“Can You See What I Can See? – The Future?”

“Can you see what I can see, the future? Do you feel the way I feel in this life?
Do you believe in what I believe in? Time of change to set, A new feel, So –
Come to me, and take my hand, Come to me, and take my hand
Come to me, and take my hand, Take my hand, we’ll share the fall..”

(Roni Size, Reprazent  1997)

After I attended High school – firstly at Opunake High School and then in my final year New Plymouth Girls High School (where I received a B Bursary), I chose to go to Wellington University. After looking at the various subject options I decided I wanted to study English Literature and Theatre and Film, as there was a practical Drama paper in 3rd year I was particularly intrigued by.

There was a bit of hype around my going to University. I was the first person on the Scott family side to be accepted for – and attend university. It was definitely expected of me, so much so that I never really thought about what would happen were I to go to university and say – not like it, or do very well.

I remember my first weeks as I adjusted to this dramatically new life. I felt anxiety at wanting to fit in, the nerves of making friends in my hostel, trying not to get lost as I made my way to various lectures and tutorials around campus. Victoria and Wellington itself struck me as being very grey and concrete. The general meeting place was a communal square surrounded by the library and various other buildings, which was permeated by the smell of cigarette smoke as people collected on the steps to drink coffee and eat lunch. And there were pigeons everywhere. Fat, thin, some strong and bold, others timid and with mangled feet that we could only speculate what from. I stayed close to those people I knew from High School or were familiar with through their being from Taranaki, but I also remember spending a bit of time on my own just sitting and observing. My peers and I were instantly made aware of the hierarchy of those that were ‘second and third years’ and those of us that were freshies.

Needless to say it was a very different place from my farm up in Taranaki.

I found lectures quite boring and half the time my closest friend Sarah and I (who took a lot of the same classes) spent that time checking out boys, pouring over shops in the area, and trying to stay awake during class. I remember being so tired at one Education lecture that started very early in the morning, that I fell asleep with my head on my writing pad. I only woke when people around me started to get up at the end of class, gathering their things as I lifted my head from a pool of drool soaked paper.

It also seemed to be a lot of drinking, eating crap food, going clubbing and attending many, many parties. Other than trying out for a comedy/music performance being held by the student union (I failed to make the grade),  and spending a week in the winter skiing with my cousins Phillipa and Caro at the notoriously steep Craigieburn mountain range in Christchurch, I didn’t join any drama clubs, choirs or sports teams. Someone tried to talk to me about writing for the local paper ‘Salient’ but I didn’t feel like I had enough skills.

For the first time in my life I gained weight and lost a lot of sleep, drinking nearly every night of the week and eating unhealthy food.

We went out every weekend clubbing, but to be honest I found a lot of the clubs tedious and full of rugby heads. I discovered ‘La Luna’ where they played Hip Hop and Trip Hop and a cool little Jazz club with live Jazz music. I used to part ways with my friends and go off to these places often on my own, just so I could listen to some decent music. It didn’t matter that ‘Everyone’ was going to St Johns – a huge mainstream club down by the water, I would rather be down Cuba street hanging in Cuba Cuba listening to a DJ spin some alternative sounds.

However, my main problem with this time in my life was that I struggled to know who I was at Uni or what it was I really wanted to do with my life. When you are surrounded by so many different people going to classes and socialising with them all, it can make life all the more confusing. I might like different music to my friends, but I still liked my friends! I might not like certain people in my social circle but you just had to roll with it because you saw them almost every day.

My friends and I attended a few live shows while in Wellington, The Beastie Boys were a particular highlight, touring their Ill Communication album which is still a stock favourite. I saw The Violent Femmes whom I had loved since High School. It was also a show I got beaten up at afterwards when some homies who were loitering on the street heard me singing some of the songs from the concert and decided to poke fun at me. Me being a loud mouth and rather quick to retort hit back at them with some choice words which needless to say they did not like.

