The Program

Just beginning the journey to becoming a better jazz guitarist.

I’ve taken stock of where I am as a player and where I want to be in six months and out five years — should I still be on planet Earth.

To build a program to keep me on track, I needed to address four elements:

  1. Define practice areas
  2. Create a framework
  3. Follow specific exercises
  4. Feedback and refine as needed

Define Practice Areas

Based on my six-month objectives, this was pretty straightforward. Here are my practice areas:

  1. Standards (repertoire)
  2. Improvisation
  3. Comping
  4. Chord Melody
  5. Phrasing

Create A Framework

How will I spend my practice time? Not on duration but as a percentage of the time?

  1. Warm-up — 5 percent
  2. Repertoire — 50 percent
  3. Comping — 20 percent
  4. Chord Melody — 15 percent
  5. Phrasing — 10 percent

Follow Specific Exercises

In my case, I have an online teacher even if most of what I am doing is self-directed. The courses are very specific and well designed. I can readily measure my progress with this online course.

Feedback and Refine As Needed

Don’t rush. Keep each session focused. Don’t take on too much at once.

In other words, be patient. Build the skill on an incremental basis. Small changes performed consistently will yield impressive results over time.

I might revisit my framework and adjust the percentages here and there. I may not need to spend as much time on comping over the next few months as I already have a pretty rich chord vocabulary on the guitar. I might need to spend more time on chord melodies and phrasing as they are both areas of development for me.

Every two weeks, I will give myself an evaluation and see where adjustments need to be made.

Take Stock

Although aimed at the jazz guitar student, the lessons I have been taking are widely applicable to other pursuits in life.

I was asked to do the following as part of my jazz guitar training:

  1. Take Inventory
  2. Dream
  3. Define Long-Term Goals
  4. Define Short-Term Goals

Take Inventory

Here I was asked to identify my musical victories, failures and strengths. It was relatively easy to identify musical victories over the past 50 years. There were specific highlights, special concerts during my touring years, my first paid gig as a session player in a recording studio, my first album as a sideman, teaching and mentoring younger players, serving as a guitarist in various churches, and so on.

Failures? Well, there have been many. Some were tough to write down but basically my failures all centred around one basic theme: I was never good enough. The positive side of being so harsh on myself is that I had a strong incentive to become better. And it grounded me in terms of the journey of life. We all start from somewhere and, if we apply ourselves, we can improve and we can help others to improve. I would consider that desire to improve to be a strength. The inner critic, not so much.

Dream

This was hard for me to do. It is difficult to dream about where I might be as a player in 5 or 10 years when, without being unduly morbid, I could be dead. Joe Pass, an incredible jazz guitarist, died at 65.

So I have to choose the mountain carefully. My dream is to play with enough skill that I can be a strong contributor to a skilled jazz trio or jazz quartet before 65 years of age.

Long-Term Goals

Ten of them. I had to think of ten long-term goals. And by long-term goals, specific objectives within 5 years.

Here we go:

  1. Have 50 standards memorized and under my fingers in my jazz repertoire.
  2. Cut a 10-song smooth jazz instrumental project.
  3. Play out with a jazz group at least once a month for a year.
  4. Be able to improvise effortlessly over the most common jazz progressions.
  5. Master arpeggios across all the jazz chord types.
  6. Learn to play effortlessly off a fake book.
  7. Create chord melodies from scratch for 10 songs.
  8. Learn to comp across all dominant jazz styles.
  9. Study the improvisation of five jazz masters by learning solos note for note (2 songs per jazz master).
  10. Move from novice to advanced skill level with the instrument.

Short-Term Goals

Five goals for practicing over the next six months. Which, in theory, supports achievement of the long-term goals.

