I came across an interesting blog this week by a guy named Tom Hood. In it Hood said that the mark of a true leader is the ability to navigate through the gray areas of life. I liked this thought; it resonated with me. See, we often look at life in binary terms – right/wrong, good/bad, or, as we just experienced in the election, red state/blue state. But the truth is that most of life takes place somewhere in the middle of these polarities (we saw this in the election, too, where when one breaks down political affiliation by county and population density, one quickly sees most of the country as various shades of purple – red & blue mixed together). These middle points, these points between poles, are the so-called “gray areas:” places of ambiguity, where the clear choice is anything but clear, and where there are sometimes compelling arguments on both sides of the issue. Hood was making the point that it’s in these times that we show our true character as leaders (and, I would argue, our true character as individuals).
I often wonder about musicians in this regard, because our musical studies have a coupon for creating the false sense that things are always cut-and-dried: either you kacked that note or you didn’t; either you were sharp or you were on-pitch; either your rushed that triplet or you didn’t. In our quest for technical excellence, I think we can lose sight of the fact that these right/wrong elements are only the beginning building blocks of our artistry. Making music, is so much more: the difference between a great artist and one who is merely technically proficient lies in the ability of the artist to take us into those gray places and tell us something about what we find there. The subtle turn of a phrase, a shift in color, the rubato that is just right…these are things that make music worth experiencing (whether one is a performer or a listener).
A dear friend of mine used to like to say, “The value of a good education is to develop a healthy appreciation for the ambiguous.” What are you doing in your education to develop such an appreciation? Are you engaging your studies with an open, inquiring mind, always considering alternative views and challenging your own assumptions? As you practice your art, are you daring to go outside your comfort zone and explore new possibilities – even if you don’t know where they’re leading? As you look ahead to your career goals, are you open to avenues you hadn’t previously considered, accepting the fact that sometimes what might seem like a diversion is actually an opportunity? The entrepreneurial mindset teaches us that embracing ambiguity can often be the gateway to new possibilities we could never otherwise see. So rather than shying away from those gray areas, dare to dive into them: you just mind uncover wonders you never imagined.