Monday, March 4, 2019

Looking Back From a Feeling of Triumph

My daughter plays the piano and the violin. She's an eighth-grader now, and every year for the past three years she has tried out for our state's Solo & Ensemble Music Festival, in which school children across the state prepare and perform a piece on their instruments, which is judged by a professional music teacher or instructor. Those judged worthy are then invited to participate in the festival, where they again perform their piece, are judged again, and can win ribbons and trophies.

My daughter likes her piano and her violin, but like a lot of kids her age, there are other things she likes even more. In her case, those things are drawing in her sketchbook, composing music and coding online, and playing video games with her friends. If she has a choice, these are the activities that are going to fill her free time, not practicing her piano and violin pieces for the state music festival.

Today were the tryouts for the festival. As I drove my daughter to the high school where the tryouts were being held, I asked her if she thought she was ready. She said she wasn't. When I asked her why, she said she hadn't practiced her pieces enough, and was worried that she was going to make mistakes during the performances.

So I told her a quick story.

On Friday of this past week I had a business meeting in downtown Milwaukee. It was a meeting of one of the committees of my association, a group of technical experts who would be using their expertise discuss and decide some important matters for the organization. My job was to be the facilitator -- to guide the committee through its agenda, ensuring that all voices were heard and helping to codify the consensus view into a clear and representative document.

It was the kind of thing I had done before, but I was still nervous about it. Given the subject matter of the meeting, I was a little out of my element, and I had some lingering worries that something unproductive would happen. The committee members would reject the premise I had constructed, or would drive the discussion in directions where my deficit of understanding would become apparent.

As a result of these worries, I had spent a fair amount of time preparing for the meeting. I had done my homework, reading the previous reports of the committee and brushing up on my understanding of the trends and technologies they would be discussing. There were things I would have rather been doing with the time that I had dedicated to these tasks -- reading a book, perhaps, or watching a movie on Netflix -- but I had kept myself focused and put in the time necessary to get myself as prepared as I could possibly be.

And when the meeting was over, and things had gone well, I realized something about my own motivations. I had done something I didn't want to do not just because I was afraid of my own public failure, but also because the feeling of success, the feeling that came from doing something difficult and doing it well, was worth the extra effort.

Not in the moment, certainly. In the moment, whether it was reading technical papers or practicing a piano solo, the extra effort never felt worth it. There would always be something more enjoyable tugging on the corners of our minds. But in retrospect, looking back from a feeling of triumph, only then would it become apparent that laboring over every technical term or chord combination was absolutely worth the investment of time and attention.

The trick, then, is that when the going gets tough, to put yourself forward into that envisioned feeling of triumph. Knowing how good that is going to feel is what can give you the motivation to push through with something you know is necessary but would rather not be doing.

My daughter's a smart kid. I'm sure she understood the message I was trying to send her. At least when I asked her if she did, she did me the courtesy of not rolling her eyes.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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