Success comes in all sizes. Sometimes monumental, and sometimes so small you don’t even see it glimmering until it’s in hindsight. The point is, a success is still a success, and what may seem small from the outside can still be very important.
I played a small gig at a local cafe the other week. The audience mainly consisted of close friends. I could have easily brushed off this gig as just another tiny step forward in a very long journey - I didn’t gain fifty more fans, I didn’t get signed, I didn’t have someone point to me from the crowd and go “STAR,” before scooping me up to Los Angeles. But, I just felt something, and that was my tiny, huge success: a feeling.
It was something I hadn’t felt in a long while.
Through life, we go through periods of great creativity and we go through periods of recluse and reflection. Sometimes we go through periods of great struggle. I remember someone calling these “seasons.” We have the season of growth, the season of rest, and the season of struggle. From about a year ago up until now, I was wrestling with a season of struggle. It had come about for a number of reasons: I’d just finished music school, and now had less resources to create my music; I was grieving the recent death of my grandfather; I was existing on part-time minimum wage in an expensive city, working at a place that had me up at 5:30am most mornings; and I had just moved into a tiny apartment, living with my boyfriend for the first time.
This season was largely characterised by my inability to write or perform music. But it didn’t mean I wasn’t trying. I wholeheartedly threw myself into plans for creating an album, renting out studio space, working with a mentor, and all the while I just felt this nothingness around me, a little voice saying something’s not right here. I beat myself up over it daily.
This lasted for nearly a year, and I truly wondered if I would ever achieve anything with music in my life. It had felt like a break-up, but with a part of myself.
Slowly, thanks to a lot of self-help podcasts, I started to realise that I was in a season of struggle, and that meant I had to roll with the punches. There’s only so much self-flagellation one can take when day-to-day life is demanding enough. If music felt like a chore at this point in my life, I’d focus on other things that brought me joy. I started drawing, and journaling. I wrote blog posts and made videos. I took ice-skating lessons. I meditated. I read. I took photographs. I didn’t feel a sense of rebirth when I tried any of these things, but with every little project, I felt like I was moving forward with myself.
Eventually, things started to change. I left my low-paid job for an actual position with a salary at a music school. The grief of losing a family member had faded, for the most part. I was still living in a small apartment, but I was comfortable in it now. Lyrics started to pop into my head. I challenged myself to write more.
Several months down the line, I felt confident enough to take a short course of singing lessons, with a wonderful teacher. At first I sang with tremors throughout my tone. I felt like I wanted to cry because singing was so visceral and emotional to me, and it came with so much baggage at this point. But by my third or fourth lesson, I was sailing through notes and starting to have ideas and passion for music again.
One of the homework assignments I was given was to spend 5 minutes a day visualising myself playing a gig. Where was I? Who was on stage with me? What was I singing? How was I performing? After every visualisation, I wrote down what I’d seen in a special little journal. I’d tried to think big, but the most persistent image was that of me standing in my favourite cafe, singing in front of all of my friends.
So I decided to book that gig. My first one in nearly a year.
It took me weeks to gather the courage to book it, and I only started rehearsing maybe a week and a half before the date. I was quietly confident but also quietly terrified that I’d be terrible, my songs would be terrible, etc. But in rehearsals there were little sparks of magic, and I became excited to share myself with people in that way again.
Finally the day of the gig came, and I was a whirlwind of anxiety and excitement the whole day. I dressed up for work, I made sure I’d done all my prep the night before, and my whole body felt electric with potential. I was ready to connect with people. I was ready to be seen by people. I was ready to show myself in my most impressive form. As I left the apartment that morning, my boyfriend said, “I like this version of Olivia.” I did too.
You know in myths and movies where some sort of demon or spiritual being gets unlocked after ten tHOUSAND YEARS of captivity (such a crick in the neck!)? I felt like there was a part of me that had returned to my body that day. There was me, Mortal Olivia, and then there was Higher Olivia, who was back, baby. That night, I sang my heart out for everyone in that room. I felt important, and I felt seen, but most importantly…
I felt seen and heard by myself.
That was my big, tiny success.
P.S. - I really wanted to share the experience of creating this gig with all of you, from the initial booking to the rehearsals, so I tried to film as much of it as I could. Check it out below in my video! There’s also footage of me singing songs which you won’t be able to hear anywhere else.