12 steps to getting my business to work FOR me (and making the decision to be on top of the world)
Recently I had the incredible opportunity of sitting in with Vince Gill and the Timejumpers in Nashville. Since the appearance, it seems everyone is asking me the question:
How did you get to sing with Vince Gill?
It’s been an adventure to get here and it started a year ago. Actually when I think of it, I could go back much further than that, but for now let’s go back just to last year.
Late last summer I booked a concert for St Patrick’s Day in Arkansas, USA. It was to be my first solo concert in the US, and I saw it as a superb opportunity to meet great musicians and hopefully it would work as an anchor date for more bookings.
I would have been reluctant to admit it, but a part of me wasn’t looking forward to the gig. Up until then, my experience of concert preparation was often stressful, and frustrating.
(By the way, do you ever find this in your business – you love what you do but there are certain parts of the work that get you down? For me that was planning concerts.)
I found it hard to relax and I just didn’t seem to be able to enjoy the experience of planning a concert. It always seemed that there were too many things out of my hands, and it was difficult to find good support. Trying to do so many things myself was a constant stress, and I knew there was a limit to how often I would have the time and the motivation to plan concerts myself, so there seemed little point in pushing to expand and take more bookings.
I had more or less accepted that that’s how it worked. I did sometimes question whether it meant that performing just didn’t suit me, if I should do something else. Yet I LOVE performing and sharing my music with others, it lights me up! Surely there was a better way to organise things. How could I get this business to work for me?
I decided last summer that the upcoming Arkansas concert would not go down the usual way. Just completing this concert was not going to be enough. I made an agreement with myself – I had to deliver this concert with ease, with elegance, I had to enjoy all of it, even the preparation, and I had to feel for the first time that I had nailed the entire experience.
1. Counting the cost
I started by laying out all the requirements of the gig. Everything that had to occur, and to be taken care of, for a successful event. Many things were unknown to me – it was my first solo concert in the US, I wasn’t sure who my band was going to be, and I didn’t know who would be in the audience or how my music would be received. It was also a professional concert series and I felt a lot of pressure to perform to the level I knew the hosts would be expecting.
An added pressure for me was working for the first time with these musicians who I know play with some of the best in the world. The thing I absolutely did not want was to be a second-rate gig for them – that thought was horrifying!
If I was going to enjoy every part of this concert, I had to prepare on a whole new level to any previous event.
2. The controllables
When I read back my list of requirements for the concert, I realized that despite the many unknowns, there were also many things I could control.
For example, I had full control over my own preparation, how I showed up, the people I would choose to work with, the energy I would give to each part of the experience, which things, both relating to the concert and to the other parts of my life, that I would allow time for, and which things I could decide to put on hold, to delegate, to forget about completely.
3. The uncontrollables?
Even the things that appeared on the surface to be beyond my control, I still didn’t have to passively wait to see how they were going to turn out. Instead I could set intentions and do what was within my control to create the best possible outcomes for each area.
What was the work behind the work?
I set about this on a variety of levels.
4. Warm-up gig
I didn’t know who the audience was going to be in Arkansas, but I could get practice in front of another audience, trying out the program and the planning system in a lower pressure environment. I decided to organise a warm-up concert.
The warm-up concert was stressful in planning. However, it was the first time that I didn’t just accept the stress that came along with putting on an event like this. As I planned the concert in my usual way, I was paying close attention to what I was doing, how everything was unfolding, and how I felt about it all.
As though I were an outside observer, I took notes on everything and evaluated which things that I could have delegated if I’d been better prepared, which things I would have preferred to have done differently, and which things I felt went well.
Though I couldn’t say I had enjoyed the planning, the actual concert ended up great and I was so glad I had done it. It sold out and I’m still hearing from people who attended and how inspired and uplifted they were by the music. And now I had documentation for the entire planning process and I knew the things that I wasn’t going to stress about in any future concert.
The success was encouraging and helped me remember how I really loved performing. That helped propel me forwards in preparing for the big gig in the US.
5. Health and headspace
I knew I had to be in top form for this event so I was really strict about eating protein foods and taking supplements. I avoided all sugar for the few weeks beforehand and made sure to run every morning whether I felt like it (it was winter in Ireland so more often I didn’t feel like it!) or not. I needed optimum energy on the day for the performance and crucially, my voice.
As well as looking after my physical health, I cut out all distractions and reduced my work to the essentials, even if those other things were easy or fun. I needed to be completely focused on the concert.
I wasn’t waiting for the right conditions to do a ‘good’ morning’s practice. It was imperative to practise violin every day and to do my vocal exercises. Of course nobody was going to check how diligent I was about these. But without the diligence in practising, I wouldn’t have had the peace of mind that came along with really KNOWING that I was completely prepared.
When I was tempted to think I only have 10 minutes to spare so what use is that, I’d be better holding off for when I have more time… I caught myself and got down to work. If it was 10 minutes for violin scales or 2 minutes for a vocal warmup, I did the work. Even when I didn’t really feel like it, I DID THE WORK.
This way I ended up doing WAY more than I would have done if I’d always been waiting for that lovely two-hour morning slot when the sky is blue, the sun is shining, I’m feeling really productive and somehow there are no interruptions.
