I was driving to old town Scottsdale on Monday night to meet a few friends for a goodbye party.  Right when I got on the 101 freeway, I was suddenly reminded in a vivid visual flash, of the first time I ever went there.

It was very early in 2007 – somebody’s birthday – which meant a party night with a close friend and a bunch of people I didn’t know.  It was late, and my buddy was driving while I rode in the passenger seat…  I remember it like it was a 25 minute maze – multiple stoplights, turns, exit ramps, freeway changes, more stoplights, more turns, a street that split into two streets without warning with one headed straight and one veering off to the left… followed by half a dozen U turns and funky corners on backstreets in search of a parking spot.  I remember thinking:

“Damn! I can’t imagine navigating this without turn by turn directions or GPS!”

Anyone who knows the roads around here knows that this is one of the easiest metro areas in the country to navigate, but at the time I was entirely overwhelmed.

It wasn’t just a thought, it was a feeling.  It was the same feeling I used to get as a really little kid riding with my parents around Denver. I felt insignificant and small… in the truest sense… and I wondered how the hell people did all this life stuff without more competent people to watch over them.  How were all the adults who guided my life so damn sure of themselves? And how would I ever grow up to be one?

On that first visit to Scottsdale… in my mind, the city was too big, my future was too small, my friend had it all together, and I knew nothing.  I had just come for a visit with plans to move a few months later. We were supposed to be out having fun, and yet I was swept up in thoughts of how impossible my dream was. Somehow one small emotion led to dozens more, and in a rare moment of panic, I started thinking way too much.

“If I’m having a hard time imagining driving around this city, how the hell am I going to tour 50 cities alone and figure out how to get to the cities, then the venues within the cities, then the hotels / houses / safe truck stops after the gigs?  How could I possibly call thousands of strangers at venues and get harshly shut down a hundred times for every booking… then line the gigs up so they’re on a route that makes sense for gas and time… then make it to all of them… then have enough material to play for long enough… then be so good that people just need to know more… this is all if I can even make enough money to avoid ending up stranded on the side of the road… and if I get that far, I still don’t even have a website and my recorded music isn’t very good!” –this went on for about 15 minutes.

I only mention this ridiculous train of thought, because something interesting came to me Monday night when I remembered this.  The friend driving the car on my first night in Scottsdale was the same friend I was meeting Monday night to celebrate a new job that he’s leaving for this Sunday.

And as I thought back over the years it occurred to me, that nothing about my irrational overwhelmed train of thought was even remotely relevant anymore. Everything is WAY different – not just for me, but for everyone.

Almost the whole crew I met that night went to college at ASU at the time.  They were out having another fun night with friends… now they’re all in high powered jobs all over the country… a few of them are married.  My close friend who was driving is leaving for a dream position with a company he loves, is in a relationship that exemplifies what I hope to have for myself one day, and in many ways, has become the kind of man that guys like he and I looked up to as kids.  As for me… because of all the venues I’ve searched for and played, I know this city like the back of my hand.  People actually call me when they’re lost in some obscure corner of the valley now.

Obviously this isn’t about driving directions.  What that memory brought to mind as I was taking those very same turns without thinking, is that we don’t ever have to have all the answers. We’re incredible at adapting and learning what we need to learn to get through whatever we’re in the middle of.

There’s no reason to get overwhelmed, because no matter how big or impossible things seem, if we put any heart into trying, we will always grow into them.

I remember the first month of playing the guitar – my fingers bled, I swore more than any 15 year old should, and I thought about giving up entirely on at least thirty occasions.

…the first time I looked at the music for a particularly challenging piece on the violin… I set my metronome so that the fastest passages in the piece were painfully slow, played them over and over and over, then knocked the speed up by one notch – then repeated and repeated this process for hours, for days, for weeks, for months… on a few small sections of one movement of one song.

…I spent what seemed like forever on scales and oohs and ahhs and eeees and performed pseudo-classical pieces abysmally as a singer… for several years… during a time when I was already sort of hopelessly dreaming of being a performing songwriter for a living.

I remember the sinking feeling in my gut when the fourth show I played as a performing songwriter had 10 percent of the turnout that the first show had had – because my substantial initial audience had heard me sing so poorly that no one was interested anymore.

…my first three hundred hours in a studio alone…  I was lost.

…the first time I tried to read a book on mixing… for all I understood, it might as well have been a political essay in Mandarin.

I still remember distinctly what it felt like to realize after years of learning and working, that my entire library of skills and body of knowledge on the subject of audio production was laughable when compared to that of the average guy working on a b-level pop record that goes nowhere.

I kept at it… kept improving in nearly invisible increments.  I never really noticed things getting better. I just woke up one day and they were. Being competent at all that musical stuff… being able give directions faster than the guy with Google Maps on his Droid… being someone who’s not afraid of life anymore… all that stuff just sort of crept up on me.

The truth is: I’m ok with being uncertain and incompetent initially, because sincere effort and tiny daily improvements can get me pretty much anywhere I want to go.

In the immortal words of Dr. King: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”