Category: "SOS Signal Newsletter"

Why Spring Cleaning Does More Than Make Things Look Nice.

April 2nd, 2015

Read more via my latest newsletter, SOS Signal March/April 2015.

Flawed performance or no performance at all?

March 1st, 2013

To play musical accompaniment (in a new window) while reading, click here.

Last Friday I sent out my bimonthly SOS Signal newsletter. The feature article looked at working person's ability to clearly tell clients what he or she does. It emphasized the importance of defining the job before describing the quality of the work. It turns out, the piece was released with two typos.

Ironic? I suppose not.

The imperfections in the newsletter turned out to be an appropriate case-in-point. I hate the fact that they happened, but they speak to the topic at hand for a number of reasons, especially for those of us who want to do an A-plus job, 100 percent of the time. Our desire to meet such high standards is often exactly what holds us back from taking risks, moving forward, and sharing ourselves.

Calculated Risks

In my personal life and in my work, I must prioritize objectives in order to achieve them. My blog and newsletter are produced on a regular and consistent basis, molded to offer support and encouragement, without advertising. Those are my priorities. Now, if I was writing for hire (i.e., a paid job), perfection would shift up the priority scale, and so I would employ a proofreader to catch any missed errors. Every goal is wrought with calculated risks. To meet the objectives, investment must therefore be based on calculated priorities.

Pushing Onward

The errors were the result of a tradeoff between delaying the publication or delivering the finished job on schedule. Now, I don't like sloppy work and every piece I produce is a sample of my ability, but at some point I need to stop checking for accuracy and "roll the presses," otherwise the paper won't get delivered. Plus, the more I worry about perfection, the more I am crippled. This happens for performers, athletes, and everyone. Ski down a hill thinking about nothing other than falling, and you will most certainly plant your face on the ground. In order to move freely forward, we must let go.

The Main Point: Sharing Ourselves

Most important: I'm not perfect. I am a flawed individual who writes about her experiences and thoughts so that other individuals may feel connected to them. I fight through the terror of publishing my words because I am compelled to do so. Sadly, I can get 2,000 words down and out, but the only ones I remember are the two I typed incorrectly, all the work, thought, molding, and courage ruined with two little words.

This is the world we live in, intolerant to mistakes, from others, from ourselves. In the case of a surgeon such is a good thing. But in the case of the average person, particularly the average artist, it's debilitating and it limits our experience. How many paintings and sculptures and screenplays are stuffed into closets because the creators fear the critique's evil standard? What do we deny ourselves out of reluctance to risk a mistake? How many words are in need of saying that don't get said because the sayer can't say them perfectly?

Musical Examples

In addition to being a writer, I am also a musician. I'm not a professional or even an "amateur;" I just play the piano. Music is an art that, like writing, requires accuracy. Hit the wrong note or lose control of your voice and your audience will cringe if they notice.

Most of you don't know about my skill because I don't perform in public. Why? My playing is riddled with mistakes. I have a bookcase full of songs which I enjoy, but I have no desire to sit and repeat and repeat and repeat the same song until I hit every note perfectly in order to make it performance-worthy; I just want to make music that satisfies my mood.

Meanwhile, I've heard it said that God's gift to you is your talent, and your gift in return is sharing that talent with others. How true! But compared to the remixed, remastered, studio recorded, uncovered prodigy, Idol groomed, expensive ticketed, mass produced ridiculousness that has become America's music scene, how can a middle-aged piano player who makes too many mistakes have anything to offer?

Such a question is a crippling result of the perfectionist standard: God-given talents deemed unworthy by human snobbery. "Find out who wins after this commercial break."

Have you noticed the copycat redundancy in Top 40 soloists today? There's a certain over embellishment, a let-me-prove-how-super-strong-my-voice-is pattern running amuck today. For instance, few people I know enjoy the way the National Anthem is sung at big games now, yet someone, somewhere has determined there's a new way to make it "perfect." The notes might be right, but in my opinion, the quality is anything but. True perfection in this case should have nothing to do with the singer, and everything to do with the song. By focusing so much attention on the soloist's ability, the song's meaning -- a great country shared by people of all talents -- is screamed out of earshot.

Meanwhile, have you noticed that vinyl records have fallen back into favor? I love old vinyl because, even though the albums were studio recorded, they have a raw feeling of wonderful imperfection, like a true live performance complete with lint- and scratch-infused background noise. There's a passion that comes through, passion otherwise sterilized by digital conversion.

So yes, there were regrettable typos in my SOS Signal. If I took this too seriously, I would write less, not more. Life itself is such a performance, one with plenty of lint and scratches. As much as I'd regret stumbling on stage, I'd hate it even more if I hid behind the curtain instead.

What about you?

NOTE: The recording linked at the top of this page was of me, playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on my piano at home. It's as perfect as I'm ever going to get it. Nothing to offer? Depends on who you ask, I guess.

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A Reader Writes

July 3rd, 2012

In addition to writing this blog, I also send out a more-formal message in my newsletter called the SOS Signal. The May/June issue included a piece about expectations -- how they lead to conformity and what could happen if we threw them away.

(If you didn't see the newsletter, you can access it by clicking here.)

Unlike this blog, the Signal does not allow readers to post a public comment in response. Oftentimes I receive emails from people who felt compelled to follow up. I cherish this feedback -- praise and criticism alike -- because it keeps me going, and it helps me add clarity to my writing.

I also love when a message is shared with someone who would enjoy or benefit from it. That is how a now-avid blog reader and commenter came to find this blog about a year ago. Her latest message, written in response to the expectations piece, was beautiful enough that I couldn't have written it better myself and heartfelt enough that it deserved its own post. Here it is, with her permission:

"Thank you Ruth for the thought provoking message.

"Nonconformity takes a lifetime of trying to undue everything we've been taught and everything we thought was worthwhile enough to imitate. If I could be famous (or even noticed), I'd be rich, and if I am rich, isn't that the ultimate? And where is the logic in this thinking? Of course, it's what we were taught!

"It took me a lifetime to see through the fog of worldly pursuits even in this day of the ecology risen consciousness. Some of us are slower than others especially when we have so much to undue.

"First I had to learn respect for myself and others; we are all on a different journey. Then I had to figure out what life was all about and how I fit into a grand scheme that ties it all together. At some point I discovered my own voice and then found a vision. I can see the beauty in all of it, especially in the smile or even half-smile of a stranger. That's a gift!

"What am I to do with my God given energy? Put it to the best use possible each and every day, void of expectations. The more we let go of our demands on each other the more surprises waiting for us tomorrow. This is a quote by Gandhi: 'BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD.'"



A Positive SOS Signal

February 14th, 2012

It's that time again. The latest SOS Signal has been published, this time with a positive message for 2012.

Click here to read The Write Beat's latest newsletter.

Hammering Away at Organization

September 20th, 2011

During my career as an office management consultant, I would meet with disorganized professionals to talk about the clutter in their office.

Amidst piles of paper piles, scattered post-it notes, and dusty gadgets, I'd ask the person what they wanted most ... what they envisioned for themselves. More often than not, they responded with statements like, "I guess I need bins and better shelves," or "I want labels," or "I need you to help me figure out what kind of filing cabinet I should buy."

Organization is a habit, a mind-set, and a skill set, but all they could picture were the tools. If they truly wanted to address the chaos, they first had to recognize that organization can't be bought at the office supply store.

Read more in the latest SOS Signal newsletter.