This time last year I finally decided to introduce Natalia Chai music but ironically the same time this year, I am having lots of self doubt and raise my hands ready to surrender. People who know me know that I am NOT a quitter but I've never been this serious about quitting music as I've been this past weekend. Although it may appear that 2018 has been off to a strong start for me, the magic word is "appear". In reality I have never felt so discouraged. We tend to share the positives and successes while hiding the struggles that we encounter and for some, the struggle is more real and difficult than others. This post is NOT about bringing in the strings for Natalia Chai nor is it a competition of who has the hardest struggle. I want to share the realities of what we may all go through in our individual pursuit of our dreams. My music path is quite unconventional compared to other musicians and it took a lot longer for me to even get started. It was very surprising to hear that my music friends go through the same conflict - surprising I say because you have to understand that these are SUPER TALENTED musicians who has everything going for them in my eyes at least!
As the title may suggest, I reached a point where I was serious about giving up and quitting music all together. I've had countless mini breakdowns that lead to my big breakdown literally 2 days ago - my soul completely depressed, feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, frustration and being stuck and empty. I am beyond exhausted, scared, I've become completely complacent in aspects in my life where I shouldn't be and nearing burn-out. Everyone's story and journey is different and unique on its own. There could be a lot of contributing factors or there could only be one. How did this happen? I share my biggest 3 reasons and hope to gain insight from your own struggles and ask how do you deal with and overcome discouragement because I am very close to throwing in the towel! :(
One of my very first blogs that I posted was about how I balance being a full time pharmacist manager with my music, fashion and blog life. Balance is something I don't have. As a musician, you need to hustle to get those big breaks that we all dream of getting. Now imagine doing that hustle in addition to a job that you're not fond about and it takes away from that hustle. How is that possible? If you're passionate about something you will make time no matter how busy you are. But regardless of how "strong" a person may be, we are only human and can only take so much physically, psychologically and emotionally.
I am in a job that demands a lot of my time and energy that it is taking away from what I'd rather be allocating my time and energy towards. I am standing on my feet for 8-9 hours straight, hardly have time to eat, catching up on paper work, managing the pharmacy and by the time I get home I literally pass out from exhaustion. On my rare days off from the pharmacy side, I am hustling my best for my music. I am writing, I am creating, I am recording, I am performing and I am networking. But when you're tired and have no time, your quality of work drastically drops and that itself is more than enough to discourage one's soul!
Psychologically it's a tougher game - as a manager there is a certain expectation of how you should "hold" yourself. A certain professionalism and demeanour is required. My pharmacy team calls me "Boss Lady" or "Our Almighty Leader" and that's exactly what I need to be for them - ALMIGHTY. They look to me for guidance, leadership and inspiration. I've noticed that on shifts when I'm not doing so well personally, the whole team comes down with me. The workplace atmosphere shifts that negatively affects our efficiency. I have to be careful when that happens because that could put my patients in danger! So I must muster up everything inside of me to turn that darkness into whatever light I have left in me. I can probably speak for all the pharmacists when I say that there are so many instances in our jobs when we would love to put someone in their place but we cannot - NOW THAT"S FRICKIN HARD TO DO & SUCKS THE ENERGY OUT OF ME!
When you have a job that demands that much out of you how can you not burn-out? How can you progress? I had zero time to practice anything to do with music, my voice is getting worse to the point where it cracks every 2nd syllable I sing, and the quality of my music has gone down the drain. There is nothing more disappointing than not seeing improvement especially when you know that you can grow if only you had the time and energy.
Being a musician is not all about creativity. It is only 50% and the other 50% is the business aspect of marketing, promoting and networking which is a full time position all in itself. Being a solo and independent artist can definitely get discouraging when you don't have a support team behind you especially when your family isn't on board. A huge part of my struggle is cultural. What Asian family aspires their child NOT to be a doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant or engineer? A parent always want the best for their children and being financially steady is a part of that, but another big chunk is about pride, status and "face". Success in the arts is not success in the Asian culture. Although my parents never ever pushed me towards a certain direction, the thought of making them worried and disappointing them really had a huge impact on me. Music to date to my family is only a hobby and it makes me really sad. There are a lot of others who share my parents' worry and cast slight judgement in the most caring way that makes me second guess myself. Music is what truly makes me happy - not pharmacy. I never wanted to become a pharmacist - it was a route to ease my family's worries. Ironically, pharmacy is the way that allows me to pay for my music. As an independent start-up artist, EVERY PENNY IS SELF-FUNDED. . My biggest fear is losing that financial security that I"m working so hard for - is it worth it?
In addition to financial support, artists must have a healthy and loyal fan base. Unfortunately it appears that "success" of artists are highly measured based on numbers rather than the quality of music. When you're an independent artist, building your fan base is extremely difficult and strategizing becomes a real art. I am blessed to have the support that I already have. But when you're putting in triple the amount of work but getting hardly any response back, that easily creates discouragement and I start to question, is it worth it?
"Don't compare yourself to others. Compare yourself to the person from yesterday" - Anonymous. I'm sure we've all heard this at one point but it's easier said than done. In any industry we are always comparing ourselves to our peers. Sometimes it can give us that drive we need to soar, but most times it can be debilitating as there is a tendency for us to compare ourselves unfavourably to others.
I've been extremely lucky and grateful for the shows that I've had in the past year due largely to the amazing and beautiful people of YEG Music (HUGE SHOUT OUT TO YOU GUYS). I am so blown away by the calibre of talent that exists solely here in #YEG and every time I play a show alongside these local talents I am inspired - but at the same time there is a hint of sadness. Sadness because I am not even 1/3 as good as all of the other artists and for some reason I keep disappointing myself as a musician and performer.
In addition I am quite a bit older than most in the music scene to be starting out and although I know it's just a number, I get self conscious especially in an industry that seems to value youth. Seeing all of these experienced and young artists put on a stellar show with on-point musicianship, vocals and stage presence at such a young age makes me feel quite inadequate and that this whole music thing is too late.
Let's be honest here - I am NOT the most talented, nor am I a good performer and I most definitely am NOT a great vocalist. I"ve never been trained vocally and it remains my biggest struggle. We are our own worst critic but I truly know that I have a lot to improve on. If I can belt out notes without cracking like how all other musicians can, I would be on cloud nine! The issue is, I KNOW I can because I have belted out notes like no one's business when I'm practicing by myself. When I can't deliver at shows, I beat myself up mentally and I start back at square one - is it worth it?
I've had a lot of people support me and tell me that it's because I don't have enough "me-time". At this point, unfortunately I'm still in my rut and really doubt that I'll ever become the singer-songwriter and performer that I want to be. How do you fight with discouragement? What brings you back?