I attended my much loved Pearl Jam – when my friend Suzanne and I took a car ride up to Auckland with a complete stranger, paying him petrol money and having a slight car crash just before we reached the city! We got there though and crowd surfed our little socks off, even going back the following night to see them from the back of the theatre to take in the whole musical ‘experience’. The big one of course was ‘The Big Day Out’, which happened every summer and took in a whole array of bands. Highlights included seeing the memorising Tricky, energetic Offspring and I will never forget – Prodigy. They had just exploded onto the scene and played the most hype set I had experienced in my life at that stage with the entire crowd losing their shit.

As my first year at uni finished I went back to Taranaki to see my friends and family. I spent a good few weeks hanging out with my school friend Carey up in New Plymouth who had been studying radio broadcasting and was DJing on a great new local station ‘The Most FM’, playing brilliant alternative music every day.

I tired to get a job waitressing and stayed with my Aunty Rosemary and Uncle Frank in New Plymouth, but nothing took off. I couldn’t really be bothered trying too hard if I’m honest, as I was young and out to party and have a good time.

In my second year in Wellington I lived with three guys who were nice enough but untidy and rather geeky. They thought I was cool – which shows just how geeky they were! They were also all older than me, but as one of them drove a car, it meant we could do things like take off for the weekend to go skiing up Mount Ruapehu.

I would definitely define my second year at Uni through the amount of weed I smoked and the music I got into. During High School I had never smoked weed, it was more about drinking and developing a taste for Marlborough Lights cigarettes. But Uni was  a time for experimenting so it seemed better late than never to give the green a chance.

I discovered Tricky and Radiohead, Blur and obviously Portishead. I still loved my Hip Hop, but being the mid 90’s it was all about Brit pop and Trip Hop for me. My good friend Johnse and I went and saw Massive Attack live down at the docks (which was amazing), then hit our favourite late night club Tatou. This was one haunt where I felt comfortable. The music was almost all dance music, (Shouts out to Clinton Smiley!) and I loved the big long red velvet curtains you passed through to get in, the fact the crowd was a lot older, dressed alternatively, and the club stayed open till 6.a.m.

There were never any rugby heads or preppy kids in there. It was all alternative, edgy people with no agenda other than to dance the night away to good music. I had always loved experimenting with fashion and in my second year at University ‘Grunge’ was huge. I had two pairs of Doc Martens – first a bottle green that my Mum ordered for me from the UK, then I got a cherry red pair. We all wore beanies and had dark red lips, chokers and long satin skirts with oversized denim jackets. I look at my wardrobe currently and have to  laugh – 90s fashion is in at the moment and my wardrobe definitely has some versions of those very things in there – albeit updated versions!

I would say overall that while University was fun, I never really felt like I belonged. This is probably due to the fact that at that stage in my life, there was a constant pressure from family, teachers, peers, to know what you want to do with your life – and unlike my classmates – I just didn’t know. Looking back, while there were certain aspects of the whole experience that I did enjoy – it probably was a bit of a waste of time for me. I went because I felt like I should, but I honesty don’t think that I was mature enough to appreciate the knowledge I was being offered… or perhaps it was being offered in a way that I just didn’t relate to.

I remember walking out of a Philosophy class feeling a deep sense of panic that I couldn’t comprehend the themes that were being discussed there on the first day. I decided to change to a different subject immediately. I also recall sitting in a film tutorial feeling rather small and naive after expressing confusion at not being able to ‘see’ the overall concept that the film was supposed to embody. People literally laughed at me. I felt frustrated and angry that in one respect I was encouraged to have an opinion, but then was laughed at because it was a much simpler one to those around me.

What I would like to go on record saying now and that I hope I remember should I ever have children, is that in your late teens, or throughout your 20’s it is completely okay to not know what you want to do with your life. Hell some people spend years of their adult life changing their direction trying to find something that ‘fits’ and still don’t!

University used to be about gaining qualifications for a job, but these days – unless you are going for a job as a doctor or lawyer, or something that requires many years of dedicated study, you can come out of it and still be unable to find a job, or a direction to go in.

