Changing One’s Perception And Removing “Should” From One’s Vocabulary

“Oh should you now?”

We all have things that we know we’re supposed to do and don’t do with frequency.  We should see the doctor regularly.  We should exercise more and eat less.  We should really write our grandma.  We should really get to practicing.

The reality is that “shoulds” are little minefields in our brain.  We plant them around everywhere and then get absent-minded about where they are.  When we finally have to confront one, the temptation is to get upset because you now know what you should have done and did not – and the onus of it falls on you.

Getting past “should” is a life long struggle and as someone who is still working on it, I can say that it’s not easy but it is possible.

This can be done by removing the phrase “I should” from your vocabulary and replacing it with “I am

(i.e.  replacing “should” with “do”)

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Adjusting your perception.

If you meet expatriates from the US who have been living in another country for a long time and not speaking their original language, occasionally they have a real disconnect when you speak English to them.  This has happened to me on several occasions where I’ve met people who were frustrated at not remembering words in English and feel very disconnected in speaking it with people.

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There’s a reason for this.  They’re out of practice.

If you are a native English speaker in the US – you practice speaking and writing in the language every day.

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The difference is you probably don’t think about it as “practice“.

You just think about part of it as your day.  As something that you do naturally, you don’t think of it as work or drudgery.  You feel comfortable enough in your use of it that when you are confronted with phrases or terms you’ve never heard before – you simply listen instead of freaking out and make sense of in in context.  You pick up information and interact with it all day long.

If you doubt this, try the following: Take your current practice regimen and instead of practicing scales or chords or what have you, take out a dictionary and apply the same regimen to trying to expand your vocabulary.  Unless you’re studying for the SATs or GREs, I bet you make it a day before it gets discarded entirely or doomed to the “should” bin.

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If you make practicing just part of your regular day instead of something that has to be carved out of your schedule it will be easier to maintain.

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Occasionally, I read articles with guitarists who claim that they never practice.  It’s important to remember that anyone who is the topic of an article in a trade publication  is generally going to be a professional musician with a rigorous performance schedule.  If they don’t have time to practice – its only because they’re gigging too much and while they may not be “practicing” by a strict definition you can bet they’re keeping their chops up.

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I have no idea if Scotty Anderson “practices” but based on hearing him play I imagine that he has a guitar in his hand most of the day and is either playing or working on things all of the time.  Eddie Van Halen is another guy who may not identify what he does as practicing – but every interview I’ve read with him makes it seems like he has a guitar in his hands playing for hours every day.  (It’s also worth noting that many people consider Van Halen their best album for songs and playing.)

When Jimmy Rosenberg was playing with Sinti at the ripe old age of 16 he was asked by a guitar magazine how he got that frighteningly good at that age and he said, “Well I practice/play 4-5 hours a day, and rehearse with Sinti 4-5 hours a day, and then we have concerts”.

If you have a problem committing to practicing, you could change your mindset to move past “practicing” as an event and instead concentrate on doing” as a habit.

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Think about how easy it is to gain a bad habit.  Now think about how hard it can be to break that habit.

There are plenty of good habits that you probably have developed as well and maintaining a good habit requires very little work.

Again it’s about perception.  If practicing is something you view as a chore it will be something that you are loathe to do.  It’ll be much easier to practice if you can make it something you look forward to.

To quote Albert Ellis,

“Don’t should on yourself”.

I hope this helps!  Thanks for dropping by!

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Don’t Be Afraid Of The Work

As I edit this, I’m taking a break from the final edits on the print edition of Pentatonic Visualization and working on the layout/order/edits of my Pentatonic Extraction book which should be out this fall.

That puts the tally to 3 books in 2011 (Melodic Patterns, Positional Exploration and Harmonic Combinatorics), 3 in 2012 (Chord Scales, and 2 short Kindle titles – An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out) and 3 in 2013 (Symmetrical 12-Tone Patterns, Pentatonic Visualization and Pentatonic Extraction) with a strong chance of another kindle book released this year as well.

