Man, I still remember it like it was yesterday…
It was early 2002, my yoga studio in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC was only open a few months and the city was still reeling from 9-11 when I got the call.
Turns out a top editor/writer from the leading yoga magazine was coming to Gotham to write a story on what was hot in the city. She’d heard about a specialized yoga class I developed that was taught to a custom mixed soundtrack where the flow of the yoga matched the rhythm of the music, beat for beat. And, she wanted to check it out and interview me afterwards.
Killer media opp, or so I thought…Meltdown Part 1
A few hours before she arrived for the evening event, I mixed the soundtrack as I always had, burned it to a cd, then did my yoga practice to it in order to make sure it flowed well. It sounded great, for about 20 minutes. Then it happened.
The music went from crystal clear and vibrant to muddy, then faded into a cacophony of static. I hit pause, then play. Still static. I fast forwarded. Still static. There I was, 2 hours before the media event that I hoped would seriously launch my business and vault us into the yoga world, and…
The sound system, the core of the experience, had melted down.
What to do? Just give in and try to explain to this editor, who’d flown from California to NYC for this, that we were having technical difficulties? Um, no. Call her and ask to reschedule? Not my style.
With two hours left, I literally ran out of the studio, sprinted down to 48th Street and 6th Avenue, known in New York as Music Alley, went up to the second floor at Sam Ash and told them I needed a sound system ASAP. I think the fact that I was pouring in sweat freaked the guy out a bit and he moved really quickly, probably to get me out of the store faster.
Two thousand dollars later, I loaded the new system into a cab and headed back.
There were only 30 minutes left and another class was already going on. I spied the editor waiting with others in the reception area. Lugging the speakers and amp up the 21 stairs in our 115 year old building, I cracked open the back door to the practice room (while the earlier class was going on), snuck in the new speakers and amp, rewired everything and literally hit the power switch as my class began to walk into the room.
Ahhhh, success! Not so fast…Meltdown Part 2
The editor positioned her mat right in front of me. It was a packed house, the room was electric. I popped in the mixed CD and hit play, glorious pulsing sounds filled the room and the crowd began to flow like a dance of humanity, heat and sweat.
But, just as we were all sliding into that deep trance-like state…it happened.
The sound. The static. The meltdown. This couldn’t be. How could I fry two sound systems in one day. The music was loud, but not THAT loud. Then, for the first time, with a room full of people and the editor staring me down…
I realized what the problem really was.
I’d burned a bad CD. Two thousand dollars, a frantic afternoon and 20 minutes into the class that was set to be featured in the magazine…and I was royally hosed.
So, what do you do?
Only two ways to handle it.
- One, freak out, melt down yourself, lose control and guarantee disaster. Or,
- Two, accept the reality of the situation, know that you can’t change what’s already happened and act quickly to salvage what you can.
I put my students into a Downward Facing Dog pose to buy myself a few seconds, ran over to the system, found another generic CD (this was just before iPods were on the scene), hit play, started laughing and made a joke about it, then resolved to teach the best damn class of my life.
Two minutes later, everyone was back in the groove, and, in the interview that followed with the editor, I explained “that’s not what usually happens.” I figured, hey, she could either choose to focus on the meltdown or the overall experience and how much the students seemed to enjoy it. I had no control over what would eventually end up in the magazine.
And, just my luck, guess what the article focused on? Meltdown Part 3
Yup, the sonic disaster. The awful blaring sound. Right there in the lead article, this was my introduction to the yoga world. Nice.
I cringed when I read it.
My heart almost beat out of my body. I was angry, frustrated, bummed. How could someone I’d actually had a lovely conversation with and explained the unusual nature of the situation, someone in the yoga world which is supposed to be all about non-judgment, do this? To me?
Time to step back and recover, once again.
As I read through the entire article, I realized that the focus was on hybrid approaches to the practice in the NY yoga scene. And, pretty much everyone in the article ended up getting trashed on some level. So, I was in good company. I like being among the mavericks, they generally end up being the innovators and leaders.
Plus, fact was, there was nothing “factually” wrong about what was written. The class was edgy and different. And, yes, there was a major equipment malfunction that pretty much derailed the entire premise of the experience. She couldn’t write about an experience she was “supposed” to have had.
And, any way you sliced it, my studio and I were featured in a major magazine. And, as I re-read the article, I discovered that, even in the bad reviews, there’s almost always a way to turn them positive.
There is was, staring at me.
A solitary line,
“Jonathan Fields, a muscular, dark-haired guy, walks in and begins a rigorous, powerful vinyasa session accompanied by music…By the end of class, we pour with sweat.”
The next day, guess what appeared in our flyers?
In the end, the whole experience taught me a powerful lesson, both in life and in business.
Some, you can avoid, others just plain happen, despite your best intentions and preparation. What determines your inevitable success, though, is not so much the “fact” of the meltdown, but how you “handle” the meltdown.
My approach is generally a four step process:
- Acknowledge the true nature of the meltdown – Don’t minimize it, don’t hyperbolize it. Just take it for what it is.
- Triage the meltdown – Quickly assess what needs fixing first. Where is the source of greatest pain? Where are the “mission critical” holes that need plugging.
- Respond to the the most emergent situations – Look for and solve source problems, before you move on to the lesser problems or symptoms. If you’ve got a hole in your boat, better to plug it first, then, bail water, rather than the other way around.
- Reflect, learn and correct – Once the situation has been resolved, take some time to debrief, to digest what has happened, assess what knowledge has come out of the situation, then implement changes in protocol that will allow you handle any similar challenges better in the future…or stop them from happening in the first place.
So, what about you?
Ever find yourself in a meltdown, personal or professional (nah, not you)?
Got any stories, tips, tactics or strategies you can share that’ll help us all handle meltdowns better?
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