There is something fascinating about a child prodigy. To see someone very young achieve excellence at something is intriguing. I recently watched an episode of Master Chef Jr. and it was so engaging to watch a 9 year old put on a dinner service at a fancy restaurant. When it was revealed to the diners that kids age 9 to 13 had cooked their dinner- many of them teared up. Youtube is full of videos of kids playing the piano brilliantly, starting businesses at 14, and learning new languages at 4.
But what if you don’t achieve greatness at 9? What if you don’t have clear direction for your whole life by the end of high school? What if your grades weren’t great?
Welcome to my life.
I am a late bloomer in the world of music and being an artist.
I grew up taking piano lessons like a good Korean daughter. But I didn’t like practicing and it was classical music. I didn’t get far. I quit by 4th grade. In middle school I loved being a part of the school choir and the school plays. But in high school I didn’t know how to audition or sing harmonies so I didn’t get parts in the musicals and thus concluded that I wasn’t any good at singing. Apparently, I wasn’t artsy like those folks.
In college I didn’t want to be a worship leader because I wanted to be a “real leader”. Not a slightly less serious and seemingly less important worship leader. I wanted to lead Bible study and preach. When I starting working in campus ministry I learned to lead worship out of necessity, but never saw myself as creative or an artist.
Somewhere in my early thirties something started to stir in me. I was taking an afternoon of solitude and as I was taking a walk I heard “I want to do more with music.” I almost stopped and looked around. It seemed like a voice coming from outside of myself. The statement felt that foreign. But it was from deep inside of me – just a part of myself I didn’t know very well.
About a year after that fateful afternoon I was able to take a 6 month sabbatical from work. I spent a lot of that time reflecting on my desire to be an artist. And one of my biggest blocks was that it was too late. I was too old. I hadn’t achieved success young, so it was pointless to try. I was 33 at the time. Depending on your perspective 33 is not that old. And depending on your perspective it’s old as hell. In a world where most female artists break in their teens or early twenties, it seemed incredibly old. Britney Spears is 31 and feels like she has been around forever. I didn’t want to be a pop star- but my only models of women in music were practically toddlers.
Plus I felt so much pressure to look successful and have a life that was on a trajectory of success that it felt very vulnerable to try something new. It’s okay in your twenties, everyone understands a bit of meandering after college. But if by your early thirties you don’t have a clear direction- it starts to seem a little sad.
I had a job I enjoyed and was competent at. It would have been easy to keep on keeping on. There was so much power to this idea that if I hadn’t achieved success at something young, it was futile to try later. Here’s in glimpse into by internal process.
In the end I went to music school. But it took months of prayer and reflection on Sabbatical to work through my fears and blocks. When I finally went to music school it was amazing! Most of my fellow students had come straight from high school or were in their early twenties. It was fun – sort of a rewind to another phase of life. It was thrilling! I loved the experience of being in a learning environment. It energized me to be learning about a whole new world- the language of music and music theory, and the world of working musicians. Since then I’ve started a band, written original songs, began gigging around town, launched a successful kickstarter, recorded my first EP, and even put together a mini tour.
Choosing to pursue music in my thirties has been one of the most courageous things I’ve done. It might not seem that courageous. But the amount of fear I had to step through was huge for me. Stepping out of a certain career trajectory. Starting over at the bottom as a student in a new field. Pursuing something as unstable as music. But the fruit of that process has shown in many areas of my life. Working through all those blocks opened me up to continue to try new things. I took a writing class this year. I started this blog. I’m considering going back to school. I’ve focussed my ministry in new ways. There has been nothing more invigorating to my spiritual life than the decision to pursue a new passion in my thirties.
I like Sheryl Sandberg’s question in Lean In- “What would you do if your weren’t afraid?”
I would add, “What would you do if it weren’t too late?”
I would love to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this topic?
To keep the inspiration going here are a couple links to people who didn’t achieve success in their career s until a bit later in life.