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While being able to call yourself an author seems appealing -working at this rate is arduous at best. When you don’t have a production house behind you – writing means taking on all of the menial tasks in getting a book out.  In this case, even something like the Visualization make over has taken a month to get done and taking on the Extraction book involves massive edits, re-writes and a complete reformatting (typically involving a tedious cut/paste/format/edit workflow).  The appeal of being an author becomes less glamorous  when it takes days and weeks of mind numbing work to get the book out the door.

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But here’s something I’ve discovered:

Many people want to get better at something.

They have access to materials.

They have access to knowledge.

They have the desire to move forward.

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Even with all of that energy and good intention, in any endeavour most people won’t do the work over the long haul.

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Because the work is not glamorous.  It’s not always fun (though it’s usually nowhere near as bad as we make it out to be).  It’s often tedious and time-consuming and isn’t there something better (read more enjoyable) to do?

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The real pay off is in what happens in the focused work.

Jonas Hellborg

Yngwie Malmsteen

Miroslav Tadic

Buckminster Fuller

Nikola Tesla

Thomas Edison

Jorge Luis Borges

It doesn’t matter which successful person you pick.  Most people who succeed do so because in addition to the initial vision (inspiration) they also have the ability to go the extra distance and see something to its logical conclusion (endurance).

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Don’t be afraid of the work.  It’s where the nectar is.  It’s where the magic is and…

when you truly devote yourself to your work – you work on yourself at the same time.  

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When you lose yourself in your work you’re really finding more of yourself.  You have to have your eyes open to see that.  You have to be open to that possibility to perceive that and you may not recognize it until later – but that connection ( or Csikszentmihalyi’s flow) carries through into other things.

A lesson from Borges

In the later years of Borges life (after his vision had gone),  he would write whatever story or poem he was working on in his head and then spend some time editing and perfecting each phrase as an internal process.  When it was done, he would call in his assistant and recite it in it’s final form to be transcribed and read back to him for approval.

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Now 2 questions:

How many other people could write under those conditions?  A few.

How many could write at his level?  None…even with their sight.

He could have easily made excuses – writing in this fashion is incredibly difficult – but instead he put the effort in and continued to get his writing out into the world.

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If you’re doing the work, you’re already ahead of the pack.

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I hope this helps!  Thanks for reading.

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(Special thanks to Chris Lavender for some extra perspective and inspiration on this post)

Stop Kicking Yourself When You’re Down Or Discarding The Amateur Mindset

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

(I don’t quote racists like Henry Ford lightly.  But, for me, many of Ford’s quotes highlight the lesson that there are times that you have to listen to the message while ignoring the messenger.)

The biggest obstacle in the way of most people realizing their goals isn’t a lack of money, information or skill.  

It’s their mindset.

Thinking like an amateur may be holding you back.

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The Devastating Gig

If I have any wisdom to impart, it is undoubtably from making a seemingly endless series of mistakes and correcting them.   One mistake that I made early on (that took a long time for me to identify and correct) was equating what I played with who I was.    This meant that every single gig was a proving ground.

So if I played a good gig, I was elated because I was somehow validated as a good guitar player.

And if I played a bad gig….then it must mean I was a terrible guitarist.

This sounds insane to me as I write this (and hopefully insane to you when you read it!)!  But this is a common mindset.  I know a lot of players who do this and beat themselves up at gigs, sessions and in the privacy of their own practice time.

It comes from how players define themselves and it comes from thinking like an amateur.

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You are more than what you do

Many musicians develop some odd concepts (in my opinion) about what constitutes a musician.  I remember getting out of college and having a discussion with a classmate of mine.  He had asked what I was doing for work and I said, “Oh I’ve got a day gig to pay some bills and then I’m gigging/recording with a couple of bands and teaching on the side.”

His face buckled into a disgusted contortion as if instead of speaking –  human biohazard had just freed itself from my mouth and landed on the table between us.  “Oh….”, he said in the most passive aggressive snark possible.  “I see.”

“What about you?” I asked, trying to ignore the reaction.  “What are you doing these days?”

“Oh well I’m playing in a band full-time and teaching.”

“That’s great!!” I said.   “Is it all original music?”

“No it’s a GB band.”

“Hmm…I didn’t know you liked those kinds of gigs.”

