10 Messages Which Gave Me Courage To Change

The boxes are packed. The car is loaded. There’s no turning back. I’m leaving Georgia for California!

Leading up to this decision I did a lot of soul-searching, prayer, and meditation. I had many conversations. I journaled. I listened to what others told me.

Here are 10 messages which helped me make the decision to do it.

1. Time is not a renewable resource, but money is.

These first 3 messages I got from Tim Ferriss’ podcast. In Tim’s 2015 recap he gave out so much great advice. This came from that episode. I was out for a walk and listening when he said this. I stopped walking and replayed the point. I’d been living as if I had unlimited time. Tim’s point was that you can make more money, but you can’t make more time. So do the things you want to do.

2. If you find yourself saying, “but I’m making good money.” That is a warning sign that you’re not in the right place or should leave.

In that same episode Tim mentions this thought from B.J. Novak. I was doing better than I’ve ever done in my career, but this idea of living in California was too big to fight. I had to do it, I felt compelled. It was so hard to leave my amazing job but this thought, coupled with the one above, convicted me immensely.

3. What’s on the other side of fear? Nothing.

Tim’s podcast with Jamie Foxx is one of the best podcasts I’ve ever heard. There is so much inspiration in that one interview. At one point they discuss fear and Jamie says he learned early on that there’s nothing on the other side of fear. It’s all in our minds. All we have to do is move through the fear, then we see that there is nothing there.

4. If you wait for everything to line up the way you want, you’ll be 70 by the time it happens.

My great friend and mentor Spencer sent this message. Spencer has been a huge influence in my life. This message made me realize the clock is ticking and that now is the time to move.

5. What is failure? What’s the worst that can happen?

Many folks asked me these questions when we talked about moving. It’s a question worth asking since it reveals your fears. Once you know what your fears are, then you get to work and do everything you can to avoid those outcomes.

6. Can you live with yourself not knowing or doing this thing?

I asked this question a lot. The answer was clearly no. If the answer was yes I would’ve been content to continue living in Atlanta. The call was so strong that I could not deny it.

7. No risk, no reward

My friend Jason casually said this one evening. Unless I was willing to take the risk and go for it, I’d never know the reward of following through on my heart’s desires.

8. Sometimes you have to make a bet on yourself.

My friend Simon gave me this word. Entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, and artists all know this. We celebrate the folks who believe in themselves, who have the faith to do something big. Sure, moving cross-country is not like Steve Jobs starting Apple, or Felix Baumgartner jumping from space to earth. However, I am saying that, “Yes I can do this and I know I will succeed.”

9. You have no idea what you’re capable of until you put yourself out there.

My friend Laurie sent me this. A few years ago she left her longtime job and went back to school to get her business degree. One day when I was in a lot of fear I asked her what she’d learned from leaving her comfort zone. While it’s extremely uncomfortable, getting outside of our safe routines gives us the opportunity to grow.

10. What would you tell your children? “I was too scared to pack my suitcase and physically move.”

My friend Kelly sent me this question. While I don’t have children I thought about the example I’d be setting. Wouldn’t I want children who believed in themselves? Who took risks? Of course!

That’s it. We’re off to New Orleans today!

10 Things I’ve Learned Studying With Buzz Amato

I studied classical piano from ages 6 to 13 and I got pretty good at piano during that time. I’m grateful my parents pushed me to take lessons because much of what I learned then still serves me today. Being a teenager at that time I wanted to play Van Halen and Rush, as well as jazz like Dave Brubeck and Ellis Marsalis. This culminated in a battle of wills between me, my teacher, and my mom, resulting in me essentially giving up piano and taking up rock guitar. So while I gained expertise at another instrument, my piano playing and sight reading skills went by the wayside.

As an adult I’ve taken drum lessons and voice lessons, but I’d always wanted to get back to my first instrument, the piano. Finally in June of 2012 I set out on that goal and began studying with the exceptional Buzz Amato. I’ve been fortunate to study with a musician and teacher who has a vast knowledge of theory, live performance, composition, arrangement, as well as insights into pop and jazz music. My playing and songwriting has grown immensely as a result of my studies.

When I told Buzz I was writing 10 things I learned from him he joked, “Oh, you could come up with 10?” That’s Buzz’s humor, a joke with multiple levels, self-deprecating while indirectly challenging me as well.

