“And you may ask yourself, ‘Am I right? Am I wrong?’/And you may say to yourself, ‘My God! What have I done?’”
I first came across this bit of wisdom in my dad’s CD cabinet, a musical treasure chest in which I discovered many of my first favorite albums.
Around third grade, I discovered a particular CD from a band that bugged the living daylights out of me — a favorite band of my dad’s, I should add. The name of this band is Talking Heads, a New York, new wave quartet whose members penned the line above on their seminal 1980 track, “Once in a Lifetime”.
The band then occupied a special ire from my misguided musical authority, if you could even call it that. God, how alien it sounded to everything else I liked. How on earth could my dad like this band? How could anyone develop a fondness for anything so meaningless and directionless as this?
These are, however, slightly more mature depictions of thought than my third-grade self would have made. I digress.
I feel as if I now owe the band an apology. This song is timeless, in both meaning and sound. Only recently have I fully recognized this, coincident with a time of revelation in my life.
A brief change of course here.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve held myself to a set of lofty expectations, the reasonability of which I never really successfully qualified. I’m sure many can relate. You grow up in an environment where everyone around you declares your infallible future success. All you must do is work hard, a relatively simple guideline.
But that’s the catch, isn’t it? It’s easy to see the merit in just getting by on your own natural ability, and work as much as necessary. Maybe a bit of luck too. Or cut a few corners here and there.
This appealed to me all too greatly for a long time. I contented myself with passable effort, and took my foot off the pedal whenever I could. From time to time, those lofty expectations would show up again. In response, I might levy a half-hearted example of great effort, when in reality, it now seems I had little to show for myself. I had not learned to meet these expectations, but merely to cope with my inability to meet them.
But that song. “Once In a Lifetime”.
In April, the existential questions of ‘who am I?’, ‘why am I?’ and ‘what is to become of me?’ that the song poses began to sound their alarms louder than ever.
I don’t know why it happened when it did. Yet I remember the moment that it struck, the same day I failed a test. That might sound overdramatic, and you might be right in thinking that. But to me, a chord was struck.
Coincidentally, I had skipped that very song on Apple Music just earlier that day.
No longer did I feel comfortable standing by as my life passed. No longer did I know where my convictions might lie, be they professional, emotional or spiritual. No longer could I just ‘get by.’
Maybe that’s why the song bothered me as long as it did. I couldn’t, or even wouldn’t (by my own will) understand those questions fully. And then, it seemed, the song would haunt me even more.
I mentioned that I cherish the song dearly now. That’s true, and it’s due to the fallout of having to ask myself those hard-hitting questions at all.
Since that moment, I have found solace, to some degree. I know now the future of my academic career. I make time for interests and hobbies that I viewed as luxuries of an open schedule. I feel more comfort in interacting with people, and greater conviction in what I say. The list goes on.
So I admonish you to ask those questions. It’s not easy to change who you are, and the process daunts me still, but know there are ways of overcoming your worries.
Back to the song for one last time: a tangible milestone of personal growth, reminder of my dad and most importantly, a damn fine piece of music. Go ahead and ask yourself, “‘Well…how did I get here?’
William Newbegin, ’19, is an associate sports editor for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]