Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Birthday Wish

This morning I found out that tomorrow is my friend Will's birthday. I started writing a birthday wish for Will, but it turned into something much more general than that, something that might be a birthday wish for anyone.

Here you go...

If you are reading this, then you have survived your entire life up to this point. You have survived adversity, doubt, trauma, breakups, disappointments, formal education, holidays, family vacations and all manner of undesirable events.

And here you are...

You go, you bad ass! You're awesome!

Happy Birthday!

Being your birthday and all, it's time that you finally begin pursuing all you've wanted but have never believed you could have, because right now is the oldest you've been and the youngest you'll ever be.

What do you want? Can you see it? Can you describe it? Don’t worry about getting it right or perfect. You can’t (yet). It's gonna change as you move towards it.

So, picture what you want, etch it in your mind, and then...
  • Learn more than is required.
  • Act sooner than is necessary.
  • Be stronger than is possible.
  • Go longer than is reasonable.
  • Don't spend time on the stuff you already know how to do.
  • Become comfortable outside your comfort zone. (Repeat.)
  • Stretch yourself beyond your limits. (Repeat.)
  • Risk more than is than you can afford to lose.
  • Deliver more than you believe is needed.
  • Plan on things not always going according to plan.
  • Return frequently to the drawing board.
  • Learn from all (every little thing) you do.
  • Use what you learn to refine your vision.
When you can think of nothing else to do,  know that there are infinitely many things to do that you've not yet considered. When things seem to be falling apart, know that they may actually be falling into place. When something goes wrong, something that you can't explain or figure out, yell, "PLOT TWIST!" and move on.

Need a Warm Up?
Feel like you need to warm up a bit? Here are a couple of things you can do.
  • Know that dead last is better than did not finish which trumps never started.
  • Go twenty-four hours without complaining (not even once and even if there's plenty about which to complain).
  • Fill a cup of coffee to the point of overflowing and carry it across the room to the sink without spilling a drop.
  • Spend a week using only your opposite hand to write.
  • There's a riddle that goes, "How do you stop a friendly elephant?" The answer is, "You can't." Practice being a friendly elephant.
  • Every time you find yourself hesitating or doubting, remember that the only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can't achieve it.
Happy Saturday,

Thursday, August 22, 2013


The scariest thing in the world is someone who feels justified.

To be justified goes beyond having a reason or rationale for your actions. It give your a reason or rationale to do something that you'd normally consider wrong, but...

Justification lets you break your personal rules of conduct without really breaking them. It lets you reconcile the internal incongruity that comes with such a violation, making wrong right, but only temporarily and for "good" reasons. In short, justification lets you simultaneously break a rule and keep it.

There's only one problem with justification, well, two problems. First, people do all sorts of crazy stuff when they feel justified. Pacifists kill. Friends sell out friends. Givers hoard. Lovers hate.

Second, justification doesn't really work. It doesn't reconcile the incongruity; it just masks it. Using justification to reconcile internal inconsistency is like patching a gap in the floor with tiling grout. You can make it look as though there's no gap, but best not step there.

You'd think that these two problems alone would be enough reason to avoid ever justifying anything. However, there's more. Justification feeds on itself.

You justify taking action that you'd normally consider wrong.

You sell it and others buy it.

Problem is that you don't buy it.

It eats at you.

Before you know it, you're rationalizing your having justified something that deep inside you still feel to be wrong. You're justifying your justifying.

Justification compounds justification. It's grows non-linearly, if not exponentially.

Justification can take a lot of work.

But wait, that's not all. There's one more problem with justification. Justification fragments a whole person into lots of tiny irreconcilable pieces. Each time you justify an action, you create another crack in you, a hairline crack, a small fissure, a large gap. You break up you into smaller and smaller chunks of situationally defined persona.

You end up with no you, just a bunch of pieces that refuse to be reconciled. You're one person with one group and someone else with another. Heaven forbid they all get together for a party.

How do you avoid justification? How can you tell the difference between offering a reason for an action and justifying an action?

You can tell by how you feel when you offer that reason or explanation. If you feel defensive, then you're likely justifying.

What's the alternative to justifying actions that you can't reconcile with your personal code? After all, we all do so from time to time.

My favorite is pretty straight forward. I look at what I did and say, "Hmm... I screwed up. I don't want to do that again."

And then I move on.

Alternatively, I might say, "Wow, I totally violated my personal rule. That was a dumb rule. Let's dump it."

How much of what you do, do you feel the need to justify? How often do find yourself feeling defensive? Do you ever find yourself being one person here and another there?  How would your life change if you never justified or defended anything you did?

Happy Thursday,

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Can You Play?

During a break at one of our gigs, Ryan walks up to me and says, "Hey, I just got my drumming certification from UCLA."

"You just got what?", I say.

Ryan says, "My drumming certification."

"What does that mean?", I say.

"It means that I'm officially a drummer."

"It does?"

"Yeah, it does."

"Um...  Hmm... Can you play?"

"Sure I can. I got certified."

"OK. Um... Can you play well?"

"Define well."

"Let me do it by example. We just finished a set with Marc playing drums. In your estimation, do play better than Marc, as well as Marc or not as well as Marc?"

"Oh... well, I can play some of the stuff Marc played, err, at least a little of it."

"What percent of what Marc played can you play?"

"Hmm... like five percent?"

"And that five percent that you play, is it better, as good as or not as good as what Marc plays?"

"Well, depending on the day, it could be as good as Marc plays."

"What about right now?"

"Right now?"

"Yeah, right now. Like, if we were to get on stage and you were to substitute for Marc on the first tune."

"Hmm... probably not as good as Marc."

I explained to Ryan, "Look, it's great that you got your certification, but playing music is different than other professions. It's different from teaching music in school. After all is said and done, the only thing the people you work with care about is whether or not you can cut it; can you play or not?"

