When I was a little girl, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told them I wanted to be a singer. Music was my earliest and most constant dream. But gradually, the older we get when people ask us what we’re going to be when we grow up, we start responding to cues and reactions we get, and a lot of times we start changing our answers based on that. I think that happened to me a little. I never set music completely aside, but I felt a need to be more practical about it. That’s not all bad. Especially in today’s music world, it’s good, even necessary, to be a little well rounded; to be able to have a whole set of different music and business skills in order to make a career. But practical isn’t good if you start being embarrassed about the thing you used to feel was your calling. Or when you’ve felt that way for so long that you’ve lost confidence.
As a music student at BYU, when I was in the depths of music theory classes and feeling the excitement and nervousness about recording and performing my own songs for the first time, one evening I was walking back to my apartment from school. My friend, Alex was walking with me. He was a music student, too. I was talking about my dreams, feeling silly about even dreaming about being a real recording artist or songwriter, but also hoping so hard that I could make it happen somehow. Alex said, “You need to stop telling people that you like to write songs, or that you hope you can make a living as a songwriter. You just need to tell people, and yourself, that you are a songwriter.”
It seemed so simple, but when I started to do that, it changed everything. Summer passed, and the next semester I was in a circle of new friends, playing some silly “get-to-know-you” game. When it became my turn to tell something about myself, I went out on a limb and just said, “I’m a songwriter.” It felt so right. It was the beginning of me no longer just hoping or wondering if I could do it, but actually just doing it. I wrote more and more songs. Some of them were awful. But I was writing them, and therefore I was a songwriter. Gradually they became better. I still write awful songs sometimes. But songwriters write songs. It’s what they do.
I teach songwriting at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah. It brings back a lot of memories whenever I get the questionnaires back that I hand out on the first day of class. It’s a required class for music majors, so there are always a few students who have never written a song and probably won’t ever do it again after my class is over. On the questionnaire I ask if the student is already a songwriter, or if they’re going to be learning about it for the first time. I see my younger self in so many of the answers. There are so many young people who want to say they’re songwriters but don’t know if they’re allowed. They say that they want to do it on the side, maybe, or that they hope they can just make enough money from it to afford health insurance, but they’re not sure if that’s silly. (I was amazed to see college students thinking about health insurance! I just thought I was invincible at that age.) Or they say that they like to write songs; but they resist calling themselves a songwriter. Or they say they want to become one someday.
Yesterday we talked about where ideas come from and how to find them without being at the mercy of a mystical muse. I told my students they need to look at the world as a songwriter. I want them to know that at least for this semester, they ARE songwriters. They have to put on those special x-ray glasses that make you see songs everywhere. And then they have to write them. Because they’re songwriters.
I think this way of thinking can help in so many ways when we are trying to be better. Obviously this doesn’t work for everything. I mean, if you go around telling people you’re a doctor, you could get yourself thrown in jail. But it works for a lot of things. I wish I could be a better mom. What if I already was? What if I started to look at everyone and everything as a wonderful mother does? Would I look more deeply into my children’s eyes? Would I show more mercy? Would I have more fun? I wish I could be more kind. What if I decided that I am kind? Instead of saying I’ll try it later or tomorrow, what if I told myself that I am kind, and I started giving people the benefit of the doubt? What if I wanted to be more assertive? What would happen if I told myself that I will be respected, that my ideas matter and should be heard, and that I have a lot to offer? Would I speak up more? Would I be slower to be offended because condescension and insults just wouldn’t stick?
I wrote a song about this for kids. Take a listen here, and then check out the whole album of children’s music I just released with my friend, Lyndy Butler.
Is there something you wish you could do or be? What if you just started doing it or being it now?