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Making One Big Decision


Throughout my life, I have come to understand the power of making one big decision. I value this approach because in turn it makes all the small decisions for me; or at least makes them easier. This practice has been a guiding principal that has saved me a great deal of time and effort. It has also afforded me a sense of peace during a variety of potentially stressful situations in both my personal and professional life.

That "one big decision" allowed me to go to work with a clear vision for my place in this world.

“Making one big decision” has been a mantra of mine for years. It is a process that relies on having knowing yourself well, having a vision for your life, and deciding on what is most important. Once the big decision is made, the small decisions seem to make themselves or appear no longer to be worth wrestling over. Reducing the amount of decisions in our lives can be truly liberating. Making one big decision is a guiding principal that provides astounding clarity when we need it most. That decision, once made serves as a constant filter through which we pass all questions and problems and provides a lens through which we view the world, our lives, our relationships, and our work.

Here is a very personal example. Twenty-four years ago, I was in my first year teaching at Messiah College. As I was learning a new job, writing my doctoral dissertation, and trying to decide if this place was right for me. I was considering the potential of long-term employment here and attempted to determine if this could really be my permanent professional home. At the same time, my wife and I were expecting our second child, getting to know the area, and considering the potential of this being the place where we would settle down, raise our family, and continue to build put in since, was based on the decision that was made for family. It was, and still is liberating. I have often said that I can live with a less-than-stellar performance as a musician, but when I look back over my life, I want to know that I did my absolute best for my family.

That “one big decision” allowed me to go to work with a clear vision for my place in this world. The feeling of being right where you are supposed to be is truly remarkable. My family moved forward through life, and I moved forward through work knowing that it was all serving the same things; happiness and purpose. When challenges occurred, we pressed on because we had made that one big decision. Challenges at work were just part of the landscape, and my perspective on them was healthy and balanced because simply walking away or changing jobs was not an option.

This book was never meant to preach or to be written from an evangelical perspective. Rather, it is meant to provoke thought and to lead the reader to awareness of their own personal human condition, and how that condition will inform their artistry as performer, teacher, and human being. If one’s faith journey or perspective is part of that, so be it. We must all know what works for us and, more importantly how it informs all aspect of our lives. My intention is always to be as inclusive as possible, to embrace the worldview of others, and to learn from them. I have heard more than one person say that the study of Buddhism has enhanced their Christianity. This type of cross-pollination may be what it takes to save the world, and make it a beautiful place. To that end, subscribing to one belief system or another is not prerequisite for accessing the information here. However, it might be fair at this juncture to issue a friendly warning; accessing this information might lead you to ponder the idea of zooming out far enough in your life to consider the value of such subscription.

Being born into a Catholic family meant that my parents made “one big decision” for me as soon as I was born. And while my personal faith journey has been interesting and varied to say the least, the unmistakable draw to that True North has never left me. Education and experience have provided their own impact on my faith, but have truly served to provide perspective, and healthy challenges that have lead to meaningful questions and worthwhile struggles. The struggle is the reality. The questioning is the practice. As Ryan Holiday’s book inspired by stoicism suggests “The Obstacle is the Way.” Deep thought and application of such things really is what it means to practice a religious perspective.

