I was playing a show in LA a couple months ago and after the performance I went to hang with friends in the crowd and have a couple drinks. A friend of a friend started talking to me about how she’s so happy to be a woman in her thirties, because she feels like she has started to encompass this new-found confidence that she doesn’t often see in women in their twenties. This stuck with me as a twenty-four year old - am I more clueless than I realize? Am I still a child? Just exactly how wrong am I about things that I think I’m so sure about? I wasn’t offended at all, rather moved by this idea I hadn’t really thought about before. I had previously kind of assumed that my twenties were super awesome until I started to examine them a little closer.
Rewind a month before this, I was laying in the park at Union Square with my friend Dave who is a lovely human and piano virtuoso. At the time we had both been in a black hole of visa struggles in the U.S., and he shared a similar story about an older friend who has a successful career who said his twenties were the worst years of his life. This older friend said that he doesn’t understand this stigma about one’s twenties being filled with sex, drugs, and rock n' roll… all that. Of course, I don’t know what his exact words were to Dave but this is what I got out of the conversation.
My twenties have been a massive struggle. Lately, I find myself often thinking back to college and high school; about how all I had to do was go to classes, rehearse and tour with my band, hang out with friends, and write scores. I didn’t have to worry about money. And that is a massive difference between then and now. Many twenty year olds find ourselves with the dilemma of how to divide up our time. How much time goes towards the chunks of time we have to spend earning money just to support ourselves (let’s call this the “day job”), and how much time goes towards creating (which early on you don’t get much money from)? There are the lucky few who hit gold within their first year out of college in their industry. They may be as incredibly lucky as to spend all their time only doing what they love and making all their money from that. But what about the rest of us who didn’t hit the jackpot? We’re just regular twenty-somethings with a crazy dream, a solid work-ethic, and a lot of us are walking around in this negative Celsius weather in New York thinking, “where are these glorious years I thought were promised to me in my twenties?”
You see I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know what I want. I have this pyramid visual in my head every morning and every night. At the top of the pyramid is that I want to be a performer and composer. Below this tip of the pyramid is money, food, a roof over my head, friends, family… etc. All these things support the thing at the very tip-top - the smallest, most untouchable part - but it stays afloat because the foundation, the rest of the pyramid, is there. Ironically, I spend most of my time making sure my foundation is functioning. It’s usually when one of the foundational levels crumble that I start to talk about giving up and how none of it makes sense. But it doesn’t mean you should give up, it just means you need to repair one aspect of your pyramid. This can seem daunting, and in my experience it’s a full-time job in itself, but it’s worth it if you get to experience what you believe is your “purpose” in life. I like to think of the thing at the very top as your purpose and function in the world that you feel most in tune with, rather than a career, because it’s so much more than just something you do. For me, it’s when I feel most like myself.
So you find yourself in this almost torturous cycle a lot of the time where the thing you work for often seems to be evading you, but it’s still the reason you get up in the morning. I read a long time ago about how tribes back in the day (I’m seriously simplifying here for the sake of this blog post) engaged in music and dance ceremonies so they could surpass their human bodies. They say when they would improvise song and dance, they would reach this stage where they become bigger than their bodies and “closer to God”. Their audience would watch their peers transcend into this spiritual place that you couldn't reach in day-to-day activities. Isn’t that why we put ourselves through this? So we can experience those fleeting moments, on stage or in the studio or writing a song alone in our bedrooms, where we feel greater than our physical limitations of being a human? Even the societal limitations? All of a sudden you can dream of yourself doing something so fucking awesome, so rad, and you believe it, and maybe even get a taste at times and that is enough for you to keep relentlessly chasing it. That to me, is ambition.
It makes a lot of sense to me then that my twenties, along with a lot of my friends around me, are so whack. Full of band members coming and going, getting hired and fired from jobs, getting dumped, falling in love for a split second, getting scammed, getting taken advantage of, getting rejected… all that good stuff. It’s like we have been reborn into a different world where mom and dad can’t bring you tea in bed or cover your rent when shit really hits the fan and you actually have to start considering how to pay for things like health insurance. It’s a very, very strange and unknown world and I’m honestly, happily treading water until I start to put the pieces together a little better. Some of them are there, and I’m thankful for that everyday, and the rest… I’ll figure it out in time.
Don’t beat yourself up because you haven’t gotten it right. There is no right or wrong - there is only trying your best. Even the president of the United States has to try bills and initiatives, for years and years, to eradicate issues present in an entire nation. How can we expect ourselves to have all the answers so early on when we are a different form of children, in a sense? I’m not going to pretend for a second that I have the answers, but rather just offer my personal experiences and completely subjective thoughts.
Go out into the world and keep trying things, and remember that one person’s path may not be yours. Your parents’ paths may not be yours. What you thought was your path, may not be any longer. Trust your instincts, stay focused, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Good luck and be brave.