Kacy on RIngs 1

Kacy reaches the next ring after almost falling off…

Have you allowed yourself to believe that you can't accomplish something because you're not tall enough, not strong enough, not smart enough, not as skinny, not as good-looking, not as coordinated, not as flexible…? The list can be endless, if you let it.

We all wish we had different traits, body characteristics, perfect looks, but the fact of the matter is no one is perfect. And that's why it is so inspiring and uplifting to witness people accomplish what seems to be the impossible.

If you are a fan of the television show, American Ninja Warrior, you know exactly what I am talking about. This show, a spin-off from the Japanese version, Sasuke,  features incredible athletes, ages 21 and up, from all parts of the country attempting to defeat some of the most craziest and insane obstacles ever created. Olympians, football players, gymnasts, stuntmen and women, free-runners, Parkour athletes, rock climbers all compete against a course designed to weed out those who do not have the mental strength, stamina and determination needed for this Herculean task.

For women, the Ninja Warrior courses have been particularly difficult as many of the obstacles are designed for incredible upper body strength, grip strength and a long reach. Last week, Kacy Catanzaro (#MightyKacy), a  former NCAA Southeast Regional Gymnast of the Year from Towson University,  did the unimaginable – she was the first woman to complete the city finals, and one of only seven people overall to complete the course. She is now headed to the final stages, the place where no American has ever conquered: Mt. Midoriyama.

“She is one of the most talented athletes I know.”     Brent Steffensen, Kacy's boyfriend and 4-time Mt. Midoriyama competitor

What makes this story really special is that Kacy is only 5 feet tall and 100 lbs! Men twice her size were not able to conquer the course. Some of the obstacles, like the Pole Grab, require a reach of 5 feet, which knocked out many taller competitors.

“I would say that my weight is an advantage because I’m light, so I don’t have to hold up as much weight,” she told Vulture. “But I think that my height and my size is definitely a disadvantage because my arms are a lot shorter when it comes to reaching things, my legs are a lot shorter when it comes to jumping to things, stuff like that.”        Kacy Catanzaro

Kacy conquers 14 ft wall

Kacy conquers 14 ft wall

If you still are having a hard time imagining that this is an incredible accomplishment, watch the video below…

So what does all this warrior stuff have to do with music?

Performers of any age and skill level go through self-defeating talk at times. We feel that it so much easier for others to play those demanding runs with ease, hit those screaming high notes, or create that amazing, memorable solo on the spot.

Yet what we don't realize is that EVERY performer at some stage in their life has had their own challenges that seemed insurmountable at that time. They had those same doubts going through their minds for a very brief time.

The difference is that the people who have achieved great things in their lives have approached challenges with a mindset that allows for taking risks, making mistakes and learning from those mistakes.

Mistakes are okay…

Many of us are taught at a young age that it is not okay to make a mistake. If we fail a test or fail at a task it is a bad thing.

The only bad thing is if we let a particular failure define us and prevent us from learning the necessary lessons from that failure to move forward.

When I was younger, failing at something meant I was a bad person. I would take each failure personally. I worked really hard to avoid those same mistakes again, but I didn't learn the lesson of using those failures and mistakes as guideposts for fixing certain techniques that needed more attention.

Failures are a way to rise to the challenge of solving problems and becoming creative with solutions.

I recently listened to a podcast where my mentors Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferriss were talking about how people mistakenly believe that rich people or celebrities don't have any more problems or challenges. As Tim put it,

” …when you conquer your current set of problems, you trade up and get a new set of problems.”  Tim Ferriss

So for a beginner musician, the challenge may be to play a particular scale with a good tone and plenty of breath support. An intermediate musician may have difficulty with mastering a piece in 5/8 meter. An advanced musician may find it challenging to improvise over the changes to Giant Steps.

It's not the fact that problems exist, it's that we each need to come up with our own system for solving those problems.

Systematically approaching your problems or challenges, and looking for the lessons to be learned can help you move ahead. Then the idea is to not let those failures define you.  As Derek Halpern, another mentor, states,

“When something bad happens, you have a decision to make. You can either let it cripple you, or move on as fast as possible.”   Derek Halpern

 Assess your strengths and weaknesses…

What made Kacy's run so memorable was that she identified her strengths and weaknesses, but found ways to use her strengths to her advantage.

If you watch the video, there's one part towards the end where she is on the Pole Grab and the announcers, and even her fellow Ninja Warriors were saying that this obstacle was going to be so hard for her because of her height; the reach was too far.

She used her gymnastics and rock climbing background to move from one pole to the next with precise body control and grip strength so that the pole that was 5 feet away was not as big a challenge as everyone thought.


Kacy uses every inch of her 5ft body to reach the next pole.

Kacy uses every inch of her 5ft body to reach the next pole.

As musicians, it's really important to assess what areas we need more work on and what areas we are comfortable with. Here's what you can do:

  • Use a tape recorder while performing passages, solos or excerpts and listen to the recording away from your instrument, so you can be more objective.
  • Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and objectively plan how to address them.
  • Create long term, middle-range, and short-term goals.
  • Choose one or two goals per week, or even per month to work on.
  • Aim for 1% improvement every day.


After watching Kacy Catanzaro destroy the Dallas Finals course on American Ninja Warrior, and become the ONLY female competitor to make it to the national finals, we all can be inspired to set our own “impossible” goals, and strive for 1% achievement every day. And if we fail momentarily, it's okay because there's a life lesson that needs to be learned in order to get to the next level.  So…..what are you waiting for?

Action Steps:

  1. Did this blog resonate with you? Share your story in the Comments below, and read more articles to motivate you and your students here.
  2. Want more tips to improve your musical performance? Sign up for my weekly newsletter below…