicating a complex message that may have been written centuries ago. My frame of reference may not include the physical sweat that comes from being out on the field, but for musicians, like athletes, there are drills and long hours, discipline and hard work. We get coached, we have a “batting order” and sometimes we even get benched.

Whether you’re kicking a goal on the soccer field or hitting that high note in the third movement, you learn a mastery of skills that will help you later in the business world. Athletes and artists build resilience and the ability to respond to their teammates, working toward that common goal—excellence. Whatever your experience, those are great skills to have. And with any luck, you’ll always remember the cheers from your fans, whether they were in stadium seats or in orchestra hall.

Photo credit: Manuel Nageli, Unsplash

C’mon in, the Water’s Fine

No one could ever accuse me of being athletic. My idea of a sport is speed-reading. And perhaps because I read too much, I had to wear glasses by the time I was ten. Around that same time I joined the swim team, nudged by my parents who no doubt wanted me to do something constructive with my summer. So I swam, albeit tentatively. Without my glasses and hampered by a lack of depth perception, I was never quite sure whether I would glide in or finish a lap with a resounding whack as my head butted up against the wall of the pool.

Cut to the present: I recently joined a gym. Part of the lure of membership was the beautiful Olympic-sized pool even though I hadn’t been in a pool in years. I spent the first few months watching wistfully from the sidelines–I couldn’t bring myself to go in. For one thing, I wanted to look good in a swimsuit before going swimming (circuitous logic, I know). But a few weeks ago, I took the plunge.

As I skimmed along the water during a morning workout, I thought about my swimming breakthrough in the context of business and career success:

  • If we want to succeed, we gotta get into the water. Although I’m a strong swimmer, I had fears: How did I look? What’s the pool protocol? Would I have all the right gear? The terrain was unfamiliar and I felt awkward and self-conscious. Still, I jumped in. In business and in life, you gotta get into the water or, to use another sports analogy, you have to get onto the playing field if you’re going to make a difference.
  • It’s OK to be afraid. I couldn’t believe how nervous I was before using the pool. Everything from the pre-swim shower regimen to the etiquette of moving into someone’s lane seemed daunting. But the feeling of exhilaration I had after my first swim was as much about facing my fear head-on as it was from the aerobic activity. Anything worth doing is worth being terrified by—including making sales calls, speaking in public, and facing the rejection of interviews or of the marketplace. Do it anyway. Eleanor Roosevelt, one of my heroines, once said, “Do one thing that scares you every day.”
  • Practice the fundamentals. It’s been many years since that myopic young girl competed on a swim team but the minute I hit the water I remembered the fundamentals of swimming. Everything from the crisp cut of the water with my hands while doing the breaststroke to breathing into the crook of my arm while doing the Australian crawl came back to me. Whether we’re building a business or taking our careers to the next level, we first have to learn the fundamentals. Then, we have to practice, practice, practice.
  • The only way to grow is to be willing to be uncomfortable.  Barbara Stanny in her seminal work with people and money says that one of the first steps in overcoming underearning is to be willing to be uncomfortable. We love routine and yes, rituals and traditions are good for us. But we have to step outside our comfort zone in order to grow.

Last night I went for a late-night swim. As I did the backstroke I saw the reflection of a swimmer above me in the glass ceiling. I watched her skim along the lane, sometimes veering off a little to the right but always moving forward. Maybe not as lithe as she once was or as fast as she once swam. But at least she was in the water.

What will you do today to take you outside your comfort zone? C’mon in. The water’s fine.

[Photo credit: iStockphoto]