When I was young, I had a dream of performing my music in front of a sea of people. I may have been about 12 years old. It was just me, under a spotlight, holding a guitar, a microphone was on a stand in front of me. I don’t know what song I may have been about to sing, but it felt good to be there.
I started writing and composing my own music when I was around 16. I had dabbled and experimented some with cheaper keyboards, but when I got a machine that could actually save and store ideas, more than mere bits and pieces of songs, I was off to the races. There was no end to the ideas, and any new sound or canned rhythm offered a new inspiration in short order. I’d write the beginnings of hundreds of songs in a few years, many of which had lyrics as well. I still have a container of 3.5-inch floppy disks that the keyboard used for external storage. This was several years before moving over to a DAW and learning how to produce with the help of MIDI and computers.
“I think you should choose an easier one.”
I can’t recall what exactly the event was, but I needed to produce a cover performance of a popular song for a recital or competition. I wanted to do my own version of “Black Or White” by Michael Jackson. It was a challenge I felt more than capable of, and I loved the song — and pretty much anything MJ. There was no singing involved, just the music. My father didn’t agree, suggesting I should choose something easier (that was kind of his thing, looking back; take the easier path). I remember that moment had deflated me quite a bit. I really could have used a “Hell yeah! Go for it!” at the time. I’d never had much confidence, when looking for or needing external feedback, so this was unreasonably defeating. I ended up doing a song by Madonna, I think. It went over well, but it cost me in other ways.
Other ideas (or, limiting beliefs) piled up, over time. “You need a base — a job to support you, then you can be free to pursue your music” and “You have to have a diploma, something to fall back on” and other such notions steadily tempered and dulled my motivation and aspirations. Unfortunately, I was a stubborn kid, and had already amassed a significant amount of resentment toward my parents by my late-teens, so any and all advice was essentially the opposite of what I would choose to do.
I hadn’t decided toward anything in post-secondary education because nothing was really interesting to me in the job world. High school was boring and torturous, so why would I want to go to yet another institution? I strongly considered I.T. and computer engineering, having clocked endless hours coding and playing with programming basics. It was a creative outlet, so there was some real enjoyment there… but I didn’t, or wouldn’t commit. I had some decent jobs, which could have held me up, supported me and offered promotions, stability and such, but very few lasted more than a year or two, if that. Financially, I’d get back to “zero”, and jump ship. I wanted to make music, and nothing else mattered.
These weren’t my finest hours. And I paid for it, many times, in many ways. My parents weren’t entirely wrong, and they were only looking out for my best interests, based on their own paradigms and experiences. I understand that, now, but I would have benefitted from handling it better, instead of adopting the “I’ll show them” attitude, and proceeding to fail and stumble forward for the next few decades, essentially going nowhere in particular.
The Happy/Sad Introvert
In my own space, away from anyone’s interruption or intervention, I thrived in blissful abandon. I could produce prolifically the things I loved to produce. I could sing to my heart’s content, create beautiful compositions, imagine scenes for music videos. I visualized stage sets, and how a band, choir or orchestra might look or sound for certain (epic) song performances. But it was all in my head. I couldn’t ever get to the next step, to dare greatly beyond my imagination — and with such a rich, fulfilling imagination, reality would have a nearly impossible standard to live up to (this “gift” would prove tragic in most of my romantic experiences, as well; don’t idolize/idealize people). I didn’t have a terribly good reason for it, save the usual excuses; shy, introverted, no confidence, no fans or audience as of yet, no finances, no clear direction or plan of action; fear of success, and, of course, fear of failure. No big deal, right?
My mother had tried numerous times over the years to nudge and push me a little to get out to radio stations or find a way to promote myself, but I rejected all of her offers and ideas. Partly, because I “knew” there was a certain way the music business worked, there were certain expected procedures; you can’t just go knocking on the doors of these people without some sort of representation or credibility (total bullshit). Partly, because I was terrified of what might happen if they didn’t like my material (when you love what you make too much, you get over-protective, and a little stupid). I know it now to be little more than self-sabotage, and adolescent behavior that repeatedly stalled my momentum in any positive way.
The point of this all is to simply say, don’t do as I did. It ain’t worth the pain.
There’s absolutely no reason to live with such regrets, nor to delay in pursuing your authentic desires. We have these impulses and yearnings and callings for a reason. The simple truth is that we’re pulled toward these dreams and aspirations, because we are imbued at least to some degree with the capability and capacity to make them happen (though rarely all by ourselves; another fantabulous mistake of mine). You’ve likely already proven it to yourself — in small ways that you don’t necessarily count or consider worthy of note. But it’s the same process in all things, regardless of scale. The key is not to limit your capacity based on what you’ve dreamt possible, for it could likely be far greater than you’ve imagined, when you get deep into it and follow the flow. Or, it could be something entirely different — and even more expansive and fulfilling — but the motivation and energetic momentum you needed came from that initial conceptualization, which was necessary to propel you to where you’re meant to be.
Arguably, I am exactly where I need to be, regardless of self-reproach and judgment of my levels of success, or lack thereof. Ultimately, very little matters, and life will carry on whether we dare to delve into what terrifies us, or play it safe. Fear, of course, is based entirely on mistakenly living outside of the present; on predictions, expectations and illusions based on a limited scope of our current understanding and experience. Whether we help and support others in achieving their dreams (which I did by default, though somewhat begrudgingly) or we take the plunge and pursue our own, it’s all good.
The only thing we can ever change about the past is our perspective of it. We can load it up with negative, soul-suppressing, self-negating values and beliefs, or we can chalk it up to necessary and essential experience, and begin again, right now; we can always choose a different path, build new habits, commit to a plan, and design a life more aligned with our deepest preferences and desires.