We put so much pressure on young people to have this sort of clear definitive path set out for their future that it can create a lot of confusion and anxiety. Again in hindsight (isn’t it a wonderful thing) I probably should have looked at taking a music paper, or gone travelling, or applied straight for a Drama school. Music was such an intrinsic part of me it seems strange this was not a path I thought to take.. But again – the idea of not going to University was never offered to me.

I feel that when you are a teenager, life should still be about having fun and not growing up too fast. You are essentially still a child. Your 20’s are more likely to be the time in your life when you have the experience and courage to try new things and be open to new challenges. You are more likely to go through your 20’s carving out your future and finding out what your strengths and weaknesses are than when you are a teenager – simply because you are in a better position to!

Its okay to not want to go to college or University, its okay to try many different things before you settle on something, as long as you give it a go and give it your all each time.

I think it was obvious to my parents that University wasn’t offering me what I really wanted in life – and that was to play upon my strengths in Drama and Music, and to be somewhere where this was the main focus.

Luckily for me, a new door was opened when I (unintentionally) failed the papers needed to get me into my 3rd year and into the performance class I had been intrigued by right from the start. While I was devastated at the time, I quickly realised that everything happens for a reason, and my path was about to alter.

It was my second summer home from Uni. I was working at ‘Vertigo’ the surf store in Oakura, living with my brother Craig and his girlfriend and spending my evenings surfing and playing touch rugby. While visiting my parents, Mum and I sat down and talked about the idea of me auditioning for some drama schools. We picked out the three key schools in the country, UniTech in Auckland, Toi Whakaarei in Wellington and NASDA in Christchurch.

While the side of me that was comfortable with where I lived and with my current friends- hoped I might get into Toi Whakaarei due to it being in Wellington, I was also open to the idea of living in a whole new location. I have always been this way.

Back when I was a little kid there was an exodus of students from Awatuna Primary to other schools around the district due to a terrible head teacher with some seriously questionable teaching methods. A lot of my friends chose to go together to the school of Riverlea, but I chose to go on my own to Te Kiri. It was the same for my final year in High School when I chose to leave Opunake High (which had a strong sport focus) – for New Plymouth Girls which had a fantastic Arts and Music department. I liked the idea of starting again as there is something wonderfully exciting about beginning anew, a chance to put behind past insecurities created by old relationships or enemies, A chance to see your life with a fresh perspective. Plus I get bored with the same view all the time.. This is probably why I have never lived in one city for longer than five years!

So, despite not having a Drama coach, I picked out two audition pieces and a couple of songs, and Mum and I set about driving around the country to audition for my three chosen schools, as each application to audition was accepted.

The audition for NASDA in Christchurch was held in the holidays in a hall in the town of Palmerston North. I had a couple of old school friends living there, and stupidly spent the night before my audition getting off my face drinking at a club and smoking cigarettes.  I stayed the night with some hot guy I’d had a fling with before at Uni, and when my Mum came to pick me up, (I had made her stay in a motel – yes I know  – I am a terrible child) I was in such a rush I didn’t even have time to shower! Still, It didn’t seem to affect my audition too much as I received the news that I had been accepted! Suddenly the reality of leaving university was upon me, and should I choose to go to Christchurch, I would be living not just in a whole new city but a different island! I would be a long way from my family now.

Though I was nervous I was also incredibly thrilled. Finally I would be living out my dream to go to a school where everyone was into acting and dance and music, my own ‘Fame’ fantasy realised. I had an opportunity to live in a new city and despite knowing no one (bar my second cousins who lived there) – the song my heart was singing was one that for the first time in a long time – sounded completely in tune to me.

