“Let me live that fantasy.” I remember playing Lorde’s first hit single, “Royals”, back in 2012, both loving the poetic lyrics and thumping rhythm, and hating her for being two years younger than me and topping the charts. Let me set the scene – in 2012 I was eighteen years old, freshly graduated from high school and freshly moved to Memphis, with baby fat cheeks, a mildly unfortunate pixie cut and far more insecurities than friends. I considered myself a creative, an artist/musician/author/probably some other renaissance-woman stuff I had yet to figure out, but was constantly berating myself for lacking the courage to share my content with others.
I was a teenager just 5-10 short years ago, but even that slight temporal shift I think has made a world of difference in how young people, especially young creatives, view themselves and compare themselves to others. When I was in high school, it was completely ground-breaking if you had an iPhone 3, or a smart phone at all–most kids had Facebook, but parents hadn’t figured out what it was yet, Instagram was still an infant and Snapchat was a fetus. Five years ago, Instagram was more of a platform for sharing overly filtered photographs of Kit-Kat bars and cloudy skies, and less of a platform for social flexing and self-promotion. I didn’t have any outlets that felt safe or accessible to share my creative work as a teenager, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable utilizing them.
Teenage me was awkward (big duh because who wasn’t) and didn’t realize that awkwardness is the chrysalis in which teenagers become adults. I was desperate to already be the most fully formed, impressive, beautiful, talented version of myself possible. Seeing celebrities succeed at age 20, 18, 16, even 12, in the fields that most interested me seemed like universal proof that the sand in my hour glass was slipping out, and if I didn’t butterfly the heck up soon, I would never succeed. Note that this is without the added pressure of seeing air-brushed and photo-shopped 15 year olds getting thousands of likes on the Gram for hawking flat tummy tea, or for being perfectly grunge, apathetic, and aesthetic.
Social media shows us the highlight reel of other people’s lives. It shows us polish, it shows us the 1 selfie out of 500 in which the angle, lighting, and smirk aligned with the stars. As a young person, as a creative, it can be completely terrifying to begin showing your work, because it seems like it pales in comparison. You are privy to your own blooper reel of zits and your voice cracking on the high note, and the embarrassing song lyrics you wrote when you were 13 that will remain permanently stuffed in your desk drawer and revealed to nobody ever in life. Especially if you, like me, are already an anxious, insecure person, the prospect of throwing your own imperfect work out into a sea of seemingly superior competition is paralyzing.
I didn’t work up the courage to showcase my music in a public setting until I was 22 years old. Not that that’s ancient, but I had totally swallowed the stats about how if you haven’t already made it in show biz as a teenager, you’re already old news. I finally got the guts to play a show because I figured it didn’t matter, and my ego had dulled from the red hot nuclear energy of puberty into a pleasant blue understanding that even if I tried to sing and sounded like Nanny Fran in a blender, most people would forget about it by the next morning.
So one sticky spring night in 2016, I gathered my courage and plugged in my keyboard at the Lamplighter Lounge, finally ready to share the music I had been hoarding since youth. I took a deep calming breath, put my fingers to the keys, and totally bombed. I cannot impart to you how hard I bombed. My voice shook and cracked, my hands and legs trembled uncontrollably, and I forgot the lyrics to songs I had written myself and sung hundreds of times. I flew mortified from the stage, certain I would never perform again.
A couple months later, I was asked to play a pop-up show at Urban Outfitters, where I worked at the time, and I heard myself agreeing to do it. I figured playing the piano was better than folding panties, and there was no way I could do as badly as I did at the Lamplighter. I was right. My hands still shook, my leg still trembled, and I didn’t hit every high note, but I did ok. People clapped. People told me which song was their favorite. Best of all, your very own GrrlPunch founders asked me to play at a fundraising event they were hosting at the Broad Avenue Water Tower the next month. My first real gig! Each subsequent show I played led to another opportunity- and each show my hands and feet and voice and confidence shook a bit less.
It took me four years to stop comparing my rough draft to other people’s final product. It took me four years to be ok with failure. It took me four years to share my art–and that is totally and completely and absolutely ok. The timeline of a celebrity that lands a chart-topping hit at age 16 doesn’t have to correlate with your personal timeline in order for you to succeed. Success and confidence and creativity come in waves, and come to people at different times and in different places. If you’re struggling with self-doubt, insecurity, and/or the confidence to share your work, that’s ok. Just know that your doubts do not reflect on the art itself, or on your ability to succeed.
I thought I knew where my path was taking me at age 18, even at age 21. I had no idea that by age 24 I would have an EP on iTunes/Spotify, or be opening for my favorite local bands, or that I would be planning my first tour. The way that I achieved my dreams was to be ok with throwing my rough drafts out into an ocean of final products. I had to swallow my pride and understand that I might not be the best or the brightest or the most polished, but I had passion, and more importantly than that, I was willing to fail, and willing to grow. As an artist, failing and growing are two constants that never cease.
Every successful artist out there who has built themselves up from nothing, has failed dozens or hundreds or thousands of times before achieving success. Part of being an artist, part of being a musician, is cataloguing your failures and your short-comings and learning from them and growing from them. It’s seeing the other people, especially the other women, who are succeeding and being inspired rather than jealous. It’s learning to collaborate, appreciate, and learn rather than compete and fear.
I broke the chains of insecurity when I had already given up on my dream ever becoming a reality. I encourage you to do the same. There is no timeline or paved road to success, especially as a creative. The one constant is allowing yourself to release your imperfect art into the world.