I brought a dress with me for the concert but decided a few days before that something new would have better energy, plus the one I had was blue and I figured that my audience would better remember the Irish girl in the green dress playing on St Patrick’s Day! So before leaving from Nashville I went to the mall and found a green dress. I felt great in it and felt that I was being good to myself and also treating my audience with respect as I’d taken the time and consideration to present myself well.
8. Emotional support
There are a few key people in my life who were angels to me in the run-up to this event. I openly shared my fears and allowed them to give their perspective. Just saying a fear out loud has a way of removing its power, and allowing people to support me helped me more than I can even describe and it deepened the relationships too.
9. Practical support
I asked my producer and friend if he would take on the role of tour manager. He dealt with everything I didn’t want to and made sure that practical things ran smoothly so I didn’t have to worry about them. I could save all my energy for the things only I could do – the performance I was being paid for.
10. Work with the best
This concert was important to me and I needed to KNOW that the band were the best at what they do and that they would make me sound amazing! My tour manager found me two world-class musicians, an upright bassist and pianist/accordionist. They were both brilliant, the best in their field – professional, incredibly musical, and so much fun to play with! When I walked out on the stage I KNEW I was supported, and that was priceless.
11. Setting intentions
For the things I really didn’t know how to control or prepare for, I used my journal to set intentions for a successful outcome. Before the first rehearsal with the band, I wrote out how I wanted the day to go, all in present tense as though it were happening as I was writing. I did the same thing for our day of travel, then also for the day of the concert. I left really nothing out!
From details about everything from hospitality, the venue, the hosts, to our rehearsal then the actual concert. I went into detail on every song I was going to sing, everything I was going to play on the violin, how I looked, who was in the audience, how they received our music, how many cds I sold afterwards… I wrote it all down. I claimed the best performance I had ever delivered on every part of the programme, every part of the day.
The amazing thing is that after the concert, when I was home and quiet and on my own, I took out my journal and reread what I’d written, it all happened exactly as I had intended. Even though I had written the shiniest, best, most positive possible outcome of each part of the experience and as I was writing thought well I mightn’t get all of this but at least I’m going to ask… I got exactly what I wanted! It was truly amazing.
But while I was journaling a positive experience, the doubts were still there. I was still scared of how the other musicians would see me, if the audience would even like the music or if the hosts would be asking why they had paid to bring us there…
I asked myself, If I were already the best in the world, how would I handle each part of this experience? How would I respond to that question? How would I greet these people? How would I carry myself? How would I present myself? Which item would I choose on this menu? How would I sing this song? This line? This word?
Let’s give them a $100,000 performance.
When I decided I was already the best in the world, the actions I needed to take were obvious. To-do lists and worries over the details became irrelevant. It became much bigger than getting through one concert, it was about bringing together all the experience that came before, it was for all the concerts that would follow and even more than that, it was about opening up, owning my performance and deciding to let the world around really see me.
I can honestly say that I loved every moment of that concert. I was relaxed, I knew I was supported, I was delighted to be there. I felt a kind of magic on the stage, I think it came from having been completely prepared and so being able to tune in to the moment with no distractions, it was beautiful. And the performance was really well received.
Previous concerts had been successful on many levels but I never had the satisfaction I experienced from this gig. I know it was because instead of ploughing through and doing everything the same old way, I took that step back. I analysed what was going on, took the time to write out a VISION of what I wanted, then took the right ACTION. Even when I didn’t feel like it.
Right after the gig, my pianist invited me to sing with him and another band in Nashville the following week. It so happened that my producer had engaged a pianist who is one of the famous Timejumpers, playing with Vince Gill in Nashville and around the US.
Are you asking me to sing with Vince Gill?
I was blown away by the invitation! My fears of not belonging left me, I understood that I could make the business of performing work for me in an incredible way, and it validated all of the extra preparation I had done to make the concert a success. I felt as though I could take on the world.
Then it hit me that the concert wasn’t the point. I had prepared for it, determined to be the best that I possibly could. But rather than preparing with this concert in mind, the preparation I’d done had been with the aim of approaching the level of the amazing musicians I would be playing with.
It was who I had decided to be.
I had committed to being the person who shares the stage with the best musicians in the world, no matter who’s watching, or what opportunities are (or aren’t) in front of me in that moment.
It put me on a new level not just in my music performance, but reminded me about the way I need to show up if I want certain results in any part of my life. Because it’s never about the thing that you think you’re working towards. The thing that you’re working towards now is preparation for the next thing, and the one after that. You’re always on a journey. You’re always learning, always growing, always moving on.
Of course now to stay on this level and to rise again, I have to keep on doing the work. Because no matter what you have achieved, whether it’s an a top qualification, a great new job or an amazing business deal, that accomplishment marks the beginning of the next thing in your life. Who you are will determine what comes after for you, and that’s something YOU get to decide. Even when there are things in your life it doesn’t look like you can control.
You actually can control them. By deciding what it is you want. Then acting in a way that makes those things possible.
Try it! And let me know.
Much love xx
P.S. If you’d like to talk with me about how you can apply these principles in your business, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org