Taking It To The Next Level

Taking it to the next level.

I hear that a lot.

What's worse is . . . I think that a lot.

It's one of those key phrases that gets abused, retranslated, colloquialized, and adopted whenever you're trying to describe something bigger than you might have thought possible.

It's also on Forbes Top Ten List of really super annoying business phrases.

"Thinking out of the box" and "Paradigm Shift" being the top two.

Which I always found funny because whenever someone in a job that rates a higher pay than you do says any of those things, it's almost always to describe something stupid. If there's anything your company doesn't want you to do is to think outside of the box. And if a paradigm is going to be shifted, it's most likely going to be shifted right on your foot.

Or possibly up those tight places of your soul where shifting is a no no.

But taking something to the next level can be, at least, for me, kind of exciting.

What does that even mean? Taking something to the next level? For me it's an easy question. My next level is making a living off of words and music. I'm not even particularly ambitious about the height of that level. I don't see rock stardom or NY Times Best Seller lists as a place I would be particularly happy . . . I'm looking more for a pay check big enough that I have to pay taxes.

It's the simple things.

Yet when I hear someone saying that they're taking something to the next level, I smirk a bit, because I don't think they even know what the next level is. Let alone how to get there.

Different is not the next level. More extreme is not the next level. Hair plugs and lip injections . . . not the next level.

I tried to do a little etymological search on where that term came from (I have a suspicion it is a video game reference, but that means it's only been around since the eighties), but I didn't find anything that suggested a starting point.

Anyway, my problem isn't knowing what the next level is . . . it's figuring out how it is. Like . . . let's say I wanna write for a living . . . so I write every day . . . perk up my skills . . . write about different things . . . submit things to the kinds of people that take submissions . . . do a lot of finger crossing.

However . . . it could easily turn out that the next level isn't predicted on any of the things I'm doing. It could be that I need to know the right people . . . could mean I need to go to the right school. Could be I just need some dumb luck.

Not that the things I'm doing are wrong (except maybe the finger crossing) but a sherpa would be really nice at this stage of the climb.

I was watching the movie Whiplash a few days ago, and it's brilliant, but painful. If you're not familiar with the flick, it's about a young drummer who wants to be the best and the extremes by which a clearly psychotic conductor gets him there.

Not a movie to watch if you've ever felt faint about anything, ever.

And I can't claim to have experienced anything but a bit of that during my time as a serious artist. Closest I got was a director who had me in tears for a week and a half.

True Story:
It was my first real stage role and not having any training or experience, I was shy and squeaky, and had no idea what it takes to put a show on in four weeks (A schedule now that seems to me as the only way to do it). But then I was flailing . . . and failing . . . and the director knew it . . . and everyone knew it . . . and I couldn't finish a sentence of lines before all action was stopped.

Problem was was that I couldn't project.

I had no acting voice. Only my speaking voice. And the director (god bless him) was deaf in one ear.

After three days of screaming "I CAN"T HEAR YOU!!!!" he pulled me off the stage and forced me to deliver my lines from the back of the auditorium. If something didn't come out right he would rush up to me and yell in my face the whole motivation of the scene. Make us do it over and over again until I got it right.

And I did.

By opening night . . . I got it right.

Know why?

Because he had taken me to the next level.

Again . . . I didn't have a clue what that meant or that there even was such a thing . . . but he did . . . and he knew he could do it. And he did it. And whatever non-sense that fell after that is moot. In fact, I'm convinced that after that, there was no next level. Not one that could be articulated anyway. All the training and experience that followed only made me worse. Go figure.

I used to be able to do that. Take people to the next level.

My technique wasn't quite so draconian, but I certainly knew how to ride the edge of a person's comfort zone and push them just enough past it to see the possibilities. In fact, I wasn't just able to do it . . . I was really good at it.

At least I think I was.

I had a good record.

Anyway, in thinking about my particular level, I'm starting to realize I've taken myself as far as I can go.

All I've got now is a list a of best practices, which is kind of like weeding your way through LA traffic before the era of GPS. There are a lot of exits and bypasses and there is always some jerk riding the shoulder like it was his own personal lane, but everyone else seems to be at a standstill.

But what if the jerk riding the shoulder has got it right? What if that's the key to the next level?

I honestly don't know how I feel about that.

I had a long conversation with an entrepreneurial business consultant a few months back. He was very wordy, pretty aggressive, and slightly drunk. He seemed to know a ton of insider pool regarding the entrepreneurial spirit and technique, but in listening to him, it suddenly occurred to me that he is the kind of guy that rides the shoulder.

And I didn't like him very much.

And I certainly didn't want to be him.

But I can't get over the fact that I would absolutely hire him. Even if his job is to make me scream out my lines on the other side of the auditorium or throw folding chairs at my head until I matched his tempo.

I pay him to be my sherpa.

But I'm certainly not going to consider hair plugs. So I may just be a lost cause.

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