The other day my husband and I were enjoying a dinner out and got into a conversation with our lovely waitress (it was rather late in the evening and the restaurant was quieting down). Turns out she is an aspiring singer who dreams of making it big. She's waitressing in Manchester, NH and trying to decide what her next move should be. So I asked her if she had a demo, and she's going to work on one. And I asked her if she had a pro FB page, or a website, and she doesn't. And I asked her if she writes songs, and she said she used to but hadn't in a while. So I said, "What are you doing to make your dream come true?" and she said not much, really because, she said, she is afraid to fail. And right now she is stuck in the day-to-day of waitressing, seeing her friends and her boyfriend, paying the bills and so forth. She needs desperately to get unstuck before today's choices become tomorrow's stumbling blocks.
I've had conversations like this with young people before, and it always drives me kinda crazy because I wish that someone like me had spoken to me 30 years ago. What I mean is...I wish someone older had really encouraged me to GO FOR IT in a big way and not be afraid.
I was not raised to GO FOR IT. Without disparaging my parents, who did, in fact, give me the gift of piano lessons, I have to admit that they were not the type of people who thought of the possibilities outside of our home. I was discouraged from going to college ( I went anyway, thanks to my sister) and the first time I was invited to go to another town to sing (at a church) was when I was 19 years old and my mother absolutely refused to let me go because she was afraid something bad might happen to me. I don't want to go any more into my upbringing than that; I just want to say that I wasn't raised with "wings." I was raised with fear. Wings were something I had to grow on my own, and it took me a looooong time to develop the confidence that is needed to make it big in the performing arts world.
When I did get the chance to go to college, I was told by several of my high school teachers that I should study Music Education, because I should have a "fall back plan." I wish I'd never heard those words, because (as I've learned later in life) they are based on fear. You're afraid you're gonna fail at what you're good at and what you love, so you plan something solid for when you do fail. You know what? If you have a fall-back plan, you fall back. You never work hard enough at your dream to make it come true.
It ended up that though I spent three years in the Music Ed. program, I never got a degree in Music Ed. I dropped out after my Junior year when I accidentally became a radio deejay (that's a story for another time). I worked at a radio station and sang at a piano bar for a year, and when I went back to school and got my degree it was a Bachelor's in Music. I still had a fall-back plan, but now it was radio and not teaching.
At the age of 26, having worked in radio full-time for several years and singing "on the side," I finally got up the guts to leave Maine and move to Nashville and try to make it there. I had radio as my fall-back plan (oh, and a husband by that time too!). I was so terrified and intimated by all the excellent musicians around me that I hardly dared to open my mouth to say I was a songwriter, let alone go on auditions. I finally did audition for the famed Bluebird Cafe, got a slot on open mic night and was received well enough that I was invited back. Meanwhile, the radio station I worked for went bankrupt and, in a panic because I needed that fall-back plan, I got another radio job outside of Nashville which involved our leaving the state and I never got that chance to play at the Bluebird again. Fear, fear, fear. If I'd known then what I know now, I would have lived on the street to get the chance to play at the Bluebird again. Who knows what might have happened?
I'm not sure if I'm expressing myself eloquently enough here, but I guess the real point I'm trying to make is that if you are reading this, and you have a dream, you need to be courageous, not fearful. Forget the dang fall-back plan. Yes, you need to earn a living, but do something (like waitressing, if need be) that you are not invested in and spend ALL of your free time working on your passion to make your dream come true. There is no blueprint for making it in the performing arts world, but if you are dedicated, courageous and willing to take chances, you will find your way.
So I never got to be as famous as Madonna (who I believe does not have a fearful bone in her body) but I finally got the guts to make the leap and go into music full-time just 15 years ago...and I have never regretted it. My only regret is that I was not courageous enough when I was young to really go for the gold. Now, however, I've learned how to take risks and go out on limbs to try to make my career bigger...which is why I'm going on this nutty tour in December. I'm still hoping for that hit record, and if it never happens then at least I will know when I'm 97 years old that I tried as much as I could and I never gave up, and that's the legacy I leave for my children and maybe my grandchildren.
I'll probably never be invited to speak at a college commencement, but if I did I would say to the graduates: Don't have a fall-back plan!! The world is filled with gifted people who have fallen back. You are young, you are talented and you have no encumbrances....put all of your energies into developing your talent into a career and take every chance and every risk and never sit by the phone afraid to pick it up and make that call, and never be afraid to walk through that door or ask that person for help. BE COURAGEOUS.
I would end that speech with my favorite quote in the whole world, and I hope you take it to heart....
"Of what use is a dream if not a blueprint for courageous action?"