Start Something. Or Walk Away.

How does one start something?

Let's say you have an idea.  It's a great idea.  This is the kind of thing that keeps you up at night.  The very thought of doing this charges your spirit, animates your mind, and makes you feel like you have a purpose.  Your idea may be something someone else has already done, but not in the way you've thought of.

When I was a kid, I thought it would be a good idea if car manufacturers would program their brake lights to strobe 2 or 3 times, very rapidly, whenever someone stepped on the brake pedal.  I wasn't old enough to drive yet, but I know how people can sometimes space out when they're doing a mundane, routine thing, such as driving the same route to work, to school, to church, or to a friend's house.  Spacing out while the car is rolling isn't uncommon, and I knew this from having watched both of my parents drive over countless hours from the front seat.  Anyway, the thought was that if a car's brake lights strobed instead of just coming on every time the brake pedal was pressed, it would do more to garner the attention of the driver behind them.

Why didn't I do something with this idea?  Because I had also heard of epilepsy, and I knew that flashing lights could trigger those with the disorder to possibly have a seizure.  That would be an awful thing to happen to someone while behind the wheel.

Of course, it wasn't until many years later that I learned that a simple red strobe less than a fraction of a second long would not be very likely to cause an epileptic to seize.  And of course, over the last few years, I've seen many cars and commercial trucks with strobing brake lights.  

Someone else had the same idea, but they did something about it.  I didn't.

That's why I'm adamant not to let this music project that I'm working on fall by the wayside without doing SOMETHING about getting it off the ground.  I would love for this project to be fully realized (at least the first phase) by the end of the year.  But in order for that to happen, I need a few things.

  1. I need to do the work.  I need to research exactly what it takes to make every little thing happen.
  2. I need to plan.  After researching, I need to write out what I want to do.  I've already done the idea part of it, but I need to narrow down the idea to fit into a feasible plan.
  3. I need to practice.  As a musician, I'm only as good as the work I put into my performances BEFORE the performances happen.  I spent some time over the last few days editing audio from one of my church's recent Wednesday night worship services, and there are errors all over the place -- guitarists, bassist, vocalists, everywhere -- and I know that had more time been spent preparing by those individuals, the result would sound much better than the finished product sounds right now.  And once it's been recorded, there's no lying how good it is.
  4. I need to find good people to work with.  Some great ideas mean involving other people, and with musicians, that's pretty standard.  I can play bass, I can play keyboard, I can play drums, and I can play a little guitar.  But I can't play any of them as well as I can write and sing.  If I want my finished product to have the best quality possible, I need to trust others that I know can do better than in any of these areas that I can.

Trusting others is a tricky proposition, and I find that working with volunteers involves doing that.

I'm going to tell a personal story about how I wound up with the full-time job I have now.  About 6 months after I got married, I approached the worship leader of my church to let him know that I was interested in joining the worship team.  I didn't know how they sought out people to join the team, but they'd not announced auditions, and I figured I'd just ask.  Shane (not his real name) told me he would talk to me in a few weeks about it.  I thought that was an odd response.  He didn't ask if I could sing well, he didn't seem interested in asking me to audition, and he didn't really ask me many questions about what experience I'd had (I had sang and played drums for my previous 2 churches).  But I thought, "Well, the guy's probably got a method."

About a month passed.  I hadn't heard from him, and he hadn't approached me at church.  Two of those weekends my wife and I had been out of town with family, so I couldn't actually be at church, but I had been there.  I saw him in the foyer after service one day and brought up our previous conversation and asked him what he thought about me auditioning for him.  His response was that he didn't think he was going to ask me to audition because he didn't think I was the type to commit to being there.

I was puzzled by this answer.  "What do you mean?" I asked.  I wanted to know what criterion he was using to make the determination that I couldn't commit to the team.  "Well, you haven't been here," he said.
"I didn't know I had to be here.  You didn't tell me," I said.
He explained.  "I know some people would run their teams by telling someone what they expect and then seeing whether or not that person would do what was expected.  I'm a little different -- I want to see what people will do before they're on the team."
This made NO sense to me, so I pressed him.  "Do you think it's wise to judge someone's commitment level according to some standards that you haven't even told them?"  I didn't even tell him I'd been out of town; I wanted to see where he was going with this train of thought.
"I just don't think it's right at this time.  We don't have any open spots on the team anyway."

