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You’re Not A Rockstar: How to Deal With Dreams That Haven’t Come True

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Nobody watches the Grammys anymore right? Television is dead. Music is deader, and anything relevant is on Reddit, right?

I found myself watching a real television in a real house with my boyfriend and his parents on Grammy night 2019.

As a child, I dreamed of being a rock and roll star, a-la David Bowie, screeching into the night on a guitar made of glitter. I played in rock and roll bands playing covers of Green Day songs and writing my own.

Tess at 19 years old and ready to join the Black Parade.

Since age 11, a guitar has been strapped to my hand. With my college band, I finally got a fan base in Athens, Ohio and I felt like I could really make it. Have you ever felt like you could clear your whole mind and run on autopilot? Once my feet touched any stage — it was home. I didn’t have to think about anything. I knew it all.

But after 10 years of trying to be my own punk rock hero, I lost myself in the idea of making money and being a real adult. I got a job writing and couldn’t find the time to form a new band when I moved to New York City at 22, then became so concerned with not losing my apartment in San Francisco at 24 that I turned off my lizard brain and became a young professional.

Now, at 26 sometimes I can’t listen to my favorite bands because it brings me too much pain.

Glitter turns to dust, you know?

So on this particular night, I wasn’t thinking about music, and this antiquated relic of the golden era of sound hit me. There were so many names winning Grammys that I didn’t even recognize. I became older and older by the minute and more and more detached from the passionate kid I used to be.

I tried not to pay attention, and then, of course, Lady Gaga performed. Clad in a glittering jumpsuit with my exact messy blonde haircut, black eyeliner smudged around her piercing eyes.

She became Bowie really, all thrashing and posing and playing into the drama of being alive. No one in the room got it, but I felt it. Sullen and dark, I almost broke internally.

“Tell me somethin’, girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?”

US singer-songwriter Lady Gaga performs onstage during the 61st Annual Grammy Awards on February 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

I saw myself at 19, full of rage and love, seeing that big stage reflecting off my glassy eyes and I started to cry a bit. I couldn’t control it. How can I feel so detached from the person I wanted to be? How could I have changed so much in 10 years?

I haven’t played guitar in weeks. Why? Because the thought of playing it brings me pain, the pain of not reaching my ultimate goal.

When you finally realize your dream may not come true, it can be heartbreaking. I was sitting there, with my future in-laws and the love of my life and I broke down internally. All the things I used to think about, touring the world, magazine covers, reaching and helping people through their darkest days with my music — all started catching fire in my brain. It was like a movie that was never made. Have I thrown everything away to be able to pay my bills?

And then, the thoughts continued. “I need to lose weight so I can feel comfortable on stage again. I need to dye my hair. I need to cut a record. Who will produce it? Can I get a record deal at 26 or am I washed up? Oh my god — google — tell me if there are people who made it in music older than 22. Please. Please. Please.”

The spiral of those thoughts, whether you wanted to be a rockstar, a professional athlete, a CEO, or just someone with a bank account carrying more than $500, can really send you into a panic.

How can we get past the notion that we’ve failed? How can we reconcile with our lizard brain and still be rational human beings? I’m not sure how to answer those questions.

As soon as Gaga was done being who I wanted to be, I wondered about my path. Am I in the right place, doing the right things or did I get here because I had no other choice?

Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you.”

Rock and Roll didn’t change. I did. And is that a good thing? Was I irrational, or was I passionate?

As I walked into the dining room for dinner, I looked around and saw people I loved and I smiled. I may not be Gaga or Bowie, but I’m learning to be happy. I’m learning to give myself a little more credit.

And while I’m not Gaga famous, I do have a support system, and a good job, and I’m learning to bring the spirit of that punk rock kid out in all that I do. While my heart still breaks for who I thought I could be, I’m hoping to get to know who I have become.

Tess at 25.
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Tess F. Stevens

Tess F. Stevens

Hey I'm Tess. I'm a pop-punk musician and social media professional based in the East Bay of California. My EP "Patient 139" is out now. Check me out @tessfstevens on Instagram and Tik Tok. For music, merch, and more visit