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What Steve Young and I Have in Common

You may find it hard to believe that I, a card-carrying Goofball could have anything in common with Steve Young, one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time.

But I do!

Not only that, our shared trait is potentially available to all human beings, Goofballs and non-Goofballs alike! It does, however, take extraordinary circumstances to coax this trait to the foreground.

Check it out.

A few years ago, I started playing piano after a twenty-year hiatus. To be more precise, I started playing piano in front of other people. Audiences, in fact.

photo: open hardware summit on flickr

It was scary. Terrifying, really.

This terror led to many teeth-chattering and heart-pounding performances. Many of you may recall my adventures in piano prison. Or the worst thing that ever happened to me on stage.

In spite of my fear, I persisted. I loved to play.

photo: Nayu Kim on flickr

The only problem was the audience. All those people, sitting in their seats, watching me. They screwed everything up.

When I was at home, practicing, time was a fluid thing. Minutes and hours would go by, and I would barely notice. But when I was on stage, performing in front of others, the weirdest thing would happen. Time would literally shrink.

I especially noticed it when there was a difficult passage in the piece I was playing. Knowing it was coming, I would try to psyche myself up.

I can do this. I did it at home. Okay, there weren’t hundreds of people watching me, but that’s beside the point. And don’t start pretending they’re all in their underwear, because that’s just weird. And totally distracting. Like, why would a bunch of people in their underwear want to sit around and watch me play the piano? Really. Okay, I have to focus. Stop thinking about the underwear. I’m playing the piano, for God’s sake.

photo: William Ng on flickr

Before I knew it, the hard part would arrive and I would freak out. My mind would run away like a frightened little bunny, leaving me all alone to try and play the piece. It all happened so quickly, I didn’t have time to gather my wits.

After the difficult passage was over, my mind would return and continue its commentary.

Great. I freaked out again. What the heck happened? There’s not enough time to focus. It all goes by too fast. It’s because of those frickin’ people in their underwear. They’re messing it up. They’re sucking all the concentration out of the room, and I can’t play without screwing up.

I tell ya, it was a party up there.

One day, after a particularly challenging performance, I was telling my sweetheart, Melissa, about my dilemma. How was I supposed to focus when I was so nervous? How was I supposed to play with so many people watching?

Melissa listened to my woes. She nodded her head in sympathy. And then she told me a story about Steve Young.

Steve Young, as many of you may know, sat on the bench with the San Francisco 49ers for years. Four years, to be exact. It wasn’t until Joe Montana, the starting quarterback, became injured that Young really got a chance to play.

In his first forays on the field, Young found it hard to focus. There was too much to think about: keeping his eye on the other players; evaluating plays and strategies; deciding whether to pass or run. It all happened so quickly, it was hard to juggle the competing concerns.

photo: Andy Lyons/Allsport

But after a while, after more games and more experience, everything started to change.

Young began to notice that every time he was on the field during a game, time literally started to slow down. What used to be over in an instant now took ages to transpire. Young had all the time in the world to evaluate plays and strategies, to scope out the other players and decide the best move. What once was a cramped and quick instant was now a spacious and luxurious century.

It was a miracle. And it changed his game forever.

As Melissa told me this story, I thought: That’s nice. I’m happy for Steve. Really I am. But what does that have to do with me and the naked people? It was a nice tale, but I wasn’t in Steve’s league.

Or so I thought.

Like Steve, I put in my time. Performance after performance. Weeks turned to months turned to years.

And one day, out of the blue, it happened.

There I was – in the middle of a performance, headed for a tricky passage – when time began to stretch and expand. Suddenly, I had all the time in the world to navigate my way through.

photo: Jason Vernon on flickr

I was about to play a wrong note, but before I did, I slowly and luxuriously moved my finger to the correct key. Then I forgot the correct chord in the left hand, but I easily found it on my music. Time was like a big, fat, infinite field in which I was given ample room to run and play.

photo: Matt Phillips on flickr

I felt small and big at the same time. Powerful and grateful. In the flow, as the flow. I felt like . . . Steve Young.

