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Life IS Short – Play your song

I’m sure you’ve heard NBA Superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter and another entire family were killed over the weekend in a tragic helicopter crash.  It moves me to write on urgency.

Before I get there let me say basketball skills are not my gift. As a result, I don’t follow too much of the NBA. I have of course seen Bryant in action in highlights and even to the untrained NBA “fan”, the guy was something special. I saw some clips of his Top Ten and he’s definitely working on a different plane than the rest of us or even the players on the court.

The loss of life strikes home with me.  And urgency is what’s important in deciding what to do everyday.  Separate the everyday stuff from the important.   The important is what’s urgent and what you will be happy focusing on.  What’s important?

We think our jobs are, but consider that if you get hit by a bus, the business will still go on without you. You are not essential to your work. Not even me. People will still need to be adjusted and somebody will still be adjusting. That said, for some, they combine their unique gift with their job. That’s when your job is urgent, but not because you make money. Because you love it.

Consider what is uniquely yours. What can you do that nobody else can? For which, there is no replacement. Those things are your gifts, like Kobe’s amazing basketball prowess which he happened to be born at a time when that was celebrated. If he were born 200 years ago, it wouldn’t be recognized.

All of us have these things and ideally, during our lifetimes they are celebrated. If not, so what. You still do them. Nikolai Tesla died broke. He did what he did because it was his love, his passion and his gift.
You may have a flair for decorating like nobody else. Maybe you play the ukulele. Maybe you are stellar at plumbing.

One way to determine if it’s your gift or your job is, consider whether you’d be doing it if you didn’t get paid. Or, do you lose track of time doing the activity.

The other super important thing that is urgent is your relationship to others. You are the only mom, the only dad, the only brother, the only oldest sibling, the only youngest, the only you…. to the people around you. What is urgent is you consider how to be that person for them and be the gift that you were given.

What do you need to do? Just move those relationships to the foreground in daily life. Practice and refine your gifts so the rest of us can see them. Do not hide your light under a bushel basket so to speak.

A couple years ago I was urged by a member of our practice, to pick up playing an instrument again. As I child I was naturally attracted to playing the piano. I never took lessons but there was a piano in the house because my sisters all were required to take lessons. (I don’t know the reasoning for this and my parents are no longer here to ask) I could hear things on tv and play them on the piano. I would play jingles, weekly theme songs and some movie theme songs for some reason. I don’t know how I learned these because the movie was only shown once a year or so. Like the theme from Brian’s Song and Exodus. Those are weird songs to learn when you’re 10 or 12 but they stick in my memory.

I had played in a band in high school and then until I was 31 years old and quit it all cold turkey because I thought that running a business was urgent and being a parent was urgent, requiring all of my time.

I donated all my gear to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, the last “gig” I played was keyboards for their Easter production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1992.
Geoff, the aspiring guitarist member of our practice was putting pressure on me to play again ostensibly so he could play in a group of some sort and jam. As a concession to “help him” I actually did begin to play again. That was exactly 4 years ago. I still refused to go back to keyboards thinking, I’ll never be “that good” again as when I was playing full time 6 nights a week. I could only disappoint myself. So, I learned to play the ukulele in concession to Geoff’s request. We played a few songs that summer at a pool party. People were very gracious about our skills. 6 months into learning the uke doesn’t exactly sound like Jake Shimabukuru playing Bohemian Rhapsody on his uke. We’re talking 3 chord rock here.

But, what happened next is, I kind of got sucked in. There was a free piano on Craigslist not far from my house. Now, it isn’t that I couldn’t afford a piano, it just that I wasn’t ready to admit this was something I was going to spend money (energy) on. But, free? well, OK….. I can excuse it then. So, I picked up this baby grand, had it tuned and started plinking around on it. Turns out, it’s much simpler for me to play this than the uke. Geoff happened to be over practicing some 3 chord uke stuff, or maybe a new song for which I was having trouble getting my fingers to do what they needed on the uke and just walked over the piano and banged it out like I knew it. My friend wryly commented “What are you doing with the uke?” Basically, ‘you’re and idiot’. “You sound REALLY good on the piano.”.
Well, long story I know…. what happened from then to now is, I picked up some other keyboards, started actually playing in a band again. That is coming up on 1 year since my first live gig on Valentine’s Day last year.
All during my gigging years in the 80s, people were very appreciative of the music I played with the band back then. I never really gave it much credence because I thought anyone could do it if they just decided to. After all, I didn’t have to be forced to do it. I wasn’t sitting their after school trudging through sheet music. It just was a natural for me. So, I never gave much thought to people’s compliments. I always thought that “anyone can do this”. I turned 59 last week. And NOW I see the error of that thinking. That’s like me telling Kobe had a great game and him thinking… well, you can do that Dan. Ummmmmm….. No. I can’t. Not in this universe. Maybe if they had a Peruvian basketball league, where I’d tower over all the Peruvian’s…….

I understand now that in addition to my blessings of being a father, husband, friend, sibling…. all important and urgent to keep up those things. I’ve also been given at least a few gifts that no one else possesses. And that one, playing keys, I’ve kept under wraps unwilling to share for 25 years. What a mistake.   What if I never got good at adjusting?  What if I never regained my music skills.  What if I never told my kids or my wife I loved them?  What if I never went shopping with my wife?  What if I was too busy to go to my kids’ games?  (actually, during my kids’ teen years I was only at the office Mon-Thursday because I regarded being a father as more urgent)  What a waste that would’ve been.  That’s what’s important and that’s what’s urgent for me.  You have to figure it out for you.

Fortunately, you and I woke up this morning with yet another opportunity to share our gifts. That is what is urgent. Share your gifts. Play YOUR “song”. Nurture your relationships. And by all means, protect your health so you CAN share your gifts and nurture your relationships. I know all kinds of people who let their health go and can no longer play music, ride a bike, heck… even hold a job.

If you’ve lost your health, that’s a rare bird that can also keep relationships up. Losing your health takes so much time, energy and money. The people in ill health haven’t much left in their lives other than doctors, treatments, hospitals and such.

Health isn’t the most important. It is number 2 though. I’ll save the tools for staying healthy for another blog post another day.

Thanks for being you.
Thanks for sharing your gifts.
Take care of your relationships.
Take care of your health.
Blessings,
Dr. Daniel T. Barrett