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How Do You Eat An Elephant? Answer: One Bite at a Time!

The end of the season is upon us and as memories begin to fade, I find myself looking back at the 2012 season and what it took to get through it.  Not as just a business owner but as a “re-born” bagpiper.  The hard work conducted during the past few months begins to wind down and slowly we begin to emotionally “check out” from competition mode.  It is time for an introspective look at ourselves as well as our organizations.  It is a time to set new goals and determine a realistic way of achieving them.

It was the fall of 2011 during the Pipes in the Valley Celtic Festival sponsored by Ten Penny Ale in Hartford, CT.  Hal Grout approached me with an idea that he and his friend, Paul Lampson, had which required my help.  The pair envisioned starting a new competition bagpipe band in north central Connecticut.  Armed with one “simple” goal as well as two simple rules, they set out to turn a dream into reality.  Their reality was ultimately to create a pay-to-play, competitive, entry level, grade 5 pipe band called Stone of Destiny.  Yes, I thought it was a strange name too until I Googled it.  For those of you who may not be familiar with Scottish history, the Stone of Destiny was used for centuries in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland and later the monarchs of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom.  Ok, I’ll go along!

After hearing this pitch, my thoughts quickly turned to the mythological story of the phoenix rising from the ashes. It had been a long 5 years since I had stepped foot into the circle and I was eager to become part of building something new…note the recurring theme in my life!  Their rules:  first – No Assholes, check attitudes and baggage at the door; and second – When in doubt, refer to Rule #1!  I’m not sure where I fit in regarding the rules but they had me hooked with their concept.  It was a daunting task to outfit and train an entire band.  It was even more challenging having a goal of competing in less than 6 months.

After reading an article written by Vince Janoski on Pipehacker, “The 3-Step Path to Better Bagpipe Goals: Goal Chunking,” I became motivated to elaborate on the subject using the huge undertaking that Paul and Hal had just taken as a reference point.  As a bagpipe supplier and instructor, I frequently observe bagpipers as well as pipe bands become overwhelmed by their situations.  After hearing their stories, my favorite question to ask people is, “How do you eat an elephant?”  With a furrowed brow and perplexed look, my question is typically answered by a question, “What do you mean?”  No matter what seemingly insurmountable goal you may have, in this case eating an elephant, the way to get through it is one bite at a time.  Regardless of whether it is starting a new band, memorizing a comp set, or learning a new embellishment, the steps are very similar.

Janoski says that goals must be defined and measurable and associated with specific actions if they are to be achieved.  Large goals must be broken down into smaller chunks or bites. To be successful, you must set criteria and deadlines for yourself.  Define the steps and employ tools to critically assess your progress.

  1. Define your goals.  Take an objective and thorough look at your goals.  How complex is your goal?  Is it as simple as learning a new tune or as a big as starting a new band?  At either end of this spectrum you will have a host of details to iron out.  Ask a friend, mentor, or your instructor for their input; do not rush, take your time and be specific.  Regardless of the size of your goal, you will need to stare at your “elephant” and determine a strategy.  This begins by breaking it down into manageable bites.  Janoski calls this process goal chunking.  Once these bites have been taken, criteria must be established to measure progress.  For example:  If Johnny the bagpiper has a goal to learn a new 2/4 march, then he may break the tune down into pods and phrases, taking bites out of his elephant.  Or he may choose timing, expression or tone as his.
  2. Set deadlines.  Life, family, work or having a new business takes priority to a hobby, and for most of us, bagpiping is a hobby. It’s important to write down your goals and their associated steps – keep a journal.  You could even write your plan on Facebook to get encouragement from friends.  Writing things down helps us from missing anything that may be vital to our success.  However, it is just as important that we set deadlines that are reasonable.  Janoski also suggests that deadlines help to focus one’s effort and to track progress by taking notes and making recordings.  If a deadline is not met, don’t get discouraged.  Re-evaluate the bites that you’ve listed for your goals.  You may discover that one bite was too big.  Set new deadlines and keep moving forward.
  3. Measure your goals.  Regardless of the bites taken out of his elephant, Johnny will have to measure his success in achieving his goal.  In the case of playing music, this can easily be done by audio or visual recordings, using a metronome or using another piper in a mock competition.  I prefer recordings for performance-based goals because I can hear and/or see exactly what my progress is like.  Larger, more complex goals such as starting a band, cutting a cd, or even planning a fundraiser will require creativity and flexibility when measuring goals.
  4. Don’t let doubt and suspicion bar your progress!  This is very important and I feel that this statement speaks for itself.  But then again, I could write another article devoted entirely to this subject…..hmmmm!  Fend off those inner demons and prove the naysayers wrong.  Keep to your plan, focus, exercise good self-analysis and push yourself.  Remember that if you are not moving forward, you are standing still.

In the case of my friends at the Stone of Destiny Pipe Band, knowingly or not, they followed these four steps.  So if you are starting a band or looking to play a better D Throw, follow the same steps and you too will achieve your goals.  Congratulations on a job well done.