Melissa likes it when I admit she’s right, so here goes:

Melissa was right.

I had it in me. I had the power to overcome my fears. I had the ability to drop into that timeless space where creativity lies. It’s one thing to feel it when you’re alone, sitting on your meditation chair. It’s another thing altogether to tap into that space under stress.

But I did it. Just like my buddy Steve.

photo: Mickey Pfleger

They say the Divine is timeless. They say It knows no boundaries, no restrictions. And it’s nice to know that intellectually.

But it’s even nicer to truly feel it. 

Thanks to the piano, the naked people, and Steve Young, I have savored this place. I have basked in its wide open spaces.

And I want to go back. Again and again and again.

photo: Robert Nunnally on flickr

How have you experienced the timeless nature of the Divine? When have you found space in moments of stress?

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20 Responses to What Steve Young and I Have in Common

  1. Steve DeLap February 14, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    Great story & great point. It’s taken a looong time but I finally found out it works to TAKE the time on stage to center on what you’re doing (maybe not when playing a piano, only Victor Borge could do that). It works up until the audience thinks your performance is over and they start to leave. On second thought, Never mind
    BTW my key to a long and fruitful relationship, your partner is always right

    • Z Egloff February 14, 2012 at 11:59 am #

      Hi Steve!

      I like that the first comment on this post is from someone named Steve. How cosmic is that?

      Oh, and thanks for the info about the key to a long and fruitful relationship. I suspected as much, but now I know for sure. Thanks for that! :)

      XOZ

  2. Jo Lauer February 14, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    I love losing myself in the timelessness of creativity…hours pass, literally, and I’m in the zone, writing my heart out. I’m anticipating future book readings–whoops, what happened to that timeless serenity?? Performance anxiety creeps up and strangles my otherwise relatively normal sounding voice so that I sound like Minnie Mouse with laryngitis. The room shrinks, air leaves (or so I imagine).

    Yet, as you said (or as I inferred), the zone is always there. I COULD operate from the zone if I stopped to allow myself that awareness. By golly, I WILL operate from the zone the very next time I read in front of an audience. Thanks for the reminder. Oh, and if I’m in the zone, I’ll need a time-keeper.

    • Z Egloff February 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

      Hi Jo,

      Minnie Mouse with laryngitis sounds interesting. Maybe you could built a cult around your unique performing style! 😉

      I didn’t directly address this in the post, but I think one of the reasons I’m now able to dip into that timeless space is my willingness to keep putting myself out there. Even thought it was frickin terrifying at first. Somehow, the anxiety started to wear off. Oh, and prayer helped a lot too. Setting an intention to operate from that space is definitely a great way to get there.

      I think Steve Young may be available to be your timekeeper.

      XOZ

  3. Laura February 14, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Great post. I sometimes feel that space when I’m designing a job. I’ve got a deadline, but I breathe, sink in, and go step by step.

    I need more of that! Thanks for putting word to it. Now I can put it out there.

    xoxo
    Laura

    • Z Egloff February 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

      Hi Laura!

      Yes, being aware of that space definitely helps to cultivate it. I think athletes call it The Zone. Hey, next thing you know, you’ll be able to throw touchdowns as well as come up with great designs. An all-in-one package deal! 😉

      XOZ

  4. Squirrel February 14, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    wow. i’m glad i read this instead of just jumping into what i need to be doing. it’s a really great reminder and exactly what i needed to read right now. :) you rock, z.

    xos

    • Z Egloff February 15, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

      Hi Squirrel!

      I’m so glad that you read this post at the right time. For the record, it’s always a good idea to read this blog before you do anything. Ever. Just sayin’.

