After a lifetime of wanting to play the drums, I started playing less than a year ago. Fourteen weeks ago, I joined a rock band. We had our first gig this past weekend. I had been terrified and nervous and scared the entire time; in other words, a real joy to be around. I am remarkably not musically inclined, can’t keep a beat, and have a wonderful case of stage fright. I pushed through it all, and threw myself into learning the songs as best I could. I have grown so much both as a person, and as a musician. I’ve discovered making music is very much like life.
1. We all mess up, and it’s still awesome. I was terrified of being the drummer in our band. I hadn’t realized the weight of being the person that is responsible for keeping the pace of the song just right. I worked hard on the music for 14 weeks. I also worked hard at being kind and forgiving to myself. The day of our show came, and we played our hearts out. As we walked off stage, every one of us admitted we each made mistakes on stage. Yet we all walked away with an incredible experience. We had such a fun time. We all make mistakes, and it’s still awesome, both on stage and in life.
2. We all mess up, and no one really notices. Or cares. To piggyback on the above lesson, we all make mistakes. We are all a teensy bit and a lotta bit messy. We tend to hyperfocus on our own mistakes. We get self-conscious about our flaws. We beat ourselves up over them. Sometimes it paralyzes us. But see, no one actually really notices your mistakes. Or frankly, even cares about them. People are usually too busy thinking about their own lives and their own mistakes. Very few people in the audience realized we made mistakes. They just had a great time listening to fun music. I’m reminded it’s not always about me. In fact, it rarely is. This realization is very liberating. And humbling.
3. Practice makes better. Two of the songs we learned for our first gig are really hard. They were quite frankly, way above the level I should have been playing at. I was determined however, to be successful. I practiced hours upon hours every week. I can proudly say I can play both proficiently now, and sometimes I can even play them well. But I could not have gotten to this point without the hard work, sweat, and tears that months of practice bring. And I’m only better; I am not perfect, because there is no perfect. I’ve come to learn that the process of practicing anything in life is where the lesson lies. It’s in the work of doing hard things that makes the person better. Which is really the best outcome measure when you think about it.
4. Make it your own, and own it. Our bass player/leader is a fantastic musician with years of experience. One of our guitarists would always ask if she could play certain chords this way or that way. His answer was always the same, “Decide what you’re going to do and make it your own. If anyone questions you about it, tell them it’s your style and you’re sticking to it.” Simply put, do what you’re comfortable with. Do what you’re capable of. Be proud of that. And you don’t need to justify yourself to anyone else.
5. It matters who you take on your journey with you. We were strangers when we first met together as a band. We are all different ages, ethnicities, personalities, life circumstances. Yet we are supportive and kind to the other. We all had a common goal of making music together and having fun. It matters who you surround yourself with. Is your tribe positive and optimistic? Or toxic and pessimistic? Choose kind, compassionate, fun people. Remember also that it’s more enjoyable going through life, and gigs, with a tribe rather than going it alone.
6. We should all work together to make the other sound/look good. It is your responsibility to help a person in need. In the beginning, I freaked out just a smidge when I realized how much responsibility I had as the drummer. I missed the memo that everyone else had to play to my speed. But see, here’s the thing I’ve learned. It’s all our collective responsibility to make the song sound good. If someone’s faltering, the rest of the band needs to rally to make it right. We sound as good as our weakest link. There’s no stopping, there’s no blaming. You play through and figure it out through eye contact, facial expressions, and sometimes wild gestures. If you’re my guitarist, you discreetly mouth “Slow down!”
7. You will fail. I was so nervous before joining the band. I wailed, “I’m not good enough yet! What if I mess up?” I was quickly told it’s not “if,” but in fact, I will. If I show up–on stage or in life–I need to accept that I’ll fail. Don’t stop. The worst thing you can do is stop. Keep playing. Keep going. And it will get better. Life isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about the experience along the way.
8. Do hard things that scare you. Showing up where people see you–in life or on stage–is both hard and scary. Trying new things is hard and scary. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to be critiqued or judged, is hard and scary. Do these things anyway. Sure, you have a choice whether or not to join a band. But see, we don’t get a choice to show up to life every day. Every day that you wake up, there are opportunities for people to judge you, to critique you. So your choice then is to either build walls around you to try to minimize these hard moments in life, or you can accept that life is hard and scary, and that you can do hard and scary things. Trust me, the satisfaction at the end is more than worth the fear and pain. The applause doesn’t hurt either.
9. Live in the moment. It flies by. I was told before we hit the stage that time flies by. That it’s a blur. So when I sat down behind the drum kit, I was mindful as I looked around and breathed in the lights and sounds and smells. This was my moment. I was not going to walk away not remembering this. I made every moment count up there. It did fly by, but I know I lived in each of those minutes, and it was glorious. Life speeds by too. Don’t get caught up in a future that may not occur, or stuck in the past that you can’t change. We can’t slow life down, but we can savor every moment of it.
10. Have fun. Above all else, enjoy yourself. Things will happen that we can’t control. Strings on the guitar will break. The sound guy gets drunk. You lose a drum stick. Bad things happen on stage and in life. Have fun anyway. This is the one life you have. Make it a good one before you exit stage left.