"Uh, huh."

"A certification might get you an audition, but it won't get you the gig."

"So you think getting a certification is a bad thing?"

"No, not in and of itself. However, it can be a misleading thing and it can be a distraction."


"Yeah, because it's easy to believe that having the certification will actually mean something to other musicians."

"How's it a distraction?"

"It's can be a distraction when you start pursuing exercises and techniques that you'll never use simply because their mastery will get you the certification."

"So what would you do?

"Play! Play as much as you can with as many great musicians as you can. Learn from them. Ask them about what they do and how they do it. Practice what you've learned and then get feedback on it from people who play really well."

"No certifications?"

"Not required."

"Then how will people know that you can play?"

"Trust me. If you learn to play exceptionally well, and you play frequently, they'll know."

One of the things I love about music, and for that matter, any performance oriented occupation, is that no one cares where you're from, who you've been or what you've done; they just care about who you are and what you can do. Can you play?

Of course, it's not really different from other professions. Whether you're seeking out a doctor or a lawyer or an architect or a landscaper, after all is said and done, you just want to know whether or not they're good at what they do. Musicians are just clearer about it.

Happy Tuesday,

Friday, August 9, 2013

Focus. Concentrate. Pay Attention.

Not too long ago, Iris was visiting with her friend Quinn, an amazing little guy who, at eight, regularly bursts through physiological and neurological barriers that would daunt most adults. Like most days, Quinn was working on honing a newly acquired skill. After a few unsuccessful attempts, he stopped, drew himself up and said, "Focus. Concentrate. Pay Attention."

He continued with his task.

Iris asked Quinn, "What did you just say?"

Quinn looked at her and responded, "Focus. Concentrate. Pay Attention."

He returned his attention to his task and continued refining his new skill.

After their visit, Iris told me about Quinn's prescription to focus, concentrate and pay attention. She decided that it wasn't a bad idea to check in with herself every once in a while to make sure that she indeed was focusing, concentrating and paying attention.

Last night at rehearsal, we worked through new material that was challenging in many dimensions. The harmonies alternated between major and minor tonalities. The tempo and rhythm changed regularly. The lyrics flew by at such a pace that, were you to think about the phrase you just missed, you'd surely miss the upcoming phrase that you hadn't. The pitches stretched our vocal ranges at both the top and the bottom.

There was no one thing about the song that was particularly challenging. The high notes were high, but not out of range. The rhythm and tempo changed, but they were not complex. The tonality alternated, but neither alternative was difficult to sing or play. Every aspect of the song was well within each of our capacities. Nonetheless, we struggled.

During a break, Quinn's words came to mind.



Pay attention.

As we launched into another round of the chorus, I closed my eyes, drew in a breath and let go of everything but the next note. I stopped thinking about getting it right. I stopped thinking about what we'd done or where we were likely to make mistakes. I stopped thinking about the technical aspects of playing or singing. I just dropped into the moment and took each word and note as they came.


This morning it occurred to me that our analyses of challenges and situations are frequently superficial. You encounter a challenge. You assume that the challenge lies in the task or activity in which you encountered it.

Makes sense, right?

Yet the real challenge may have absolutely nothing to do with the task at hand.




It's not about the task. It's not about required skills. It's not about knowledge or expertise.

It's about focus, concentration and paying attention: FCPA.

So then it occurred to me that one might think about FCPA as a skill. It's a meta-skill that spans other skills and disciplines. Yet it's a skill to be practiced and honed like any other.

Thing is, I've never seen FCPA taught in school. I've been told to do it, but I've never been taught it. FCPA shares characteristic with meditation, but meditation is often practiced in isolation, not as an applied skill. It works in the lab or when one has time, but not outside in the moment.

So, how would one go about developing FCPA as a skill?


Happy Friday,

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Daily To Do List

  1. Be awesome
  2. Take nothing personally (even if it was meant to be personal)
  3. Practice something I don’t do well currently do terribly
  4. Love big bigger
  5. Be thankful Express gratitude
  6. Don’t judge Judge positively
  7. Don’t accumulate negative judgments Say exactly what I mean (matter-of-factly when I think it)
  8. Avoid Embrace adversity
  9. Do better than yesterday (even if it requires me to do worse along the way)
  10. Discern inertia from momentum

Monday, August 5, 2013

What Do You See?

Four Concentric Circles

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Thoughts for Saturday

What follows is a set of thoughts, quotes and mixtures of both.

If your dreams don't scare you, then they're not big enough.

Weird is a side effect of awesome.

No one can help everyone, but anyone can help someone.

A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.
Groucho Marx

When one person experiences delusions, we call it mental illness. When an entire society does so, we call it normal.

Wanna know who your real friends are? Screw up royally and see who's still there.

One kind word can change someone's entire day. Yet, the experience is rare enough so as to be memorable. Looking for something to do?

"It's nonsense", says reason.
"It is what it is", says love
"It's a disaster", says logic.
"It's nothing but pain and suffering", says fear.
"It is what it is", says love.
"It's ridiculous", says pride.
"It's foolhardy", says prudence.
"It's impossible", says experience.
"It is what it is", says love.

Don't compare your chapter one to someone's chapter twenty.

A great way to maintain unhappiness is to see the past as better than it was, the present as worse than it is and the future less resolved than it will be. It's guaranteed to work.

An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.
Niels Bohr

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Albert Einstein

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us an understanding of ourselves.
Carl Jung

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounding yourself with assholes.
William Gibson

A scientist is not someone who knows everything without question; she's someone who questions everything she thinks she knows.

Here's all you have to know about men and women. Women are crazy, men are stupid, and the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid.
George Carlin

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.