Those are the three words that come to mind when I think of Jimmy Nelson.
Jimmy Nelson. Known to those of us in the art as, “The Dean of Ventriloquists”.
Jimmy Nelson passed away last night. He was 90.
Jimmy created the seminal ventriloquism educational record, “Instant Ventriloquism”. It was that record that taught so many this ancient artform. Among them, Jay Johnson, Jeff Dunham, and yours truly.
Of all of the many albums (and later CDs) in my collection, none were played as often nor listened to more attentively than that one.
I still have that record. It hangs on the wall in my office. Meeting Jimmy in person and having him sign that record was one of the stand-out moments in my life. To later reach the point where Jimmy knew me by name? Wow. Just wow.
Jimmy was a fixture at our annual conVENTion. He loved to encourage people in the study of ventriloquism. Being such an icon in our art, it was intimidating for many to approach him. Yet once you gathered the courage, you walked away feeling like you had just made a new friend for life – and you had. Jimmy had that way about him.
Jimmy was a true gentleman, an icon in our industry, and his legacy lives on.
God bless you, Jimmy. Thank you for all that you have given to the world. I am honored to have known you.
This statement is often used to challenge us to grow. I disagree.
Stepping out of our comfort zone is a bad idea.
When you are completely outside of your comfort zone, you are like a fish out of water. Have you ever seen what happens to a fish out of water? Right. They die.
You don’t have to completely abandon your comfort zone to grow. In fact, I would argue that if you stay inside of your comfort zone, you will grow faster.
Instead, work on making that comfort zone bigger.
Do you remember math class in school? If that was too long ago to remember, think about your kids.
Consider the progression of topics. You don’t learn basic math skills and then go directly to calculus. Each level of mathematics builds on the levels that preceded it.
Jumping from basic algebra to calculus is stepping out of your comfort zone. Going from algebra to geometry to functions to calculus is EXPANDING your comfort zone.
We learn best when we stretch our knowledge rather than forgetting all that has come before. Skipping steps, completely abandoning our comfort zone, is a path to frustration.
Have you ever learned to play an instrument? Perhaps the piano. When we learn to play the piano, we don’t start with Franz Liszt’s “La Campanella”, which is consistently ranked among the most difficult pieces to play.
No. A good piano teacher will start you out with the basics. Typically one learns to play one note at a time using one hand at a time. As you improve, new techniques are added, constantly stretching you, expanding your comfort zone.
This is the same with anything we do. Sure, there are times when we don’t get a choice. Sometimes we are thrown into the deep end of the pool before we are ready. But if we have expanded our comfort zone, we can draw on all that we have learned in other areas of our lives and apply it to the new situation, allowing us to stay afloat long enough to reach the ladder on the side of the pool.
If we are given a choice, though, it would have been much better to start in the shallow end and work our way up to it.
Where do you eat lunch? Are you a brown-bagger, a company cafeteria, or a go out somewhere – anywhere – to get your lunch kind of person?
My office/studio is in the basement of my house. When lunch time strikes, I simply walk upstairs to the kitchen. Most days I make a sandwich. On really good days, that sandwich is made from leftover meatloaf. Mmmmm…
Regardless of what goes on the sandwich, I have found that toasting the bread makes the sandwich way better.
It’s a simple thing. Take the bread from the bag, pop it in the toaster, and gather the rest of the ingredients while it reaches that perfect golden brown color, filling the kitchen with the wonderful aroma of toasted bread.
When I really want to splurge, I pull out the George Foreman grill, turning that simple sandwich into a delicious panini.
Either of these simple steps make an otherwise boring sandwich feel more like a meal.
When I travel to gigs, I often pack a sandwich. It’s OK. But it’s just not as good as when the bread is toasted, or the sandwich is grilled.
It occurred to me that our offices are like sandwiches. The same thing every day. But with just a little bit of extra effort our work environment can become a lot better.
What is it like where you work? Is your office more like a boring old sandwich? Does it feel like the same thing every day? Do you say hello to the same people in the same order as you walk to your desk in the morning? Do you know exactly where every one of you officemates keeps their trash cans, making it easy to drop your random bits as you wander the halls?
Do the days all blend together, feeling no different from the rest?
Or do you live in a toaster-fueled office? A place where people make that little extra effort to make things more enjoyable.
It doesn’t take much.
Maybe it’s the guy in the cube around the corner who enjoys putting a “Word for the Day” on a small whiteboard outside his cubicle. Maybe it’s the person who wears a different team jersey every Friday during football season. Maybe it’s the one who brought in the lava lamp for its joyous randomness.
What little steps can you take to make your work environment more fun?
Look for ways you can spice up your boring old sandwich. Whether it is simply toasting the bread, or going all in on a panini, look for small things you can do to mix things up and add a bit of fun.
I recently released a new video to the world. (Click on the image above to see it.) It was a challenging project. It took a heck of a lot of time. And it was incredibly fun to do.
By my best estimation, that under-4-minute video took me approximately 90 hours to produce over the course of 4 weeks. That’s a lot of time.
Why did I do it?
I got that question a lot from my friends who knew what I was doing.
Often my pithy answer to the question of “Why?” is, “Why not?”
Or its cousin, “Because I could”.
Neither of those is the correct answer in this case.
Why not? There were many reasons for why not. The foremost being the aspect of priorities. Devoting the time I did to this project meant NOT using that time to do other things that in many regards could be seen as being more important.
What about, “Because I could”?
This project stretched me in ways that made it clear that “Because I could” was not an accurate answer. Had I had cameras rolling during the early stages, the footage would have made for a laugh-out-loud blooper reel. (Maybe I’ll do that on the next one…)
Which brings us to the real reason and that was to answer the question, “Can I?“
I did not know if I could pull it off. I didn’t know if I could actually sing all of the voices. I didn’t know if I could accomplish the video recording and editing components of getting all of the characters to appear on the screen at the same time. I didn’t know whether I would have the courage to release it to the world once it was done.
Have you ever taken on a project or task just to find out whether you were capable of doing it? How did it go? What conclusion did you draw from the experience?
Sometimes when we push ourselves our attempts end up in flames – literally. If you enjoy challenging yourself in the kitchen, then you know what I mean.
If we are going to challenge ourselves, we have to be ready for the answer to the question, “Can I?”, to be, “No!” I have certainly had my share of “No!” answers.
Many times the answer is not a definitive, “No!”, but rather a more gentle, “Not yet.”
Regardless of the answer, the act of finding out, the process of challenging ourselves, is worth the time to explore. We learn a lot in the act of trying. Often we learn things we did not anticipate. Sometimes the end result is not what we originally set out to create and sometimes that result is better than what we imagined in the first place.
Is there something niggling in your brain waiting for you to discover the answer to, “Can I?” What is holding you back from finding out the answer?
Allow yourself the gift of doing it wrong. Afraid it’s going to go up in flames? Set out a fire extinguisher close by and give it a shot anyway.