ViolinThe Olympics are over, and true to form, they were surrounded by controversy: stray dogs, hotel issues, judging bias, and more. But there were still plenty of Olympic moments that can teach us life lessons.

One Olympic moment that resonated with me was Jason Brown‘s figure skating performances. The skating world wanted him to repeat his amazing U.S. Championship performance, and they hoped he would win a medal. But that wasn’t his goal. He simply wanted to skate well and to have fun. The look on his face when he placed 9th was priceless: he smiled and his coach hugged him. He was so happy–not to win a medal, but to PLACE in the top 10! Some critics in the skating community were disappointed. He wasn’t; nor was I. No, his performances were not the performances of a lifetime, and that’s what resonated with me. He made mistakes, but he was still happy with how he skated and he sill skated beautifully. He went out there and had fun!

We tell children to have fun when they’re playing sports. My mother told me that all the time. Somewhere along the line, I forgot that lesson. Instead, I worry about making mistakes and looking stupid. This is especially true playing a musical instrument.

I have been playing violin since I was four years old…well, until I switched to viola when I was 17. From there, viola became my go-to instrument for classical music. My violin became my “fiddle” and came out when I showed off my Swedish folk music. On viola, I have played in several symphony orchestras: amateur and professional. On violin, my symphony playing ended in college in Tucson, AZ when college work got to be too busy to continue playing. I picked it up again in Cheyenne several years ago, but I continued to play viola through graduate school and beyond.

Last fall I got a surprising call from Powder River Symphony. They were in desperate need for a violinist, not a violist. The repertoire included songs I had played, so I said yes. I soon realized I was a bit over my head. I had played those pieces, but that was in high school and some of them I had played on viola. But I was committed to playing the concert.

I practiced. I was ready.

The concert came, I walked on stage, saw that large audience and froze. My fingers were stiff. I could barely play one note.

Somehow I managed to get through, and amazingly enough, the director asked me to come back!

I did.

The same thing happened. I froze.

I thought I had put those demons to rest. The demons that continually repeated, “You suck! You can’t play this! Those people are watching you and wondering why they’re paying you to play!” They were loud and clear, and those voices affected my fingers.

Again, after the concert, the conductor asked me to return.

As I smiled and nodded, my mind screamed, “Seriously!? Didn’t you see how much I sucked!?”

The next concert was Feb. 23rd. I practiced more and more…my fingers were black from practicing.

My black fingers from practicing.

My black fingers from practicing.

I was scared to death. That fear drove me to practice, so it was a good thing. But something else happened.

The Olympics.

And this appeared on Facebook from Sarah:

Suddenly, I saw these two mindsets everywhere: my students, my co-workers, athletes, and especially, the Olympians. In particular, I recognized that Jason Brown was coming from a “growth mindset.”

I recognized that I was behaving in a “fixed mindset” rather than a “growth mindset.” That little diagram changed everything. I realized that I had a choice: I could approach this concert with continued fear or I could learn from it. I decided to learn from it.

I went to rehearsals with the idea to learn from my mistakes–not to worry about making them. It amazed me at how quickly I learned.

The concert date arrived and I breathed, thinking of Jason Brown. My mind settled in and instead of the demons, I heard the music in my mind as I played. The audience disappeared. My fingers relaxed. I played, and I played well. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good, and it was better than the rehearsals.

All in all, I have learned to quiet those demons again.


Technology as…Fashion??

Shh…don’t tell anyone…but for the past few weeks, I’ve been conducting a secret experiment. Although, it’s not very scientific, nor very secret, but it’s been fun. For the past few weeks, I added a pair of baby-blue earbuds to my daily wardrobe.

It started around midterms when grading clogged my calendar. I hardly had time to eat much less talk to people, so I wore my headphones in my office while grading papers, checking email, etc. They blocked out background noises and kept people at bay. Later, I participated in the iPod exchange program and received a new iPod Nano. Of course, with a new iPod, I needed new headphones!

Having been content with whatever came with my original Nano, I hadn’t been headphone shopping in ages. I never saw so many headphone selections in my life! How do you choose from so many colors, designs, and styles? I consulted help, only to find out that I knew so little about the subject, I hardly understood the clerk. So, I did what most newbies of technology do: I purchased them in a favorite color at a reasonable price. Sporting my new blue earbuds with my new tiny Nano, daily I wrapped my headphones around my neck as I ran out the door.

Of course, since I started wearing headphones, I noticed everyone else wearing them, too. Check out Wayne’s stylish headphones:

Traveling to a conference with a colleague, I noticed he had no qualm about wearing large, black headphones with a white skull painted on them. They didn’t count against his carry-on quota either. The TSA officials simply accepted them as part of his wardrobe.

Wearing headphones for exercise or studying makes sense to me. Music can help us focus and help our memory and learning (see my Master’s thesis for more), but headphones also isolate us and send a “do not disturb” message to the outside world, and whether you think that’s a good or bad thing, that’s exactly part of the point.

That certainly was true in my case. I needed to focus and get my work done. When alone, though, music provides company. (How ironic that I want company while wearing something that purposefully isolated myself.) The beauty of headphones lie in their portability: we can take them off when wanting to join the outside world.

Obviously, headphones are not a new phenomenon. While growing up, the Walkman was popular, and people wore headphones all the time, but the headphones back then were not nearly as sexy or fashionable as today’s. They were big, bulky, and ineffective. A cheap pair inevitably ripped out some hair and the headband interfered with hairstyles.

With the invention of earbuds, concern of damaging a hairdo no long existed. More than likely, this helped the industry move from function into fashion. From the simple black and white choices of the ‘90s, earbuds and headphones alike evolved into the choices we have today. In fact, it is now possible to purchase earbuds shaped into a gas mask or anything else.

So, some people may purchase headphones or earbuds for the sake of fashion, but I think that fashion is not on people’s minds when they don their headphones. Instead, it’s in anticipation of what the day might bring, and in a sea of people and stress, perhaps they bring a bit of needed solitude… just in a fashionable way.

Articles about headphones and fashion

Lady Gaga design:

Headphones that cover your eyes, too:

Headphone reviews:

~ K