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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: The Preparation Road

I climbed my first mountain in 1985. The night before my climb, I was hanging out with a group of friends at Elk Lake in Central Oregon. We celebrated the eve of our first day off during a music festival with a bonfire at the lake’s edge and some ill-advised swimming in temperatures that would normally cause a Texan to comb the attic for a winter coat. Need I say that there were a few libations involved?
The view of the South Sister mountain from the lake’s edge was spectacular. I asked a local resident whether anyone ever climbed the mountain. My innocent question sparked instant enthusiasm and a mountain hike was quickly planned for the next day. I did not even own a pair of hiking boots. I woke up the next day before the sun came up and threw on a pair of denim jeans and tennis shoes. I grabbed a few nuts and some string cheese and a bottle of water, which should alert all of you that I knew nothing about what was to come.

I was not in very good shape for what the climb expected of me. Still, I keep moving along with the group as best I could. Once I hit the 10,000 foot mark, I had to stop. The altitude bothered me. I found a lovely viewpoint and decided that I had gone far enough. The group traveled on without me with encouraging advice to continue if I felt better. Of course, I had nothing left to eat or drink at this point.

After thirty minutes, I felt well enough to try again. Off I set, and every 30 minutes or so I would find a granola bar or a little bottle of juice alongside the trail – complements from my hiking friends. After another hour of this, my pockets could not hold all the “gifts” that my friends had left for me, and I could not eat or drink any more without feeling completely bogged down. I eventually reached the summit with the help of a wonderful new friend, Sally Russell, who came down to walk behind me the last little bit and give my derriere a push now and then to goad me through the scree.

That was a spectacular hike! The view from the summit was tremendous, but the best part was the feeling of accomplishment. It may have taken me a lot longer to reach the top than my companions, but I had done it! And along with this feeling that I could tackle anything (I am Wonder Woman! I am strong!), I also made a commitment to return the following year and see if I could make the same journey with better results.

The next year I thought about my plan to hike up South Sister mountain. I thought about everything I would need to take with me. I thought about the kind of physical activities I could do during the year to better prepare myself for the grueling physical demands of the hike and the altitude. I took up running and weight lifting. I rode my bicycle. I was more cautious about what I ate.

The next year was a success. I wound up being the expert the next year, because the folks who had traveled with me the previous year were not available to hike with me. I invited anyone who was interested, and I even went so far as to prepare a list of suggested equipment to take (sunglasses, mittens, foodstuffs, extra pair of socks, sunscreen, etc.). I bought a pair of hiking boots! I was amazed that I remembered the hike as well as I did. I know that I thought a lot about my hiking experience during the year. I could visualize just about every aspect of the hike. This second hiking journey went so much better than the first one. I was the fourth person to reach the summit (behind a 14 year old boy, a veteran hiker, and another runner). I was way ahead of many others. I was pleased with my success.

Carnegie Hall poster
Last week I returned from a successful trip to New York City, where the Artisan Quartet performed in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Theater. During the exciting week of adventures and last minute preparations and rehearsals, the quartet members – my close friends – spent a lot of time together. We frequently talked about how the experience had changed us, but it was not just the actual experience of performing, although a Carnegie Hall experience is an event of a lifetime for a musician. No, it was the preparation that went into the performance, what I call the “preparation road.”

When we first contemplated the invitation to play in Carnegie Hall, we were faced with a situation that resembled my first look at my mountain hike. This would not be a ten minute preparation. As our violist, Bruce Williams, said, “we would be chipping off a little bit each time.” We would be chipping off a little bit of the big task before us. Over time, it would all add up and the task would shrink to a more manageable bit. We would be ready. Just as I made my mountain climb by taking one step at a time, so we would reach Carnegie Hall and be completely prepared to give our very best.

As I think back over both experiences, I conclude that there are seven stages along the preparation road. Each stage is an important part of the final result. Each stage should be considered and addressed.


