Dispatch from the EBK
In today’s Empire Building Kit* email (day 41 of 365), Chris Guillebeau shares a horror story from his upcoming book (Penguin, September 2010). Some years ago, when Chris was working as a volunteer in Sierra Leone, he was also running an online business back home. One night, while checking email via his flaky satellite connection, he discovered that his fulfillment center had gone out of business.
Not only would no more orders be shipped, but it turned out orders hadn’t been shipped in three weeks!
With a lot of help from his brother back home, Chris managed to figure out a solution to this crisis. I won’t go into details here, but the important part is that this admittedly pretty awful experience had some pretty amazing results:
- It forced him to think creatively to solve the problem
- He emerged with a new sense of confidence that he could handle any problem that came his way.
In his own words, he learned “that you can come back from anything.”
Lessons from the music and performance world
Reading Chris’s EBK email reminded me of a “crisis” of my own, that, while admittedly a lot smaller in the scheme of things, had a big impact on my outlook.
In 2005 I started singing jazz, and for several quarters I was enrolled in an amazing jazz vocal solo class at a nearby community college. Our final exam was a public performance in a local bar, where we’d each get to sing two songs.
At one of these finals, as the pianist played an intro, I realized I couldn’t “hear” my starting note. I panicked, and did what you’re never supposed to do: I asked to start over.
Okay, that was embarrassing, but that wasn’t the really bad part.
Because I was so nervous, and I was so afraid of not being able to hear my note the second time, I asked the pianist if he could just play my starting note for me before launching into the intro. He played a note as requested, and I gripped that note in my brain like it was a life rope. I would not blow it this time.
But when I launched into the song, I could tell something was wrong. I knew that what I was singing didn’t sound right, but I couldn’t quite figure out what to do about it! I knew I’d sung the note he fed me, but I also knew it sounded wrong.
I was on a train headed right over a cliff.
Don’t let them see you sweat
Since I didn’t know what to do, though, I just kept right on going, all the way through the song. I was cringing internally, but outwardly smiling.
True to typical jazz standard form, I sang through the song, then the rhythm section played solos before I came back in at the top. The break while the band was soloing was enough to get me centered again, so when I did come back in, I was on the right note this time. (Thank God!)
After that song was over, I went into my second song, and this time I nailed it. Nobody would have know that I’d screwed up the first song so badly.
Still, when I got offstage and sat down with my then-boyfriend, I was so horrified and humiliated at my performance of the first song that I burst into tears. How would I ever live it down?
(Later, the piano player came over to apologize: turns out he’d fed me the wrong note! Though as the bass player [and a mentor of mine] said, it was still my fault; as the singer, it’s my job to listen to the introduction and sing from that, rather than from the note I was holding in my head. And he was right.)
When the initial trauma and humiliation calmed down a bit, though, I realized that this train wreck of a performance was probably the best thing that could have happened at that particular stage of my singing life. Why?
- It showed me that even when the worst thing happens onstage, lightning doesn’t strike.
- I learned that even if I mess up, I can go on to give a great performance on the next song (which is a pretty important skill to learn as a performer, since, as the bumper stickers say, shit happens!)
These two big lessons proved to be crucial in my development as a performer. If the idea of messing up paralyzes you, you’re never going to take risks, and never going to get very far. But if you know you’re going to screw up at some point, and you know you can recover from it, suddenly you’ve got total freedom to try anything!
The moral of the story
So many times when we want to try something new and big and scary, we let the fear of something going wrong stop us from even trying. But the thing is, bad stuff does happen, and if you let your fears stop you from going after your dreams, bad stuff still might happen, but you won’t be any closer to what you really want.
My unsolicited advice (to myself as well): just fasten your seat belt and brace yourself for the ride. Whatever slings and arrows life throws at you will probably result in some amazing lessons (and possibly a good story or two).
Now get out there and follow your evolving Bliss!
*The Empire Building Kit is a 365-day course for people who want to launch or grow a very small business. It’s filled with video interviews with entrepreneurs with all kinds of unconventional “lifestyle businesses,” PDF case studies of several more, and video tips from Chris Guillebeau from The Art of Nonconformity. It will be available for sale tomorrow, May 18, for 24 hours only.
If you buy the EBK, every day you’ll receive an email from Chris, with one thing to do toward creating your own empire. Some days it’s a business principle to think about; some days it’s a video to watch or an audio recording to listen to (a few days ago there was a special bonus recording with “Career Renegade” Jonathan Fields).
For a more in-depth review, see my post on the first month of the EBK. Upshot: I was super-anxious about sinking so much money into something when I didn’t really know what I was getting, but I’m awfully glad I did. I’ll share more as my “year of empire-building” proceeds.
Note: If you buy The Empire Building Kit or any Unconventional Guides product from any of the links here, I’ll get some affiliate income, and will be forever grateful. If you don’t buy at all, or you buy through another link, I’ll never know, so don’t lose sleep over it.