“Oh I hate them.  The people are stupid and the tunes are awful, but some of the players are okay and sometimes we get to play some standards after the date.”

(insert awkward pause) “Well at least it’s pay….”

“Well it’s consistent.  But it’s not great money.  I’m always spending almost as much on my car and gas as what I’m making on a gig.  So I’m running a little short.  Thanks a lot for paying for the coffee by the way…”

Does that sound rewarding to you?  It didn’t sound rewarding to me.

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How you define yourself will either break you out of prison or put you there 

I defined a professional musician as someone who was paid to perform music at a professional level.  My classmate defined a professional musician as a person whose sole source of income comes from playing music.

I’ll paraphrase a quote from my friend bassist/composer Daren Burns here,

“I am completely unimpressed when someone tells me that they’re a full-time musician playing music that they hate.  I don’t see anything noteworthy  or impressive in that at all.”

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There was a several year period of time that Jeff Beck was pretty much working on cars full-time and not playing guitar at all.  I’ve never met Jeff Beck – but based on what I’ve seen of him I don’t think that he worried about whether or not he was less of a musician because he wasn’t playing music full-time.   Additionally, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thought of Jeff Beck as a mechanic who played a little guitar.

Jeff Beck defined himself, did what he wanted to do and didn’t worry about how other people defined him.  Not to take anything away from Jeff, but isn’t it odd that most musicians think of this mindset as fearless and badass?   It’s odd because in my way of thinking, this should be the norm rather than the exception.

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If you don’t define yourself, you let other people define you and (most likely) you won’t like their definition.

How do you deal with isolation?   Some people see the four walls they are in as a cell and each hour of each day erodes who they are a little more until there is nothing left of them.  Other people see the four walls as a blank canvas and work on creating things within those confines.

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Life is a surprisingly good teacher if you’re observant.  If you take the time and energy to look at what, how and why you do the things that you do – you might learn a lot about what your priorities are.  For myself, I learned a while ago that there were a number of things that I wanted to do, and that there was no clear career trajectory to get to where I ultimately wanted to go – so I was going to have to find my own way.   I could either get hung up on what other people thought of a path I was on (that quite frankly they didn’t understand), or I could take steps towards achieving goals I had for myself.

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Are you thinking like an amateur?

I don’t know how many of you have toured with bands.  It’s an interesting experience.  Even if you’re unfamiliar with the material on the first night, within a couple of shows you get into a rhythm and the set moves into a comfort zone.   And in your spare time – you find that you’re not shedding the material relentlessly (because you already have it down), but instead you’re stopping at roadside attractions and looking for clean places to go to the bathroom so you don’t have to bag it on the bus. (If you don’t know what that means – don’t ask and enjoy your morning coffee instead).

Amateurs analyze every aspect of the performance. They scrutinize every detail and obsess over what was right and what was wrong.

Professionals get the set under their belt and then show up to do the work.

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The Ballad of Jane the Plumber

Llet’s say a homeowner has a broken pipe in the basement.  So they call Jane the plumber.  Jane comes over to the house and says, “this whole pipe has to come out and it’s an odd size.   I don’t have any that length on me.  I can do a quick fix that’s not going to be pretty.  I’ll get you through the next day or two – but I’ll have to pick some up and come back and to replace it.”

Do you think the homeowner says, “What a noob!  She doesn’t even have pipe!”  Not likely.  The homeowner is thinking, “I’m glad that the water is back on again.  I hope this doesn’t cost me fortune!”

Now, do you think Jane the plumber went back home and had a melt-down?  “I am such a hack!  I can’t believe that I showed up at that house without that pipe!  That repair was a joke!  I am such a loser!”

Not bloody likely.  She probably put the pipe order in and went to the next gig.

I’m not saying that professionals don’t care.  Professionals do care about what they do, but they don’t get emotionally invested.  They’re professional because they have the skill set to handle what comes up at the gig, not get freaked out and get through it.  They don’t waste energy evaluating what they do – because they’re too busy doing it.

If you find that you’re taking punches from yourself at a gig or a session take a step back and ask yourself, “what would Jeff Beck do?”  and then go tool out your engine 😉

I hope this helps!  As always, thanks for reading!

