...currently writing from: Covina, CA
A while back, I was driving in the car with my Mom and she asked me, “What is your body image like?” When people ask me this, my response is always something like, “I mean… I have my good days and bad days - nothing too extreme. My deepest insecurities are manifested into other areas of my life.”
WELL, NOW IT’S MY TURN TO GET RAW. So here it goes.
All my life, my outside image has been inherently intertwined with the music my sisters and I have done together through the years; whether I have liked it or not. This being so, I’ve been hearing one particular phrase since the day I was born. It goes something like: “You girls are so talented. I know that one day you are going to do great things.”
These words have haunted me for years without me even knowing it, as if I’m running from a ghost that’s chasing me down, unable to rest or catch my breath.
If you look up the word “great” in the dictionary, the first two definitions that come up are:
1. Unusually large in amount or degree.
2. Important, powerful, or famous.
For most of my life, this is how I interpreted the word when people would “speak it over” me.
My sisters and I have been heavily involved in the music industry since I was 14 years old. And since we signed our first production deal to this very day, our work and success is weighed and measured against tangible evidence and numbers. A song is only as good as its amount of downloads. A cover video is only as good as its number of views. A show is only as good as its amount of tickets sold
Followers. Likes. Subscribers. Comments. Shares. Popularity. Fame. Money.
These are the things that give clout to an artist, especially in a room with a label. Talent? Nah. Work ethic? Not especially. You need numbers. GREAT numbers.
We watched as other artists took off and went on to do great things by this definition, while we remained teetering between the two worlds that I understood to be “normalcy” vs. “greatness.” We would often be pulled out from our studio session to hear what the rest of our production team was working on. They played us “One Time” long before it came out – before anybody knew who Justin Bieber was. We showcased for Def Jam alongside Frank Ocean in New York, long before he was even “Frank” - back then he was Lonny Breaux. I don’t say any of this to make me feel cool – in fact it all had the opposite effect as we watched multiple careers and hit songs take off, all the while wondering “what’s wrong with us?” We had all the same writers and producers as these “superstars” did. Just not the same numbers. I blamed myself.
We weren’t doing enough. I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t enough.
When I was about 16, my own polarized existence really kicked in; something that I would come to refer to as my “double life.” Many wardrobe changes and scheduling conflicts with day jobs have highlighted this polarity.
You see… I’ve done a lot of “things.” I’ve worked a lot of jobs. I’ve taken a lot of classes. I’ve put in a lot of hours into dingy studios. And the kind of “greatness” that I always thought was expected of me, has been all around me the whole time. Just in front of my nose. While making truffles in the chocolate shop, The Supremes would come on and I’d remember, “that one time we opened up for Diana Ross.”
Then I’d take out the trash.
Because all the fame, hype, and numbers were constantly in our faces, there was such a stark comparison between that platform of success and whatever our present situation was.
I felt for years that I was failing. I’d always wanted to become a person of influence so that I could help the people that had become victims of trafficking, poverty, or abuse. I would cry all the time, frustrated, because I felt like I had failed them - I didn't have the resources and I couldn't really help anybody. Simple visits to Skid Row, or short mission trips felt like insignificant attempts at changing anything, let alone the world.
I would come to learn that “making it” as an artist had almost nothing at all to do with work ethic or talent and everything to do with marketing a brand. But still – I felt like there was this perpetual spotlight on me, and everyone was waiting for me to walk on water. And I didn’t have a clue of what to do to keep everyone from being disappointed.
What's funny is: never in my life has anybody ever said to me, "Angelique, you're an absolute disappointment." The people in my life have been nothing but supportive and encouraging, no matter what stage I'm in. The way I processed everyone's encouragement was just unhealthy; I created so much expectation and anxiety for myself.
Nashville was a time for a lot of soul searching. I was hitting a wall, and realizing how much of my own identity I placed on what I accomplished; how much I got done. Anytime anybody insinuated, (if only to me,) that I was lazy or not doing enough, I would flip out. It grew to be such a sensitive nerve that I would invent the accusation, even if it wasn’t being made. I knew that I had a serious problem, but I didn’t know how to fix it.
This brings me to a recent event. In the family room, my Mom reiterated the phrase again – one I’ve been internalizing for so long, “Well… you girls are amazing. I know that you’ll do great things.” I interjected, and for the very first time, I said out loud:
“That damn phrase is the reason why I never feel like what I’m doing is good enough. The pressure and the expectations have built up this whole thing in everybody’s minds, and it makes me feel like what I’m actually doing isn’t significant. I have this HUGE fear of disappointing people because of it!”
I held back a whole storm of tears as my Mom responded, saying, “Well, honey… when people say that, all they mean is that you girls are great girls and they know you’ll be happy in life.”
And just then, I had a very pivotal epiphany.
I realized out loud:
“Never in my ENTIRE LIFE has anyone ever said to me, ‘You’re such a great girl, I know that you’re going to live such a full and happy life. Such a fulfilled life.’ It’s always been, ‘You’re such a great girl, I know you’re going to DO great THINGS.’ Do. Do. Do!’”
A huge weight lifted off in that moment; I’d finally gotten down to the root. And then, sitting in my rocking chair and totally unraveling in front of my parents, I said…
“I want to take responsibility for the way I’ve interpreted the word ‘great.’”
