I distinctly remember the first time I heard Sara Bareilles. I sampled the song “City” when she released “Little Voice.” Immediately I felt I recognized her. I knew her.
“There’s a harvest/ each Saturday night / at the bars filled with perfume and hitching a ride / a place you could stand for one night / and get gone / and it’s clear this conversation ain’t doing a thing / ’cause these boys only listen to me when I sing / and I don’t feel like singing tonight / all the same songs…”
It’s hard to describe the feeling I had. It was a combination of a deep love for her sound, but simultaneously a deep, deep, sadness for myself and for my ego. I immediately recognized some common threads that we shared: theatrical but still contemporary vocal production. Soulful but sparse piano accompaniment. And her LYRICS. I will forever be in awe of how she paints so clear a picture of an experience.
“Shit,” I remember thinking. “She did it first. And she did it better.”
Somewhere in my mind in order to make an impact on the industry you either have to be different, or you have to be first. And shit. I admired her so. But I felt as if I’d been racing towards a finish line, could see the ribbon ahead of me, knew my niche and my sound and what my contribution would be, and then I watched her sail through that finish line with more grace and style than I could ever dream of. She got to it first. There’s no room for me.
I really, truly, stopped writing music for a minute. I was so in awe of her, so convinced that there was no point in doing what I had intended to do.
Fast forward to now, I can look at my reaction and I now recognize it as something called the “Scarcity Mindset.” Scarcity Mindset, if you’re unfamiliar, is this idea that there’s only a fixed amount of something to go around; a fixed amount of happiness, of success, of money, of good looks, of attention, of sunlight. Someone else having something good means that there is less of that good thing for me. Others are my competition. What they have, I lack.
This is false. Happiness, for example, doesn’t exist in a finite, limited capacity. You and I know this to be true. If I take someone’s happiness away from them, I don’t feel more happy. I feel miserable. If I give someone else happiness, it gets multiplied as it comes back to me. It ripples. It sparkles. It touches the other people in my path that day and keeps on rippling outwards as they share it with others, and so on, and so forth. Tension is eased. Laughs are shared. An appreciation of others, whether quiet or overt, multiplies and keeps on affecting the fabric of the universe.
Sunlight. On a sunny day, I could get as much or as little sun as I want. So can you. How much I “consume” doesn’t affect how much is left for you, or vice versa.
It’s really hard to view success that same way. For the longest time, if I was cast in a show, it meant my friend wasn’t. If my friend was cast in a show, it meant that I wasn’t. And while that’s true in the context of, say, one particular run of one particular show… there is not a limited amount of success to go around. The world is wide. New opportunities and even industries are forming overnight. Just for you. Just for me.
The opposite of “Scarcity Mindset” is “Abundance Mindset.” I look around at all my friends doing amazing, brave, audacious things. They’re recording albums. They’re writing books. They’re starting podcasts. They’re starting businesses. They’re creating PEOPLE. They’re creating lives, careers, trajectories. They’re changing the national conversation and turning it towards the good, the righteous, the just. I am in awe of my friends. They teach me lessons about how to be. We cheer each other on. We help each other up the ladder.
I’m trying so, so, hard to remember Abundance as I stare down the barrel of releasing this music. “Your inner gremlins always shout the loudest when you’re about to do something big. Their job in your life is to keep you small.”
This music. I wish I could call it mine. It is mine. But I am aware once again of the great debt of gratitude I owe my friends in helping me make it a reality. I am aware of the comparisons I’ve drawn between myself and others, of every harsh thing I’ve ever thought or said about myself.
And I am scared.
I’m scared I waited too long. I’m scared it’s too little, too late. I’m scared it’s too much, too soon. I’m scared of what you’ll think. I’m scared no one will care. I’m scared I’ve tapped the well dry. I’m scared people will know about me, and my life, and my heart, and know I’m not perfect. I’m scared people may start hard conversations with me and I will have to name specific abuses and grievances I’ve been terrified to name. I’m scared of that NOT happening. Of an aim and a miss. Of “That’s nice. Good for you.”
Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way” says not to be afraid that your work is unoriginal. Yes, it’s all been said before in some capacity or another. But not by you. Not from your particular life and your particular experience and your particular perspective.
Easier said than done, right? And even while my gremlins are amping up as I get ready to release, I’m trying to find comfort in this one, small thing:
I never stop looking for new music to listen to.
With all of the music I have loved, all of the lyrics I have memorized, all of the artists I’ve done deep dives into, I have never once declared myself to be “done.” “That’s it. I like a lot of great artists. There’s no room for anyone else. I’m done now.” Um, hell no. Can you imagine?
So if I feel this way, I know others do, too. Abundance. My prayer is that my two cents, my music, will be a gift to you. And maybe you’ll appreciate certain parts of it more than others. Maybe some people will appreciate it not at all, and others will appreciate it more than they say, and still others will appreciate it a medium amount.
There’s room for me in this space. There’s room for you. “Everybody’s got a little light under the sun.”