The best advice Victor Wooten ever gave me

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I’ll never forget something that Victor Wooten told me one morning while attending one of his Bass & Nature Camps back in 2005? 2006? A long time ago.

I was reminded of it today when I awoke, thinking that it was a bit later than usual, and eventually noticed that my alarm had gone off one hour and eight minutes ago. I know this to be true because it was keeping count for me by the second. I didn’t hit the snooze button (I keep it about 15 feet away from me while I sleep so I actually have to get up to stop it), not turned off; I just slept right through it.

Now, if you know anything about me at all, you’re probably aware that I run a highly efficient daily schedule. I’m probably the most systematic, orderly and tightly wound musician on the planet, and waking up one hour and eight minutes already behind schedule can feel like one of the worst things possible to me. But before I could start to berate myself for ruining my entire morning routine, I was reminded of something that my mentor and friend Victor Wooten had told me all those years ago; something that apparently I’ve never forgotten.

I had just arrived to Nashville, TN the night prior, and my circumstances were unusual. I had just stood in my best friends wedding the day before, and left directly from the reception (I stayed and partied for a couple of hours) and drove directly to the airport for a 5:00am flight. After staying up and partying all day at the wedding, flying across the country (also forgot to mention that I can’t sleep on planes) to BNA and renting a car and driving to Montgomery Bell State Park (he didn’t own his own space for the camps at this point in time), I finally arrived in time for dinner. A bit late to begin with (camp started that afternoon), but I knew that was going to be the case and so did Victor, so I wasn’t upset.

I remember going to bed early, sleeping in my rental car, knowing that I needed to catch up on the sleep I had missed during my wedding/travel day. However, I was appalled when I awoke the next day 4 hours late. Instead of joining the others at 6:30am for breakfast, my eyes didn’t open until 10:45. I had missed a meal, one masterclass and now half of the second one as well. Again, this is perhaps one of the worst things that could ever happen to a person like me (or so I thought at the time); being late twice in a row. And not just late, but late for a camp that I was paying good money for; late for unimaginably important advice from my biggest bass hero; late for something that I was genuinely excited about, but my actions said otherwise.

I recall thrashing about in the car looking for my things for the day and trying to open the door while zipping up my jacket and putting my shoes on at the same time, resulting in me tumbling out of the car and onto the dusty ground. I was lying flat on my back and staring up at the sky with my head pressed against a pillow of small rocks, breathing heavily, when guess who should walk by me? Of course, it was Victor.

I jumped up immediately. “Vic, I’m so sorry I overslept, I was jet-lagged, I was in a wedding yesterday, I don’t know where I’m supposed to be, I’m not really like this normally I’m on time, please don’t kick me out because I’m not taking this seriously – I am – btw where am I supposed to be right now?”

I probably sounded as ridiculous as I looked. I’ll bet my voice even cracked and shook while talking to him. I must’ve been 18 or 19 at the time, but my words were sincere; this was my hero and I wanted to show him who I was and what I could do, and thus far I had not done a very good job of that. He probably thought I was some spoiled brat that did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, regardless of what Authority had dictated.

Instead, he said this: “It’s okay. Your body needed sleep so you slept. It’s important to listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Sometimes your body is telling you that it needs sleep, and that’s ok. Let it.”

I finally let out a deep breath, not fully aware of how ridiculous I looked and sounded, but relieved that he didn’t think I was a complete loser. Before I could say another word he spoke again.

“By the way we’re half-way through with the Groove Seminar and you’re up next. Can you be on stage in 3 minutes?”

I honestly don’t remember responding, or even closing the car door, for that matter. I just grabbed my bass and began to run for the hills, arriving just in time to hear my name called. I casually walked up on stage, still panting and breathing heavily from the quick sprint, having only been awake for a total of 2.5 minutes by this point, and sat in with Vic’s band at the time. I believe it was Derico Watson on drums and Vic’s brothers Reggie and Joseph on guitar and keys. Howard Levy was there too, I think, but it’s such a blur at this point I really couldn’t tell you truthfully. But that’s a story, perhaps, for another time.

I’ve never forgotten that advice, all these years later. At the time I thought that he was saying, It’s okay, no big deal. Just move on. But over the years I’ve come to realize that what he really meant was Give yourself and your body some grace. We’re not perfect. We’re not going to make every shot we take. Sometimes we fall short and sometimes we even kick ourselves when we’re already down. Why? What good could that possibly accomplish?

Instead, much like the practice of mindfulness meditation, allow the moments to realize themselves and then allow them to pass. Don’t hold on to the negativity you’ve associated with it. Instead of wasting time with thoughts like I should’ve or I could’ve or why didn’t I?, try doing the opposite: Accept reality for what it is. Accept your body for how it is and for what it needs. And when you allow that moment to finally pass, jump up on stage ‘cuz you’re next.