Insights and insecurities: A creative's summer odyssey

I spent parts of my summer like many college students entering their junior year do: sharing time with family and friends, going on road trips, diving into novels I ignored all school year, and singing along to live music. Unlike most college students entering their junior year, however, I had no job this summer … At least not a “real” job. I worked as a circulation assistant in Lilly Library while I took a summer class, but that was it. While my friends were working their days away at startups, production companies and consulting firms, I spent most of my summer writing lyrics in my room and recording songs in studios.

Within the frenetic pace of academic life, where resumes and research papers reign supreme, the struggles of artists and storytellers are largely overlooked. And in our digital age, social media and the overnight success of seemingly everyone around us make it seem as though age isn’t just a number, and that the well of time is growing increasingly shallow by the second. The combination of these pressures can easily become a labyrinth of self-doubt and comparison, a nightmarish intersection between the timeless pursuit of creativity and the relentless march of a ticking clock.

The previous summer, I stumbled upon a fortunate networking opportunity that significantly altered my trajectory as a songwriter. However, the music industry’s sluggish pace thwarted my attempts to replicate last summer’s serendipity with the same connections. This left me pondering a persistent question: “Do I possess genuine talent?” and as I spiraled deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole in my mind, “Am I good at anything?” I devoted four months to a single endeavor, questioning whether I had placed all my bets on the right horse.

I faced these doubts head-on at a family dinner this summer at home in California. Victor, my older brother (only by 14 months) had come down to LA from San Francisco for the weekend; he could only stay with us a few days before returning to tending his business. We sat at a restaurant with my parents and younger brother David, and the dreaded conversation began. I was prompted to respond to a series of questions to which I didn’t know the answers or didn’t feel like I had the right answers: “How’s the music going?” Victor asked. “Why didn’t you get a job this summer?” David said. “Did the label ever get back to you?” My dad chimed in. “What are you planning on doing next summer?” My mom chirped. I didn’t know. I still don’t know.

Everything I once thought I was good at seemed to be slipping through my fingers, escaping from my grasp. My measure of self-worth was always my talent; at that moment, I felt like summer had ripped it away from me. Returning to the pre-professional and demanding Duke I knew didn’t particularly excite me then. I felt like I would come back with nothing while my peers would return with everything.

I felt the weight of my family’s expectations pressing down on me, each inquiry a reminder of the path I’d chosen and the risks I’d taken. My fork toyed with the half-eaten dish before me, a mirror to my half-formed thoughts and aspirations. I gazed at my family seated around the table, their eyes reflecting a mix of concern and curiosity. It was a moment frozen in time, a crossroads where I had to confront my fears and face the truth about my journey.

As I sat at that restaurant table, facing the barrage of questions and the weight of expectations, a newfound realization began to take root within me. The doubts and uncertainties I had grappled with were not signs of inadequacy but rather the hallmark of a venturesome quest. It was in this crucible of self-doubt that the most profound lessons of my creative journey were being forged.

In a world where traditional metrics and rapid achievements often measure success, I’ve accepted that I have chosen a road less traveled — a road fueled by passion over anything else. This summer of introspection did not strip me of my talent; rather, it stripped away the illusions of quick fixes and easy validation. It forced me to confront the essence of my creative yearning, find solace in the process and unearth a reservoir of resilience I never knew existed.

In the quest for artistic expression, comparison can be a perilous pitfall, and the ticking clock can feel like a relentless foe. Yet, in the quiet corners of reflection, I discovered the power of staying true to one’s art, irrespective of external measures. The very act of creating — whether through crafting melodies or weaving stories – has become a testament to my commitment.

Though my family’s questions initially felt like a spotlight on my uncertainties, they became a catalyst for self-discovery. Their concern was not a reflection of doubt in me but a reflection of their love and support. As the conversation unfolded, I realized that the answers I sought were not to be found in a definitive response but rather in the ongoing narrative of my journey. Each note played, each word written, is a testament to my dedication to the craft.

So, to those who may find themselves at the intersection of uncertainty and aspiration, I offer this reflection: Embrace the maze of insecurities for within its winding passages lie the seeds of growth. Creative exploration is not for the faint-hearted; it demands resilience, patience and an unwavering belief in the power of your artistic vision. It’s a journey where time is not an adversary but a companion that shapes and refines your artistry. Like my doubts, yours might be seeds of growth waiting to be nurtured. Embrace your expression, and recall that the path of a dreamer is a symphony of trials and triumphs. As you navigate your own crossroads, may you find the courage to trust in your creative journey and remain authentic to your art and yourself.

Barbara Cardenas is a Trinity junior. Her column typically runs on alternate Mondays.


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