One Sunday morning back in May of 2007, I awoke to several phone messages and emails asking if I could audition to temporarily fill the guitar slot in Tori Amos’ touring band. Her husband, Mark, who is her studio and live engineer, was supposed to be playing on some of the more guitar driven songs from her new record, but he had injured his hand just a week before the first show of the tour. I would have to fly from Seattle to Wales the following day and know three songs by the time I got there.
Now, this was a gig that I was prepared for in many ways. Aside from the guitar riff driven songs from her (then) new record, the role of the guitar in Tori’s music is largely atmospheric, weaving around her powerful, full range piano playing. That is precisely my kind of thing, an approach to playing with singers that I’d been working on for years. Additionally, I had been friends with her long time drummer Matt Chamberlain for many years and had absorbed a lot of her music through him.
So, I set about the task of getting ready to travel internationally with less than a day’s notice. I was excited, but anything exciting also comes with some anxiety. I wanted to get this gig. Would I do a good job? Would I be up to snuff? What if I fail? I distinctly remember sitting on the edge of my bed, just minutes before leaving for the airport and wishing I hadn’t said yes. It’s actually a common feeling for me when I am going into any setting that contains the possibility of challenge and failure. “WHY did I say yes to this?” The part of my brain that’s always trying to mitigate risk and reduce discomfort tells me “it would be safer not to try.”
Seth Godin, one of my heroes, has an excellent blog called Buzzer Management. You should read it, but in summary…Seth says that, if you are on a quiz show, you can’t wait until you are sure that you know the answer before you press the buzzer. In fact…
“You need to press the buzzer before you know the answer.
As soon as you realize that you probably will be able to identify the answer by the time you're asked, buzz. Between the time you buzz and the time you're supposed to speak, the answer will come to you. And if it doesn't, the penalty for being wrong is small compared to the opportunity to get it right.”
I had said yes, pressed the buzzer, and in about 48 hours I’d find out if I could pull it off. There’s always resistance (both internal and external) when you step out in faith to do something significant. For instance, I had a layover in New York and a woman accidentally grabbed my carry on suitcase out of the overhead bin. Our bags looked alike, but since she didn’t speak English, she didn’t understand the PA announcements asking her to bring the bag back. WHY!? Was this some kind of sign? Again, my old fight or flight brain chimed in and said “Maybe you aren’t supposed to do this!” I called my wife and she talked me off the ledge. I traveled to Wales with extra clothes and no toothbrush.
The turning point for me came after I landed in London and got to the train station. Jet lagged, greasy, bleary eyed, I got a coffee and something to eat and sat down to wait for the train that would take me to Wales. That’s when the magic of the situation hit me: I’ve just flown across the world to go audition for an artist I respect immensely, at her invitation. Even if I didn’t get it, this trip was already worth it. Just saying yes and surrendering to the experience was reward enough.
I got the gig, and what was supposed to be a 4 show engagement turned into 93 shows over the course of 8 months. I got to tour Europe, Australia, and America. I made some new life long friends, got to play at the Sydney Opera House, had dinner with my wife outdoors on the cobblestone streets of Ljubljana, got to share a meal with one of my all time favorite authors, saw Tel Aviv and Istanbul, and played on the Late Show with Jay Leno, just to name a few of the great experiences. I got to play with one of the most astoundingly great artists alive and one of the baddest rhythm sections ever…and rarely did anyone tell me what I should play.
It was an incredible experience. It required me to be courageous and leap, in spite of my uncertainty. I’m still battling my brain when it comes to risk and comfort, but the more check marks that I can put in the win column, the more ammo I have in the fight. I’m grateful to Tori and her team for giving me a chance, taking me to see the world, and trusting me to honor her music.
Is there something in your life, some scenario, where your hand is hovering over the buzzer, but you are still waiting for the “right answer” before you commit? Consider mashing that buzzer with Thor-like power, and trust that the answer will present itself.