Recently, I met a young musician who so happen to be a student of a fellow Hartt School of Music alumnus and friend. I hadn’t seen my friend for nearly 15 years, so I was giddy about seeing and performing for her, as she is an accomplished musician in her own right. The young man of nineteen was very cordial, but I couldn’t help but notice how reserved he was. Actually, he seemed more contained, as if he would have loved to express something yet was unsure, thus it was better not to say anything at all and just behave cordially. I’d picked up on this after exhcanging some social niceties. Perhaps it was the post show euphoria of seeing my old college mate and her expressing her ecstatic approval of what she’d just witnessed, that prompted me to break into Motivational Speaker mode.

My wonderful friend had spoken so highly of her charge and how much she believed in him and his talent. So naturally I inundated him with questions about his aspirations. Sure it’s a bit unfair as none of us at that age really know, but if your dreams are valid you have an idea. My new young musician friend seemed rather unsteady regarding his ambitions and it showed in his replies to me. He even seemed to down play himself, which I absolutely do not tolerate. The world in which you live, especially if you are going to endeavor in anything remotely related to the entertainment industry will give you more than enough reasons to doubt, settle and forget you had any dreams to begin with. If anything, you must be your biggest fan. You must be convinced that your dreams, your ambitions, that which James Baldwin mused, “makes your blood beat,” is valid. I dared the young man to make it a habit, even a daily ritual to affirm himself. I personally see in him a star in the making, for which he half heartedly professed to not having such desires, which is fine. But, I knew he wasn’t being honest with himself when he tried to sell me the notion that he essentially just wanted to be a perpetual student, maybe a professor. I saw the lightening flash. I reminded my new young friend that as a musician you will always be a student, furthermore, don’t do us any favors by becoming a professor if this is not your actual vocation, but rather your escape. It’s insulting to the profession, an honorable and vital one, it’s insulting to the students you’ll inevitably ruin and it is insulting to yourself. There’s no joy in living beneath yourself and only cowards seek refuge from the best of themselves. I concede, for a first meeting with someone I have no familiarity with this was a bit much. However, for his part he seemed to get where I was coming from and certainly knew it was anchored in love.

When the very beautiful and amazingly talented, Lupita Nyong’o accpeted her Best Supporting Actress accolade for 12 Years A Slave at the 86th Annual Academy Awards, during her acceptance speech she delivered in my estimation the line of the evening: “…your dreams are valid.” Hollywood is not known for celebrating artists like Ms. Nyong’o. Western society as a whole has never been very fond of celebrating her likes. So one can only imagine when, as P.T. Barnum would say, her “peculiar genius” began to stir within, the daunting task of convincing herself admist that thick fog of doubt, even fear, the condescensions, the patronizing, the rejections, others’ vision of her, “…your dreams are valid.” It’s an experience not uncommon to those of us who dare to tread that road, often lonely road toward our true ambitions. But, it starts with audacity, even pride, and you must be careful to make the distinction between pride and arrogance. Arrogance is an unrealistic and ignorant understanding of oneself. Pride, carefully managed convinces us to endure and drives us to excellence. Thus, the first step upon this journey must be a sure, steady and honest one. “For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6). Those who shift to and fro are those who’ve never believed in the validity of their ambitions and essentially the validity of themselves. Your dreams are as valid as you make them. They’re as real and as lively as you believe them to be, but you must believe them, and in believing them you narrow the possibility of doubt. You narrow the possibility of shifting with every fleeting distraction, because you are grounded in the validation of your possibilities.

It’s Your Dream, It’s Your Voice, Make it Big!

Johnathan Lee Iverson