THE ANONYMOUS HUSTLE: Chapter 1 - Beginner's Mind

Let me level with you. I’m a terrible perfectionist. So terrible that I’ve been staring at this sentence for over five minutes wondering if this is the right start to this post. I don’t know if it’s just me but I used to associate perfectionism with something positive. It meant that the attention to detail and the willingness to be nothing more than exceptional guaranteed me a spot in the line to success. What I realize now is that this grossly mutated version of my perfectionism manifested out of fear and rejection. (This paragraph took me almost forty-five minutes to write, by the way. It’s that bad.)

About six years ago, I won a singing competition and was sent overseas to compete in China. At this point in my life, I thought, “This is it. This is my shot at being an Asian pop star.” At sixteen, I had fantasized about being catapulted into fame after being discovered on a singing show and subsequently breaking all the norms of what the Chinese music industry expected because my fans would be so loyal that the big wigs wouldn’t have any choice but to let me be me. Then I’d be revered by my idol (mentioned in my preface to this blog series), we’d write an album together and fall in love. That shit didn’t happen. Not even cloooosssseeeee. The reality of it all was that my heart wasn’t in it. The quirk that is me didn’t fit into this dream that I’d created in my head. I didn’t know this until I realized how happy I was being sent home. So much had happened during my short time there, both good and bad, but little did I know that one sliver of a thought that slightly resembled rejection had managed to burrow into my psyche for the next six years. It fed my underlying perfectionism unbeknownst to me. By the time I knew, it had mutated into an oversized, vein-throbbing monstrosity that still, to this day, hovers over my shoulder at all hours of the day.

I was told I couldn’t sing by a judge. I by no means was (am) a great singer but I knew that wasn’t true. I thought my rationality had won but this began my unhealthy obsession with having a flawless voice which then led to an obsession with having flawless everything. Instead of letting myself make mistakes while discovering my identity, I squashed any semblance of “imperfection”. I couldn’t stand being mediocre. I was never happy with my music and every time someone asked me about my music, I felt like a fraud talking about my dreams. All I could think when I tried to create something was, “This has to be it. This needs to be my best work.” I took everything too seriously when I had my stupidly high expectations strapped to my back. I forgot how to just play.

My counsellor introduced me to the concept of Beginner’s Mind. It’s pretty much as it sounds. You approach whatever you’re doing with the mindset of a beginner. No expectations, just pure curiosity and play. Music (and creativity in general) is meant to be playful. We have goals and deadlines to help us grow but music itself is meant to be enjoyed in the moment. Nobody wants their favourite song to end. Nobody goes to a concert with the intent of going home. Not unless you were on the worst date imaginable, then yes. That final applause couldn’t come any sooner. ANYWAY. I’d forgotten all this in my pursuit of…whatever it was I was chasing day in and day out. I had this invisible iron grip on what I thought my life should look like that I lost sight of why creativity made me so happy in the first place.

I’ve always loved learning new instruments and new skills but I never knew why. Now that I look back, it was the Beginner’s Mind that I loved so much. I could lose myself in whatever I was doing. So, thanks to Kala Brand Music who was kind enough to sponsor me their lovely Waterman ukulele, I started learning. I was always too much of a wuss to go through the painful process of growing callouses for the guitar and my hands always felt slightly too small (*cough* EXCUSES) so the ukulele seemed like a natural transition. I was the giddiest, bumbling mess you’ve ever seen when I received it. Seriously, I have eye witnesses. The fact that it was so portable and water resistant, I was able to keep the promise I made to myself to have fun this summer. I took it on all my trips so that I could practice (but realistically only the intention of practicing, HA) and was THAT person who wrote music at the beach while everyone was frolicking in the water and sand (which is fine by me since I hate water and sand, the beach contains butt loads of both). I had so much fun learning the ukulele that when I started writing a song, I forgot about my expectations. Melodies and chords started flowing more naturally because rather than willing my fingers to create magic and bring a legendary song to fruition, I listened to myself for the first time and just played.

So, for the first chapter to Anonymous Hustle, I’ve written a song that is tentatively titled “Living for the Weekend” (live video below). Why is this a significant success in my daily hustle? Since I pride myself on being honest, I’ll let you in on a secret. I haven’t finished and performed an original song since my last year of high school. Cue gasps. That’s nearly A DECADE. For someone who dreamt of putting out an album and touring, that’s the extent of the damage my perfectionism has done. I don’t regret what I’ve learned since then or else I wouldn’t know who I am at this point in my life. What I do regret is not having faith in myself to be me and to be happy. Today’s post is a promise to not let perfectionism keep me from doing what I love. It’s a reminder that five years from now, I’ll look back on this and see how far I’ve come, because at the end of the day, the struggle is why we appreciate success.

Until next time,
Stay bold and beautifully weird.

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