Discovering Your Opus

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By Kirk McCarley

Kirk Mccarley

In the fall of 1964, 30-year-old Glenn Holland is a talented musician and composer from Portland, Oregon.  He takes a position as a music teacher at a high school so that he can spend more time with his young wife Iris and work on his symphony.

Holland at first struggles in his job, but then learns how to connect with his students by convincing them that music is a fun and worthwhile pursuit.  He becomes a popular teacher at the school and rises to the task of creating a school marching band with help from the football coach.

The time Holland devotes to his classes, the marching band, orchestra, productions and mentoring both struggling and talented students leaves him little time to work on his symphony, or to spend with family.  When his son is found to be deaf, Holland fails to learn American Sign Language properly, leaving him unable to communicate with his son and creating a rift between him and Iris, who has to raise their son mostly by herself.  An argument finally makes Holland realize the error of his ways.  He learns to communicate with his son and repairs the relationship.

In 1995, the school’s arts programs were shelved, citing further cuts from the Education Board and the need to prioritize other subjects.  Despite an impassioned plea, Holland is laid off as a result.  He questions the value of his career.

On his last day, Holland’s family helps him clear out his office and takes him to the auditorium.  It is packed full of ex-pupils who greet him with a standing ovation.  Gertrude Lang, a struggling clarinetist and now Governor of Oregon, gives a speech praising Mr. Holland, that his legacy is more than just the symphony; it is all the people he has helped and influenced over 30 years.  She joins ex-members of the school’s orchestra, who have been practicing the symphony, his symphony, on stage.  Mr. Holland conducts them in its premiere performance.

“Mr. Holland’s Opus” is a gift from cinema, speaking to the greatness that lies within each of us, yet is compromised by the realities of life:  the need to provide for a family, stability, sacrifice, practicality.  Dreams once had, but now stuffed and catalogued in that part of the brain reserved for fantasy.

But wait!

What if there’s a chance you can rewrite the script?  Imagine that for each of us there are double doors behind which is an auditorium full of people anticipating the debut of your symphonic masterpiece, one for which you have been preparing your entire life.  And what would be that masterpiece?  Something artistic, a landscape, portrait, or even an abstract?  A book of poems or a dramatic novel that has long been on your mind?  A “bucket list” type item related to travel to new destinations or an athletic endeavor such as a hike, run, or cycling event?

What if the only thing holding you back from fulfilling that suppressed desire is something as simple as the voice inside of your head whispering, “you can’t” or “you shouldn’t?”  You shouldn’t apply for that dream position.  You can’t get into that school.  Who are you to think that your boss will go for your idea?  You can’t make a difference.

I run across people all the time who are victims of their own limiting beliefs.  Truth be told, most of us have been there.  In those moments I find it helpful to change the statements into questions.  Why shouldn’t I apply for that dream position?  Why can’t I get into that school?  Why wouldn’t my boss go for that idea?  Why shouldn’t I be the one to make a difference?

Then comes the next question, “What’s behind the auditorium doors?”

A graduate of the University of North Texas, Kirk McCarley is a Certified Professional Coach as well as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and SHRM-CP Certified. He also is a Production Assistant for both college football and basketball for ESPN and leads group cycling classes as a Certified Spinning instructor. Contact,, or call  314-677-8779.

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