What I Learned After A Year of No Applause
The Pandemic Halted My Music Career But Gave Me Life
This has been a tough fifteen months for people in the arts. Basically, all arts-related income came to a halt in the Spring of 2020, as COVID swung a knockout punch toward anything related to a public gathering. My scheduled concerts were cancelled, wiping out my primary source of income. My closet holding a usually-shrinking-number of CDs and books I’d sell at my shows grew stagnant.
Then the social unrest due to George Floyd’s murder, political caterwauling surrounding the impending election, combined with the fear and anxiety of the pandemic was paralyzing. I was hoping for increased creativity and new songs I’d write, but instead, the muse took an extended stay in distant lands.
It was a long year without applause. But the quiet was life changing. I was forced to ask myself, who I am when there’s no applause?
I had lived the previous ten years as an independent artist striving and struggling (mostly) to grow my music career. I was writing, recording, touring, and posting all about it on social media hoping to capture the attention of gatekeepers—people who would be the decision makers about having me in for a concert, or to play my music on the radio, or (fingers-crossed) that someone would see me as an artist worth investing in, expanding my audience and opportunities.
It was a brutal way to live, as I felt I was never doing enough. I would dream about how much easier it’d be if my career looked more like (fill-in-the-blank)’s career. I wasn’t well-known enough to draw a crowd, my songs were too dramatic, maybe I was too overweight, etc. I was constantly trying to solve the puzzle of my life, left on my own to forge my way. I knew God was with me, and I had the love and support of family and friends, and a small fan base. But it was ripping my soul in two.
My happiness was continually being decided by what I hoped would happen to me in the future.
When the world screeched to a halt, it gave me a chance to stop trying to build my career. To stop striving. To quit using my productivity to stir up interest in me. To stop trying to work a deal with God to give me what I wanted. And something like happiness starting creeping in.
Ciara Alyse Harris, a star in the touring company of the Broadway smash “Dear Evan Hansen” echoed my experience brilliantly in an essay she wrote that recently appeared on Time.com.
“Like Alana [her character], I felt that I had to be the overachiever so that I never felt overlooked or forgotten. Hence, I didn’t see rest as a real option at the start of the pandemic. Taking care of myself stayed in the backseat while the need to be productive was driving the car. But as the weeks of staying home wore on, the expectations I had for myself were turning me into someone who could not identify her worth without validation from others. I was completely burned out by the constant need to prove myself beyond the color of my skin. I knew I had to stop, to take some time to do some internal reflection, and figure out what it really was that I loved about myself regardless of what I felt others thought about me.”
My worth and value as a person have been entrenched in what other people thought of me. And I assumed I could affect what they thought about me by how well I performed. And it had worked…in the moment, though the affirmation was never enough to make it stick around. Thus, the need for applause became a sick addiction.
The silence of 2020 gave me an opportunity to ask myself what I wanted my worth, value, and happiness to be based on. Learning that I could actually determine those things myself, without any input from anybody else, was mind-blowing. And the new ways I’m learning how to do that is making life exhilarating and adventurous.
The way I feel about myself is now the most important determination of my happiness. And it’s something that is attainable today.
The world is opening back up now. And I’m not exactly sure how much of my previous life I’ll return to. But to be honest, it doesn’t matter. Because I’m no longer looking for my joy to be found in what happens to me, or what I accomplish. Letting go of the need to get my worth from other people has shown me that I’m enough just as I am, even without a microphone.