I lost all confidence and belief in myself.
Things were difficult enough already. I had lived through the Great Hanshin earthquake in Japan only a year and a half earlier.
Plus, I didn’t want to go to school anymore. It was to the point where I became less and less disciplined about getting to sleep at a reasonable hour. I wanted to procrastinate going back to that hell hole.
At the end of a school day, while no one was looking, I would sneak out (and jump) the back gate to avoid possible confrontations with teachers.
Mr. M was the main culprit. He was a two-faced man. He would lure you in with his sly charm, and show his fangs the moment there was no one around to impress. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
He was verbally, emotionally, psychologically, and physically abusive. I saw him throw basketballs at other kids, ream on their hair, and even hit them over the head with a heavy stack of papers. I never got the brunt of it, but it’s fair to say I couldn’t avoid collateral damage.
That’s when my dad got into a motorcycle crash. He was in a coma for 10 days, and then passed. I was only 13.
My mom, sister, and I moved back to Canada to be closer to family.
But that was it!
When my dad died, something else died within me.
From that moment on, things got difficult. My group of friends quickly dwindled. I became painfully shy around girls. I turned into a people pleaser and wanted to make sure everyone around me was happy, even when I wasn’t.
I didn’t want to be noticed. Even when I got attention, I started disappearing and erasing myself from the conversation or scene as quickly as I could.
And, at basketball games, I didn’t even perform at 50% of my true potential. I was so nervous and so anxious that I gave up easy baskets and took balls to the face as my teammates threw passes. Even my cousins knew I was a better than that.
And that was only the beginning…
Friends, fans, and acquaintances have repeatedly told me my music has unexpected twists and turns (surprise), and its positive energy fills the room (uplift).
It took me a long time to put the two together, until I recognized that this was my brand – the difference I wanted to make in the world with my music. From that day forward, “Surprise, Uplift” has been the compass that guides me to True North, specifically with my musical efforts.
What’s interesting is that I’ve written more than my share of sad, angry, heartbreaking, or depressing songs. I would even say that’s most of them. Like many songwriters, I have trouble writing when I’m happy.
For instance, I have a song called “Hope.” Originally released as an electronic single in 2016, I later re-recorded a full-band version in 2018 and released it in 2019 on my No Escape EP. I like both versions.
With a title like “Hope”, you’d assume it was an uplifting song. A song about a brighter future, positive change, or desirable outcome. And, at times, I’ve even been tempted to pre-frame it as a positive song before performing it.
But the song is not an ode or tribute to hope at all. It’s a song about depression and my disillusionment with organized religion.
Even then, the people who listen to my music find it encouraging.
Some of my friends call me “Master of Zen.”
The truth is, I’ve endured many challenges in this life, even in the short time I’ve occupied this earth.
At times, even those around me have uttered these words:
But there are things we can control and those we can’t.
And I’ve found the only way to be steadfast in life is to understand what events have far-reaching consequences.
So, what events should we pay attention to? Which events lead to insurmountable devastation?
I can’t speak for anyone else. But for me the answer is “virtually nothing.”
The late motivational speaker and psychotherapist Richard Carlson has a book called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff. That title sums it up well.
I’m not saying there aren’t certain events that leave us little choice but to give up on some of our dreams.
I had to give up on the idea of becoming a professional athlete myself (like many, I idolized basketball star Michael Jordan growing up – more on that later). My injuries kind of got the best of me in that situation.
But most things don’t have far-reaching consequences.
Broke up with your boyfriend or girlfriend? There’s always another. Who knows – you might even get back together?
Claimed bankruptcy? Can’t say I’ve been there, but I’ve gone broke three or four times to this point. It’s okay, you can rebuild.
Had a fight with your friend? So long as you’re both still alive, there’s always an opportunity to make up.
And that’s the key point – so long as your heart is beating in your chest, there are always more opportunities.
None of us just wake up one day to become and embrace the heroes we are.
Oh yes, we all have an inner hero. All of us.
But the hero is only awakened through the trials of life. There would be no reason to rise to the occasions otherwise.
We live in a world of contrast. There are highs and lows. Lightness and darkness. Big and small.
I can only imagine the reason there’s contrast everywhere we look is because we’re meant to enjoy it.
Still, becoming the hero is always a choice. Never a default, something we become on autopilot.
You can choose to confront your reality. Or you can say, “no thanks – I’m not climbing that mountain.” And neither choice is right or wrong. Only right or wrong as applied to the relevant context.
But whatever hardship you’ve endured, you aren’t required to give up on your dream.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve somehow made it. I’ve been able to do some cool things, but there’s still so much more I want to do. There are countries to visit, businesses to build, books to write, speeches to be give, music to make, romances to revel in, people to impact.
I’m not saying I don’t have fears and doubts, either. It seems like every time I solve a problem there’s always another one to solve.
But it’s true I don’t sweat a lot of things many others literally turn and run from – public speaking, performing my original music in front of an audience, building businesses and communities, writing books…
In the same breath, I can’t do what so many others seem to do so easily – hold down a job, go back to school, find romantic partners, settle down in a home with a white picket fence, 1.93 children and a gold retriever named Charlie.
(And, I never liked math, so I don’t claim to know what 1.93 children looks like.)
There were even times I thought there must be something wrong with me. I know I’m not the only one, because other entrepreneurs have shared the same sentiment with me.
I just had to flip the script. And when I did, I saw that I was a creator. Maybe I didn’t fit in at school. Maybe I didn’t fit in at a job. I couldn’t figure out what it meant to be an adult and I’m permanently stuck at 18. But there was a place for me. It just wasn’t apparent at first.
Still, I would never have been able to do the “cool things” I’ve done if I didn’t challenge convention (surprise) and support others on their journey (uplift). I have often done this without asking anything in return. Because it’s who I am.
As I said earlier, I experienced heartbreak and disappointment too many times to mention.
I had to dig deep and take heart again. I had to learn to live consciously and to stop caring what others thought about me.
That was a long, circuitous journey.
And much of it was found in various modes of self-expression and self-education.
That’s the journey I wish to share with you here.
Shh… Don’t tell anyone. Only the cool kids are talking about it.