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“I want to breathe, I want to grow”
I was at my aunt’s house visiting with family in December 1996. She had an old acoustic guitar sitting in the corner. I picked it up and started fooling around with it. I asked her to take it home, and she was fine with it.
I spent the next few months learning how to tune it and play chords to songs that I liked. For my 17th birthday, my parents bought me an electric guitar and an amp. After another month or two noodling in my bedroom, I needed more.
I signed up for guitar lessons at the local music shop. The teacher and I immediately connected. He knew that my interest wasn’t in scales and theory — he knew that I wanted to play songs. So he had me bring in songs that I wanted to learn. I vividly remember taking CDs into his studio so that he could write down what was going on in the song, so that I could practice on my own during the week.
After taking lessons for a bit and continuing to learn songs in my bedroom, I knew I needed more.
My guitar teacher hosted a local open mic night — he fronted the house band and anyone could get up and sit in with the band. He gave me a few songs to learn and before I knew it, I was a weekly regular.
I distinctly remember working at the golf course on a night where I was going to the open mic afterwards. I was making chit-chat with my co-workers about what we were going to do after work. Most of it was predictable — getting some fast food, seeing friends, watching TV, playing video games. But when it was my turn, I talked about going to the open mic night. My colleagues looked at me like I had three heads. They had no idea why I’d voluntarily want to do something like that.
Looking back on it now, it’s obvious why I wanted to get up in front of people and show off my budding guitar and vocal skills. I wanted to prove to myself and others that I could do it. Not only that I could do it; but that I was actually good enough to be doing it. It wasn’t the first time in my life that I’d performed music in front of people — I was a member of the school orchestra and choir. But getting up in front of a bar full of people and fronting a highly capable rock band was something very different.
In the 25 years since, I continued my journey with music. I got tired of open mic nights and started my own cover band. I got tired of playing other people’s music and started making my own. I got frustrated depending on other people to help me realize my artistic vision, and started doing it solo. In each case, the change was borne out of a desire to grow. Each change stretched me in a way that I wouldn’t have been had I stayed in a stasis.
When we are called to prove ourselves, we have to do it for two audiences. The first audience is our internal audience — literally to ourselves. The second audience is external. It’s not just enough to think (or know) that we can do something. Or to think (or know) that we have changed. We must demonstrate it to the world.
Radiohead — “Prove Yourself”
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