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The Perils Of Panaceas And Instant Gratification

That’s MBTI to you, Buster!

Most people have their first exposure to the Myers-BriggsType Indicator (MBTI) assessment either in a college psychology class, a life coaching session or in a work-related retreat / team building exercise.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the test, participants are given a (psychologically loaded) questionnaire that’s been specifically devised to determine individual preferences and based on those, to then extrapolate the test taker’s decision-making process and world view.

In context, it can be a useful tool.  When participants get their four letter code that determines their personality type, they then typically get the equivalent of a score card to determine what the letters mean and to offer some guidelines on the types of decision-making process that they make.  Again, in context it can be a useful tool where participants might see themselves and their decision-making process in a whole new light.

However,  there always seems to be at least one person in a session who finds this to be something between a milestone and a revelatory experience and the next thing you know, every discussion with this person centers around Myers-Briggs.  Every interaction is analyzed and put through the Myers-Briggs filter.   “Oh well he must be an “I” which means that….”.

And then, eventually, someone calls them on their nonsense.

Myers-Briggs typing starts to break down in the real world, because while it’s not a bad contextual lens for gleaning some information, it’s not a good lens on its own and it certainly has limited validity as the sole filter for information.  Additionally, people don’t dig being typecast in any scenario, even when you’re trying to be helpful.

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“Cure’s All that Ail’s ya!”

The web is full of these observations and cure-alls for whatever ail’s ya.  “Become a guitar god in a week by following these 3 weird simple rules.”   Or forums where one observation is yielded, “I had good success using product x with gear y” and soon you have other people who have never used product x or gear y saying, “Well if you use gear y YOU HAVE TO USE product x!!!”

Take any one-size fits all methodology, philosophy, strategy or any  solution with a BIG grain of salt because, in my own experience, there is no one panacea for anything. Just as there is no one filter that will make previously hidden elements of the world fully visible and comprehensible to you.

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Instant gratification and false entitlement

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The simple fact is that things that are worth having, have to be worked for.

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As a society, we have mutated this concept through advertising and sold people on the concept that because they do work hard in other areas of their life, that they deserve everything.

“It might take you 3 years of saving to buy that 60″ flat screen TV.  You’ve worked hard establishing a line of good credit and you deserve to be comfortable in your twice re-financed home.   Pull that piece of plastic out of your pocket and you can walk home with it today!” – where you will set it up, take it for granted almost instantly and then spend 5 years paying it off and paying more than twice the actual cost of the item.

As Pascal said, “A trifle consoles us, for a trifle distresses us.” It should be called instant gratification because you’re gratified in an instant and your gratification lasts just as long.

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Guitar playing isn’t like that.  Certainly pedagogy and information transfer has occurred to the point where people can progress technically much more quickly on the instrument than ever before.

But the problem is that guitar playing isn’t merely a skill like typing.

More than a skill set, a guitar is a vehicle for expression.  Technical facility might impress people, but if there’s nothing behind it in terms of depth of expression, you won’t make a long-lasting impression on them.

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Having the depth to truly say something, takes time.  Plain and simple.

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A good way to think about this is something a great luthier John Harper told me about guitar.  As you play guitar over time, the vibrations of the notes actually affects the wood on a cellular level.  The vibrations literally change the make up of the guitar over time.  This is why guitars that have been “played in” over time sound completely different than they did off the shelf.

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There are plenty of shortcuts to becoming a fast guitar player.

There are plenty of shortcuts to becoming a better guitar player.

There are no shortcuts to becoming a great guitar player.

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Truly great players, have a completely different relationship to music than most other people.  Music not only nourishes them, but eventually the musician starts communicating with the music rather than just the audience.  That conversation helps them gain further insight into themselves and actually helps to develop them more as people.

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Not only is there no shortcut for that – but if you think about it, you really might not want a shortcut in that area. For example,  if you had the opportunity to meet anyone in history would you rather have the conversation with them when you were 4 years old or 34?  It might be exciting to meet them when you’re 4, but you really wouldn’t have anything to say.  It’s only with the passage of time and experience that you can start to meet the music part way and have that conversation. For every person, that time is different but putting the time in now gets you closer and closer to being able to have that dialog.

