WARNING: THIS POST IS INCREDIBLY LONG AND IT MIGHT SEEM LIKE I’M RAMBLING OR WHINING. WHILE BOTH OF THOSE ARE ENTIRELY ACCURATE, I ALSO HAVE A POINT I AM TRYING TO MAKE SO PLEASE BARE WITH ME. OR DON’T. DO YOU, MAN.
Out of all the words in the English language, failure used to terrify me the most. The thought of it sent chills down my spine, those chills accompanied by a fist in my stomach that refused to unclench. That is, until I made the decision to remove the possibility of failure from my mind. After all the work I put into making my dreams come true, the idea that my music career could end with me finally admitting defeat after one too many crushing blows is something that I refuse to acknowledge. To some people, my refusal to consider a backup plan may seem like a foolish choice made with reckless abandon. To me, success is my only option because I cannot afford to fail.
Early on in my life, failure was such a common outcome for me that it became a part of my identity. School, sports, hobbies, friendships, relationships, anything I tried my hand at ended in failure. Sometimes I would give it my all and fall flat on my face, and others I would quit as soon as I began to struggle. The more I failed, the easier it became for me to quit. This pattern plagued me into my adult years, as I fell into a deep depression that resulted in multiple suicide attempts, prescription pill overdoses, and a two-week stay inside of a psych ward.
After my inability to overcome my demons landed me in that nightmare of a place, I knew that changes had to be made. I gained employment at an insurance company, and also began seriously pursuing my lifelong dream of becoming a sports writer. Before I knew it, I was working full-time at this insurance company as well as juggling three freelance journalism jobs, including writing for Yahoo! Sports. I had finally achieved my vision of what a successful person looked like, but one thing was missing: my happiness.
After all this time spent trying to appear successful, I still felt like a failure. I had no time to myself, no pride in my work at the insurance company, and I was discouraged from writing about any topics I was truly passionate about in favor of tabloid journalism. Success was foreign to me, so I convinced myself that my unhappiness was not important and buried my dissatisfaction under a giant pile of work.
Choosing to ignore my feelings of discontent worked, until I began working on my debut EP Glossophobia. Slowly but surely, I began to realize the difference between achieving success writing about pointless drivel that revolved around athletes and achieving success in a field that I truly cared about. The closer I drew to releasing my EP, the less journalism mattered to me. By the time I released Glossophobia to the world, I had quit two my three journalism jobs so I could dedicate more time to music.
And then it happened. The critics seemingly came in droves, ready to dismantle and dismiss the eight very personal songs that I poured my heart and soul into. I had dealt with many harsh criticisms in the world of online journalism, but 1. I did not truly care about the content I was putting out, and 2. They were in the form of faceless and irrelevant usernames. These were my friends and family, loved ones who pulled no punches in giving me their opinion on the lack of appeal my art had. I was told that I was boring and whiny, that I was unlistenable, that what I made couldn’t even be considered music.
I also received a lot of constructive criticism as well as praise, but the attacks on my EP were what stuck with me. I allowed the harshest of my critics to derail any pride I had in myself, I let them make me feel like a failure once again. As much as I hate to admit it, I flirted with the idea of quitting music entirely until I found inspiration in the nerdiest of places: anime.
For those of you unfamiliar with one of my favorite shows of all time, Naruto is the story of an orphan who had spent his whole life being rejected by his village. He was considered a problem child, a failure with no talent and no hope of becoming a ninja. Despite being mocked and rejected by everyone he knew, he worked tirelessly towards becoming stronger so he could one day achieve his goal of becoming the leader of the Hidden Leaf Village.
While there are many inspirational moments to be found throughout this story, one particular exchange shook me to my core and became the source of my motivation for years. Naruto was in the midst of a brutal battle, going toe-to-toe with one of the Hidden Leaf’s greatest prodigies in front of the entire village. Despite being verbally and physically beaten down throughout the entire fight, he got up again and again, until his opponent finally asked him the following question: “Why fight a hopeless battle trying to defy your destiny?”
After a lengthy pause for dramatic effect, Naruto replied, “Because people called me a failure… I’ll prove them wrong.”
