I never dreamt my life would change so drastically after I unexpectedly took a few years away from university studies. In 2013, I ignored self-doubt and decided to explore my talents in music. Those years away from school saved me from spending unnecessary time pursuing dreams other than my own.

 

Piano has always been very influential in my life. The keys are always black and white, and the music always reads the same on every staff — my only constant. It was expected my senior year of high school that I would accept the piano scholarship  to Tarleton State University for the fall semester of 2008.

 

Having little support or contact with my family, by my fourth semester I had changed my major to marketing, leaning towards finance and was at the point of withdrawing from school altogether. I was so lost and had no clue what I wanted, but I knew I needed to do something different. After withdrawing from the university and later graduating from cosmetology school, I realized that I was still unsatisfied.

 

Reluctantly, I decided to return to school in 2012. I told myself that this time would be different — it would be final. My mother worked in the corporate finance industry and never went to college. So, that’s what I would do: I would study what she wished she had.

 

After a few semesters at the local community college in Fort Worth, Texas, I considered moving to Waco. It always held a special place in my heart because of my grandmother, who has resided there nearly all her life. I withdrew from school yet again, and moved to Waco. Partly for a new job opportunity, but mostly for my sweet granny.

 

Before moving to Waco, I had recently purchased a guitar and was beginning to teach myself. After relocating, I discovered a place called the Woodshed, which was a group of people playing music together. I had never seen such a place: people of all walks of life coming together simply to share music in a rustic steel building;  A sanctuary of imagination, inventiveness and inspiration,  where no judgement was passed if you fell flat on your face.

The Woodshed was like a new medication that knocked me off my feet and dragged me by the heels. I began to shyly take part in the comradery. I would pick the brains of the other songwriters and inquire about their personal stories and musical journeys. I had never been in an environment before that was so conducive to creativity and freedom. My guitar skills had improved as I practiced and developed techniques from my peers. One night at the guitar pool, the ring-leader, Bill, asked me, “Do you have any songs?”

 

I spent my adolescent years writing poetry and prose of all kinds, trying to work my way through depression and pain from family turmoil. Piano was my lifeline, but I never sang when I played. So, a new idea was born. I could do what I wanted: transpose the music and sing whatever my heart desired.

 

From that point forward, I wrote and wrote and pumped out about 20 songs in a year and a half. Everyone loved my new material. Bill encouraged me to share my music publicly, but I never imagined I could.

 

Don’t you have to have like a manager or something to do that?

 

I knew it would take time, dedication and tenacity to develop courage within myself and trust with venues. I didn’t want to regret not trying, so I took on the challenge. Within six months, I quit my day job and was performing two to three shows weekly. It was the most frightening and rewarding venture I had ever endeavored in my life. I chose to taste uncertainty and I guzzled confidence.

 

For once in my life I was in control. I decided when my day started, where I wanted to perform my music and how much to charge. It was exhilarating. I would drive miles to the next show and enjoy the beautiful day with my hands out the window like a storybook scene. I wasn’t stuck in some classroom or stuffy office where the space was blasted with stale fluorescent light. I was finally doing what I loved.

 

I met all sorts of people in many different cities throughout Texas. Belton, Cedar Hill, Elgin and Austin are just a few. Even though I mostly traveled alone, I learned that with a positive mindset, everything can be inspiring. People watching became people learning. I discovered that it’s possible to love without reserve and to refuse to begrudge things of the past.

 

I realized that although our income keeps us afloat in this world, it is not the sole reason on which to base a career. Working as a self-employed performing artist for the past few years has been equally the most difficult and the most gratifying experience. In between scraping together my tips for gas and loading up my gear, it is my responsibility to captivate the venue’s booking manager. I sharpened my communication skills and truly understood the value of kindness, brevity and self-discipline.

 

My mother used to say, “You don’t want to be a starving artist.” But why not? During this exploration, I revealed to myself how much I love writing and how important entrepreneurship is to me. Everyone has their own relative idea of success. Ultimately, we must inquire and explore life for ourselves so that we can make the best decisions for our own personal success.

Learning to Live Outside the Classroom
Photo Courtesy of Christopher Winston