Around 80 to 90% of the teenagers in the world have dreamt of becoming rock stars — not an actual statistic, but may be pretty close. Pick up a guitar, learn to play the drums, sing a few of their favourite tunes …
The magic, to me, was writing my own songs.
From covers, remixes and literal collages of songs that I liked, I slowly started to write a few verses. Experimented with a few chord sequences here and there and, after multiple attempts, tons of incomplete verses, unfinished ideas and a handful of years, the first full song emerged.
And then a handful more, in the following years.
At the time, what I and the other teenagers around the world didn't realize, was that we were actively practicing empathy. Humans are emotional beings. And anything we create is rooted in our perception of what surrounds us, how others behave around us.
Through music, you're actively investing time and energy in expressing complex thoughts and emotions, in a way that other people can relate to. You offer them a chance to interpret and tap into their own experiences.
Even if you keep those songs to yourself, empathy and complex, structured thinking is still there.
If you're in a band, you get to be an expert in group dynamics, culture and leadership. As informal as it may be, you want to have a good time, to feel part of something special, surrounded by people you respect and admire.
If you want to accomplish something together or even as a solo artist — play your first show, record a demo, make that song see the light of day … — you have to be able to motivate yourself, and others if that's the case. And there must be ground rules, otherwise say goodbye to the goals you set.
You're also practicing process. Every piece of work requires process. Whether we want it or not. The more you practice, the easier it gets, because you start to refine your methodology. Maybe you like to write at the park, or collect a few apparently random words and sentences and then sit down to connect them and create a story.
The spontaneous song that "wrote itself" in a few hours is either novice luck or mastery. In most cases it is the culmination of many, many hours of practice and a very well defined process.
On top of this, you learn to be vulnerable. Those moments of hesitation while playing a new song to your best friend, their interpretations of your lyrics, the silence of an audience between songs — maybe they hated it, maybe they're so into the music they don't want to spoil the moment … who knows?
These are all invaluable tools that transcend the teenage years. By starting to practice them at a young age, we're giving ourselves a head start. Taking as much time as we need to experiment, calibrate our values and consolidate these techniques.
And more than you know it, you're effortlessly practicing them again, and again, every day. In every interaction.
Listening to each other, taking the time to understand them, their point of view, their beliefs. Opening up and sharing our thoughts, ideas. Being creative, collaborating. Iterating and starting everything from scratch together.
But I didn't actually become a rockstar …
You can be 100% sure your time was well spent practicing some of the most invaluable skills anyone could have.
If you look closely at day-to-day interactions: at home, at work, playing sports with friends, volunteering, coaching little league … the deadline, the friend that snaps at you for no reason, the goals you set to yourself and your family, that vacation you've been planning for so long … you'll see a myriad of opportunities to see skills in action.
And it's never too late to pick up an instrument.
Thanks for reading!