What We Get Wrong About Honesty

That it’s mostly telling the truth to others. But being honest with one’s self is a more essential starting point, and because we lack any semblance of objectivity, far more difficult.

None of us are ever completely honest with ourselves. Meaning we are loathe to accept our differences which makes self acceptance a constant struggle.

Case in point. I loved, loved, loved this short essay titled “An Emotional Reunion Between Cello and Cellist”. Russell had me after her opening paragraph:

“On a recent Thursday, Matt Haimovitz, the forty-seven-year-old virtuoso cellist, packed an empty instrument case into the back of his car and drove from his home, in Montreal, to a friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side, where he’d be crashing. The case was for Haimovitz’s rare, multimillion-dollar cello, which he calls Matteo—after Matteo Goffriller, the seventeenth-century Venetian luthier who built it. He had played it for thirty years, until, fifteen months earlier, while giving a lesson to a promising Canadian student, he dropped it, and the cello’s neck snapped. Since then, the instrument had been undergoing extensive repairs by a team of five luthiers at Reed Yeboah Fine Violins, near Columbus Circle. Now the shop had called to say that Matteo was ready for release.”

If I’m honest with myself, I want something resembling what those six people have—Haimovitz and the five luthiers—a singleminded focus on one thing that animates their lives. One thing that gives them an overwhelming purpose for being. Even a little bit of flow.

Put differently, I want to love something the way Haimovitz loves his cello. I am fascinated by people with distinct passions, often wishing I was one of them. It doesn’t matter how esoteric or far removed the passions are from my life; interior design, locomotive trains, the Spanish language; I still look on with envy.

This year I’ll cycle somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 miles. Friends ride 10,000-12,000. I like cycling, they love it. Some people read a book or more a week. I like reading, they love it. Some commit 60+ hours a week to their jobs because they like their work so much they often loose track of time. I prefer being on sabbatical. Some bloggers have huge readerships in part because they are laser focused on a particular topic. In contrast, the Humble Blog, a reflection of my continuously distracted pea brain, is all over the place.

Hiking Burroughs Mountain Trail last weekend, I listened to my friends excitedly discuss plant nomenclature and geology and wondered, “What’s wrong with me?” By which I meant, “Why aren’t I equally curious? Why am I content not knowing the name of the beautiful flower or understanding how the awe-inspiring landscape was formed? Why aren’t I similarly passionate about labeling and understanding the natural world?”

But then I stop to think that my cycling obsessed friends don’t run and swim. And maybe it’s okay that my interests are more disparate, and therefore, less intensive. Wide-ranging interests enable me to ask more questions, connect with more people, create a relatively diverse and interesting social network.

How fortunate that everyone is wired differently. Maybe the singleminded people of the world, the Haimovitz’s, would tell me sometimes there are downsides to being obsessively focused on one thing.

Maybe I’m okay and you’re okay.

 

The Art of Self Promotion

Everyone that’s ever written a resume or had a job interview has engaged in self promotion. I’m bad at it. Always have been, always will be. And I’m blaming my dad, Donald J. Byrnes, who  opted for hard work and humility.

Despite my DNA, I know skillful self promotion when I see it. Saturday night I found myself on the campus of San Luis Obispo (SLO) University in Central California. In the university’s beautiful Performing Arts Center more specifically. As I flipped through the program for the evening’s concert, I realized Zuill Bailey, the guest cellist, knows self promotion.

“The funny thing is,” I whispered to my date, “when most people read these artists’ profiles they think they’re biographical, that someone writes them for them, but the artists write them themselves.” “Then,” I added, “get a load of the guest cellist’s opening paragraph. It’s an award winner.”

ZUILL BAILEY is widely considered one of the premiere cellists in the world. His rare combination of celebrated artistry, technical wizardry as well as his engaging personality has secured his place as one of the most sought after and active cellists today.

At first glance, that made me want to puke, but the more I thought about it, my stance softened. Here’s why. Let’s guesstimate that there’s 5,000 truly spectacular cellists in the world and approximately 500 opportunities to make a good living playing cello. Nine out of ten are underemployed not because they’re not as talented as the “sought after” tenth, because they’re not as skilled at self promotion. Artists that want to make a living practicing their art have to promote themselves.

Wild guess. I would not enjoy ZB off stage, but I don’t begrudge him swinging for the fences when it comes to his description of himself. The problem of course is when people exaggerate their accomplishments. When they’re better at self promotion than they are at their jobs.

In the mid 1990s I was working educational magic (Channeling ZB!) at Guilford College, a small liberal arts college in Greensboro, North Carolina, when the President decided to retire. He wrote a letter of explanation to the community, the bulk of which was a list of his accomplishments (my favorite, he bragged the endowment had doubled, but failed to note that the market had tripled during his tenure). My dad, the chief executive officer of a major company at the time, was always interested in my work, and so I shared the letter with him. Disgusted he simply said, “Incredibly self-serving.” I didn’t realize it until I re-read it through that lens. He was right, it was embarrassingly self-serving.

My dad’s “road less traveled” philosophy was work hard, care about those you work with, don’t track your accomplishments, and maybe someday, people will respect you and say nice things about you. Too many of those nice things were said after he suddenly died from a heart attack on the way to work at age 69. Yesterday he would have been 87 years old.

Eighteen years later and I still miss him and his countercultural ways.