That was a wrap. Naruto proceeded to whoop that boy’s ass, everybody cheered for him, and from that day on I made a vow to prove to everybody who didn’t believe in me that they were wrong. My newfound motivation was indeed powerful, as I improved by leaps and bounds in the following months as both a writer and a singer before stepping into the studio to record my first full length album, God is a Starving Artist. As powerful as I thought my resolve was, I was still woefully unprepared for the hardships I was about to endure.
At the request of my producer/mentor/close friend, I took two weeks off of work to come stay with him in an effort to finish GIASA in one fell swoop. Those two weeks could not have gone worse, as my project was set aside in favor of movies, video games, binge drinking, and my producer’s personal project. Any attempt I made to work on the album was treated like a personal attack and met with confrontation, and after the two weeks we had to finish the album were up and we had two demos to show for it.
Against my better judgement I continued paying him, as he was one of my best friends and had taught me everything I knew about music. The confrontations escalated the more I put my foot down, which culminated in a falling out that led him to briefly quit on the album before coming back… only after our mutual friend/his business partner informed him that they could not afford to pay me back.
I returned to the studio with him, adamant about squeezing as much productivity from him as I could by any means necessary. It took awhile, but after two long, long, long, long, long years of stroking his ego and buying his motivation with food, weed, and rides everywhere, the album was finished. Or it was finished, until the computer it was on crashed days before he was set to leave for Seattle and I learned that none of my projects were backed up. He promised to rebuild the files once he settled into his new home, but within three months I accepted the fact that my mentor no longer had any interest in the artist he once swore would change the world.
With my resolve bruised and battered but not quite beaten, I vowed to resurrect my album from the wasteland of corrupted files it had been reduced to and show my former producer how wrong he was for giving up on my album and I. I requested help from my friend Colton, and he managed to save most of the instrumental composition. While saving the composition was huge, we were still tasked with combing through our software’s vast library in hopes of finding the same instruments we had before the corruption took place. It was a daunting task, but we recruited our friend Jakc to join the new GIASA team and pushed forward.
I can’t remember exactly how many sessions deep we were into our resurrection project, but I do remember being thoroughly exhausted. I had taken a few days off of work to stay at Colton’s, but despite our best efforts we had made little tangible progress. Finally, on the third day, it happened. I left the room without saying a word, leaving my shattered resolve on the floor of the apartment I had spent the past two and a half years busting my ass in. I couldn’t do it any more. They won.
After about ten minutes, my friend Jakc came to the backyard and sat down with me. I tried to explain to him that I was quitting, that I couldn’t do it any more. I expected him to try to talk me out of it with some generic inspirational shit, to tell me I just needed some rest and that I couldn’t stop after getting so close. Instead, I looked into his eyes and saw a deep sadness. He told me that he couldn’t make me finish the album, but seeing me give up was disheartening because of how much my music meant to him and he never thought I’d give up on the people who needed to hear my music. Then it hit me.
I had spent the past few years believing that Naruto’s resolve was centered around proving his doubters wrong, that the strength he drew his strength from combating the disdain of others was unshakeable. I had modeled my drive around one epic moment in a much larger narrative, failing to remember that Naruto never would have beaten his next opponent if he had entered the fight simply trying to prove everyone wrong. His next battle was against a much stronger opponent, this time with the lives of his friends on the line. He fought and won, not for those who didn’t think he could, but for the people who believed in him and needed him to succeed.
After my revelation, (and some hugging/crying) I walked right back into the studio a new man. It was a long and difficult road, but with the help and support of my friends I finally finished God is a Starving Artist. I continued to run into issues with getting my music on streaming services, being unable to find promoters willing to book me, and finding venues willing to let me book my own shows, but I pushed forward with my now unshakeable resolve. I overcame every single obstacle that life threw at me, and am proud to say that earlier this month I had the honor of performing in front of a sold out crowd for a show I booked and promoted myself.
I still have a long way to go, but I know I’ll make it in this business in some way, shape, or form. It won’t be because of how badly I want it, and it won’t be so I can prove my worth to people who can’t see it for themselves. I will succeed because Jeton has believed in my talent as a lyricist since I was 12 years old. I will succeed because my little brother constantly tells his friends how amazing his brother Cody is. I will succeed because seeing me perform on stage is one of the greatest joys of my parents life, because Stefani has come to every single show I have ever performed no matter how hectic her life is or how sick she gets, because Phillip has supported everything I have ever wanted to do since high school. I will succeed because I have people who are counting on me, and I cannot afford to fail.