Some people were born with minds bursting with equations and formulas. I was born with a pen in my hand and a song in my heart. My mother, the piano-teacher with the beautiful alto voice, raised me in the world of music, and my father, the professor with the love of the written world, helped me grow among in my knowledge of literature. No matter where I was as a child, I would be writing my story in a notebook– a story about aliens, or evil stepmothers, or… something. And I would continue to write as a teenager, whether pouring my heart into each creative writing assignment I had for high school or stringing words together early into the morning when the whole house was asleep.
As a singer, I was first placed on the stage in the fifth grade, where I breathlessly sang "Amazing Grace" to my brother's guitar accompanying me (my parents have the video, which everyone calls "cute" but that I just call "sad"). My high school time consisted of my mom teaching me how to harmonize, me finding the best acoustics in the school (under the stairwell) and several petrifying performances in front of the whole school. I could forget about math and chemistry and engineering. In a world where each other friend seemed to have dreams of becoming a scientist (which isn't too far from the truth at Emory), I felt like the only true artist.
And then I went to college and found myself with a roommate who had already been working on a novel for two years, who actually knew HOW to use the Oxford comma, and whose beautiful soprano voice resonated throughout our entire floor.
And then I became friends with two underclassmen in concert choir, who would effortlessly reach all the high notes and sing together in flawless harmony.
And then I landed in my first ever creative writing workshop, where other people had gone to creative writing camp or were already working on screenwriting.
And then every single performance I had sung and every single piece of fiction that I had written disappeared under a bold red sign that repeatedly blinked "TALENTLESS" in my face.
Suddenly, I was judging my own artistic work with a measuring stick that had never been my own. Doubts sprung up in my consciousness until it felt as if every song that I sang alone in my dorm room and every sentence I wrote in a poem was being scrutinized by an invisible, imaginary audience of critics. That metaphor you just created makes absolutely zero sense – and oh, by the way hon, you're not Beyoncé. This voice of critique that babbled into my ear as soon as I did so much as open my laptop or grab my ukulele caused my own voice to morph into a voice that was no longer my own. A voice that twists itself to imitate writing that she admires because she is too scared to expose the world to her own unique writing style. A voice that whispers rather than belts the lyrics of her favorite Sam Smith songs because she is afraid that the whole hall will hear. A voice that twists and coils itself into a box of unadulterated excellence that feels so cramped that she herself can barely say a word.
But I am not letting this box contain my song forever. In the end, I can never let the crushing weight of other talent bowl me over. I mean, I go to Emory, for crying out loud! Day by day, I am both inspired and intimidated by the talent of the future cancer-curers and non-profit-starters that I surround myself with – but I am certain that this talent does not just exist at the Ivy of the South. We are created as such glorious creatures in God's image that I am bound to befriend people with realms and realms of skill – whether that be in Atlanta, Georgia, or anywhere else. Regardless of where I find myself, I cannot compare myself to other people, because I will always conclude that I am unworthy of doing the things that I love. But here is the little secret that I have discovered about what I do: it is not about them.
It is not about them writing the beautiful prose that I feel I could never create, or them performing without so much as wavering in front of a sea of people. It is not about them criticizing, lowering or dismissing why I create what I do. It is about me continuing to do what brings my heart joy. Sometimes, it is about me geeking out to professors about Kurt Vonnegut during office hours, or having the time of my life listening to an Aural Pleasure practice set. Other times, it is about me writing a poem to encapsulate the world of emotions I feel, or singing when I clean like I always do. Yet it is always about not letting the utter brilliance of other people dim the burning in my heart. Just because my wings may be smaller doesn't mean my soul cannot soar.
Finding fulfillment in my art rather than other people means that now, I can be unafraid. I can write messily until I manage to express my feelings on paper just the way I want. I can sing for myself and not for the people who are listening. I can drown out the insecurities that threaten to sink me and anchor myself to why I started to create in the first place. And I invite you to join me. Let's continue to do what we are passionate about, not for other people's pleasure, but because we are falling more in love with our art day by day. Most importantly, let's not let people stop us from doing what we love.