How to Be: Three Life-Changing Lessons from a Remarkable Woman
With these three attributes, you can navigate life with grace and charisma.
About a month ago, I lost my mentor and dear friend, Mary Kogen. Mary was, on the surface, my college piano and pedagogy teacher. She taught me technique and chord progressions, how to break the binding of your music so it would lie flat (I was horrified), which Chopin piece to introduce first to young students (the a-minor Waltz, fyi), sightreading and keyboard skills, the pronunciation and meaning of “appoggiatura,” when and how to use the una corda pedal, and a million other things you’d expect from a college music professor. All interesting and useful, if you’re going to be a piano teacher or performer… but not the least bit life-changing.
What Mary really taught me, was how to be. She taught this through direct instruction in piano lessons and classes, as well as through the books she chose as required reading (sooooooo many good books!). But mostly, she taught me by being herself.
I could probably write a book myself on everything I learned from Mary, but for now I’ll share the three things that most dramatically affected my teaching, my coaching, my communication, and my life. All three touch upon your ability to learn, to connect with others, to capitalize on opportunities, and to make an impact in the world. Thank you, Mary!
1. Be Playful.
It’s a serious, scary world out there. Now more than ever, you can drown yourself in distressing news and become engulfed in anger or anxiety. And certainly, those feelings exist for a reason. They can do you good! They reveal your values and your hopes for the future. They can spur you to stand up for yourself and fight for what you believe in.
Yet living perpetually in a pit of despair or an inferno of rage doesn’t do anyone any good. My wonderful Mary expressed anxiety at times, and she definitely got angry! But she didn’t live there. She lived with joy and humor and playfulness. She’d joke and tease, roll her eyes, dance and laugh. If I showed up to a lesson irritated, she’d say, “Okay, I give you 30 seconds to rant and rave and then we need to move on to the lesson.” For 30 seconds she’d egg me on and stomp her feet in pretend rage and then when the time was…