THE JUGGLING ACT (We’re Overextended)
So far in this mini-series of entries, I’ve rambled about our seeming city-wide disconnect from the concept of getting-out-of-it-what-you-put-into-it and at length about the price of Austin’s unending stream of fun things to do.It’s easy to overextend ourselves with all that activity. In 2000, an acquaintance I’d known for some time told me that he never said no to any opportunity. I found that inspiring and admirable at the time. I didn’t realize that he was just one of many students in the Austin School of Juggling Too Many Things.
How often have you over committed and under delivered – or even dropped the ball? I’ve done both more than I’d like to admit.
Physics dictates that we can’t be in more than one place at a time. Nonetheless, we try to defy that principle here in Austin. We’re overbooked. Here’s how The Juggling Act affects the The Ass Equation from two posts back:
Time + Skills + Willingness – Life = Your Ass / # of commitments
The Juggling Act is just another factor diminishing Your Ass – the ability, willingness and skill to do any given thing well.
We think we can juggle all these commitments indefinitely. But with so many commitments up in the air, there’s no time to focus on any one of them and do a good job – no way to give a full-assed effort. Like a real juggling act, we only touch each ball for a second before its back up in the air. Eventually, we have to drop a ball and when we do, we drop the ball for everyone committed to that activity.
Here’s the best example I’ve lived with regard to individual The Juggling Acts:
Years ago, The Invincible Czars were offered a decent paying silent movie gig for special event in DFW – I’d worked hard with our booking agent at the time to make it happen. Unfortunately, my other band booked a high paying party for the same night in Austin. Both were good gigs. I had to say no to one – but which one? Throw away my work on the Czars gig or prevent the other band from earning money?
I wasn’t the only Invincible Czar juggling – in addition to my conflict, another Czar also received a separate gig offer from one his other bands (yes, that’s plural). The silent movie also landed on an important birthday for yet another one of our members (he wasn’t juggling, it was just bad timing).
Sounds like we should’ve just bailed on the silent movie, doesn’t it?
Well, we’d been working on breaking our silent film shows out of Austin and Houston and this opportunity wasn’t going to cost us anything – it was going to pay us and it wasn’t going to happen again. Turning it down seemed incongruent with our goals. Plus at least 2 people in the band didn’t have conflicts and were ready to take this step toward our goal. Their Juggling Acts were in check.
My band with the party gig was not happy when I dropped the ball on them. Lucky for me, the birthday Czar chose to do the movie. He was in hot water for weeks, though. I hope we and he have sufficiently made up for it. The guy with the other gig offer wound up taking that other gig. He was (is) one of the best jugglers I know – but even he couldn’t be in two places on the same night and we had to get a stand-in to learn that whole silent film. Tall order.
Mismatched, unidentified, uncommunicated and especially suddenly-realized priorities cause scheduling crises like this ALL THE TIME IN AUSTIN because every waking hour is booked with various activities in a competition to be the renaissance (wo)man of renaissance (wo)men! I think everyone in this town wants to be Max Fischer.
Not only does The Juggling Act affect our own experience, it affects those around us!
I’d like to delve deeper into this DFW story but I want to state that I’m not mad, nor was I mad at the guy who took his other band’s gig. We are still friends and brothers in rock.
He was constantly juggling multiple bands that were always on each others’ heels with regard to booking. As Invincible Czars shows got more complex, they took longer to confirm and this made his Juggling Act tougher.
(Clubs can be easy and quick to book once you know the standard deal and the talent buyer. “4 bands on the bill, start at 10, no one gets paid jack-shit” is pretty easy. I was in new territory: having to UNDERSTAND some complex written agreements, learning to identify/communicate our needs effectively and knowing the right questions to ask. I’m still learning.)
Three weeks prior to the date, the silent movie venue still hadn’t confirmed 100% and his other band was pressuring him. After another week, I told him to just take their gig. He did and, of course, 2 days later, we confirmed in DFW. I wasn’t mad – after all, I told him to take it.
However, I wish I could say that it was no big deal. In retrospect, I think even he will agree. The silent movie gig was an effort to move the Czars toward our goal of playing better venues and more unique shows. Sure, that one show didn’t move us from playing to furniture at Room 710 to playing a sold out Alamo Drafthouse in one night but it was a significant step in the right direction. Those steps add up. Not to mention that it paid each of the Czars nearly double what his whole other band made that night. To mix metaphors, when it came time for the Czars to get out and push, his Juggling Act prevented him from taking that step with us.
My other band felt the same way about me. They just cancelled their gig altogether. I wasn’t in that band much longer and he wasn’t in the Czars much longer. When you drop a ball, they know it and you know it. Unless you do something BIG to regain their faith, there’s no reason to pick the ball back up.
In Austin, we want the luxury of being able to choose from a million opportunities at any given moment – but like Max Fischer, there’s no time to do any of them particularly well. By doing this, we prioritize variety over excellence – quantity over quality.
Some will argue that it’s good to be well rounded by all that variety. Sure — but this isn’t an ability thing, it’s a time thing. Even the most well rounded or most specialized performers can only be in one place at a time.
If excellence is your goal, why juggle the duties of another band? We all know why – because it’s more fun to play gigs with band #2 than to hang flyers for band #1 – and it FEELS like we’re making progress when we perform, doesn’t it? But it’s a game of diminishing returns — all we’re doing is adding a ball to our Juggling Act — and probably one that’s just going to be dropped or cause another to be dropped.
I’m not saying I think people should stop playing in multiple bands. I am saying that sometimes I see good bands operating at the mercy of the individual members’ mediocre side projects. It seems like this problem could be solved if we’d just clarify what our commitment level really is to ourselves and each other before we add a ball to our Juggling Act.
Usually that doesn’t happen, though, until there’s a gig conflict.
I’m also saying that overextension wastes individual time, money and resources. I knew a guy who played in multiple bands and they all practiced on Sundays. He spent more time on Sundays loading/unloading his gear and driving around Austin than actually playing music. He was going the extra mile (literally!) only to find himself a mile from where he wanted to be – loading his gear more than he played it!
In conclusion, I personally believe that The Juggling Act is the biggest cause of rampant Austin Effort (half assedness) because I’ve lived it. My own Juggling Act was pretty amazing for years, but all it did was make me and everything I did mediocre – hardly worth experiencing. I still kick myself at least weekly over this.
I’ve been working to reduce the number of balls I juggle and make sure that the ones I am juggling REALLY matter to me. As cold as it may seem to some, it also helps to me know the order in which I will drop them when/if it becomes necessary (and it always does). I also endeavor to clearly communicate that sort of thing to other people involved.