A few months ago at work, I was asked to head our office’s team in our annual organization-wide charity event.
“Ask” really isn’t the most accurate way of putting it. I was “voluntold.”
I was okay with this for a few reasons. First, it always falls on the person who has been at the office the shortest time to do this. Second, as my boss put it to me, it’s a good chance to meet more people and demonstrate my leadership abilities to everyone, including the higher-ups. And third, it’s all for a good cause.
After a delayed start due to other pressing work matters, the past month and a half have been really successful: Events have been planned, money has been raised, and we are on pace to surpass lasts year’s charitable take by quite a bit.
But in addition to helping coordinate events and get the word out, I’ve been asked to participate in one.
You see, for the past few years three of my colleagues–including one of my managers–sing and play Christmas carols on their guitars (and one bass) for a few days, “busking” for donations. One of them was unable to play due to work, so I was asked to fill in.
On Friday. To play on Tuesday. And I was given a binder full of 20 or so songs to learn.
“How hard can Christmas songs be?” you might ask?
There are your simpler ones, like “Santa Clause Is Coming to Town,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Silent Night,” and “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas.” These are as basic as you’d imagine.
And then there are some with very sophisticated chords and harmonies, as befitting the jazz-and-classical-influenced age in which they were written, songs like “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and “The Christmas Song.”
So of course I jumped at the opportunity. It fits in with my self-imposed guitar challenge, which, while not on pace to happen in the year 2016, is still something I am working towards.
Like I said in that post, working on your weaknesses will help you improve in most other areas.
We all know that putting yourself in uncomfortable positions is the best way to grow. Or, as the late, great Frank Zappa put it, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
My particular weaknesses in this case are: 1) Sight-reading chord changes, 2) learning the more esoteric chords, 3) I am not a guitar player by training (I am a bassist), 4) playing with a capo (visually, it just messes me up), and 5) I have not performed in public since 2012.
And although I got maybe an hour’s worth of total practice (including learning some lead lines for a few of the songs), our performance went great! It was a hell of a lot of fun, we raised a lot of money for charity, and most importantly, I felt calm, didn’t get nervous, and was about 70% pleased with my performance.
(The other two musicians were thrilled I was able to fill in so adroitly on such a short notice, which gave me a huge ego boost. They took a chance on me, taking me at my word that I’d be able to pull my weight. It’s always good to be someone others can rely on).
But this got me thinking. And since this is a blog, dammit, and not a diary, I’d like to share some of these thoughts.
The interesting thing about this whole experience has been the concept of visualization.
I’ve always been the kind of guy who thinks about what I’m into constantly. Even when I have no musical instrument in my hand, or when I won’t be able to for some time, I think about playing it, what it would sound like, where my fingers should go. This kind of practicing without doing isn’t as effective as actual deep practice, but it’s better than nothing. It at least keeps the mind part of the mind-body union active until the fingers can have a chance to do their thing.
Another aspect of these processes of putting oneself in uncomfortable situations and visualization is that of self-conception. This will sound touchy-feely, but hear me out.
I spent the time between being asked to play and actually playing by thinking of myself as a really bitchin’ guitar player. “I got this,” I told myself. “I know what I’m doing. I can learn this no problem. All it’ll take is a little practice. And I’m good enough to wing it.”
Now, much of this confidence stems from the fact that I have a lot of experience as a musician, some 25 years. But even with that experience, mindset can make a huge difference.
I’ve reviewed the book Gorilla Mindset by Mike Cernovich on this blog before, and while I didn’t specifically use mindset techniques from that book by name during the past few days, the ideas in there are always percolating in my head since, as I wrote in my review, the book does a great job of unifying ideas and concepts you’ve probably already heard about into a coherent whole.
The whole “mind over matter” or “imposing your will on reality” thing might strike you as new-age and a bit goofy, but think about it this way: If you are constantly beating yourself up, what makes you think other people will respect you either?
Or, to paraphrase Cernovich, who calls this aspect of visualization “self-talk,” if you had a friend who talked to you the way you talk to yourself, they wouldn’t be your friend, would they?
I thought about this as I prepared to play these Christmas songs for charity, this seemingly innocuous event proving a great opportunity to put many of these ideas into action.
And you know what? They helped. They worked. Self-talk seems goofy, but it’s a powerful way to give yourself a little extra push to get over doing something that might make you uncomfortable.
After all, life is too rich and varied to shut yourself off from opportunities just because they might give you a little anxiety. Anxiety is just worrying about stuff that hasn’t even happened yet, and might not even happen at all. Why give the unknown that much power over you?
No good reason. The same way there’s no good reason to sabotage your own conception of yourself. Like my dad always says, there are plenty of people out there who would love to tear you down. Why do their job for you?
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