I've always been very careful about who I surround myself with because I really believe that we are the product of the people closest to us. "Show me your 5 closest friends and I'll tell you who you are" has always been an important quote to me, because I know that my friends and family are the people that guide and shape my experiences that are formative to who I am.
In the summer of 2021, I enrolled in a 5-week music performance intensive program on a full-tuition scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. I auditioned online as a steelpan student and was a part of the percussion department, learning alongside vibraphonists and drummers in my day-to-day classes. I took classes in music theory, ear-training, practical technique and did band-performance sessions. I was exposed to a huge variety of musicians from all over the world, and many who I consider to be prodigies and the future of the global music industry. They are people who are driven towards pursuing careers in the performing arts and people who have a healthy relationship with the idea of a "non-traditional" career. It was an incubator for creative success.
Throughout my time at Berklee, the most important lesson that I learnt was that community matters, because community breeds success.
What do I mean by that?
The classes were engaging, the professors were inspiring and insightful and attending dinner-time performances or jam-sessions was always a pleasure, but to me it was most important that I felt comfortable to be a musician. Comfortable enough to hear a siren coming down the streets of Boston, and debate with friends what notes it was blaring. Comfortable enough to hear a recurring clicking sound in the dining hall while eating, and it becoming the metronome keeping the rhythm for an impromptu vocal jam session over lunch.
Being around like-minded people made me feel like I was at home. It inspired me to be a better musician and to see the possibilities of success in music. Especially growing up in Jamaica, where in school I experienced the "hobbyfication" of the creative industry, studying at Berklee meant the validation of the creative industry and a taste of what it means to be surrounded by people who believe in themselves and their talent, and simultaneously believe in me as a creative too. We were all there to better our musicianship, and made a significant investment into musical education. That commitment to music was so eye-opening and helped me to put into perspective the limitless possibilities of education in the creative arts when treated as a viable career prospect.
I'm gonna tell you a little secret I've never told anyone before -
One of my biggest yet simplest dreams in life is to one day have "Happy Birthday" sang to me on my birthday in-key, with harmonies. Sounds funny right? Usually at a birthday party, everyone's singing in different keys, with some people not even singing in any key in particular. How nice would it be to have it sang in key? At Berklee, during performances at the Berklee Performance Center (BPC), the performing artiste could stop singing their set and listen to the audience and have a 4 part harmony ring back to them. I'll never forget that feeling. The smile that it put on my face to hear it. Hundreds of musicians, not communicating, completely unrehearsed, but in perfect harmony. That community is exactly what brings Berklee the success that it enjoys in celebrities like Charlie Puth, Meghan Trainor and John Mayer. The ability to feel a sense of belonging and the ability to belong to a community full of people with the same goals as you.
Throughout my life, I've been lucky to have people around me who are like-minded, driven, successful and inspiring in so many different ways. In high school I had the smartest friends in the Caribbean (yes, I'm bragging because they were literally 1st in the Caribbean in some subjects), the most athletic friends on various sports teams and the most talented dancers, singers, actors and musicians performing and pursuing their talents outside of the classroom. At Cornell, I have so many friends who balance academics with leading on-campus organizations, securing the best corporate internships and jobs and then people who are skilled in interpersonal relationships and bustling social life while balancing it with academics. I have people around me who don't allow me to get complacent, but rather always motivate me to work harder, smarter and to be better.
For me, that's super important.
I know that without that support system in every aspect of my life, I wouldn't have enough self-motivation to keep pursuing new things. And the truth is, yes, I'm a serious over-achiever. What over-achievers don't usually tell you though, is that all of their friends are over-achievers too, and you almost feel a sense of pressure to achieve. And I'll caveat this. It's not always good. Breaks are good, relaxing is good and being satisfied with where you are and what you've achieved is so good too. But in order to not feel stagnant, it helps to have the tide rising around you too.
My biggest takeaway from this week's blog post is this: surround yourself with people who motivate you; people who want to see you succeed. And for you as a person, be that person that people want to surround themselves with. Inspire, motivate and support the people around you.
Until next Sunday,