How Perfectionism Tried to Destroy my Career as a Singer-Songwriter

by Kendal Thompson
kendal thompson

I grew up in a small town named Alliston, it’s not too far from Toronto, Ontario in Canada. I didn’t see much of the city growing up, because it wasn’t really a thing my family did; as my parents weren’t exactly “city people”. I always knew I wanted to get out of that town but I am grateful for it is my beginning and my starting place for so many things to come.

I started singing when I was about 3 years old. My mom told me I had been gifted a little plastic Fischer Price tape recorder that I used to sing into, I have photo proof, but I don’t remember much of that. What I do remember is singing underneath the dining room table around that same age. I don’t know when I transitioned but after doing much healing, I know why.

I remember singing so loudly under that table, I would just make up songs and sing. I thought because the table cloth covered me that no one could see or hear me, but I would still stop if someone passed by and then continued after they seemed out of sight again.

After a while and after being outed that I could be heard from under the table, I moved my singing into the bathroom, better acoustics and…..a door. I would literally just sit on the toilet and sing. I remember getting in trouble for always taking so long in there, but I thought it was my own joke because I thought no one knew what I was actually doing in there. I felt safe.

My family life was what I would always describe as “normal”. Yeah, there were a few things that didn’t always suit me, I was punished with spanks, smacks and time outs (which is quite outdated) and my mom yelled a lot, but she’s also just a loud talker, who seemed constantly stressed out. So it was, what it was.

After my dad pointed out that I could be heard singing from the bathroom all the way from upstairs, I stopped. I completely stopped singing and just forgot it was even a thing I could do. The thought of being heard absolutely froze me in fear and anxiety, so I stopped. I was too young to know that’s what I was feeling but that’s how I would describe those feelings now.

I didn’t sing again until I was 12. I made friends with a girl in my class and the first time we hung out at her mom’s house she was just singing around the house here and there. She was good too. It was so odd and yet so inspiring that she could just sing without any fear, so I was like hey you know I can sing too. And we would sing. I felt like I couldn’t get enough of hanging out at her house because I could sing there, I could be free again. Still not completely over my fear I would only let her hear me and sometimes if I was pushed to it, her mom.

I decided her and I should create a girl group because they’re awesome. The group never received a name but it had me flowing with so many ideas and daydreams. We would practice in the playground at school and had invited some other girls to join, then one night at home, I had a song, it felt like it just came to me. I wrote it down and I remembered the melody and took it to school. The girls and I practised it and for kids that didn’t know what they were doing, I thought it sounded great. Soon enough another song came, then another  (I can actually still remember most of the lyrics and melodies from them haha) it seemed too effortless and it made me so happy that I knew I had to follow this. But I was still scared to have anyone hear me. The only people that heard me were the other girls that would sing with me. I started to gain a bit more confidence when they would say they liked my songs. I started to take this thing more seriously, even kicked out the girls who didn’t want to spend their life being on stage, like I did. I just knew something was there and took it very seriously, yet not enough to actually perform in front of an audience, or my parents…

I eventually worked up the courage to ask my mom if I could have singing lessons, she kind of made fun of me since I never sang in front of anyone, but she was down to make it happen. With every lesson I took, I could feel the giant block I was pushing against. I could sing, kinda, but it wasn’t like how I knew I could sing. The fear was immense, the anxiety of hitting a wrong note or looking silly in front of my older, cooler singing teacher seemed life-threatening. When I was told that myself and my other two friends (who I was now in a group with) that we would be performing “One Sweet Day” by Boyz ii Men and Mariah Carey at the spring concert, I was overjoyed and yet SO, so terrified. I wanted to quit.

My teacher could sense my anxiety and gave me very little to sing, I knew I was only letting myself down.

Situations like this went on for another 4 years. Any chance I had to run from the one thing that made me happy, I took it. The thought of hitting a wrong note and not being a “perfect” performer gave me so much anxiety that I would wish my talent away on a regular basis. But for some reason, deep in my soul, I wasn’t allowed to give it up.

I didn’t perform in front of an audience again until near the end of high school.

I took a guitar class, then some guitar lessons then worked up the courage to take a vocal class….which meant singing in front of a whole class once a month. I think the little steps along the way made this leap possible, I was also inspired by some healthy competition with a few pro singer former classmates. Despite my efforts to combat my anxiety of performance I still held on to the notion that it, and I had to be perfect. If I couldn’t do it “ perfectly” then you would never hear it, it was a moto I held onto for a very long time. I even knew it was unrealistic but I didn’t how to beat this feeling of wanting to be “perfect” and wanting everyone else to think I was “perfect” every time I came off that stage.

Cue the legal drinking age.

Oh, so I can have a few drinks and feel relaxed and not worry about my performance? And suddenly I sing even better because I’m not holding myself back so much. And I’m feeling less fear and anxiety?!

Messing up didn’t seem to matter so much anymore, I could recover from a few missed notes with ease, if I forgot the words I would just roll with it. I felt like I had found my cure. I’ll just have a few drinks, then all of this doesn’t seem so bad.

Then I’ll have multiple drinks and some shots. Then I’ll play my song at a completely different tempo to throw my band off and stop in a middle of a song to point out the gorilla painted on the wall behind an audience members head, in a full house, with music and radio industry people in attendance.

I was a hot mess. Instead of being known as a talented artist, I was a drunk girl.

I didn’t know how to fix myself. I didn’t know what I needed, I wanted to be saved but I didn’t even know from what.

I finally grew up a bit, I got working with my now producer Mike Schlosser, who’s a serious no bullshit kind of guy. I knew if I wanted this to work I couldn’t be a party girl and I knew feeding my fear and anxiety would be detrimental to this as well. I couldn’t run and I couldn’t self medicate. I wanted my dreams more than I wanted my demons, I had to heal.

Healing isn’t easy, it’s a long and cyclical process, but once you decide to go for it, it kind of ends up showing you where to go and where to shine the light.

I mediated and I asked myself questions, I sought out like-minded friends and I got to work, on me. What I found is what I believe to be this; if you want to know everything about yourself, look at your childhood.

Like I mentioned near the beginning, my mother yelled a lot, she punished me frequently in a physical way, she was hurt herself, and just angry at this point in time. She wasn’t a bad mother, she’s not a bad person, but these things deeply affected me. I was so afraid of her and so afraid of being punished that I wanted to be perfect because my mind if I was perfect then I could make her happy. Discovering this opened such a deep wound, one that I didn’t even know would be linked to anxiety and perfectionism. When I went back to that place and talked to my little self and saw how I had coped with this early life, I couldn’t do anything but cry, suddenly everything made sense.

Now I see all of this with a brand new perspective, mistakes are just a learning curve, life is supposed to be fun! If something I know I want also brings me to fear then I know it’s going to be an exciting challenge and that what’s on the other side of that will bring me so much satisfaction. Everyone’s lessons are different and I’m at a point now where I can proudly say I am very thankful for mine.

http://www.kendalthompson.ca/
https://www.instagram.com/kendal.thompson/
https://open.spotify.com/artist/0RSu7Nm0ib6fpqfBil7y3e
https://itunes.apple.com/ca/artist/kendal-thompson/351982554

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