They Pay You For That?!

If you had come by my house on Tuesday this week, around midnight, you would have seen my housemate and I engaged in a very unconventional home-based Karaoke session. Unconventional, because instead of looking at lyrics on a screen and singing along as is usual at K-sessions, we were playing a guessing game. She’d play the karaoke version of a song from YouTube, and I’d try and guess the song as quickly as possible. Then, of course, I’d have to sing the song without looking at the lyrics. As the inventor of the game, I think it’s safe to say I’m pretty darn good at it. I can guess songs within a single chord and know 90% of the lyrics to all the songs I’ve heard (be they recent or from 10 years ago).

The bottom line of this anecdote (other than the humblebrag) is that music is in my blood. I’ve been singing and listening to all kinds of music since as long as I can remember, and though it still feels weird to admit it, I’m pretty above average at it. So much so that whenever most people hear me sing, or are exposed to my wide knowledge on the subject (“Is there any song you don’t know?”), their first question invariably is, “So why exactly aren’t you doing this professionally?” My response is usually an “Aw, shucks” expression or a modest shrug, but I never really have a proper, reasonable answer. Honestly, I don’t know the answer. Maybe I never thought of myself as good enough a singer to be doing it professionally, despite EVERYONE I know telling me otherwise. Maybe it’s that I never really considered it a valid profession to begin with.

The other day, I jokingly told my colleague how I’d once thought about trying to be a radio deejay, and she took it seriously enough to tell me I’d be good at it. She said I knew a lot about music (see first paragraph), could speak well and was creative, so why not? Again, I didn’t know what to do other than shrug noncommittally and talk around the subject. Again, I didn’t know what had made me let radio deejay slide from legitimate option to invalid profession, just like I had singing.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about “valid professions” a bit more. I don’t live in the rock ages. I know that singers, radio deejays, food and movie critics, travel journalists and wedding planners are all perfectly valid professionals. I know these people have stable jobs and can support themselves financially just as much as the next office-goer. I know this. So why is it so hard to think of these unconventional jobs as valid options for myself?

I can think of two reasons. One, that I’m afraid to put myself out there, lest I find out that what I think I do well turns out to be not so fantastic after all. I auditioned for a popular singing competition once, and when I botched it, it put a major dent in my confidence. I thought I was a good singer, and not only was I not as great I as thought, here were a hundred other people who were so much better at it! What was I doing, thinking I had a shot of getting in? That mentality has carried over to other things as well. What if I think I write well, but I’m actually only decent? In a world where people are looking for the best, “only decent” will definitely not cut it, so why bother?

The second reason is that I was just never exposed to unconventional job options. Don’t get me wrong – my parents never forced me to do anything, and where studies were concerned, I had free reign to choose whatever I wanted. Still, my choices were limited to what I knew I could do, and I only knew about 10% of what was actually out there. I look at the exposure my students get these days, and I wish there had been more of that for my generation. I wish we had been taken on school trips to see what people did in their jobs, whether it was as a lawyer or a baker. My ex-students come back and tell me about fancy never-heard-before Polytechnic courses they’re in, and sometimes, even the academically well-performing students choose courses that aren’t the least bit Science/Math related. Those times, I feel glad that the idea that one course/job/route is better/more feasible/more worthy than the other is slowly fading out. Those times, I also wish I had had the experience in my own school days to think of options other than the prescribed ones.

I’m 25 now, and you’d think it would be easy to outgrow both those reasons, but it’s not. The feeling that you’re “not good enough” is a basic human emotion that plagues all of us (and for some people, this a lifelong experience of never feeling worthy). Also, it’s hard to switch out of the mentality that some passions are meant to remain as hobbies instead of becoming a means of income or a way of life. Still, I’m grateful for the fact that I’m conscious of these things now, and can work on overcoming my self-inflicted barriers. Maybe one day in the future I’ll be able to post about something I’m doing that I never thought I’d do as a job.

For now, I’m taking it one step at a time. 🙂

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