Faith can be part of “making one big decision” as it is often an existing construct in our lives. Someone’s belief system can also deeply inform life’s big decisions as they ponder whether or not things aligns with their internalized template. However, for those teaching in public schools or institutions, overtly talking about faith or discussing it in everyday decision-making can be problematic if not expressly forbidden. For many who come from this tradition, faith is typically a program that is running in the background, continually informing decisions and guiding our thought processes whether we realize it or not. Understanding our ties to such belief can be extremely powerful and informative whether anyone is aware that is what we are doing or not. Ultimately, the way we treat other people says more than any verbal explanation of our belief system ever could. And honestly, it is much more appealing and attractive. For those working in more secular arenas, that common overarching premise often manifests itself in one’s educational philosophy. From the time we are undergraduates, we are being asked to write or declare our Philosophy of Education. Presumably, this is the collection of thoughts that governs our actions as we navigate our time creating curriculum and teaching students. In a sense, our own personal Philosophy of Education represents that “one big decision” that we make which informs, facilitates, or even makes the small decisions for us. But knowing what to consider when making that decision is key. The regurgitation of concepts learned in class simply will not suffice. The foundational ideas that will guide that working philosophy must be rooted in larger considerations of life and our role in it. Making sure those philosophical ideas make their way from that page to reality is the real challenge as it has a direct impact on students. But it is also important because it is a set of guiding principals that create the lens through which we will view the world every day. It should give us purpose and then remind us of that purpose on a regular basis; one big decision. Until the writing of this book, I have shared this idea with many working music educators. Typically, this conversation takes place as a result of their frustration over some aspect of their career; location, administration, pay, schedule, etc. In most cases, the absence of making “one big decision” is the cause for the current noise being experienced in their lives. The constant battle with such daily mundane things in the absence of a larger, informed perspective will always lead to feeling unsettled, unfulfilled, or under appreciated.

Putting your own life in context brings with it a perspective that can reduce every day stress. Much has been written about the daily routines of famous or successful people. The secret is the ability to prioritize all aspects of your life to such a degree that certain small decisions do not qualify for daily attention. Everything from wardrobe choices to breakfast meals have been removed from the daily decision making process thereby reducing that stress and leaving room for more pressing matters. The ability to apply that process in every way possible can create a surprising amount of space. I read that President Barack Obama ate the same thing for breakfast every day he was in the White House. Further, he only had two suit variations, both of which worked with the a white shirt and the any tie in the closet. Those were not decisions he was willing to make every day. Safe to say that most of us are not confronted with the amount or nature of decisions everyday that the President of the United States must make. But in our own worlds, we are confronted with our own decisions that do take up space and cause stress.

Over the years, I have spoken with many public school educators, especially those who are still in their first jobs, who find themselves deciding whether or not to stay in their current position or attempt to move to a ‘bigger’ job somewhere. Some more seasoned professionals with aspirations of teaching in higher education are faced with the decision to pursue the doctorate. In many cases, this means taking a leap of faith, and leaving a paying job to pursue yet another degree in the hopes of eventually finding a job at the college level. These are some of the common issues faced by working music educators that could be made much easier when passed through the filter of “one big decision” that could effectively guide the decision-making process or eliminate it altogether. Making one big decision forces us to truly take stock of what is important. That process creates an inherent prioritization. Family over profession, profession over personal life, location over job, job over location. But these are all issues that have a direct impact on the most important thing we have; time. It is the one resource that is truly limited and the way we spend what we have is the biggest contributor to our happiness. Knowing that we are using the time we have to make a difference, to maximize our potential on this earth, to fulfill a higher calling, as it were, can add immensely to our quality of life.

In order to make our one big decision be an informed one, we must first answer this one question; why? What is your why? Why are you here? Why does your existence matter? Finding the answer to this question is truly the key to everything else. Answer this question, and you are prepared to “make one big decision” that will help define your life and answer all the small questions for you.



 

Homework:

1. Think of one big decision you have made in your life and consider the ways in which it has guided other decisions for you.

2. Contemplate one big decision you could make (personal or professional) that would allow you to forego the stress of other smaller decisions.

3. Consider how your own belief system plays a role in your work, your decision-making, and the way in which you interact with others.


William Stowman

is professor of Trumpet and Chair of the Department of Music at Messiah University. With over thirty years in Music Education, he is in demand as a soloist, clinician, and guest conductor. As a trumpeter, Bill has has three solo CD’s to his credit: A Matter of Seconds (Mark Records), A Timeless Place (Klavier), and Parable (Mark Records). He regularly performs with The Messiah College Faculty Brass, BrassCross, and Tromba Mundi. He can be reached directly at wstowman@messiah.edu

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