 

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“If I Wasn’t Open To The Sound Around Me”

“If I Wasn’t Open To The Sound Around Me”

“If I wasn’t open to the sound around me, I would never get to where I know I should be, Maybe you could come and get to know me… Cos here’s what you might find..”              (“Dark Days” – Tali – Audioporn Records 2011)

My siblings were the focus of my intense admiration growing up, and I was particularly close to Craig the eldest. We would play together quite happily, despite there being almost nine years between us. (Yes I was an accident, the best mistake my parents ever made btw haha). Over the years he and I have also always shared and had lengthy discussions about music. Craig has always had an extensive and eclectic music collection. When I was very young he introduced me to some of the music he was into – Dire Straits, The Cars, Chris Rea… (I remember ‘Money For Nothing’ being huge in our house) I liked it, but nothing really stuck with me – most of it was Male led music.

Warrick was at the age of being ‘cool’ so I wasn’t really too much of an issue to him, or him to me and he listened to a lot of heavier rock. I did really like Midnight Oil which I heard through Warrick though, ‘Beds are Burning’ is still an exceptional political track.

Marnie and I had a long standing love/hate relationship. However we both loved music and through this our sisterhood would at times seem more like a friendship (much to my delight). We would listen to Wham! and dance around the room pretending they were our boyfriends, (obviously she always had George and I ended up with Andrew) and sing at the tops of our voices into our hairbrushes. As little girls we idolised Madonna and Cindi Lauper, were both confused and in awe of Boy George, got emotional listening to Sade and Tracey Chapman, and were spurred into frenzied dance moves by Jody Watley, Prince and Michael Jackson. I remember as Marnie was a bit older than me and started high school a few years before I did, her music taste also evolved into appreciating early 90s’s UK music such as Rebel MC, Snap and later Soul II Soul. As I approached my early teens I became obsessed with these albums myself – sometimes stealing the tapes from out of her room to take to school on the bus and listen to on my walkman.

I remember when I was little, about 7 or 8 years old, my parents used to take my brothers into Hawera to play hockey. It was always boring for me and so sometimes they would leave me to play at their family friends the Kelsons. Mrs Kelson, or Glynss as I called her, was well into her music. She would let me pull out the records from her precious record collection – Duran Duran , OMD and The Pet Shop Boys (all bands Marnie also was very much into) and I would sing along to my favourite songs. However I distinctly remember one day her pulling out Grace Jones’ album ‘Night Clubbing’.

“Look at this one” she said placing the cover into my lap. “What do you think of this?”

I looked at Grace Jones’ image, my young mind taking it all in. She seemed both masculine yet feminine at the same time – the cigarette dangling from her mouth, her liquorice skin glistening, partially exposed by her open jacket. I believe Grace was probably the first image of a Black Woman I had ever seen.

“Wow she’s so….black!” I remember my little voice saying in awe.

“Yes she is very black” Glynss replied in agreement, “And isn’t she beautiful? I love this image because she looks so powerful. She is a really incredible performer too and she has an amazing voice that sings amazing songs.”

I looked back down at the image and this time I saw what Glynss had described. A strong, fierce looking Woman with eyes holding secrets that could only be discovered through listening to her songs. She was sexy and beautiful and masculine all at once, and I remember feeling very wowed by her image. Later when I listened to her voice on the record I felt the same emotion again. To this day I am a huge Grace Jones fan and inspired by both her voice and her performances.

   Marnie and I shared a room until she turned twelve when the old nursery room was converted into her room. She had to walk through my room to get to hers though, which used to pissed me off, especially when it always sounded like good fun was coming from in there that I wasn’t allowed to be a part of. When Marnie had friends over, I became nothing more than an annoyance. Doors were slammed in my face and though I put notes under the door begging to be allowed into play, she very rarely relented.

However sometimes Marnie and I would lie awake at night with our adjoining door open, with the radio going in my room (because I got the clearest reception) and I would turn the dial until we lost some of the static so we could tune into Energy FM the best radio station in Taranaki, broadcasting out of New Plymouth. Here is where I discovered some of my first Hip Hop music such as Young MC “Principals Office’ and ‘Bust A Move.’ Lying there in my bed listening to this young kid rapping, I was enthralled by both the lyrics and the delivery and couldn’t stop jiggling my little legs to the beat.