MPG: MPG refers to the map, the plan, and the guidebook. Get yourself a map to where you plan to go. Develop a plan to reach your destination. Refer to the guidebook to make sure that you do not miss any important stops along the way. Your MPG will vary depending on the task you have set before you. This might be the most fun part of the adventure you have set before you. How you develop your MPG will influence your experience in many interesting ways. When I first climbed South Sister, I followed behind others. The second climb I relied on my memory. The third time I bought a map and a hiking book, but my sister and I chose an alternate path down and kind of found ourselves unsure of where we were (we met a lovely gentleman, who followed us down, thinking we knew where we were going; we made a new friend that afternoon, and he steered us back on course). Now, I have done the hike so many times that I cross country part of it and very seldom take a guidebook with me (just so much extra weight! I could use an extra bottle of water instead).

Small Steps: Determine the optimum small steps that will encourage you to complete your task. I do not complete marathons by thinking about the long training run mileage I will accomplish. I think about the marathon in terms of one mile at a time, and in some cases, one minute at a time. I remember finishing the last eight miles of a 50K when I was thinking in terms of 30-second intervals (run 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds). I was hot, I was tired, I hurt, and I was eight miles away from the end. I could not think about that. I kept myself focused on the beeps my watch emitted every minute, and this small step kept me moving until the finish line.

Recovery: Make sure that you allow for and provide ample time for recovery. When you tackle something huge, you will exert a great deal of effort. You will need time to recover and rest so that you can continue and renew your efforts. Provide yourself with the time or activities that will help you to recover your energy, motivation, and enthusiasm for the task.

Celebration: It is never too early to prepare for the celebration that you will have when you have reached your goal or completed your task. This is my weakest area. I forget to plan for this. As a result I often experience depression in one form or another after reaching my goal, because I do not plan for the celebration that I know I should have. Even with this last experience with Carnegie Hall, I confess I did not do a great job of preparing a celebration afterwards. I am strong with visualizations, but I did not consider how I could celebrate the event. Maybe I did not come up with a celebration because I could not visualize how the event would turn out. I know I did spend time visualizing a successful outcome, and I knew we had done our homework to ensure that we would be successful. I just did not plan for the rah-rah-happy-shout like I should have. We had a great dinner afterwards and my friends seemed to have a very happy celebration. I am still figuring this out myself. Oh well, one needs to have something to work on for the future, and I guess this is my thing to work on.

Invitation: There is no reason that a daunting task or large goal cannot be shared with someone. Invite someone to share the journey with you. Our Carnegie Hall experience involved the four quartet members, but it also involved a host of other friends and supporters. We had many preparatory performances, and our audience helped us select our final program and celebrate our plans. Sharing a task sometimes makes the journey go quicker. "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; if either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10.

Commemoration: Record your journey and the steps you take. I am not referring to the medallion at the end of the race or the final concert program. I am referring to some measurement of the journey. Keep a journal or document your decisions or efforts in a notebook or with your friends on Facebook or on a blog. The purpose of this step is to give you a record of your journey so that you do not make a mistake when you consider the amount of progress you make. Without this written record, your mind may play tricks on you. You may forget the areas where you struggled, and you may forget how far you came because you do not remember the exact place where you started. I encourage my students’ parents to keep a journal of lessons and practices. I suggest this so that parents can look back and accurately see how far their child has progressed.

The preparation road is a long journey made up of many small steps. As a teacher I find it difficult to provide students with the appropriate motivation to encourage them to make the complete and necessary journey on the preparation road. Each student's preparation road is unique and provides the student with strong lessons that are personal to the individual student. I struggle to help my students to dig down deep and find the inner strength of character to want to complete the task along with the desire to do the work that is necessary to achieve a satisfactory level of perfection. Much of my life has been devoted to the pursuit of these goals for myself personally, so I can relate to my students' difficulties.

During this week, think of your next big push and the preparation road that you might travel. How can you focus on the seven steps I have outlined above and develop your own personalized preparation road?

Happy Teaching!

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