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Be wary of the cure-all, the quick fix and the over-arching shortcut.  Work hard and work passionately and know that what you truly put of yourself into anything can ultimately pay dividends for you.

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As always, thanks for reading!

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Inspiration Versus Intimidation

As a followup to Podcast #4, I thought I’d talk about perception and playing guitar.

I’ve gotten some emails from people who read through my GuitArchitecture blog, and wanted to know what they should do if they’re not the next Guthrie Gowan, Hendrix, Holdsworth or the next (insert great player here).  I understand where they’re coming from.  If you turn on a computer it’s hard not to find some terrifying audio or video clip of someone playing really advanced guitar.

The implication that you could come to is that everyone in the world is playing guitar at an amazing level and the pressure many guitarists (and I suspect other musicians as well) feel is that they need to meet that standard.

Before I attempt to defuse this argument, I’d like to address the leap in technical advances on guitar and then talk about why it doesn’t matter.

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Free Bird as an aphrodisiac

A friend of mine, who’s an excellent guitarist, was talking to me about the radical shift in technical standards in guitar playing and said, “You know – I remember when “Free Bird” was considered a virtuoso guitar solo.  If you could play that you were pretty much guaranteed to go home with someone at the end of the gig.  But now…I’ve got guys who have been playing for less than a year who can play that.”

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Knowledge might seem arithmetic in its application
but like technology it’s exponential.

When I say that technology is exponential, I mean that technological advances typically build on previous technological breakthroughs.  For example, the ENIAC (i.e. the first computer-depending on how you define “computer”), used punch cards, weighed 30 tons, took up approximately 1800 square feet and used around 18,000 vacuum tubes. (No word on what kind of tone it had!)  All of this for a processing speed comparable to a calculator.  Notice the timeline in each step beyond that initial innovation (taken in part from The computer history timeline):

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  • ENIAC
  • the invention of the transistor
  • the invention of  FORTRAN computer language
  • integrated circuits
  • the ram chip
  • the microprocessor and the floppy disc
  • IBM home computer and MS-DOS
  • Apple Lisa (with first GUI)
  • Windows

and then a series of major advances in microprocessor speed and size.  Each one of these changes ultimately created exponential innovations. In order for me to run a laptop guitar rig, I need a laptop with an operating system, a  fast processing speed, substantial ram, a fast hard drive, an audio converter, and software to make sense of what I’m trying to input and output from the computer.  None of this was even remotely in the thoughts of a potential application for a computer when ENIAC was built.

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Where before they took years or decades, advances now occur daily or sometimes hourly because each piece of technology allows someone else to build on it  and make their own innovation by taking it in a different direction.

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When Nicolò Paganini was alive, he was able to position himself uniquely as he was not only a virtuoso performer, but also developed a repertoire that only he had the technical skill set to play.  But once the music was published, other people started being able to play the music.  Some of the techniques became standardized, and pedagogical approaches improved.  With each passing generation more and more people were able to play it.

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Now, while still difficult music, it’s nowhere near as impossible as it initially seemed.  Here’s some footage of Sarah Chang when she was 10 years old in 1990 performing some of his music.

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If you think about it in the history of shred guitar, you would not have current innovators without people like Yngwie Malmsteen and Eddie Van Halen.  When those initial recordings came out they were considered impossible.  No one knew what the hell to do with Eruption.  It was Ed’s big middle finger to everyone – because no one could touch what he was doing at the time of Van Halen 1.  When I hear Far Beyond The Sun, I think back to people listening to the Rising Force CD and shaking their heads in disbelief.  Now either one of those pieces is something that you could learn to play given the proper instruction, music, time and a audio/visual demonstration.

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The reason for this is it’s much easier to do something when you hear or see it being done.  

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Once you hear someone play a solo at a high speed, you know that speed is attainable – because you’ve heard them play it and it transcends your limitations. When you see a video of them playing it, it makes it even easier as you can see more of the physical nuances of how something is being played.

