Editor’s note: Grace Ueng is the founder of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consulting firm, and an expert on happiness and human performance. Grace writes a regular column on Happiness & Leadership for WRAL TechWire.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – This coming Friday is a big day for me.  I’m playing in Ruggero Piano’s Fourth Friday concert in their Bösendorfer Hall.  I’m up first as the opening act, then a trio, the finale being a 14 year old prodigy from China who has already performed in Carnegie Hall.

I now play piano too

For years, I found myself comparing myself to classmates at MIT and then later at Harvard Business School. I could always find someone who was smarter and seemingly more accomplished.  Growing up, when I accompanied my parents to my sister’s piano competitions, invariably I was asked, “Do you play piano too?”

Last year I decided to restart piano lessons, to honor the memory of our mom, my first teacher.  I often tell clients to “seek out the scary” and step outside of their comfort zones.  I know I must walk my talk to be a coach of integrity.  So at the start of this year I was asked if I wanted to be put on the waitlist for a piano performance, I said yes.

On the other side of fear lies freedom, writes TW columnist Grace Ueng


Music provides lessons for leadership

Teddy Robie, my piano teacher, has learned not to be surprised when something he teaches me ends up as a theme for one of my weekly Happiness & Leadership columns. In fact, more than 10 of my 70 columns to date have focused on a musical element as a lesson for leadership.

Four Key highlights:

  1. Music has many benefits instrumental to professional achievements. Music has become a key component of my happiness hygiene.  Collaboration. Ability to listen and take pleasure in doing so. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously. Focus. Discipline. Problem solving. Discipline and capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. Pattern recognition. Reinforcing confidence in the ability to create. Enriching.

Performing has taught me the importance of deliberate practice, getting feedback on work in progress, and setting interim deadlines.

In search of happiness & leadership: Keys to success.

  1. Having more than one coach, multiple muses, and peer support are all good.  Who you surround yourself with – is who you become. This week, make a list of who you are surrounding yourself with – are they lifting you up to become a better person? If not, I challenge you to add those who do!Two Teachers are better than one
  2. Take the first step.  Then let go of self judgment to achieve relaxed concentration: (1) Get the clearest possible picture of your desired outcome and then visualize that picture. (2) Trust Self 2 to perform at its best and learn from successes and failures. (3) Quiet Self 1 and learn to see nonjudgmentally – see what is happening versus focusing on  how bad or good it is. This overcomes trying too hard.

Happiness & human performance: Winning the inner game

  1. As long as we have a pulse, we will experience stress. How can we have stress bless?  I encourage my learners to explore the importance of (1) deep breathing, consider the breathing app I’ve started to use to help my piano performing (2) take time to recover in order to return to homeostasis (3) “date” your stress by acknowledging, embracing, and understanding this state (4) redirect negative anxiety into positive excitement.

            Turning Anxiety into Excitement

Advice from Juilliard’s performance psychologist for my Friday concert

Noa Kageyama, performance psychologist at Juilliard, and one of my teachers, encouraged me to think about gratitude in these days leading up to my concert:

“One strategy for managing nerves as you approach a performance or audition is to focus on gratitude, and practice feeling the feeling of gratitude, whether it’s something small or big. It seems that this could be a good time to try this out, given recent events!”

I know what big thing I am grateful for this week!

Turns out I have a lot in very recent days for which to be thankful.  Just 3 days ago, I had a close brush with death. In fact, for a few seconds, I thought I was in heaven.  As I was enjoying my drive to Atlanta for my 40th high school reunion, I felt a sudden tremendous jolt, and when I opened my eyes, I saw blood and glass everywhere, yet felt no pain.  I thought, “I’m in HEAVEN…”  Then I looked to my right, and saw half of a buck in my passenger seat. Quickly, I realized, “I’m ALIVE”…with a dead deer by my side…

I knew I had to quickly recover from shock to get to Atlanta to see dear friends…after a few hours of trooper, tow, hazmat helpers, Geico, Enterprise & Lyft taking care of me, I was on my way. I am so thankful for another memory making weekend.  And thankful I made it out of my car alive, safe and sound to do so.

9 lives & Gratitude

A couple of friends commented that I am like a cat, I have been given many lives.  When I deliver HappinessWork programs, I assign learners to list daily 3 things for which they are grateful – big or small.

What are 3 things you are grateful for this week?

Invitation to my concert

 I would be excited if my readers are able to join, full program details/Zoom link:


About Grace Ueng

Grace is a strategy consultant,  leadership coach and human performance expert with Savvy Growth. Her company offers workshops to move teams forward: Savvy’s Seven: What You Will Learn. Transformative companies hire Grace to deliver her HappinessWorks program to boost performance. Join her Happiness & Leadership community and learn to be a happier and better leader: click here