Just Practice? There’s No “Just Practice”

9 07 2014

Just PracticeI read a story some time ago that, while sad, was not at all surprising.  Former NBA standout Allen Iverson has fallen on hard times.  He made millions but is now broke.  It is a tale oft-repeated about people in popular entertainment (and make no mistake, professional athletes are, in fact, entertainers).

I recall watching his now-famous press conference–video gone viral–after he’d been fined by his team for missing practice.  He repeated over and over again, “It’s just practice.”  In other words, “when I’m playing the game, I’ll be all there.”

Really?  Try selling that to Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, or Magic Johnson.

God alone knows how this capable man went from riches to rags.  His career spanned the period of the mid 1990′s to 2010.  It’s a sad story, one that could happen, I suppose, to any of us.

I’m going to be candid.  I can’t help but wonder if Iverson’s dismissive attitude towards practice didn’t play some part in things going south for him.  Again, God only knows.  But ideas and mentalities have consequences.  Blowing off practice or refusing to run out an infield fly ball in baseball (something we’d have gotten benched for in the 1970′s) says a lot about a person.

I get bored very easily.  As a guitarist and pianist, I’m not content playing the same things over and over again.  Stale food.  No thanks.  So I have to do things that keep me growing and sounding interesting.  I don’t want to bore my wife or anybody else with ears.

In recent years, I’ve been doing some different things that have helped me play and think differently on the guitar.  And I’ve been having a blast doing it as well.   So I thought I’d share the wealth.

Play in alternate tunings.  A few Autumns ago, I got totally inspired watching Jimmy Page demonstrate how he plays Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes) in the outstanding documentary It Might Get Loud.  Jimmy came up with this years ago while playing around in an alternate tuning: DADGAD.  Operative phrase: Playing around.  It’s profoundly simple and cool.  (I’ve been playing “Kashmir” a lot and my wife digs it.).  With alternate tunings, you get a lot of voicings not available in standard tuning.  If you’re into this, learn a song by artists who’ve used alternate tunings a lot—Crosby, Stills & Nash, Led Zeppelin, Phil Keaggy, Pierre Bensusan, The Rolling Stones.  Better yet, create your own.

Play musical theatre.  A good deal of Broadway music is very involved, sophisticated and colorful.  Usually written by brilliant composers on the piano.  As a guitarist, you will find this extremely challenging.  Here’s something fun—learn really complex chords at various positions all over the neck.  You’ll love the colors.  Pick a show you like (A Chorus Line, Wicked, West Side Story, etc.) and go from there.

Learn a song by one of your heroes.  Eric Johnson used to learn—and I mean really learn—a song a month by Jimi Hendrix.  Eric would take the song apart like a car engine and study it.  His own readings of Hendrix classics are quite good.  Years ago, I’d learn songs by sitting next to the record player and picking up the needle, over and over and over again, and repeating the song until I’d nailed it.  Digital technology makes this so much easier.  Whether your hero is Stevie Ray Vaughan or Joe Satriani or Tommy Emmanuel, find something you love and learn it cold.  You’ll find that eventually you’ll develop your own voice and style.  It’s what millions of guitarists have done for the past sixty years.  Join their ranks.

Practice.  Yes, proficiency on a musical instrument involves drudgery.  Faithfulness outside of the eye and applause of the crowd.  Your fidelity to practice will absolutely show when you hit the court.

Now go play.  And remember:

It’s not just practice.

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Choose Your Circle…With Care

10 11 2013

Choose Friends CarefullyI have been thinking recently, after a time away from The Upside, of how vital and terribly important it is to choose carefully those with whom you are surrounded.

They are affecting you.  Fact.

It is true that there are certain environments where our companions are, in effect, chosen for us.  In other words, out of our control.  Family. Workplace.  Subway and carpool regulars.  Church and synagogue gatherings.

But this does not define the totality of our lives.  In so much of what we call our discretionary time–and, by extension, discretionary surroundings–we are free to choose those we hang with.  Indeed, we are responsible for these environments.

When I spend too much time with pessimists, who mistakenly view themselves as realists, I become infected.  Sorry, but I am not a Titan and tend to get pulled under by the undertow of fear, defeatism, and basic laziness that tends to undergird most “it-can’t-be-done,-so-why-try?” thinking.

There is a better way.

Simply this:  In those situations which you do control, choose wisely.  Friends who regularly tell you “it can’t be done so why bother?” are not friends.  They have capitulated.  They’ve taken the easy way, the path of least resistance.  And they have plenty of like-minded people to validate their view of life.

Don’t you dare.

Life is worth living.  As our Jewish friends remind us, “Any day above ground is a good day.”  So be thankful.

In practice:

  • Read things that tell you that you, indeed, can.  Don’t spend your precious time giving thought, angst, and emotion to those who decry your efforts at something better.
  • Choose your orbit with care.  Life is far too short to wreck it with toxic affiliations that keep you from, rather than push towards, the fulfillment of your goals and purpose.
  • Live in expectation of good, success, productivity, and the betterment of the world in which you now live.  Much, if not most, pessimism is simply an excuse not to try–an acceptance of the status quo.

