Everything I Need to Know About Business I Learned in Marching Band

In between my studies at the University of Oregon (see previous post for more on that), I was a member of the marching band. As much fun as it was a time commitment, being in the marching band was an unpaid part-time job that I absolutely loved. The camaraderie, the unforgettable trips, and the opportunity to become a better musician alongside great friends… it was a priceless experience that defined my college years.

When I reflect back on those times, the parallels between when I learned then and what I’m putting into practice now as a small business owner are striking. It got me thinking: what are some of the key lessons I learned back then that I still draw upon?

Punctuality matters. Our band director said to us at least once every rehearsal: “To be early is to be on time; to be on time is to be late; to be late is to be dead.” It was constantly drilled into us that to show up late for a rehearsal or a performance wasn’t just unacceptable: it wasn’t an option. Lateness would bump you down a grade level, and you definitely did not want to be That Guy who didn’t make call time. To this day, I recite “To be early is to be on time…” to myself when I’m en route to an appointment. Time is money, and punctuality is a form of respect.

It’s not about you. When you’re one of 250 musicians, it may not seem like you matter much as an individual. But when there’s an empty spot in the drill, or when one of five bass drummers isn’t there, it’s obvious that something is missing. For as many times as I may have felt like blowing off rehearsal, I knew that doing so would earn me scorn from my peers and negatively affect the group. As a business owner, I have to be able to empathize with my client and put my personal feelings aside to meet objectives.

Use your resources. Many a problem can be solved with duct tape and a roll of paper towels (makeshift soundproofing, anyone?) and knowing how to get creative with the resources at one’s disposal is a hallmark of success. When the marching band went on trips, each member was given a per diem for meals. One can only marvel at the resourcefulness of college kids when a modest amount of cash is involved: making the hotel continental breakfast last all day and buying food at the grocery store instead of meals out to stretch the few precious dollars we had. It’s a valuable lesson, especially for a one-woman start-up like me.

Effort > talent. Latent ability means nothing if it’s not used and put into practice. Simply having talent won’t take you far if you’re not going to develop it, refine it, and share it with the world. And to that end, humility > privilege and personal growth > achievement.

Rests are just as important as the notes you play. This was a common refrain from my drumline instructor: in a passage of music, you must take the full value of rests for the notes to make sense. You can’t rush through the rest to get to the next note: it’s a lesson about musicality, and also about giving ourselves the time and space to just be before moving on to the next thing. Rest is necessary to achieve quality work, and the rests in a piece of music (and in life) are tantamount to a complete performance.

There’s no glory in being in the marching band, at least not in high school when football players and cheerleaders were at the top of the social pecking order, but it’s funny how much time changes people and priorities in life. My time in the marching band was as educational as it was fun, and it prepared me well for life after college and the larger lessons of the business world. I’m forever grateful for the experience — and for the incredible teachers, mentors, and friends I’m still close with today.

(The image for this post is of the University of Oregon drumline in 2001. I’m the shortest snare drummer, right in between the two tallest ones. Great times; Go Ducks!)