Let’s get to it, here are 10 lessons, among many, that I’ve learned from Buzz:

1. Be Gentle With Yourself

Perfectionism, excellence, and being exceptional at whatever I’ve set out to do, has plagued me my whole life. I say plague because perfectionism allows excuses, self-doubt, and procrastination to insidiously work its way into eventual inaction and frustration. Buzz saw this in me right from the beginning and would often repeat, “Be gentle with yourself.” All of this ridicule and pressure I put on myself was unnecessary. After all, I wasn’t preparing for a command performance at Lincoln Center in front of the president. Maybe that’ll happen someday but that’s not the current reality. I’ve learned that grace, patience, and love opens a better path to real learning and growth. No one is perfect, because…

2. Every Musician Makes Mistakes

I revere players like Chilly Gonzales, Herbie Hancock, Glenn Gould, and Prince. They’re virtuosos and while they seem to never make a mistake, they’re human and they do. The difference is, they’re able to disguise their mistakes, even using the mistake to find something new.

Miles Davis famously said, “Do not fear mistakes – there are none.” It took me a while to get over my fear of making mistakes, especially playing live. When I had gigs where I fell on my face, I left the stage crestfallen and embarrassed. Buzz got me past all that. Buzz says everyone makes mistakes and really the difference between me and Chilly, or Herbie, is how they use the mistake. Buzz says, “If you play it twice, it’s not a mistake.” So mistakes are okay, after all…

3. It’s Just Music

Buzz reminds me that we “play” music. There aren’t many other aspects of life where we are playing, other than sports, recreation, or acting. Music is powerful. It heals and brings unity to humanity. It offers joy and catharsis. It gives us deeper understanding of ourselves and others through artistic expression. However music is not brain surgery, aeronautical engineering, or law enforcement. I’m not saying music isn’t important, but playing music doesn’t have the same stakes as surgery.

4. Set A Goal or Intention When Practicing

I’ve noticed when I set a goal or intention for my practice time, I practice with more focus and tend to accomplish more. These are simple and specific goals such as, learn the next measure of this piece, or work out fingering for this passage, or….

5. Record Yourself

We’re fortunate to have easy access to recording with computers, phones, and cameras. When I record myself and play it back, I’m able to analyze my playing from a different perspective. I can objectively critique and notice what needs to be practiced, what’s working and what’s not, if my tempo wavers, or if the piece is ready for performance. Recording also applies what is known as the “red light syndrome” to my practicing. This pressure helps relax me when I am finally playing in front of an audience, since I’ve worked out those jitters by recording.

6. Play Relaxed

I know I should play relaxed, but it takes a lot of control, practice, and skill to get there. When I am learning certain passages in a piece they can torment me! Buzz teaches that it’s best to slow the tempo down until I can play the music relaxed. Playing with too much tension in the forearms, hands and fingers leads to more mistakes and fumbles but ultimately, it just sounds bad.

7. Know Your Limitations

While I don’t see a lot of limitations in Buzz’s playing, he references them a lot. He’ll say, “I will substitute in a passage so I’m not using my 4th and 5th fingers, because they are weak.” He then proceeds to run and up and down the keyboard with ease. For me, I know that singing in the key of Eb is not good a key for me.

8. Know Your Strengths

Buzz knows he’s great with arrangement and harmony. He’s got lots of stories where folks complimented him on his use of harmony. I know I can write music quickly when there’s a deadline. For the past 3  years, I’ve completed the February Album Writing Month challenge, writing 14 songs in 28 days. I also know I’m good with Logic and making interesting guitar tones with effects.

9. Unlearn What You Have Learned

We talked about this one yesterday. Buzz tells the story of talking to guitarist Pat Martino who remarked the point of learning music is to learn all the rules, then forget them. The idea is to free the mind from the mechanics, theory, technique, and thinking, and simply play the music. When I allow music to flow from me without filters, rules, or thought, I’m able to truly express the purest form of the music.

10. Mix At Lower Volumes

For many years, I loved listening to music and mixing music at loud volumes. Fortunately a recent hearing test revealed my hearing is normal and I haven’t suffered any noticeable loss. Buzz showed me mixing at lower volumes allows me to hear more details and nuances. Sure, it’s fine to crank up a mix for a minute to gauge where it sits. However, every mixing engineer will tell you, mixing at lower volumes causes less ear fatigue and ultimately gives you a better mix.

If you’re interested in contacting Buzz about piano or music production lessons you can hit him up through his site at buzzamato.com.

11 Things I Learned In 2015

2015 was a great year for me! Don’t worry, this post is not one long humblebrag. After about 3 years of being stagnant, I kept on going and finally had breakthrough year.