There are countless examples I could give over the past 10 years, when somebody told me what “greatness” was. And it always looked like a red Ferrari parked outside The Record Plant. A 35 million dollar tour. When people would turn around and tell me that I too was destined for "great things" I internalized a vague and impossible idea of what this meant; one that always made my reality a let - down.
It was defined for me in the most obvious way. And I began to slowly realize that my problem wasn’t necessarily that I thought I wasn’t “doing enough.” My true issue was that I didn’t accept myself where I was. And all that I was doing was never enough. It wasn’t BIG enough. Important enough. Profitable enough.
For years, I pushed guys away because I just didn’t accept where I was in life; I wanted to wait until “my life began” and I was really, “who I was going to become.” As if who I am is defined by the status level of my work. Dating always felt like this spotlight, and in my mind, I wasn’t doing anything impressive enough to want the special attention.
But as it goes… nothing is as it seems.
“Never compare your inside with somebody else's outside.” - Michael Palmer
The girls and I had a meeting with the E Channel once, where we were being considered for a Reality TV Show. Ashlee Simpson came by the studio that night and I asked her, “How was Reality TV for you? I mean – what’s it really like?” She responded, “Uhhh…. Reality TV ruined my life. I definitely do NOT recommend it. Sorry… I must sound so jaded right now…” It was honest. And it’s only one of 1,000 dirty secrets I’ve learned through the years regarding the people we all look up to. The "great" people that we think have it made are just reaching out for something substantial besides the window of an airplane or the flash of a camera.
It’s true that the dictionary will first tell you that “great” means BIG in size, number, influence, or power. But if you keep reading on, you will find other definitions as well:
3. Markedly superior in character or quality.
4. Used for expressing pleasure or agreement.
Only a couple nights ago, I was at an event and somebody brought up The Body Journal and how Dominique’s blog came at the perfect time, significantly impacting the life of one of her students. I’m always so touched to hear reports like this; it’s why I started the Journal in the first place. At the end of our conversation, she said to me, “It’s a great thing you’re doing. Keep it up.”
“A great thing,” she said. I was doing a great thing.
Not, “Once you have a million readers, you'll be doing a great thing.”
It was great already, because it was meaningful to somebody.
Parting with my ego and my own self – focused ambitions have helped me to find true fulfillment and purpose.
I've had the power all along to stop and smell the roses. To pay attention to what was around me instead of obsessing over the future, and what I hadn’t accomplished. Once I decided to just run with what I could in the now, I started seeing fruition in the things I care about.
Just this past Saturday, I hosted a workshop with Nola Brantley Speaks teaching voice and harmony to young women who are survivors of human sex trafficking. It was such a wonderful, life – giving time for everyone. In between singing harmony, we talked about empowerment and what it means to have a “voice.” To start off the sharing time, I told a little bit of my story and how I’d lost my voice along the pursuit of success in music. I looked at each of their faces, and formed the words that I myself am trying to remember everyday,
“I encourage you in whatever it is that you do; whether you love to dance, sing, paint, or do chemical engineering! Just. Do it. It does NOT have to have some fabulous tangible result. You do not have to book a gig on a world – wide tour to be any more of a dancer. You do not have to make millions of dollars to be a fruitful person. DO WHAT YOU LOVE. Always. ALWAYS. Because it brings you life and it makes the world colorful. Do what makes you happy, and never let fear or discouragement rob you of your voice. Your voice is powerful and important!”
I’m still trying to grasp the concept that I should just pursue happiness and fulfillment for myself. I’ve been on such an agenda my whole life, I don’t know how. But I’ve finally figured out that “great” can just mean, “meaningful.” Agreeable. Good. And by simply being filled with the LOVE of God, you will inevitably pour kindness and grace out onto those around you, therefore changing your community... and furthermore, the world.
By this definition of greatness, I have finally taken steps towards accepting where I am in the now. I still have goals, passions, and pursuits, but I no longer feel captive to them.
I think an easy trap to fall into is the mentality that you need money to do some good in this world. I hear people say all the time, “I want to become rich” or “famous – so that I can help people.” Funds and resources are necessary, and it is good to pursue these things to help a cause that you care about. But you do not need either one to help people.
There are people in your life right now, today, that need your help.
Most people really just want to feel validated and heard. Maybe you have a friend that needs somebody to listen. I encourage you – no matter where you are in life, to enjoy your life and realize that you have everything you need right NOW to help somebody. To do great things for somebody's soul.
"If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. Want to change the world? There's nothing to it."
- Pure Imagination
I want to inspire children – not to “do big things,” but instead to have meaningful relationships, to impact lives by being kind. I want to encourage people at all stages to pursue happiness, fulfillment and true purpose. Instead of asking each other, “What do you do?” let’s start asking, “So, what are you excited about?” What sort of things do you care about? Why is it that you do what you do?
FIND YOUR MISSION.
You are who you are – not because of the status level on which you do your work or create your art. You are who you are because of the way you love the people around you, and the way they love you in return. Something as simple as handing out coffee to the homeless can be a great thing. Because it is a tangible extension of something much bigger: LOVE.
Keep doing great things, everyone. Keep doing the small, everyday, menial tasks… with all the LOVE in your heart. Because that’s all greatness is. That’s the fabric of life. And at the end of mine… hopefully they will say…
I did great things.
39 "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it."