Marnie and I were both were keen surfers as well and loved blasting tapes in Dad’s yellow ute that Marnie was driving at the time. we’d have Edie Brickell’s ‘What I Am’ on, the volume up all the way out to Opunake singing at the tops of our voices. As all the trucks and cars pulled up onto the grass where we parked and unloaded our surfboards, everyones stereos would be competing with the latest jams. The local boys were pumping ‘2 Live Crew’, We would have ‘Soul II Soul’ on repeat, someone else would have Milli Vanilli or Tone Loc on. It got us all going as we donned our wetsuits to head out into the waves.

Us kids still loved gathering around the TV – especially when it came to ‘Ready To Roll’ which was our first taste of music television. Each week we would debate over which track we thought would make it to number one, whooping with delight if it was the artist we predicted. I remember Michael Jackson spending weeks at the top spot, and later ‘Poi E’ a song sung completely in Te Reo Maori by The Patea Maori Club. We loved this track because Patea is in Taranaki so it was effectively a Taranaki track at number 1! We even learnt the song at choir, such was its popularity. Interestingly enough – there has never been another song with only Maori lyrics that has reached so many or been played on prime time radio. Kinda sad considering its our native language… (Yeah what’s up with that anyway NZ radio?? ) ‘Ready To Roll’ later became ‘RTR’ hosted by Robbie Rakete, but by then Marnie was more into ‘Radio With Pictures’ a late night music television program hosted by the uber cool Karyn Hay. I remember INXS ‘Need You Tonight’ coming on and Marnie and her friends going gaga for Michael Hutchins. As I watched this sexy young man with his long hair writhing about in front of the camera I was both afraid and completely enthralled.

As a young high school kid I got massively into my Nu Jack Swing. I loved Bobby Brown,  Colour Me Bad, Tony! Toni! Tone! and Bell Biv DeVoe, and got more and more interested in listening to Hip Hop and writing lyrics. Its funny because none of my brothers or sister ever really got into Hip Hop music, it was something that I discovered a love of on my own, partially because I loved words and making up my own rhymes, and I discovered I was especially good at freestyling. My favourite program growing up (Other than The Cosby Show) was The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, because I loved the fact Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff were also actual musicians. Fashion and music were something that were intertwined and I was heavily influenced by the fashion I saw on music videos. Not to mention that I loved dancing! I imitated Paula Abdul, Madonna and Janet Jackson, learning the steps and pulling them out whenever we had a school disco.

In complete contrast to all this, My Mum enrolled me to first piano lessons when I was ten followed closely by singing. When I first started piano Mum and Dad managed to find an old second hand piano that had seen better days. They got a piano tuner in to try and coax something that sounded in key from out of its wobbly interior wires, but there were ivories missing from the keys and a couple of keys that had lost their voice altogether. But I didn’t care. The Piano was mine and I practiced scales and songs that I was given to learn, as well as making up my own songs.

I had basic piano lessons first with Mum’s friend Christine, who taught me how to read and play. But she also suggested I should learn classical as she taught modern. I don’t know why she felt I should play Classical, but she recommended a teacher who could teach me. Piano and eventually singing were both taught to me by  Julie Cudby in Hawera. I loved my lessons with her. It all began when I was very young singing with my school and many other schools around the coast at the local choir meet in Kaponga. Someone sitting next to my Mother in the audience remarked that you could hear me singing over all the other children, and in tune. She suggested Mum take me to singing lessons, and as Julie could teach both singing and piano – it made sense.

 Julie was a beautiful woman with dark skin, a halo of dark shiny teased out curls and red lipstick. She wore big glasses and spoke very well and their house was a beautiful old period property. Both my Mum and I loved Julie very much. She was a wonderful teacher, firm but fair, loving and supportive.

