Many years ago, I was fortunate to receive some advice from an incredible person named Evelyn Glennie. She is a world-class percussionist, Grammy Award winner, and she is also deaf.
We met at a time in my life when I had lots of fire but little direction. What she said is an important reminder that the paths that don't yet exist will only be created by those who are naive enough to look for something different.
I asked her why she had been able to do what she loves. Dreams are hard enough when people don't believe in you, but they're even harder when people actively believe against you.
She said that when she was younger, she wrote to composers asking them to compose music for her, a deaf percussionist, to play. She didn't realize that they would ask for money for their compositions, and she didn't have money to give.
She hand-wrote hundreds of letters and a few composers agreed to write for her, free of charge.
Later, when she was a student at the Royal Academy of Music, Evelyn wanted to perform a percussion concerto. The Royal Academy refused, arguing that there wasn't music enough to merit a percussion concerto. The rest of the orchestra wouldn't benefit from it.
She managed to convince a fellow student to compose a concerto for her, and she ended up performing it. It was the first percussion concerto of its kind performed at the Royal Academy of Music in over a century.
She said that it's important to understand that challenges like these were her opportunities. Each person gets many opportunities, but few recognize them for what they are. They see only obstacles and frustration, and they don't realize that this is their opportunity.
"We are all our own instrument," she said. "We can't take anyone else's sound, so we have to find our own. Find your own sound."
It's easy to hear these stories and feel inspired, but then when we come up against an obstacle, it's difficult to recall the lesson. It is easy to romanticize challenges like Evelyn Glennie's and see her challenges as heroic or something out of legend.
We don't see ourselves as heroic or legendary, so we don't connect the lesson with our own life. But we forget that they didn't see themselves as heroic or legendary any more than we do.
We hear a theme from a romanticized fairy tale, but it's actually practical advice for a very specific problem: when things really feel hard and you feel discouraged, that is the time to remind yourself to keep pushing forward.
What you're feeling now is the same thing that they felt. It's not romantic, it's not heroic, but it is hard, and it is the only way to do something truly original.