Here are 11 lessons I wanted to share:

1. If you can do it, do it now

My uncle has lived in France for 10 years. 5 years ago I told him I was going to visit. I’d never been to Europe and going was on my bucket list. However, another year would pass, growing my procrastination and excuse making skills, but not growing my life experience.

“Hey I’m going to visit this year. Just getting it all together. I’ll keep you posted.”

Then, another year would go by.

During a conversation with my dad, he encouraged me to skip the beach vacation I was considering, and to go see my uncle. I listened.

My trip to Paris in August of last year was life-changing. All these years I could have gone but I always had an excuse: it wasn’t the right time, it’s too expensive, I’m too busy, it’s too late now,  I missed the window of opportunity. All of these statements were fear based and ultimately preventing me from having amazing experiences.

If you have the means to do something you’ve always wanted to do, do it and do it now! If you have the vacation time, take it! Buy the ticket and pull the trigger. It doesn’t have to be a vacation, it can be anything you’ve always wanted to do: take piano lessons, study acting, or driving cross-country. Do it now while you have the chance!

2. Travel by yourself

Don’t let the excuse of traveling alone dissuade you from taking a trip. I’ve taken many excursions by myself and there are many benefits. You can do whatever you want and change in the moment. You can move at your own pace. Traveling alone also makes you accountable for your trip. With no one else to lean on you’re responsible for the plan and making your trip a success. I covered so much ground in Paris by myself.

3. Experiences count more than things

Paris is one of the most amazing cities in the world. The things you can buy will not replace the unforgettable meals at places like La Relais de Venise or Chez Gladines. The perfumes and miniature Eiffel Towers could never replace the thrill of walking through the world’s finest museums. This applies to life in general. The live shows we see, the historical landmarks we visit, and the friends we make always hold more value than cars, clothes, computers, or tchotchkes. Speaking of friends…

4. Making new friends is thrilling

In 2015 I became friends with 2 women who greatly enriched my life. One woman I dated briefly, but we both agreed we were better as friends. Another woman I met through some mutual friends. She invited me to see Brandi Carlile and we’ve been having fun ever since. I love the excitement and newness of an emerging friendship. When there’s an instant, kindred connection of shared interests with someone new, it brings a spark into your life.

5. Biking is the best way to commute

In September I began biking to work. Our office ran out of parking spaces and offered some compensation to those who’d either walk or bike to work. Fortunately, I live close to the office and have a short commute, so it was an easy decision. I love biking into the office, most of the time. On cold or rainy days, I often question (and curse) what I’m doing, but I use the opportunity to practice mind control and stay in the present moment. I also saved a lot of money on gas. Through September until the end of the year, I only filled up my car 3 times.

6. Review your life

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In 2015 I began using the Passion Planner. This outstanding planner got me into the habit of reviewing each day, week, and month, making sure I stayed on point. Last week I did a year-end review. I can clearly see where I succeeded and where I needed to improve. Consistently reviewing your life is like referring to a map. It helps you stay on track.

7. Take personality tests

Our company uses the Birkman Method extensively. The information this test yields is revelatory and indispensable in relating to my co-workers. It gives helpful insights into why they act the way they do, and how I can best approach them. Birkman also shares insights into my strengths and helps me understand my tendencies. I’m a big fan of any personality test that gives valuable info about myself and others, and helps us all better interact with and serve each other.

8. Yoga is amazing

You can read my post about yoga here.

9. One measure at a time

At the beginning of the year my piano teacher gave me the challenge of learning a Bach two-part invention. It is the hardest piece of music I’ve ever played or learned as an adult thus far. Going measure by measure is the only way I could accomplish this goal. Every day during practice I worked and persevered until finally, I was able to put the entire piece under my fingers. It’s been so rewarding. I still have a lot of work on this piece but the knowledge, skill, and ear-training I’ve achieved going measure by measure were musical and personal highlights of this year.

10. Establish a solid morning routine

I’m a goober so morning routines fascinate me. Setting up my day correctly and methodically is important. There are creative, physical, and spiritual tasks that, if I complete before getting out the door, allow me to move through life with greater ease, and grace. Without a good morning routine, I can become “Hulkish.”

11. Keep going

Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” While I wasn’t necessarily in a bad place,  I’d been stuck for a while. I’d fallen into a rut of doing the same things, going to the same places, and thinking the same thoughts. In April I moved near Cabbagetown. That move helped me change up my routine significantly. In January of last year I was promoted to a Senior position on my team.

Even though it didn’t feel like anything was happening all those years, I kept on working and improving. Eventually something happened. My situation, outlook, and routines changed for the better. I just had to keep moving to get there.

What did you learn in 2015? Share the wisdom please!