Recently, I was having a conversation with a server at the local coffee shop about learning and playing music, and how frustrating it can be sometimes. She related that she had started learning guitar and stopped during a rough patch in her life. I told her I’d had a similar experience in the opposite direction.
In June 2012, I was going through a rough time (the particulars aren’t really relevant here), and I picked up a guitar that had been sitting in my apartment gathering dust for several years. I started playing and – perhaps more importantly – writing. There were some songs about what I felt I was going through, but also story songs about how I imagined people might feel in certain situations.
About that time, I found out about Open Mic Night at this coffee shop. So one night, I decided to take my guitar and a few cover songs I knew and get up on stage.
As background, I stand in front of people and talk just about every day. I’m a professor. That’s part of what I do. So I should have been comfortable going up on a stage in front of a small crowd of regulars, right?
Sitting up there that first night (I was too nervous to stand and play) with nothing to hide behind but a mic stand was one of the most terrifying things I’ve done in a long time.
But I remembered some advice I’d learned around that time. “It’s not awful.” As scared as I was to get up there, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the worst that could happen to me. The worst that could happen at Open Mic Night was that people wouldn’t like my singing. And I wasn’t getting up there for them. I was doing it for me.
The first night was okay. I sped through my cover tunes as my heart raced, but the audience was supportive. They applauded and said “good job.” It was a boost to hear that.
Which made the next week easier. And the next, and the next. The more I played, the more I got back in touch with what I liked about music, and connected musically with some of my favorite musicians through covers of their songs. And a year later, I did a full 2-hour show of originals and cover songs. There were five people there to listen, including one colleague. But that was okay, too. Because I wasn’t really doing it for them. I was doing it because I had to do it for me.
That may not make a lot of sense, but you’ll probably come across a situation in your life where you desire to do something for yourself, and it’s not really important what other people feel. Maybe it’s something you used to love to do, but you stopped doing it for whatever reason.
Maybe you’ll be scared or fearful. Just remember: It’s not awful.
Since that night I got up on stage, sweating and gritting my teeth just to get through 12 minutes, I’ve written about 20 other songs, started a band, and recorded a demo of six of them with a quality studio engineer. Life hasn’t all been sweetness and light since then, but I’ve been doing okay.
All because I was in a dark place and picked up an old friend.