  1. Memorize 3 standards: Misty, Autumn Leaves, Take The A Train
  2. Complete Jazz Improv 101 course
  3. Complete Jazz Comping 101 Course
  4. Complete Chord Melody Crash Course
  5. Complete 25 Exercises For Better Jazz Guitar Phrasing Course

That is what frames the context for my musical journey over the next few years. Although a similar approach could be taken for almost any area of interest: where am I now, where do I want to be in the future, what specific goals do I want to achieve in the next five years, what will I achieve over the next six months.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll write about the program I created to guide my daily practice activity.

Retirement One Week In

I retired on July 20th, 2018. But really, the first few weeks of my retirement consisted of travelling through places like Geiranger, Norway, pictured above.

In other words, I was on vacation for the first few weeks.

Now that I am back home, I can look at this week as being my first week of retirement. I did not go back to work after taking a vacation, which is what I would have done for the past 35 years or so.

How did the first week of retirement go?

In a word, terrific. Every night a Friday night. Every day a Saturday.

I did set out a calendar which included the following activities for this first week:

  • 1-2 hours of cycling each day.
  • 1-2 hours of content creation each day for rvcastaways and this blog.
  • 1-2 hours of guitar practice each day.
  • 1-2 hours post processing photos from our Norwegian cruise and creating videos from our Norwegian cruise each day.

I had several lunches with different friends. I took my son out to Mission Impossible. I walked the dog. Lorraine and I went out to a few lunches. I’ve been reading a couple of books. I managed the investment portfolio. We started packing for our winter trip south.

I’m having a great time so far. And I am not worrying about much of anything at the moment.

I decided that for the first few weeks (months? years?) of retirement, that I can loosen up a bit although with enough structure and challenge to the day that I have a sense of accomplishment.

So far, so good.

Retirement

I retired on July 20th, 2018.

And after the retirement festivities, Lorraine and I had a wonderful celebratory cruise in Norway.

We’ve been gone for about two weeks and this site has been a bit quiet of late. I’ve been actively posting on my other site, rvcastaways.com. That site will cover our travels and adventures in retirement.

This one?

I’m not too sure. I’ve been posting here since April of 2004. Over 14 years.

Time for me to reimagine this site and to start something new with it.

I’ll leave you with the speech I gave at my retirement. It was a challenge to write a retirement speech and I am very glad that I only had to do this type of speech once.

Having returned from what was really a lengthy vacation, it still hasn’t hit home that I have retired. Except that I did not have to go into the office today.

I can get used to that I think.

RETIREMENT SPEECH
For Delivery, July 18th at 2:00pm

Thank you for all the kind wishes and wonderful comments.

I am indeed a very, very fortunate man. I am blessed with a wonderful wife, an amazing family, good friends, and, clearly, the best looking team of colleagues in the world!

My life, your life, is not defined by a state of working or a state of retirement.

Our journey in life is defined by our relationships with each other, by themes of love, family, faith and self-acceptance.

I was taught at an early age that there several stages in life:

A time to learn.
A time to work.
A time to retire.

And so I went to school. I got a job. And now I retire.

Mission accomplished!

Although I do worry a little bit about the stage after retirement.

I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about what makes for a fulfilling career. Lessons that I have learned over the past 40 years or so.

Three words to remember: mission, mastery, freedom

Let’s start with mission.

Everyone here in this room has the talent and capability to create a great life for yourself, for your family and for your community. And everyone here in this room can make our company an even better company in the future than it is today.

It starts with answering one very basic question:

Why are you here?

Having a higher purpose, a mission, a cause that you believe in will make all the difference to you and to your career. You will know, that in some way — large or small — you have made our company a better place because of your work.

Have you ever experienced a moment where your life was changed forever?

It happened to me when I was 16 years old.

I lived in a small house in Lachine, Quebec that was built just after the second world war. My father had been battling cancer for several years and all I knew was that he was very, very sick. But I thought that he would make it. That he would come home from the hospital.

I can remember the telephone call as if it happened yesterday. It was early. 6AM. My mother answered the phone and all I heard was her screaming and crying.

Dad was gone.

He left no will. He had no insurance.

We were left with nothing. We had to sell the house and my mom and I had to find jobs to make ends meet. Life was very hard during those years after his death.