For some reason, this guy just didn't want me on the team.  Now, here's the picture -- they had a guitar player that was a marginal player at best, two drummers (one for Sundays, one for Wednesdays), two keyboardists, and NO bass player.  One of the keyboard players had been playing split piano/bass -- running the bass notes with her left hand while playing piano parts with her right.  I found out later this woman was an accomplished player with a degree in music, and she was being pigeonholed into playing half as well as she could be if someone was able to take the bass responsibilities off her plate.  They had several vocalists, but it got me thinking, what if the drummer got sick?  What if the guitarist went on vacation?

But I wasn't about to let the gate close on this conversation.  "Well," I said, "I would still like to be a part of the team, even if it's not right now, but I don't know any of the songs you guys are doing.  Would you mind if I came and sat in on your rehearsals so that I can try and learn the songs?"
"Yeah, sure, you can do that," he answered.

So I started coming to Tuesday night rehearsals that week.  The rehearsals were more like practice time for most people, and they would often come in not knowing the songs, having to listen to them once or twice before trying to put it together.  They would spend 30 to 45 minutes on one song, even though they were scheduled to play 6 or 7 songs for church the following evening.  Rehearsal went from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, but once 9:00 pm rolled around, the guitarist would pack up and leave, whether they were done or not.  He treated it like a paid gig -- he'd put in his 2 hours, and he was done.  Everyone else just kind of gave up trying to do more at that point, and rehearsal just kind of fell apart rather than actually ending.

And I did just what I said I would do -- I came to rehearsals and sat and watched, mostly stupefied by what I was seeing.  But one other thing that irritated me was that even though I'd shared with "Shane" that I didn't know any of the songs, no one made the effort to give me any lead sheets, lyrics, or music with which I could learn the songs.  It was kind of like I was passive-aggressively being told that they didn't want anyone else to join their team.  Now, if these guys sounded as good as they possibly could have, I would have understood why they were so averse to bringing someone else in.  But that was definitely not the case.

I think it was during the third week I was at their rehearsal when someone noticed I was sitting there and struck up a conversation with me, asking about me and why I was just sitting there while everyone else rehearsed.  I briefly explained that I had expressed interest in being on the team, but was basically told no, and I was trying to learn the music.  We talked for about 5 or 10 minutes, and he walked off.  A few minutes later, another person came up to me and introduced himself as the leader of the worship team for the youth department.  They were in need of a strong male vocalist, and would I be interested in sitting in on rehearsal with them?  I told them I'd give it a try.  Then I stood up, and I walked out of the room, following him to the youth center.

I want you to notice two very important words in that previous sentence -- "I walked."

I walked out of a situation that didn't want me, that thought they had no use for me, and that refused to give me a chance.  I walked away from a situation that saw that I was willing to serve and ignored me anyway.  I walked into a situation where they had a need, saw my potential, and asked if I would give it a shot.  They took a chance on someone who was willing to serve -- that took trust on their part.

Rehearsal went well, and I was asked to being singing with them on a weekly basis, starting the following night.

Today, as a result of my willingness to serve, I am a full-time staff member at the same church (several steps happened in between, but for the sake of brevity, I'm fast-forwarding).  Shane is no longer the leader of the worship team, although he is still a member and serves on a regular basis.  Since he stepped down from leadership of that team, it has gone through several transitions and three other leaders, and now, the team has grown to where there are 2 rotating bands on the weekends, another band for our 2nd location, and an amalgam of musicians that serve for our Wednesday night services.  And for the last 4 years running, we have produced a Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute concert that has rivaled some of the best in the nation.  

Now, I certainly didn't make all that happen by myself.  But can you imagine what the possibility might be now if I hadn't refused to let "no" be the answer that defined my involvement at that church?

The sad truth is that so many people who want to serve their church, community, school, or even their friends or family just give up when they're told no.  When they offer their services, many times free of charge, only to be told that there is no place for them, they end up walking away.  They walk away from an opportunity to serve others.  They walk away from a chance to see great things happen, all because someone was small-minded enough to not see the possible benefits of bringing a talented, enthusiastic, eager, and willing to learn person into their team.

If you know people like that who are eager to join your ranks, especially if they have talent that can really benefit your team or project, and you don't bring them in, they will eventually walk away.  They may not do it right away, but they will leave.  Most of the time, they will go someplace that will be happy to have them, even if that other place is smaller, pays less, or doesn't seem as glamorous as your team.  I'm not saying you should take every person that bounces like a Jack Russell terrier at the thought of being part of your team -- obviously, have some standards -- but be willing to explore the possibilities that you may not have everything you "need", and another person added to the team might bring a dynamic that will increase the quality of your output.  

Otherwise, you will inadvertently drive them elsewhere.

It happened to me.  It can happen to you.

There Is No Box.