deadlines Jan 08, 2021

How to embrace the pressure

I looked up from the desk. It was midnight. I was mentally drained and physically exhausted. I was falling asleep and didn’t have an idea in my head. My panic was growing because a messenger was scheduled to pick up my score at 6am and I was terrified at the prospect of not meeting my deadline. I had a LONG way to go to finish and I was hopelessly stuck. If i didn’t deliver on time I knew that my nascent career could be over. My wife and infant son were fast asleep. My only companion was the TV I kept on my desk to remind me that time was passing. I had to find a way to stay awake and finish the assignment on time. I was paralyzed by my anxiety. As my breathing became shallow and weak my body took over sending me into a fight or flight response.

I frantically began to contemplate my options. I could flee my discomfort and go to bed and let the chips fall where they may. Or, I could fight my way through my indecision and look for a new solution. I had to do it quickly because the clock was ticking. I took stock of my situation. I was orchestrating from a piano sketch for a weekly television show. I had a handwritten sketch, and a cassette recording of the cue for reference. A rerun of the 60’s show “Lost In Space” was on the television. I indulged myself by focusing on the music in the show (which was really bad). Then in a heartbeat my desperation hit me like a tsunami. I was hopelessly stuck, in over my head, with no clue what to do.

How am I going to finish on time? What were my options? I was becoming increasingly frenzied as the minutes passed. Then it hit me. I was stuck because I was trying to conceptualize the entire piece. My habitual workflow wasn’t serving me in this instance. I needed to rethink my approach.

I began to look at the sketch and estimate how long it would take to write the next 4 bars. In 15 minutes I could get to the fifth bar. Okay. I could handle that. I looked at my watch and wrote the time (12:45am) on the sketch above the fifth bar. Then I looked at the next section, and wrote the estimated time of completion on the sketch. When I finished breaking down the sketch into manageable sections I went back to where I was stuck and went to work. Along the way whenever I felt myself slowing down or stopping I would look at my watch and look at the sketch. If I was behind my fear would raise my blood pressure and i would try to write faster. I reminded myself that my physical and professional survival was dependent upon me keeping my short term schedule. I plowed on. It was more important to finish on time than to be brilliant or self-satisfied with every choice I made.

The messenger came at 6am. My pages were on the porch ready and waiting. I made my deadline. The session was a success. I survived to work another day. Another day. Another gig.

At the time I was focused on making my deadline and was unaware of the importance of being able to adapt to whatever the circumstance demanded. I paid scant attention to how I had found a way to adapt my process to meet the demands of the moment. Little did I know much I would rely on this ability through the years.

This previous is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir: “Walking With Giants” to be published in 2021.


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