I made a commitment to myself that when I grew up, got married and had a family, that I would provide well for them. To make sure they were protected and to be financially secure if anything happened to me. That was the core part of my mission in life.

And that is why I believe so strongly in our company.

We help Canadian families with their financial security. We help Canadian families build wealth. Our promise to them is simple, fast and easy. We have a great company whose underlying mission you can believe in. A company that makes a difference in the lives of the people we serve.

Why are you here?

What is your mission?

When you know why you come in to work everyday, you have a mission. And that mission you will carry you throughout your life. That mission will be your anchor when you face challenges and it will be your reason to celebrate your accomplishments.

After mission there is mastery.

Getting better and better at the skills and talents that you use in your work leads to mastery. People will see you doing great work and great work always gets rewarded. Always.

But it is not just about getting better at what you do. It is about helping others to get better at what they do.

Keep learning. Keep developing. Keep pushing yourself to get better at the things you really love doing. And then one day it will happen. You will become a Jedi Master. Every Jedi Master must take on an apprentice.

And then you get to help someone else get really, really good at what they do. That is the true reward of mastery.

Mission, mastery, freedom.

And I don’t mean Freedom 55.

When you have a mission and you get really good at what you do, you will have freedom. The freedom that comes from being passionate about your work and why you do what you do. The freedom that comes from being really, really good at your work and helping others to be really, really good at their work.

Suddenly, your career becomes part of who you are. It does not define you. You define your career.

There is one final thought that I would like to leave with you.

I am more and more convinced, having gone through many different passages in life, that the things I value most are the warm, caring relationships I have with the people who have passed and are passing through my life. These things are eternal and the rest is like dust before the wind. These relationships are the things to value and so I strongly encourage you to measure your success in this life by the quality of care you give to those around you. We need to be friends. We need to take an active role in the people who pass through our lives. We need to care, to trust, to support and to cherish our family and our friends.

I am grateful and thankful for the support of my family. I am grateful and thankful for the support of the leadership of our company.

I cannot adequately express the gratitude that I have for my amazing team and my wonderful colleagues.

All I can say is thank you for this incredible journey. I will carry many wonderful memories of our time together.

Thank you.

Am I Ready?

Retirement is just 17 days away now.

We have been planning for this moment for a long time. There are other perspectives about the retirement years and it does not look like it’s all Walt Disney World.

Some of them make for fun reading.

Chuck Underwood, founder of consulting firm The Generational Imperative in Ohio, said what’s not to like: “Most retirees badly underestimate the severity of the impact of awakening each day without a major purpose. Retirees who feel grandparenthood, volunteerism, travel, and just ‘relaxing’ will fill the purpose void consistently learn this hard lesson: for decades, their jobs have guided their entire lives, claimed the most vital eight hours of their weekdays, and been the source of most of their thinking. For decades.”

So what happens when the purpose provided by work is gone. Said Underwood, “The thought that fills the void is, ‘My life has lost its greatest purpose, I am aging, and I’m on final descent toward death.'”

Some retirees plummet into depression. Many develop opioid habits. Others drink too much booze. That’s not what any of them had in mind as they contemplated an end of work. But those grim realities are indeed all too real for many.

Yikes.

And this.

It’s one thing to be financially prepared for retirement, but don’t discount the mental upheaval that might ensue once you leave your career behind you. Though many seniors look forward to the downtime they’ve been missing during their working years, you may come to find that your newly unstructured existence throws you for an emotional loop. In fact, according to the Institute of Economic Affairs, retirees are 40% more likely to suffer from clinical depression than younger Americans are, and a big reason has to do with that loss of purpose, so to speak, in life.

And this.

Retirement is a huge lifestyle change. For many of us, work is a big part of our lives and identity. It is important to think through how you will spend your free time and what your aspirations are. I suspect many people postpone retirement because they have not taken the time to think through this important transition in their lives. As such, they continue to work as it is what they are comfortable with and all that they have ever known.

