Sharks and Spiders
Speaking of swimming, did you know that the most common things we fear are usually statistically the least likely to happen? People are terrified of sharks but attacks are really rare: about 5 a year world wide. What about spiders? So many people are scared of spiders! Do a search for the number of people killed by spiders and you’ll find that the number is even lower than the shark attack number!
It seems that we are predisposed to fear things that statistically are very unlikely to harm us, even if it is not logical.
We’ve all had that moment when an amazing opportunity presents it but fear takes over. I call this “The Jam” because I used to dream of guitar legend Steve Vai asking me to take the stage at a big gig for a jam. In this kind of situation everything in you knows that you’ve been waiting for this your whole life. But then the questions start in your mind: what if I fail? But more about that later in the blog.
Treading Water at the deep end: Celestial Fire tour.
Right now as I write this, I’ve just jumped into the deep end big time and I thought I’d write a blog about it.
I’m about to embark on a tour, playing guitar for Dave Bainbridge on the Celestial Fire Tour. For those unfamiliar with Dave’s Celestial Fire album, it is a celtic prog rock extravaganza. It’s beautiful and epic music but typical of the genre it involves time signatures like 15/16 and 15 minute long songs to memorize with very few repeated sections and a fair amount of virtuosity! Have a listen to the music here:
It is fair to say that it is the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced musically. To perform the material from the album it will require every ounce of musical training and skill that I have acquired over the years. It is also going to require 4-5 hours of practise a day for a month (in amongst all the other things I have to do) in order to be ready.
I feel a mixture of nerves and excitement. Dave isn’t just some guy to me, he is a musician who I’ve idolised since picking up the guitar in 1991. His band IONA were a massive influence on me when I was growing up. When he asked me to play for his album the usual doubts crept in. “I’m not great at sight reading”…“15/16 into 5/4 into 2/4 into 11/8… I’m rubbish at counting weird time signatures”….”I’ll never be able to memorise songs that are 15 minutes long”… and the list goes on and on.
These days when faced with the deep end, and the usual self doubting questions. I tell myself that “every journey starts with the first step and that I just need to have a plan of attack and get going.”
This perspective, or confidence, did not just happen.
The Diving Board
We’ve all seen the little kid climbing up onto the diving board at a swimming pool. They look paralysed with fear. Finally after much hesitation, they jump. As they come up from the water, they realise they survived. What do they do? They go straight back up and try again and jump off with less hesitation, and before you know it, they are climbing to the higher board and the whole process begins again.
My history of failure
It wasn’t always this way. In fact this “jump in the deep end” approach is very recent for me.
Fear is why I decided to do a degree I hated instead of going to music college.
Fear is why in my 20’s I did a job I hated instead of pursuing my passion for music.
Fear is why for 15 years I turned down music tours, masterclasses and played it safe instead.
I have, like many other people, read the quote “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”. But I just felt that life isn’t like Hollywood and I just needed to “stay grounded” and get my head down.
A seed of confidence
It wasn’t until I had children that I started to heed the voice inside that I had been suppressing for years. I realised I was becoming a miserable dad and husband. I decided that I didn’t want to get to the end of my life with the regret of never having given my dreams a shot.
It was time to take action, and climb up onto the diving board!
The turning point
My scary situation was simply finding the confidence to approach someone and talk to them.
Around 2012 I decided to go and watch IONA. I’d been to every tour since 1992 and never had the confidence to talk to the band. This time it would be different! I decided I would ask my musical hero, Dave Bainbridge, to play on my album. I had convinced myself it was a mad idea to dare to ask this. Like the kid on the diving board, I was very nervous, and almost walked away. I timidly approached him at the IONA gig, handed him a memory stick with my song on it and swiftly retreated to the comfort of my car! To my amazement, a few days later, he emailed me saying that he’d love to play on my track.
This is that track:
This moment set a chain of things in motion. Just like the kid that survives jumping off the board, my confidence was like a little seed that started to grow. With each challenge, my fear of failure shrank and my optimism grew. A bit like climbing to a higher diving board.
Climbing to a higher diving board: Widening your vision
What I’m talking about here isn’t about having a puffed up ego where arrogance causes you to over-reach and fall on your face. What I’m talking about, is not limiting what you can do by thinking small. Think big, work hard, climb gradually and be ready when the opportunity comes knocking at your door.
My first step was gradually phasing out my job and increasing my music income. It was a calculated risk: I won’t go into it in details but you can read about it here.
The Music Video
I recorded the first single. I decided I needed a music video. I wanted it to look really professional, so I came up with a mad idea. A few people made it clear that getting an upright piano into the woods and a massive crowd of people for a music video shoot on a freezing November evening was not just ambitious, it was impossible. I have to admit, I was worried that nobody would turn up. I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to physically get the piano in there. I worked really hard to get everything organised. To my amazement, loads of people came along and it was a great success. When I asked people why they came out, they said “the idea was so crazy and different we just wanted to be part of it”. This made me realise that if you think big, people get inspired and want to come along with you!
This was especially evident when I decided to risk crowdfunding the album. I had tried releasing singles but it had failed. So I worked out I needed £6000 to fund the album. I was worried that people would think it was ridiculous and it would completely fail.
It very soon became clear that enthusiasm and setting an ambitious goal carries people. After just one week we had raised £3000 and we eventually reached the full £6000. I’m so glad I did because it enabled to make me the album with no compromises. (Have a listen to it here if you like)
And so, I’m like the kid who jumped off the diving board at the start of the blog. With each jump his confidence grows. He knows that sometimes the jump might go wrong and it might hurt a bit, but it won’t kill him and usually it goes fine. In fact, the more they jump, the better they get at it and the less likely they are to hurt themselves.
I’ve done lots of things that have felt like a big jump into the unknown, like a mini European tour with GB3 or learning the parts for this upcoming tour for Dave Bainbridge.
I haven’t yet had the opportunity to have that jam with Steve Vai but I did have a chance to play with his bass player: Stu Hamm. I was so scared. It wasn’t a perfect performance but I’m so glad I did it.
Two years ago, I would have probably made up some excuse and declined: which is why I wrote this blog. Maybe you feel that way too …… so …….
What about you?
Imagine you are in a situation in life like that Jam with Steve Vai I was talking about. The question goes out. “Anybody want to have a go?”… Your heart races. You are sweating. You know this is your time, but the fear sets in…. The questions start to flood in…What if I’m not good enough? What if I mess up? What if people think I’m an idiot? I’m not as talented as Mr Z, I’m too old, I’m too young, I’m too shy, I’m not good looking enough…” and the list goes on and on.
At this point you have a choice… You can tell yourself, “I’ll do it next time”. And maybe you’re right, maybe there will be a next time. Or maybe, you could just go for it, because you just never know what might happen.
Maybe you will bomb, and people will remember your name for a day and then forget you. Maybe you’ll be amazing, and people will remember your name for a day and then forget you…But maybe it will be the start of something new, something incredible. Either way, you’ll learn something about yourself, you’ll grow. The diving board won’t seem so high, the water won’t seem so deep.
My advice? Be prepared, and by all means weigh up the pros and cons, but don’t take too long to make a decision. Just jump in the deep end, you’ll figure it out as you go along! And if you do; let me know! I’d love to hear from you.
Happy diving… and don’t fear the sharks and spiders!!!!