 

With every recording and video, there is probably someone who is adapting or learning a technique associated with that recording and using it as a stepping stone. This is why there is such a glut of guitar videos, and why it seems that everyone is making one.

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There certainly are a lot of videos out there but they don’t tell the full story of the player.  And with that in mind, it’s now time for:

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Another Berklee story:

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My first day at Berklee, I was in my dorm room and heard someone playing Tony MacAlpine.  I grabbed my guitar and went looking for the room to see what was going on.  The music was coming from the dorm room directly beneath me – at the time I had a black Aria Pro II Knight Warrior I knocked on the door and the door swung open and there was another guitarist also named Scott who also had a black Aria Pro II Knight Warrior strapped onto his body (this turned out to be a fortuitous moment for me because Scott today is one of my dearest friends (and an unbelievable guitarist)).  I introduced myself and walked in.  Scott sat down on his bed and started playing some terrifying 2 handed pattern on his guitar.  I processed that for a moment and then went to go meet his roommate, Drew.

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Scott might disagree with me now, but here’s what I remember –  Drew was one of the most technically proficient guitarists I’ve ever seen.  He had literally taken the Michael Angelo instructional video and learned all of the licks but was playing them just as cleanly but even faster.  When he improvised a solo, he kind just re-arranged parts of those licks – but it was still incredibly impressive.

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I left pretty stunned.  I had just seen the two most technical guitar players at the school, but what I thought I had seen were two typical guitarists and that this was the performance standard of all the guitarists there.  I was starting to wonder just how far in over my head I was at this school.

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A couple of days later, I walked by the practice rooms.  A transcription of an Eric Johnson piece had just gotten published in one of the guitar magazines and I was now listening to twenty guitar players all playing the same lick at different speeds.  I processed that for about ten minutes – and realized my initial perception about the general level of skill amongst my fellow players was completely wrong.

Looking back at it now, I recognize that my thinking was faulty on multiple levels.

  • I assumed that everyone was “better” than me.

 

  • I assumed that “better” was a universal definition.

 

  • I assumed that my value as a player was only a comparative value related to how well other people play.

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Now I think all of these assumptions were wrong.

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To be sure, there are markers that you are improving as a player.  Maybe it’s fluency, maybe it’s repertoire, maybe it’s connection with the music or the instrument.  For each person, how they are getting better is ultimately self-defined.

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If you define it solely based on what other people can do, you’re selling yourself short.

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There are technical hurdles to playing music.  If someone counts off a tempo and you play your hot lead line over it – you can either cut it or you can’t.  There’s no real debate over that.  It’s strictly a performance issue.  You can, for example, either play an arpeggio at a certain tempo consistently or you can’t.  If the player next to you can play that arpeggio consistently at that tempo, then they have achieved a higher skill set on performing that arpeggio – but that has no reflection on either of your abilities to play music.  Just like your speed at filling gas tank has no direct reflection on your ability to drive.

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I’ve had students who have come to me and said, “I’m never going to be able to play like (player x) so why even bother?”  This is like saying, “Noam Chomsky speaks English and I speak English, but I’ll never speak about linguistics in English like Noam Chomsky so I might as well not even say anything at all.”  Hopefully, this line of thinking sounds silly when you put it in context.  English is only a language.  You use it to express yourself.  It doesn’t matter what judgements people put on it, it only matters that you can communicate effectively.  The same is true for music as well.

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Unfortunately, the social lesson that many people learn is that their value is comparative.

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  • We value ourselves based not only on how much money we make, but how much other people make
  • on how our lives and the things in our lives stack up against other people’s
  • on how many cds we’ve sold versus other cd sales, etc, etc….

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If you fall into this category here’s one way to turn this line of thinking around that will be more beneficial to you:

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Ask not “how do I stack up against others?”, but instead, “what can I gain from this?”

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If  I see someone playing an awesome solo, I don’t think, “Oh man I wonder if I can play that well?” (Although I certainly used to!)  I listen for the things that I like (or sometimes don’t like) and then see how I could incorporate that into my playing.   I take the things around me and try to use them for inspiration.  That way I don’t waste energy on getting intimidated.

