I'm a guitar picker when I'm not ensconced in the world of walls and ceilings. I've been in bands, played and recorded, the usual. Everything but the fame and fortune! My most recent band broke up and for the first

time since 1991 or so, I have no band-and I like it. But what to do now? I don't want to stop playing or performing.

Since my playing has improved drastically over the years, I've decided it's time to challenge myself: I'm putting together a set of songs that I will sing and perform acoustically and alone. It's scary! And I have to be really good to play in this format. For better or worse, I'm one of those types who cannot resist taking the next step. Like Sailor, the character in "Uncommon Valor" who wore the grenade around his neck ... if the world ever got too weird for him, he'd just pull the pin and see what was next.

As business owners, I think it's extremely important to apply the same philosophy: to set realistic goals that, once reached, are no longer goals but the status quo; something to be surpassed. It's the same in bodybuilding: Once one is no longer challenged with the current set of weights, it's time to go heavier or no progress will be made.

I think that constantly raising the bar for ourselves as professionals keeps us more alive while indirectly surpassing competitors. I believe when Tommy Morrison was boxing well and winning, he used to say, "I'm the one getting up before sunrise to run 10 miles and I know my opponents aren't doing this."

Taking chances is scary. When we're comfortable, I think something clicks in our brains to nudge us to stay within our comfort zone. Our brains say, "Hey, relax! You're doing just fine, why rock the boat?" But what I'm talking about isn't gambling the whole business on an expensive new venture. Again, it's about realistic goals that one can achieve with no risk to the health of the business.

Try learning some new finishes or textures, add follow-up services for your customers who may need recurring attention. These are things one can add without disrupting what has already been proven successful. The end result could be more income and more contacts with customers, and other fellow contractors.

The upcoming W&C Business Solutions Conference (see pages 36 and 37 for details) is not only one such opportunity for a contractor to learn and network but also shows that we at W&C are willing to expand beyond the status quo. Yes, the conference will be a beneficial learning event for attendees but it's also an example that we practice what we preach around here!

Even if new ventures don't unfold the way we expect, the worst-case scenario is that one has learned and grown. But even if it doesn't work, it was done, and let not unrealized expectations prevent future ventures. Like truly great prize fighter Azumah Nelson said right before he avenged his loss to Aussie Jeff Fenech with a TKO: "Nobody beats me twice."

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Notice Walls & Ceilings has a shiny new look this month! Let us know what you think. Our wizard of an art director, James Hohner, one of the unsung heroes of our staff, deserves the credit for the redesign. Thanks, James!