I am 32 years old and hate myself for not pursuing my dreams before now. I’ve always wanted to be a singer-songwriter and musician, but after almost two years of voice lessons, songwriting classes, and instrument practice, I’m seriously questioning the decision to focus on music. For one, I’m not a 16-year-old with a trainable voice, unlimited income, and free time. I hate the sound of my own voice, even if other people are a bit more forgiving. It annoys me to no end when people (including my own mother) say, “Well, you aren’t the best singer, but…”
All of which begs the question: Is it too late for me? Will I ever be able to improve? Or am I going to waste another 10,000 hours on something I can’t even do in the first place?
Slightly Out of Tune
I’ve been eavesdropping on your music lessons for the past few months and I can tell you unequivocally, you have it, girl. Seriously. Ella, Beyoncé, Joni, and Aretha have nothing on you. If you don’t devote your life and soul to songwriting and performance, I will set my ears on fire.
I’m sorry to write this, but after getting your letter, I Googled you, found an audio clip, and made it through Do Re Me before shutting it off. Have you thought about law school or maybe inventing a new sandwich?
I am telling you exactly nothing you don’t already know. You have a Choose Your Own Adventure book open to the first page, and the next step is entirely up to you. I can give you as many gold stars or heckles as you like, but you will hear what you want to hear.
It sounds like you believe in your dream theoretically, but the fact that you hate your own voice makes me sad and scared for you. Do you really hate your voice, or are you saying that to beat some critic to the punch? Here’s a fun fact about pursuing your dearest wish: It is ridiculously fun and can shatter your world all in one breath. And if you don’t strap on your scuba mask and mermaid tail now, there’s no way you will make it through the snarls of scrutiny in this big sea.
Even though I’m an oft-forsaken Jewish delicacy, I don’t mean to guilt you, Slightly. But I do have to say, the fact that you have this opportunity to pursue your dreams is huge. Stop wasting it fretting over everyone else’s opinion, and chew on this:
1. What makes you feel strong and alive?
2. Do you lose track of time when you are singing? Writing? Creating?
3. Who are your heroes and why?
Here are some creative geniuses I admire, who grapple with self-doubt in the open and make art out of it.
1. Amy Schumer, brilliant comedian and superstar. In a recent interview with Maria Shriver, Amy said, “On the Internet people will write about me and they’ll be like, She is the most disgusting creature I’ve ever seen. And then other people will say, She’s super hot. And they’re both right. You’re not gonna be what everybody loves. But you have to love yourself.”
2. Jenny Slate, phenomenal writer, actress, and hilarity-producer. If you haven’t yet watched her short video, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” you haven’t lived. I loved when she was asked how she came up with this character, and she told about a time when she was so broke she was in a motel room with three friends, lost in fear:
“I was squished in there with all those boys and I was stressed out and about to be fired from SNL—which is neither here nor there—but at the time I was just waiting to get slapped in the face and feeling a bit constricted because of all of these things in my life. And then I started to talk in this little voice and my husband was like ‘What is that voice?!’”
3. Ben, a dear friend of mine who had a very fun and lucrative career as a producer. But that wasn’t fulfilling his dream. So at age 40 he went back to college and started taking the pre-med requirements he’d skipped 20 years ago. There he was in class with a bunch of kids half his age more excited about beer pong than mitosis. Talk about seriously questioning his identity and purpose. It was an epic slog through self-doubt and dissecting frogs, and that was before he even got to med school. Two years into his rotation, he was put on a plane to deliver a fresh set of lungs for a transplant surgery. Traveling from a family who had just lost life, to another family that was about to be reborn. Holy horseradish, if that’s not a miraculous moment of creative wonder, I have to check my due date.
Slightly, I know this is not an easy thing you are doing, and frankly I’m telling you it’s not going to get any easier. I know because I bob between laughter and self-doubt every moment. I once had a dreamy job performing every night of the week with comic geniuses like Keegan-Michael Key and Stephnie Weir. I felt invincible when I was on stage in a leopard-print bathrobe and tambourine. But when the lights came down, I drank a lot of dirty wine and tried to scratch jokes into my skin with an angry blade.
Do I miss those days of performing terribly? You betcha.
Do I want to ruin myself for the sake of art? Not so much.
It’s so hard to trust that we’re on the right path. Especially when we’re hardwired to produce and provide and make every minute a lean-in-to-take-away lesson.
So I’ll make you a deal, Slightly.
You and I both have a year. A year to commit to getting on some stage and singing (or tambourining) as loudly as possible. To making ourselves shake with vulnerability and wonder.
And let’s see what we hear.
With love and schmaltz,
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