When I was a child I carried a fake I.D. card that someone who worked for the Cuban Ministry of Culture had made for me as a favor to my father. The I.D. card listed my many job titles: singer, songwriter, composer, pianist, guitarist, arranger, dancer, choreographer, actress, poet, and novelist. There was no doubt in my mind I’d do something related to the arts as an adult. In retrospection I’m able to see this I.D. card was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve dabbled in all these fields at one point or another as a writer, musician, and music teacher.
I’ve often asked myself if we reincarnate with a career already planned ahead of us or if we get to pick once we’re here. Is Earth some kind of career fair where we meet people, learn about their professions, and then decide what seems more appealing? Some individuals find it difficult to know exactly what they want to do for a living, while others, like me, don’t think it twice. We plunge head first and do what it takes to make it to the other side. But these little stories we tell ourselves as children often become the one thing that impedes our progress. It seems like the more we want something, the more we doubt our ability to get it. To identify and stop a recurring cycle that’s standing in the way of our progress we need to be very brave and one-hundred-percent honest.
My innocent childhood game of calling myself a well-rounded artist turned out to be a hindrance when it came to taking a deep look at who I am as a person and what I’m able to do. Labels are limiting in many ways. In other ways they set the bar too high as they carry implications of being successful at everything we set to do. And in our society success is related to fame and riches. I haven’t had neither one of those yet, though I can’t say I’ve given up hope.
At the present moment I consider myself a highly artistic person with tons of potential to explore. I always assumed I’d be saying this about myself when I was in my early thirties. Definitely not in my forties. By age thirty-four I was supposed to be married, have two kids, have a huge house, have traveled all over the world, and whatsmore I was supposed to have a respectable position and be well-known in my artistic career. Dangit, I worked my butt off as a piano student, and then…and then… (sigh) life got in the way. I had to leave the music conservatory a year before I left Cuba because I’d attempted to reach my potential. I’d won a piano competition and my mother became paranoid that if I brought too much attention to myself, the government would not give me the green light to come to the United States. So I learned it was best to keep my head down and not be noticed. That can be pretty scarring for a Leo. Even though I think my mother was probably right in having me withdraw from school and from the competition, I’m still dealing with the after-effects of that decision.
Everything that came after that was traumatic as well. I couldn’t see my friends after dropping out of the conservatory, then we spent a few months with my mother’s family in Matanzas. It was hard saying goodbye to them, but not as bad as leaving Cuba to land in Panama, two days before the invasion of the Canal. I was only fifteen. I blocked most of it, but what I remember is enough to not making me want to revisit that chapter of my life.
Once in Miami I was “discovered” by my high school music teacher, when the classroom phone rang and I called out the pitches that were ringing. He went to the piano, played them, and the whole class turned to look at me as if I’d just landed from Mars. All of my conservatory friends had perfect pitch, so I assumed everyone had it. Under my high school music teacher’s mentorship, I learned to play classical guitar and sang in the chorus. I even accompanied the chorus at the Superintendent’s festivals. It was him who pushed me to continue on a music career and helped me sign up at the community college. What followed were another five years of serious practice and English-remedial college-level classes. I was trying to play catch-up because I wasn’t going to be held back by Life.
My piano teacher at the community college prepared me for the audition at the University of Miami and I got a near-full scholarship. I was happy working my butt off once again, practicing six hours a day and playing gigs at night. Then I met another pianist, fell in love, got married, and three years later got divorced. Finishing my studies became a struggle and—as if student debt, finals, and graduation concerts weren’t enough to keep me on the edge of insanity—I also found myself falling head over heels for someone I admired very much. Being an outspoken Leo, I told him how I felt. And then… and then… (sigh) came the shame of not being loved back. The shame of having spoken what’s in my heart so clearly that there was no way to take it back. A shame I’ve carried in my heart until recently, not because I held on to that love, but because I held on to the feeling of rejection. Not to mention that it became one of the many excuses that kept me at a safe distance from risking my childhood dream—a career as a performer.
So I could have been a great concert pianist, but Life got in the way, right? I’m a walking cliché. A real sob-story as you can see. But when love came knocking at my door once again and the opportunity arose for me to move to another continent to start anew, I stuck around instead. I can’t say I knew at the time why I stuck around, but I’m glad I did.
Not only have I found true happiness with my husband, but I now spend quality time with myself. I’m having fun getting to know my funny, childish mind and its recurring thoughts. I get to listen and observe without judgment. Little by little I’m starting to love myself enough to do make my happiness a priority by doing what’s best for me. So far this is what I’ve discovered: I’ve spent decades making up excuses for not reaching my full potential. I’ve been getting in the way of me. It wasn’t Life. It was me! And all those projects I spent so much time on, although valuable and enjoyable, were in fact distractions that kept me from facing the unachievable expectations I’d set for myself in the past. Except they’re not really unachievable. Goals can’t be achieved unless you set yourself on the path to do them.
So I’m in my early forties, have a wonderful husband, no kids, haven’t traveled the world, and I’m a non-famous pianist. Can “success” be redefined? I’m pretty sure it can be. I hope to continue enjoying the artistic endeavors that once were distractors, but as of right now, my priority is to weed out those fear-based thoughts that fill my mind whenever I sit at the piano and play one of the pieces I played back in college. By shedding light into the darkness I’m able to see the exit. I’m coming out of my cage of excuses as an ex-prisoner of Fear. The thoughts are still there, but under the bright light I now I see them for what they are. Little stories I’ve told myself. Fiction stories that tried to serve me but failed. Nothing can stand in the way of my success now that I’ve redefined its meaning. I’m on a quest to prove to myself the extent of my potential. I’ll do it in my own terms, by exploring my mind, nurturing my spirit, and always choosing to do what’s best for me.