Work and Life Lessons from Marching Band & Color Guard

I was in Color Guard, as part of the Marching Band, in Houston, Texas. That meant 4 hour, daily band camp in August. Did I mention this was Houston? Translation: It was HOT! Add wool uniforms during Friday Night games and you know it’s a special breed of people who committed to this (or should have been committed).
Many of the lessons I learned in life that have made me successful I learned from my time in Marching Band.
1. Don’t expect as much from others as I expect from myself
Whether its talent or skill or grit, we’re not all at the same level. Something I’m passionate about or that comes easy to me does not mean it does to others. That also means nothing more than just that…it doesn’t imply others are stupid or weak or lack discipline. It simply suggests that their strengths are in other areas.

2. Find those who will push you and challenge you

In life, there is a balance between being part of the large group, and spending time with those who will push you, challenge you, and help you to grow. Whether it’s sectionals in band, a WGI or DCI corps, or pursuing special training or project at work, take the stretch opportunities and keep pushing yourself. It will help the group as a whole.
3. Know where you’re headed, how you’re going to get there and what the benchmarks along the way are
In marching band, there are detailed maps that have the shapes and designs for the band as a whole and how each person on the field gets to specific places, and how long they have to get there. With your 8-to-5 duck walk, you have a plan…you know where you are supposed to be in relationship to the hash marks, to the yard lines, to others on the field. You know the boundaries not to cross. In life, we should have a plan of some targets we’re aiming for, and what ethical or moral lines we will not cross.
4. You don’t get anywhere alone – who is around you and how your path impacts other’s ability to get where they are going
On the field, we’re forming pictures that can be seen from a higher vantage point. Using peripheral vision, we’re always making small adjustments based on where others are around us. Whether in our careers, our families, our companies or our volunteer work, we should stay aware of what’s going on in the lives of those around us. How does my action impact, for good or bad, what so many others are also working to achieve?
5. How the journey tells the story, not just the end point
The half-time show is about watching it all unfold. The rise and fall of the music, the flags and rifles twirling, everyone moving around on the field, the appeal to the emotions. The final moment of the show, the dramatic music or impressive toss, the whole band in one line marching forward – these have value because of all that came before. The same with life.

6. Always meet my responsibility to the team. Cover for those who are absent (close the hole)

There is a real impact if I am missing…a ripple of flags is off, a note isn’t played, the formation doesn’t look quite right. If we want to be part of the team, we need to carry our load. At the same time, there are times when we can’t – sickness, death, etc. The others on the team need to be ready to ‘cover the hole’ – on the fly, shift where they march and what they play so the overall effect of what the whole organization is trying to achieve is not negatively impacted. This means both people on either side of the missing person have to help make up the difference. This means each person needs to know not only their role, but also of the people around them. Be proactive and go deep – have a true sense of team where others can and will jump in to help make up the difference if you can’t be there. Understand, though, if someone regularly isn’t there, they will likely be written out of the show.
7. People may not care. Do it right anyway
There are people who leave during the half-time show and miss the whole thing. They don’t appreciate all of the work that’s gone into putting this together – the hours, the sweat, the pain. But the pride of doing a good job, of being part of the group and the growth in your own skill and discipline are worth it. And if even one person (usually your mom) applauds at the end, that’s enough.
8. Push yourself in practice for a better performance
Our practice flags were heavier than our performance flags. Good. That way, when we were on the field, our tosses looked that much smoother, and we had the extra strength and attention to deal with the unexpected…strong winds or tape that comes off that affects the weighting and appearance for spins. By putting in the effort when we’re learning and preparing, we have more confidence going into that presentation with the CEO or going for an interview. We’ve done it before, we know our stuff. We can do it now, no problem.
9. Hard work makes a difference
My apologies to those who watch the show that first game. I’m sorry. Even with band camp and hours of practice, it’s generally not pretty, a shortened version of the whole show and a bit “rough,” shall we say. Fast forward to the end of the season and post contests. The show is sharp and polished. There is an obvious difference from when the group started to the end. It takes time for everyone to learn and get up to speed and have confidence, but with hard work, discipline, focus and dedication, it will happen.
10. Head Up. Shoulders Back. Eyes – with Pride
Before being dismissed from practice, and before taking the field, this was the call response. We had to scream “with pride” in order to be released. Released to do what we had prepared to do: to take the field, to go to class or to go back home. Note – this is pride, not arrogance. Rather, this is a confidence earned from spending 4 hours a day in the Texas sun. This is a sense of purpose, where we passed up other types of fun to learn skills and to be part of a team. This is a pride in developing our talents and skills, of learning how to use our gifts as part of the larger whole and of creating something worthy.
I encourage you to start every day acknowledging the hard work you’ve put into becoming the person you are, and committing to living a life worthy of pride…and scream it out loud!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *