Fu*k It, Try: A Commencement Address for Artists & Writers
It's graduation season, which means it's time to put on...IT COSTS HOW MUCH TO RENT A FU**ING MORTAR BOARD? It also means it's time for a new round of commencement speeches from strangers attempting to give you better life advice in 20 minutes than your parents and teachers have managed to impart in the last 20 years. Because when a guy who landed a role on a mildly popular TV show tells you to chase your dreams, you've got to chase your dreams, right?
But why should they get to have all the fun? I'm
an inspirational person with life advice the youth of America needs to hear. And unlike your actual graduation, when you're forced to sit for hours with people you have nothing in common with, I'm going to aim this address at a very specific audience; people who want to walk across that stage, shake hands with the Dean, and the promptly put that degree in a box and attempt to become a professional artist. Or a writer. Or come to think of it, you don't even have to be recently graduated to pick up some of these gems, or want to become an artist. Really, you just need to be a person who wants to end up somewhere different than you are now. So...basically everyone.
Why am I so uniquely qualified to dispense life advice? Because my apartment smells of rich mahogany. Also, because I managed to end up writing this while wearing gym shorts at my "job", and I did it without any Illuminati connections or secret strategies. Trust me, I'm not that special. My life might not be the life you want, but it's a life outside the ordinary, and if my average ass can do, your extraordinary ass can definitely do it.
For the record, here's my story in a nutshell. I graduated high school, then promptly dropped out of college. In retrospect, dropping out of college was the right call, but so was going back and graduating. Degree in hand, I was going to be a serious journalist, then was going to be a tech start-up millionaire, then was going to work for DJBooth, then kept working for DJBooth, and now I get to drink with rappers.
The point is, I may be living my dream, but it certainly isn't the dream I started with. And that's real life. Have a dream, use it to propel you forward, but that dream can box you in more powerfully than all those people telling you to give up. If your dream is to become a NBA player, and you're so focused on the court you don't see anything else, you may make it to the league. Or you may not, for reasons completely outside your control, and then that dream is completely lost. But if you keep your eyes open along the way, you may realize that in fact you're much happier being a coach, or a trainer, or a broadcaster, or one of those guys who mop up sweat when someone takes a charge. The same goes for people who set out to be artists and ended up as label owners or producers or publicists. It's not settling, it's being brave and honest enough to recognize your strengths and weaknesses. If Russell Simmons had insisted on being an artist, we would have never heard of Russell Simmons. So chase your dreams, but don't be chained to them.
And for all this talk of dreams, as the wise philosopher Sean Combs once said, "Fuck your dreams, this reality." Being an artist, or someone who writes about artists, is an inherently, fundamentally unstable thing. There are no regular paychecks, no clocks to tell you when to stop working, often no boss to answer to; which is simultaneously incredibly liberating and absolutely terrifying. The main advantage a "regular" job offers is a clear path from A to B. Start out as a teller at Bank of America, do a great job, work hard, and you'll eventually end up as a manager. Start out as an new artist, do a great job, work hard, and you still might end up at the exact same place you started. That's the cold, hard reality of the music industry, and if I can continue my tough-love string of obscenity, reality doesn't give a fuck about your dreams.
If that last paragraph managed to scare you off, good, that means you're just not cut out for this life. I just saved you a lot of time and money, you're welcome. And to be completely honest, despite the bluster of that last sentence, I'm not that confident all the time either. I average a moderate panic attack once a month when I think about how much money my daughter's college will cost and realize my only employable skill is making "Rick Ross has man titties" jokes. But ultimately, no matter how many times I've fantasized about the stability of holding down a 9-to-5 again, I just can't do it. I can't. This is the only thing I do well, and if you're stubborn enough to plow ahead despite the guaranteed hardships because, really, it doesn't feel like you have any other choice, you just might love it enough to make it.
But right now, go for it. Fuck it. Try. And if, in the course of trying, something else comes along that feels like it might be right, try that too. Who knows, you might just end up writing commencement speeches on a rap website to feed your own ego someday too. Dare to dream the dream my people.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]