In her song Better, Regina Spektor sings “if you never say your name out loud to anyone they can never ever call you by it.” This lyric has always held a life lesson for me but recently it’s taken on new meaning. I used to be afraid to speak about my success. I would worry about coming off as over-confident, arrogant or a show-off and being misunderstood or disliked …but now I know I was mostly afraid of jinxing myself, blowing hot air and not measuring up to a certain idea of “success”. I felt like an imposter, introducing myself as a professional in my field while I knew I was still failing at some of my key goals. I could call myself a rising singer-songwriter with incredible live vocals and an electric stage presence, but how did it measure up with not getting callbacks at auditions, or failed attempts to breakthrough further in the music industry. Even though these setbacks didn’t negate my talent or success, in my mind they overshadowed everything. I would want to share an accomplishment and think, “Who am I kidding? This isn’t a big deal. I’m still not even close to where I should be.” I would talk myself out of it just like that and ultimately get in my own way. The more I focused on my negative thoughts, the less I shared about my positive achievements and the less people knew I even existed as a singer-songwriter. It was good old self-sabotage at it’s best and I knew I had to get past it.
How could I expect to breakthrough in the industry if I didn’t believe in my progress enough to talk about it out loud: to show how far I’d come and highlight the goals I’d accomplished along the way? Who would take me seriously if I for one didn’t? I felt like I was blowing hot air, because I was a false believer in myself. I had exposed an imposter indeed, but it wasn’t the successful Keba. It was the “unsuccessful Keba”, my harsh self-critic posing as the real me, pretending to keep me “humble” and “down-to-earth” when ultimately she was keeping me back, by casting a “not-good-enough” shadow over everything I achieved. She was my inner voice for a long time. You know the inner voice I’m talking about…the one that overthinks every decision and shows up in self-deprecating captions under beautiful pictures…the one that has narcissism disclaimers for everyone’s compliments, because she’s humble and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, this inner voice played a role in reminding me to work harder and not get too comfortable, but she also had a way of overstepping her boundaries and walking all over me. “You think you’re good? You’re obviously not good enough or you would be further along and have much more recognition by now. Don’t be narcissistic.” she told me. Listening to her, I would go in circles over something as simple as sharing my songs. Even after I worked so hard on them, I just wouldn’t put myself out there. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, B**tch killed my vibe!
So how was I going to get the voice of “unsuccessful Keba” under control? Home-girl was a savage and if I was going to get anywhere, she could not hang. So I went to one of the masters. I listened to the “IDGAF” voice of Prince! In an interview from the 90’s, Prince said, “I don’t look at myself through other people’s eyes”. He was responding to a question about critical reviews surrounding him and his music and he had the audacity to say “I don’t look at myself through other people’s eyes.” Didn’t Prince feed off recognition like the rest of us mere mortals? His response blew my mind. It was a revolutionary and empowering idea for me as an artist because in many ways, we measure our success through other people. We often judge our art by how much we think other people are going to like it, and since our art is an extension of who we are, we judge ourselves this way too. But what if we could express ourselves outside of this context? Without judging ourselves in anticipation of how others might judge us? How much creativity could we unleash then? How much more fulfilled could we feel and how much self- sabotage could we eliminate? We would put ourselves down a lot less, and put ourselves out there a lot more. We would get out of our own way.
I’m determined to stop worrying so much about whether I “measure up”, if it’s one less thought in my way. It doesn't matter if my success is in the form of public recognition or personal victories. Success is success and acknowledging myself for the small wins can lead to bigger ones. Personal victories remind me of which Keba I always have the capacity to be, especially in the face of failure. They make room for successful Keba by cheering me on and drowning out the self-sabotaging voice of “unsuccessful Keba”. I’ve heard it said before that success doesn’t happen overnight. But now I understand that statement on a deeper level. Success is about progress, not perfection. It's a culmination of all our wins, big and small, personal and professional and it occurs simultaneously with failure. I can’t take any of that for granted and more importantly, I can’t take my grind or myself for granted. After all, Regina told me, if I never say my name out loud to anyone they can never ever call me by it. My name is Keba and I’m a rising singer-songwriter with incredible live vocals and an electric stage presence. I have an EP out now called Filmstrip and I just released a new single, Love You Long Time. If you don't know, now you know and you can listen to my music below ;)