It goes on of course. If you follow this line of reasoning, you would never retire. Too scary.

I have a sense that governments, anxious to keep people paying higher levels of taxes as long as possible, attempt to create a narrative that, in effect, says that it is better for people to work longer, much longer, than the traditional retirement age of 65.

This despite the Statscan data showing very little movement in public sector retirements. The average age has remained at just over 61 for the past five years for public sector employees whereas private sector employees tend to retire on average closer to 64.

For the record, I will be 61.8 years old at retirement. I’m able to retire a bit earlier than the average private sector employee thanks to defined benefit pensions and a decent investment portfolio.

I have thought about the social, emotional, physical and financial aspects of retirement. Being a goal-oriented person, I have certainly put a lot of thought and effort into each one of these areas throughout my life.

I’m looking forward to a wonderful stage of life in retirement with Lorraine.

The starting gate is just around the corner.

Capsule Wardrobe

I started travelling light back in 2011. Or at least, travelling lighter back in 2011. Lorraine and I were still hauling 40 pounds or so of luggage when we travelled.

We eventually found a way to really cut down on our luggage and with numerous trips to Europe, we found our stride and we can now comfortably tour with one small carry-on bag and one small personal bag each.

As retirement approaches, I am re-thinking the whole clothing thing. For the past decade or so, I have been working in a predominately business casual environment with the odd business suit day.

I have two suits, six dress shirts, six pairs of casual pants, four jackets, as well as a rather large collection of clothing that I wear when I am not at the office: shorts, jeans, t-shirts, casual shirts, jackets, sweaters.

Clothes. Lots and lots of clothes.

Time to simplify that part of my life.

But where to start?

Capsule wardrobe.

Steve Jobs embraced the minimalist approach. His wardrobe: black turtlenecks, Levi’s jeans, New Balance sneakers.

According to Wikipedia, a capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that do not go out of style and can be augmented with seasonal pieces.

For a man, a capsule wardrobe could be as simple as the following:

  • A suit
  • A pair of jeans
  • A coat
  • A few t-shirts
  • A few cotton shirts
  • A sports jacket
  • A pair of casual pants
  • A pair of dress shoes
  • A pair of casual shoes
  • A sweater
  • A watch
  • A jacket

How many items? Well, Project 333 would say 33 items or less for 3 months. They even offer a microcourse on how to dress with less and create your capsule wardrobe.

My motivation is practical. In just a few months time, Lorraine and I will be heading south in our motorcoach and we will need to be very minimalist in what we take with us as we will not have much space for an extensive wardrobe.

It’s Official

Upcoming retirement – Information Technology

Richard has announced his plans to retire in the third quarter of this year. Richard joined our company as Senior Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer in 2008.

Over the past decade he has ably led our Information Technology division, tackling the myriad of issues that come with the rapid evolution of technological change and digital innovation and ensuring the organization’s IT and project management capabilities are keeping pace with the change.

We will miss his deep knowledge and his ability to share complicated ideas and concepts in a clear, simple and engaging way.

We are focused on a transition plan in light of Richard’s well-deserved retirement and will share news with you as decisions are made. In the meantime, I am fully confident that the strong IT leadership group Richard has built will continue to enable their teams to meet the needs of our business.

Please join me in thanking Richard for his many contributions and in wishing Richard and Lorraine all the best for a long, happy and healthy retirement together.

Details on a retirement reception will be shared within the next few weeks.

Mark
President and Chief Executive Officer

The Secret to Career Success

A bit of an unlikely source for career advice although no question that John Berardi, co-founder of Precision Nutrition, has been exceptionally successful with his chosen path.

If there is a formula for the kind of success most people want, even if they don’t know what that looks like yet, it might be something like this:

Strong personal mission
+
High competency
+
System for execution
=
Personal and career satisfaction

Have a look around.

You’ll find there’s almost nothing more powerful than someone with a deeply held motivation to do their work plus high level of skill plus a blueprint or system for executing every day.