You can do this.  Surround your self with people and stimuli that reinforce it.

You won’t regret it.  And you can take that to the bank.

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Doing Your Homework

25 10 2013

Do Your Homework

“Got a good reason, for taking the easy way out.  Got a good reason for taking the easy way out.” (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)

One of the most challenging tasks one can engage in is focused and thorough thinking.  “The easy way out” is often found in 1) trying to find cut-and-dry, black-and-white solutions to every problem or 2) denying the complexities of modern life offering superficial and simplistic solutions to sizeable challenges.

M. Scott Peck once discussed the problem of simplism in his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, which tends to reduce the complex challenges of modern life into neat and tidy solutions.  Too often, we gravitate towards simplistic solutions to these difficulties and mysteries.  Why?

For one, it’s easier.  Thinking–serious thinking involving focus, research and reflection–is hard work.  Again, we have a bent towards laziness…following the path of least resistance and exerting minimal effort.

The problem with simplistic thinking is that easy answers in neat, tidy packaging eventually get found out for what they are.  The result?  Cynicism.  Disillusionment.  Loss of values.  Even loss of faith.  Having come from a background that has included not a few years as a minister, simplistic solutions to serious problems ultimately destroy in the end.  Fundamentalists, note this please.

The solution?  Do your homework.  Whatever your challenge, put your time and paces in to get to the bottom of a matter.  The greater the stakes, the more effort you must exert.  At times, life is simple, even black and white.  Most of the time it is not.  If you know this going in, you’ll fare well and your ship will probably moor safely.

Do your homework.  And don’t leave it to anybody else, even the experts.  There’s far too much at stake.

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Every Human Being A Miracle

19 10 2013

Human Beings Are MiraclesEvery human being who is now, will be or ever has been is a miracle.  The co-workers, family members and friends with whom you trafficked today are, every one of them, wonders beyond belief.  We are all—regardless of color, creed or cult—made in the image of God.  There is no such thing as an ordinary person.

C.S. Lewis, writing in his essay “The Weight of Glory” says this, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

Our society, especially here in the West, is enamored of celebrity.  I don’t quite know how to account for it.  Perhaps it is, in some weird way, a seeking after God, power embodied in fame.  The Kardashian sisters are lovely women but they are no more a miracle than your boss, the clerk at the store down the street or your friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart greeter.

Ask yourself this one question:  “How do I treat those who have absolutely nothing by which I can, knowingly, be benefited?”

Tomorrow, when you stop by the gas station on the way to work, remember you are looking into the eyes of creatures made a little lower than the angels, indeed a little lower than God (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7).

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Steve Jobs on Aesthetics

16 10 2013

Steve Jobs on Aesthetics

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” (Steve Jobs)

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Life Step No. 1: Show Up

15 10 2013

Show Up

“And I just showed up for my own life; and I’m standing here taking it in and it sure looks bright.” (Sara Groves)

I’ve been thinking all day about the importance of living fully the life we’ve been given.  So many do not.

Woody Allen once said, “Seventy percent of life is just showing up.”

Well.

I’ve lived in a half-hearted way too much of my life.  Maybe you have too.  Mediocrity never squeezes the nectar from the fruit.

So….

Show up.

Be all there.

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  Or it’s not worth it.

Eschew the “just get by” mentality.

Jobs, gifts, projects, enterprises, roles–all of it.  Jump in with both feet.

We only get one crack at this.

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Producing or Preparing to Produce?

14 10 2013

Producing or Preparing to ProduceSixteen years ago, I worked as the associate to a man who’d enjoyed a successful career as a real estate broker.  We worked together in another field and I admired his diligence and commitment to excellence.

He told me about a valuable lesson he’d learned in real estate.  He said, “In real estate, every minute you spend doing less important things is time away from your primary location: To be in front of customers.”

He was told that if he did not sell on weekends and work Sundays, he’d never make it in real estate.  He had at that time–and still does, as far as I know–an ironclad commitment to make sure he spent plenty of time with his wife and children.  He told his colleagues, “I won’t work weekends but I will succeed.”

And he did.  One of the primary reasons, he explained, was that he spent very little time in the office, and, thus, put himself in the presence of his clients.  While his fellow realtors spent a lot of time putting together fancy office spaces and such, Gary was selling.  And only Monday through Friday.

In life, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.  Gary taught me this.

Here’s a couple of good questions to ask yourself with respect to your work, your skills and talents, your pursuits, and goals: Am I working or making plans to work?  Am I actually producing or just preparing to produce?

I have to confess I’ve dawdled away far too much time making impressive plans to do something valuable and productive, making good use of my skill sets.  I’m trying to prune away the unnecessary time wasters (too much social media, pointless web surfing, etc.) and set about actually doing something that will help others, my own, and myself.

Well…how about you?

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