How I Learned I Can't Be Anything I Want (in a Coffee Shop Holding a Guitar)
As a participation trophy kid (millenial), I grew up under the guise that I could 'do anything I set my mind to.' And while I'm very thankful for my parents instilling that self belief in me, there had to be a time when that front came crashing down. That time came in a coffee shop, with me holding a guitar sitting next to an actually talented musician.
When I was in High School I performed slam poetry around town ('slam poetry' referring to a rhythmic, lyrical type beat poetry). At one point I was actually quite decent for my age and experience level, so I thought that meant I could perform in other ways too. My dad worked in the music industry while I was growing up so I also thought that made me a sure fire rockstar in the making. As you can probably imagine, I cannot sing.
My friend Matthew is a very talented musician. He's a singer and songwriter who now plays with a band called Bear Heart Band. I had opened up for him at a few shows around town doing my slam poetry and we were good buddies so he indulged me when I brought along my guitar and talked about songwriting.
You know those memories that you look back at and think, "Why didn't someone stop me?!" This is one of those.
Anyways, one night he invited me to play a coffee shop show with him at a place in Grassland. Matthew is a wonderfully nice person and I think he believed the best in me and probably knew I needed to play live to learn how hard it is. So I showed up woefully unprepared and panicked outside the coffee shop for thirty minutes prior to starting.
You see, I also never enjoyed practicing music. I just wanted to write songs--I didn't want to practice other people's songs. This made me a terrible bandmate for my friends when we dreamed of starting our own Blink-182 ish punk band. In all fairness, my Dad tried several times to encourage me to practice, but it never worked.
The show was a total disaster.
We decided to set it up in an alternating style so he would play a song and then I'd play a song. I had 5 songs and none of them were finished. He had dozens of polished, eloquent melodies that involved chords I'd never seen before and he crooned them away with his "Ray Lamontagne-ish" voice that made more than a few girls swoon. I screeched makeshift melodies alongside guitar chords that probably don't even make sense.
At the end of the show everyone went outside and I listened as Matthew was inundated with compliments. No one said a thing to me.
That's when I learned that I couldn't do anything I wanted to--or rather that I wasn't entitled to be listened to without first mastering my craft. Realistically, there are plenty of great musicians who don't have great voices, but they work their butts off to compensate.
The Caveat of Greatness
I've heard a lot of complaints about the entitlement of my generation and I think there's merit to both sides of the argument but everyone needs to agree that there is one gigantic caveat to greatness--you have to work your butt off (and even that might not be enough).
In middle school I wanted to be a professional basketball player. Had I spent every waking hour from then until now working on my basketball skills, I still would not be a professional player today. I'm not tall enough, fast enough, athletically gifted enough, aggressive enough... you get it.
So should I tell my kids they can do anything?
Honestly, I don't know. Part of me thinks that there's no harm in instilling the belief that the opportunities are endless early on so as to not force my realities on them. But at the same time, I think it's important to understand that just wanting to do something is not enough. You have to actually do it (and practice a ton). And in the case of me and being a singer/songwriter--sometimes it's just not in the cards.