It perplexes me when people come up to me after a show and let me know that I inspire them. I'm not exactly sure how to feel about this; I'd really love to see myself in their eyes. I mean I do get a sense of euphoria, (recently a girl came up to me after a show and told me that my "Illusions" song gave her courage because she was going through the exact situation with her father) but I'm not exactly sure they really understand who they are talking to.
I'm not trying to brag right now, or mock anyone's depression or insecurity. I'm humbled, yet at the same time incredibly confused because I never saw myself as someone to look up to. In fact, it wasn't too long ago when I looked at myself as nothing. And I felt like I was on a path that was filled with absolutely nothing.
See, I was never one for studies. I'll learn whatever it is if I'm interested in it; don't tell me what I "need" to learn and force it down my throat. My whole life I've been surrounded by prep school and private tutors and throughout 12 years of institutionalized education I've scribbled and scrapped more notebooks of rap than Hemingway ever conceptualized. It was a constant battle between my realities and my fantasies... without a real grasp on which was what. And as hard as I tried my 12 years to not care... the reminders were everywhere. I went to an elite high school with an average GPA of 3.7, an average SAT score of 2170, and an average ACT score of 33. My parents were immigrants since '92 and I remember growing up with them in a one bedroom apartment. They are currently barely affording mortgage payments on a property in Long Island, NY. They've made major leaps in their socioeconomic status. I have many friends who graduated from college and have moved on to Law school, Med school, or are working in major corporate positions.
While I am in a real danger of becoming just another college dropout.
My website is all about my aspirations of becoming a rapper who tours the world. I will proudly update my site with any accolades or major events I'm invited to. You will see endless motivational quotes, personification of inspiration and dreams of becoming CEO of my own record label, radio station and eventually a media conglomerate.
But I won't ever hesitate to remind you about my nightmares of ending up as just another college drop out.
In 2011, I stepped foot on Ithaca College's campus as an extremely excited freshman. College was the one thing that would turn my life around; I could choose to learn whatever I wanted and get good grades so that my parents would finally be proud of me. I had zero confidence in my ability to make a career out of rap. An Asian rapper? Please. Instead, I chose a major in Photography because it was another creative field. I figured I would be able to satisfy my creative urges and graduate college with high honors. I could always make music on the side.
But my grades sucked. My musical capabilities were stagnant. Interest in Photography never developed into anything more than a hobby because it wasn't my real interest. It was all some perfect fucking lie I made up. I realized my parents were paying $50,000 a year on a fucking hobby. What was I doing?
I switched my approach immediately. I started taking economics courses so that I could graduate toward a better paying job. And everything worked out. I was cashing in scholarships, internships and 4.0 GPAs.
Yea, okay. In fact, my grades were even worse than the year before.
My life was going nowhere. I was entering my senior year of college without being anywhere close to completing a major. I was looking at possibly having to take a 5th year in college with an already growing student loan. It felt like I was staring down a road that had nothing but a minimum wage 9-5 trying to pay off my student loans for the next 25 years or some shit like that. To make matters worse, I had no one else to talk to about these problems. Try telling one of your peers you wanted to drop out of college. You'd get the same shit from all of them: "It's going to get better from here. You'll get through this." My parents (my mother mostly) couldn't fathom a lifestyle without stability. Given the conditions most immigrant parents had to go through I couldn't really blame them. But they wouldn't be able to understand where I'm coming from either because we grew up in completely opposite environments. Friends around me were graduating 1 or 2 years early left and right or working summer internships at huge accounting firms paying $18 an hour. I had a friend who's a rapper and was embarking on a tour up to Boston at the time and recently just toured Japan. What the fuck was I doing with my life??
I wish someone had been able to tell me last year what I realize now... so that I wouldn't have had to go through this alone. That's why I feel like I have to tell you right now... in case anyone who has once spoken to me and felt like I was someone to look up to is currently reading this post.
Your feelings of depression, inadequacy, anxiety and frustration are real. And your worst fears are real: Life doesn't get better from here. Not if you continue on the same way.
Your biggest fear is a result of your inaction. You fear that you'll forever be inadequate because you have a feeling that your current habits don't reflect the habits of the person you wish to become. Your frustration is a result of a subtle realization that you're slowing drifting away from what you truly want without a visible solution. And honestly there is no visible solution.
But frustration, fear, and depression are perfect catalysts for creativity. I slowly came to understand this, so I tried to group my negativity and run away from it... or rather leave it behind. I consciously reminded myself that every second I spent feeling frustrated or scared or depressed was another second I spent on the path of self-destruction. I pretty much drove myself crazy in order to keep myself from becoming crazy.
In the foreword of #FML, I mentioned that my reason for dropping out of college was to make sure that my dreams were not a backseat to my "mandatory" college degree. There's more to it than that. I had to create my own Ethan Westbrooks situation. You've probably never heard of him, but he is a 2nd year defensive end for the St. Louis Rams... and he has a face tattoo. Westbrooks had his face tatted when he quit his job at a Toys 'Я' Us so that he would never be able to work a regular job again. It was football or nothing after that. As for myself... a college drop-out within the Asian-American community? They pretty much look at me like I'm an ex-convict. Every family or friendly gathering, I get reminded of my worst fears when I hear the question "Are you still in school or did you graduate and start working already?" and I passionately recommit to becoming the next big rapper. I created my own demons and now I must keep running...or else.
This won't necessarily be your method, but my point is that my source of inspiration and drive was once rooted in frustration, fear, and depression. I still am just as scared and depressed when I look at my life, just like you are. But I want you to understand that the change you want in your life won't just appear. You have to grab it. If you continue being stagnant... you will become your worst nightmare. And I'm not here to discourage you whatsoever. I just want you to realize the stakes you're in... and at the same time remember that once you implement the change it could take years before they flourish. For example, it might take you until you're 40 to learn how to play the piano. But would you rather be a 40-year-old that can play the piano or a 40-year-old who can't?
I plan on being inserted into the conversation of the greatest rappers of all time. Should I ever see the days of glamour, celebrity, riches, fame and the media labels me an overnight success... I want both you and I to remember that I was once stuck in the very same frustrating position you are in right now.
And as I end this novel of a blog post, I want to leave you with a certain comic strip from Zen Pencils that can be applied to any form of depression, not just artistic development. I hope I could have been some help if you or a friend was going through an existential crisis of any kind. If you know someone who's going through a shit time like mine... try to figure out what it is they really want out of life and encourage them towards it.
jaeL, just another everyday Life