She nourished my passion for singing by entering me in competitions where I thrived and won numerous awards year after year, and by getting me involved with the Hawera theatre, singing and dancing at various performances. To this day I credit Julie with giving me the head start in life I needed regarding singing on stage, conducting myself with professionalism, (She always made me go and congratulate the winner even if I was seething with bitterness), and that practice makes perfect.

Our drives to and from Hawera were special for Mum and I too. Often we would sit in silence, musing over our own thoughts, listening to the music Mum let me play on the tape player. Or other times I would tell Mum ideas I had for stories and songs. One being, that the big plastic wrapped bales of hay, looked like alien eggs that had been laid overnight… waiting to hatch and consume the world! Mum would laugh and encourage my imagination, always telling me I should write this stuff down.

We would stop for burgers and milkshakes on the way home, knowing that Dad would have headed to the pub already, and when we got home we would settle down together, Mum painting watercolours and drinking brandy in the kitchen with a cigarette in one hand and a paint brush in the other, me in the lounge watching Quantum Leap, MacGyver or Married with Children.

The first time I won an award for piano, Julie couldn’t quite believe that what I had been practising on all that time had still managed to make me good enough to win something. She did however, suggest to my parents that if I was to become really accomplished I would need a better piano eventually.

One day I arrived home from school to find a delivery van in the driveway. Out came a beautiful chestnut coloured piano that although was an upright, didn’t have the tall backs most uprights have, but instead a flat top with a modern, sleek fold away lid.

I loved it. I knew now that I really had to step up my game and try to be the best pianist I could be. But try as I might, and as much as I grew in my first few years in High School, my hands always remained tiny. I struggled through piano exams, and was always in tears by the end as I found them so traumatic and stressful. I stretched my hands as much as I could to reach the complicated chord structures but I just found it so frustrating. That coupled with these intimidating elderly gentlemen who were invited to be adjudicators, clinking their tea cups and scribbling furiously in their books with every mistake made – I often faced what I can only describe as ‘anxiety blanks’.

Even after practising my heart out on my scales and feeling relatively confident going in, I would find myself completely blanking out when asked to perform the scales, my mind becoming a quivering mess of jelly. On my final year of piano exams I remember sitting there hunched over the keyboard watching my tears fall onto the keys with my hands shaking by my sides. I couldn’t remember even the simplest of scales and I felt humiliated and upset that  with every scale I started I couldn’t complete it.

I came out of the room an absolute mess, leaving Julie torn between trying to console me, and ready her next student for their exam. My Mother bundled me out to the car, arm around my shoulders in comfort, but her voice softly telling me it would be alright, I think it stressed her out just as much to see me in such a state, and we were both rather surprised when I received the news I had passed!

I think the adjudicator no doubt felt sorry for me, and though I was very pleased to have passed I was also incredibly relieved when Julie announced that she had decided  we weren’t going to proceed with Grade 6 practical piano the following year, as the adjudicator had commented on my tiny hands being ‘incapable of reaching the demands  that Grade 6 will require’.

I had decided myself the previous year that I didn’t want to do anymore theory exams either. They involved sitting in a classroom in Hawera High School with a bunch of other music students, filling out the exam paper and constantly watching the clock. Although I didn’t find these exams as stressful, it was difficult to concentrate on studying for both these exams as well as practical piano, Singing exams, modern dance lessons, and my school work.

Mum, Julie and I all believed it would be better to focus on my singing which I loved and excelled at in both competitions and exams. I started in at Grade 5 when I was only 12 (Julie didn’t think it was worth bothering to do the first four as I would find it too easy) and sailed right through to Grade 8 just before I turned 17.

I also rinsed the music competitions of both New Plymouth and Hawera, entering all my usual sections but also being the only competitor in the ‘Singer with own accompaniment’ and Singer with own accompanist’ sections, One was singing with another student playing the piano, the other me playing the piano rather clunkily and singing at the same time.