      XOZ

      • squirrel February 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

        Right? I usually do but I was running late. :)

  5. Morningsong February 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    I used to call this the “yoga effect” back in the early 90’s when I was taking 17+ units in school, working 3 parttime jobs, 2 kids, a social life AND time to do 1-2 hours of yoga a day. So now I know it’s really about Steve Young! Thanks Z, for the reminder that when we stretch ourselves deeply in the moment, and breath into it, it expands to give us everything we need!

    • Z Egloff February 15, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

      Hi Morningsong!

      Yes, it’s all about Steve. I didn’t realize it until recently, but he’s pretty much responsible for everything that happens. Including that awesome expansion into the infinite. Luckily for us, Steven’s always on the job, and this Space is always available. The “yoga effect” is another great term for it!

      XOZ

  6. Claire February 14, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    Being a choir director, I have the luxury of having my back to “the audience” PLUS I get to look at 75 faces of love as I am conducting. Something happens when the One Heart Choir sings together and this wave of love is washing over and past me into the people. It feels like a time bubble waves through the room and engages us all in one breath. This often times takes me by surprise and then I forget I am conducting and do goofie things but the choir loves my bloopers so it is all good. Personally, I think the best things in life are the “outtakes” and the bloopers, but that’s me. Love your writings Z

    • Z Egloff February 15, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

      Hi Claire!

      Always nice to see you in the Land of the Goofballs. I never thought about that – you get to have your back to the audience the whole time. No fair! 😉 But you still get to dip into that field of Infinite Time and Space. Pretty cool. And I agree with you that the “bloopers” are often the best part. . . .

      XOZ

  7. LaLaLaLaLa February 15, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    What they said. I agree, and somehow I can get there faster now that my life seems to have spun out of control in some ways. Control can no longer be a goal, but being graceful with the ‘flow’ is the intention. So, if I look like I am spacing out, it is not what some may think. I am in s l o w flow mode. Thanks to Steve, of course. And to you for making such an important process more clear to me.

    • Z Egloff February 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      LaLaLaLaLa,

      That’s interesting. Life gets more “chaotic” and everything begins to make more sense. Or get easier in some ways. Finding ways to merge with the flow is such a worthwhile endeavor, isn’t it? Though endeavor is the wrong word, as it implies effort. Which is certainly not what the flow is about. I like the term “s l o w flow mode.” I’m gonna remember that one.

      XOZ

  8. Simple John Beavin February 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    Hey Z,
    At my age, things really have slowed down; racing is not an option, but that includes mind-racing, so that feels like a blessing. Still, blowing guitar riffs in public that I handle easily at home, sometimes happens–I tell myself I needed the opportunity for forgiving myself. Not mentally bashing myself as I used to seems to decrease the goofs, but I am very interested in all techniques you & Steve have mastered. Thanks for a great post! J♥y 2 U! Simple John

    • Z Egloff February 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

      Hi Simple John!

      Wonderful to hear from you. I’m looking forward to what you described as the slowing-down of mind racing. That sounds wonderful. And leisurely. . .

      Live performance provides endless opportunities for forgiveness, doesn’t it?! And humility. And laughter. I find that performing in front of others is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s also been a spiritual practice extraordinaire. Thanks to Steve, things have gotten a little easier. . . .

      Blessings to you,

      XOZ

  9. Naava February 25, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    Thank you Z! This is wonderful! So that’s why they say the way to get to Carnegie is practice, practice, practice. Oh, and not eating sugar. Definitely helped the mind slow down a lot.

    • Z Egloff February 27, 2012 at 11:23 am #

      Hmmmm. I never thought of the “no sugar” connection. Yes, I’m sure that helped. The main thing I remember after I stopped eating sugar was that I realized I’d been mildly depressed all those years that I was eating it. Being a more balanced and present piano player is yet another benefit. Thanks for the insight, Naava!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Best Thing That Even Happened to Me On Stage, Part 1 | Life in ZD - February 26, 2013

    […] know about the worst thing that ever happened to me on stage. Or my jaunts to piano prison. Or the stage trick I learned from Steve Young. But when I was a kid, none of these things had happened […]

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