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It can be hard to maintain that observation, but if you perceive getting better as a self-made standard that others can help you rise up to rather than a standard of others that you need to reach, I think it may serve you much better.

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I mention Guthrie Govan’s playing here because I really dig it.  I think he’s a brilliant guitarist.  But I really don’t give a toss about how I stack up against him. The world doesn’t need another Guthrie Gowan.  We already have one, and he’s great but what I do care about is how I can take every innovation of his I like and adapt it to what I do to advance my playing.

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“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.”

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Lord Basho was once asked by an acolyte what could be done to make the world a better place.  He was purported to have replied, “be the best person you can be – and then there will be one less rascal in the world.”

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The world doesn’t need another version of anyone, it instead needs you to become the best version of yourself you can.

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As always, thanks for reading!

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Finding The Deeper Lesson

Finding mastery in strange places….

One person who’s fascinating to me is Gordon Ramsay (in spite of a celebrity chef status).  I remember years ago, on an early season of Hell’s Kitchen, a Cambridge resident that competed on the show and interviewed by the local Fox affiliate after she was voted off.   When asked about how mean or callous he was, the woman replied that he was really neither.  She said he was a world-class chef who maintained high standards since his name was going out on everything and that his demands were in line with what was expected from any professional kitchen.

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Another thing that fascinates me about Chef Ramsay (other than the fact that he came from a working class background and parlayed a career ending soccer injury into a pursuit of cooking) is that his mastery shines through on everything he does.  The next time you get a chance to see him do a cooking demonstration, watch the ease and speed he moves at.  Everything he does on camera is graceful, seamless and effortless.  If you’ve ever tried to pull off a video demonstration of something – you know how hard getting everything right really is (much less doing it on a sound stage in front of a national audience).

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Reaching a level of technical precision where the technique is invisible is a sign of true mastery.

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According to those who know, at the highest level the mastery of one thing is the same as the mastery of all things.   In other words, the focus, skill set and mental space that one needs to enter to be a master musician – is the same that it takes to be a great chef, a great athlete or anything great.

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Once you learn how to master something, you’ve gained a skill set in mastery and, ultimately, that lesson can be the greater take away.

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Years ago, when I was at my undergrad I wanted to get into martial arts.  I went to study kickboxing (since I had no aptitude for kicking) and my lesson was  with a guy who was nationally ranked.  When I went for the introductory lesson – we did a little bag work and when it was done I asked some questions about the martial arts as a philosophy and he replied that there was no philosophy, it was just about hitting the bag.  (That should have been a huge warning sign but instead I stuck it out for about 3 months).  I remember a class he was teaching where he was doing a weight lifting routine during a full class session of about 20 people.  We were working on kicks and he was teaching us by doing bench presses on a universal weight machine.

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Some of the classes were taught by a student of his and while the student teacher was not at the technical skill level level of the main instructor, these were the most informative classes that I had there.  This teacher was attentive and really helped me address specific technical things and applications.  He might not have been at the technical level of the main teacher, but he was the much better teacher of the two.

Needless to say, I didn’t learn a lot from the main teacher about kickboxing (other than the fact that he was a lot better at it than I was).  But I did learn more than I thought I did.

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The initial conclusions I took away from this experience were:

  • kickboxing sucks and/or
  • I suck at kickboxing

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Obviously kickboxing doesn’t suck and neither of these were the real lessons for me.  They were just faulty conclusions that I came to.

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Eventually, I realized that I had learned some other things:

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    • I learned a lot about teaching – both good and bad practices.
    • I learned some things about myself like my threshold for frustration and the value of discipline and focus.
    • I started thinking about how training affects performance which opened some doors for practicing later on.

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The take away

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If someone plays something better than you, it doesn’t mean you’re hopeless as a guitar player – but it does mean that person devoted more time to something than you did.

It’s easy to fall into those mental traps and it’s also easy to take the wrong lesson from any given experience away with you. 

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Try to find the lessons in whatever you do and then dig deeper into them and see if they have a broader application.

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The wrong lessons are the self-defeating lessons. 

The right lessons are the self-empowering lessons.

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Thanks for reading!

-SC