Because I had these two sections added to my overall tally of scores, at the prize giving ceremony (a rather pompous concert that consisted of a variation of prizewinning dancers, singers and musicians performing) I collected five cups, two scholarships and left the competitions for good at the ripe old age of 17 – donating my own named cup for whoever else was willing to take on the same categories in the future.

 

It was such a contrast – on one hand, all those hours practising and performing classical and musical theatre numbers, and on the other, listening to Hip Hop, and writing raps that I would recite and remember and later deliver to my friends when I was school. I remember one afternoon bouncing round my room with a hairbrush in one hand and a beanie on my head rapping out some lyrics over a Hip Hop beat at the top of my voice. My Mum opened the door to my room and shook her head at me saying “Don’t you think you’re a bit old to be listening to Hip Hop now darling?” I looked at her in amazement. She obviously had no idea the passion I had for lyrics and rapping and how much I felt this music and style of lyrical delivery in my soul. I felt for sure there had to be a place for it in my future!

Little did I know at that time – just how right I would be.

“We must earn our chance to shine…”

“We must earn our chance to shine…”

“In this world of mine, we must earn our chance to shine.. do what we think is best, through our courage we will pass the test… Maintain… I know what it is and I got to Maintain…” (DJ Krust featuring Morgan. Full Cycle Records)

Not only are these the lyrics to the first Drum n Bass track that truly changed my life musically, (but that’s another story); But these lyrics have always remained in my mind because they speak of having the courage to do what we think is best for us and our lives even it sometimes means going against the norm. And that being able to maintain that focus and courage, while testing  – can lead to great opportunities where you can truly shine.

From a young age I have always had a gutsy attitude. Mainly I think because my parents raised us to be strong and never give up. At the same time they were and always have been very affectionate, showing lots of love, compassion and support.  Growing up as I was never ‘the pretty one’ or ‘the super smart one’ in social or school situations – I learned that my strength and courage lay in other areas. My wit, my way with words and my ability to stand up for myself (and often others), even if on the inside I was hurting, or it was a difficult situation to be in.

This blog is therefore about courage, and also – opportunity.

Many times when I am doing inspirational speaking at various schools and seminars, I talk about learning to spot an opportunity, and having the courage to take it. I have found through my own experiences and through speaking with others – that there is what I call a ‘yeah – nah’ attitude that permeates our culture. While I believe that humility is a very important trait to hold, sometimes being too humble can mean that we miss taking an opportunity – because we don’t want to appear too ambitious, or appear as if we were wanting something too much.

There is also the added element of fear. The fear of looking stupid if we put ourselves forward, the fear that we may fail and be hurt/humiliated/ridiculed in the process.

There have been several key points in my life where I have had ‘Yeah/Nah’ moments. Moments where I nearly didn’t take an opportunity because of the above. But at the same time, I recognise within myself that even though I may have struggled internally for a few seconds, I almost always chose the ‘Yeah’ and went for it. Why is this? I have decided it is because I realised very early on that having the courage to say yes to things can open doors to amazing places and people, and that failure or fear of ridicule is a small price to pay for this. And also I never want to look back and regret not having at least given something a go. Quite simply – the positive outweighs the negative.

Now I understand for some people this is not an easy given. We live in a society where we are fed images and ideals that tell us to reach for the stars and be the best we can be – yet at the same time don’t tell us that sometimes reaching for the stars can involve falling on your face. Hard. What it is important though is that there are always more stars. The sky is full of them – life, is full of opportunities. Its weather or not you have the courage to take the opportunity, and the risks that go along with it.

It is like falling in love. Many of us are afraid of giving ourselves over fully to someone in case they break our heart, leave us, cheat on us, or god forbid die. But  at the same time – if you don’t give yourself over fully you are missing the chance to experience love at its most amazing, soul changing level.

However, another important factor that I bring up when I speak about opportunity  is learning to spot a ‘good’ opportunity, as opposed to a ‘bad’ one.

We have to remember that not everything that appears amazing and wonderful always is. It is wise to tread with some trepidation.. you wouldn’t cross a rickety old bridge if there was a sign saying not to, but what if there is no sign? What do you need to look for?

