Friday, February 8, 2013

Courage, Confidence and Choices

Last week in Melbourne, my friend and I came across this guy busking on the streets outside one of the busiest train stations in the city. He was from Taiwan, and most of the songs he sang were familiar to me – popular pop ballads released by many of the biggest artists in Taiwan. His dexterity with the guitar left me nothing short of envious, and listening to him sing live, with just his voice and guitar as instruments, free of digital alterations, stopped me and many others in our tracks, inserting a short interlude into our busy lives, slowing down the frantic movement of people for just a few minutes, allowing them to take a break from the tedious march that we call life.

It seemed that on this small corner of the Earth, his voice would not be able to bring much to those around him. How is he able to compete with those whose tunes are constantly on the airwaves and who clock up millions of views on Youtube? Regardless of his reach, his passionate rendition of each song brought to life the lyrics and infused them with meaning, in a way that modern mass commercialised music does not. To be able to listen to such a great voice singing songs that I enjoy without having to pay the ridiculous amounts they charge for live concerts these days, allowed to me realise that sometimes you come across the best things in life by accident. It also reminds us of the way things work in this world. Talent may not get you ahead, and the fulfilment of dreams often do not solely rely on talent but regardless of which profession, not every deserving person has the chance to be truly successful.  It is also a sobering thought that this is actually a reflection of the society in which we live, fuelled by consumers like me, who pursue things that are aesthetically pleasing rather than that which has substance.

I found out later that this guy had actually competed in a televised singing competition back in Taiwan a few years ago but was not placed very high at the conclusion of the competition. Whatever the reason for competing in that contest, for money, for recognition, for a chance to fulfil a dream, he has talent. He may not be the best singer around, but his voice was good enough to stop a few people in their tracks and to engage them for longer than a song, which is more than can be said for most of us.

For someone to shrug off the past, to set aside the dream of becoming a star, being able to leave that behind and then to go on to pick up a guitar and sing to strangers on a random street in a random city, is something that requires courage, and lots of it. Singing to an audience made up of mostly people unfamiliar with the songs and often singing to thin air, requires dedication to the craft.

His reasons for busking, I don’t know, but certainly it isn't something that you can make a good living out of. Maybe he just gets satisfaction seeing smiles on the faces of his audience, or now and then stopping just one person in their tracks gives him a little sense of accomplishment and gives him the encouragement to carry on. But seeing him sing with confidence, humbly thanking people who left change behind, and interacting with his audience, you can see that he is in his element, he enjoys what he does, and he hopes to brighten your day through music.

Seeing him led me thinking about what gives him the confidence to stand out in public and sing at the mercy of the harshest critics; was it the competition, his friends, his family? Or does his family not even approve of what he is doing. Brought up the way I was, I was always told, even if you are happy in what you do, can that keep you alive? My father was supportive of my choice in tertiary education, but that was because it was still something that somewhat guarantees a relatively stable employment in my future. But what if I chose something else, what if my sister chose something else? Would he be just as supportive? The answer is: I would not have chosen something else. I don’t have the courage to take that step, and even if there was something that I would rather do, or a “dream” that I want to pursue, I wouldn't have the confidence and would not be reassured that I was talented at it.

Throughout my school years, I have never felt that I stood out at anything; I always felt that I was inadequate at everything, that I was still not good enough, and good enough in the eyes of my parents meant achieving a perfect score or being the best. But that doesn't mean that I do not like the direction  my life is heading in, even though I can think of a few different paths I might have travelled down had I the courage to, I'm OK with where I'm going. And again, my parents are still unrelenting, believing having given up the dream to become a doctor (not like that ever existed, but whatever), I am making a mistake choosing to undertake research in my chosen field, and not choosing a field that is more relevant to the whole world (i.e. encompassing the mighty DEVELOPED WORLD). But at least in that regard, I should be able to make up my own mind; I chose this career path not for the material rewards, but for the reward that comes with changing the lives of people for the better, even if it is just one person. But that is another story.

So, a final thought:
“Are you content working everyday doing something that keeps your bank balance reasonable but that you don’t enjoy or would you rather be truly happy but barely making ends meet?”

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