Clarity can be enlightening (you discover ideas, concepts, skills and opportunities that you didn’t know existed) or painful (you face what you don’t know and what you can’t do) depending on when you become aware of your nescience and how you see it. It’s when you become aware of what you don’t know, and it’s easy to retreat in the face of incompetence and fall back into unconscious bliss (but you’re reading this blog, so you have a thirst for knowledge and desire to remain conscious).
That Bad English audition that I failed early in my career (and that I’ve mentioned in past blogs), and the knowledge it brought, crushed me…for a day. After that I swore that my internal sense of meter (and its faults), would never again thwart my career. I knew what I needed to do. After researching teachers and courses, I enrolled in a rhythm course and spent the next few years (and a respectable portion of its 17,520 hours) married to a metronome. It was a clear goal and I became very capable.
Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to top Mount Everest, sees fear as an enemy…and a friend. “Sometimes fear tells you that you’re truly not ready for something, that you need to prepare more, that you need to train more or that you need to get more comfortable in a crazy environment.”
I got chills when Erik talked about going through the Everest icefall. “You don’t cross through it once. You cross through it 10 times to acclimatize. You’re setting yourself up for your higher camps, and you’re getting your body used to breathing less and less oxygen. It’s a physiological preparation. You have to increase the hemoglobin, your body’s ability to absorb more oxygen. So, you cross through the icefall and climb the mountain, up and down and up and down to train your body and your cells to breathe in more oxygen.”
One key component to clarity is becoming aware of contingencies. Erik talks a lot about the mind-body connection. He told himself that he was committed; he was going through the icefall no matter what. He took deep breaths and stilled his mind. All the thoughts rushing through his brain would only hurt him at Go Time. By the time he reached the icefall, he’d been through dozens of “don’t fall” moments—he’d been preparing for three years.
Erik’s currently learning the ins and outs of whitewater kayaking, and he remembers navigating the Usumacinta River in Southeast Mexico last winter.
“It’s massive, and there are whirlpools that swirl across the entire width of the river, six feet deeper than the surface of the water. They grab your kayak, and they suck you down and flip you sometimes—especially if you can’t see. So, you’re upside down getting violently spun around. You’re trying to roll up in an Eskimo roll, and it’s really, really scary.
“I came home from that river with something like post-traumatic stress disorder. I got in over my head several times, and I was totally in panic and survival mode. I realized that that wasn’t necessarily good for my training; it totally shattered my confidence. So, what I had to do was go back to a place that I was comfortable, almost starting over, and go through some rapids that I could get through.”
It was critical for Erik to clearly define his skill level. “I took five steps back, and it worked. I rewired my brain enough that I have confidence now, and I’m back doing a little bit bigger stuff. It’s a tricky thing all the time. It’s not always like, just go for it, because life can kill ya in the mountains.”
Kelly Gallagher, producer, writer and five-time cancer conqueror has tackled mountains of her own. She went to war against cancer. It must be a profound anxiety- facing your first stem-cell transplant. Kelly G. went up against some unbelievable odds, and has not only survived, but also thrived. “If surviving cancer was an Olympic sport, I’d have five gold medals.”
Kelly G. had clarity. She knows that one of the keys to her survival is the empowerment she felt by being an active participant in her healing. She refused to give up that power to the doctor(s) administering cure(s). That never made sense to Kelly G. She was constantly on quests for the information and engagement that could give her better odds at winning the war. This took a lot of preparation.
“I was an extreme athlete once upon a time. No pain, no gain, physically and mentally. Cancer was the ultimate distance event. It required such clear focus: count my vitamins, count my food, do the (coffee) enema…did I lay in the ozone body bag?”
It also became clear to her that not everyone would completely and totally comprehend her process —not her bosses, not her friends. “It doesn’t really count when you’re supposed to be at an event, and you’re late. People don’t really understand. ‘Why can’t you get there? Why isn’t she doing this?’ It’s the focus.
“My swim coach intimidated me into preparation. I’m swimming in the same lane with the girl who has world records in the 1,500-meter freestyle and the 500-meter freestyle. He says, ‘If she laps you, then you’ll swim butterfly the rest of your life!’ I tactically knew how to beat her— if she had a false start, and I won by default. That was the only way I could ever beat this girl. It was clear. When it came time for cancer, I couldn’t afford to be in second place.”
She needed to be very clear about her plan, and part of that plan involved taking the risks she credits for her survival. “I listened to outliers and alternative medicine renegades who are far from mainstream. That’s a risk some people are not willing to take. My lack of supervision in my cancer therapies saved my life. And there was really nobody to tell me, ‘No.’”
Kelly also built an international support system to keep her in the mix and on the cutting edge of information and technology when it came to adjunct therapies. She calls the team her pit crew. “I ran things fast, and I opened up my case to a team of doctors on the Internet that chimes in from China, Germany, Seattle and Dallas. My friend Tom Clabor runs that think tank, and there are a lot of people who comment. He has a science experiment every time something is going on. I have a preparedness team, and I’m clear about what to do.”
The Finish Line
Most people don’t spend enough time on clarity. I know I didn’t, even as a professional drummer. When I got my butt handed to me at that Bad English audition, I knew it was time to clarify. As soon as I did, it allowed me to become more capable. That greater capability allowed a natural out growth of confidence, and there you have it!
The soon to be released version of my Nerve Breakers book is actually the second version. The first was purely anecdotal. Publisher Tim Sanders wanted it actionable. I embraced the rewrite, but as I got into it, I started down a rabbit hole; the more I researched, the more I wanted to include and the more confused I became.
I started experiencing some serious anxiety. So, I called my dear friend, Dr. Jim Samuels, who’s been my teacher and mentor for more than 25 years. Some of his unique philosophies are here in this book. He told me to narrow my goal to one sentence with three defining points. In other words, he asked me to clarify.
My goal: I want my book to be well ordered, potent and entertaining. Every word, sentence and paragraph needed to reflect this goal. Whatever did not, I needed to lose. With this clarity, my path was defined, and the anxiety subsided.
Without clarity, there’s no way to succeed because there’s no finish line. How would you even know if you crossed it? Clarity covers a lot, not only as a starting point but as a finishing point. Pinpointing your goal keeps you focused. It’s your mission statement. It’s your mantra—the simpler, the better.
♫ Action Step: Your Presentation ♪