I always think the most important thing to focus on are these:

1.Is this opportunity good for my health?

And by that I mean both that of your body and your mind. There have been instances in the past where I have agreed to do something because I thought it would be good for my brand, such as playing a lot of shows with terrible travel connections in between. I ended up incredibly tired, and when I am over tired I am susceptible to anxiety. Not only this but my vocals suffer.

I didn’t know that back then of course, it was only after going through the experience that I realised the correlation between lack of sleep and anxiety. I didn’t want to turn down those shows because I wanted the exposure, the money, the experience. And while initially you may be able to handle this kind of slog and have the energy – eventually, even if it takes a few years – it wears you down.

Now days I very rarely will allow travel arrangements to be made that mean I lose a lot of sleep. I express myself very clearly to the promoter or whoever is booking me, that if I am over tired my voice will suffer, not to mention my mental state. The same goes for my performance time. I refuse to start a set after 1 am and quite frankly it’s pretty shitty if a promoter expect this of a vocalist anyway. We are not robots.

If you do decide to take an opportunity that means your health could be at risk, you need to prepare yourself for this then. Try and sleep when you can. Surround yourself with positive people who help maintain your energy. Eat well and don’t get caught up in the rock n roll vibe of going out all the time as fun as it may be. Head home early, get some quiet time, take your vitamins, do your yoga – whatever it is that helps you stayed rested.

2. Is this opportunity good for my brand?

Weather or not you want to be referred to as a brand, the minute you put something out for public consumption – music, art or literature or whatever, You are marketing yourself in a certain way and therefore becoming a brand. With the advent of social media the need to stylise our brand and curate our output is even greater.

Sometimes I have taken a gig just because I needed the money, knowing that the gig probably wasn’t going to be my vibe. And lo and behold I was right. I’ve played some shows where the whole time internally I was hating it because they weren’t my crowd, and the venue was not my kind of joint. I’m not saying that there won’t be times in your life where you think  – fuck it, I just need some cash though! And that you shouldn’t do it. I don’t advise starving for the sake of art! It’s just that there has to come a point where you realise that maybe doing something for the money isn’t that beneficial to you and how you want to be perceived in the long term.

A few months back I was asked if I would like to perform at a horse racing event. The money was definitely good and while I probably could have done with it – ethically I couldn’t accept the gig because I am really not into horse racing, the way the horses are treated or the hype behind it. Plus I knew the kind of people attending said event would probably not connect to my music and my vibe. So I turned it down and I felt good about that.

If you are unsure about whether or not something is good for your brand, ask others in the industry, or people whose opinions you trust. At the end of the day though only you can determine whether or not something is good by the way it make you feel.

Lastly – Could this opportunity lead to other long term benefits?

The same way my Dad taught me to ‘look through the traffic to see what’s ahead’ while driving, I often talk about doing the same with an opportunity. While something may not make you any money, or give you instant gratification in that moment – could this opportunity lead to something else in the future that does? Are you associating with people that may be able to open doors to other avenues? While there have been some artists that I have worked with or done things for in the past who haven’t exactly been forthcoming in returning any favours when I needed them, there are others who have, and wholeheartedly  too – leading to wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

Look at the opportunity in that moment and try to figure out what it is you are going to get out of it – not only then and there – but possibly in the future. This may mean playing a gig for free, or for charity, or helping someone with something that requires your skill and knowledge. It doesn’t have to be an opportunity where you reap physical or monetary rewards. Some of the best things you will gain are often those that just enrich your heart and soul, or expand your mind and ways of thinking.

Part of having the courage I talked about earlier is being able to say no to certain things and certain people as well – and not worry about people will think of you. Saying no isn’t a sign of weakness. To me it shows that you are clear and focused about who you are and what you want.  The other part of it is that sometimes an opportunity you think is great may go absolutely nowhere. That’s okay too! Sometimes it’s just about the experience. 🙂