We talk a lot about success on The Grindstone: how to attain it, how to dress for it, how it relates to your birthday. But let’s be honest: There are plenty of career stories that are about failure, too. This week, a woman named Raquel Ramos wrote a bracingly honest essay for xojane about her failed rock star dreams. “For the majority of my life, I’ve identified myself as a singer, an artist,” she begins. I always, always thought that I’d be one of the few to Make It. I was incorrect. … I don’t think it’s premature or needlessly pessimistic to say it’s definite that I am not going to be a rock star.”
Ramos earned her first production and management deal when she was 19, so it’s not like she was noodling around at Omaha karaoke bars, deluding herself that she’d be discovered. The deal led to a meeting with a major label executive, though the meeting didn’t lead anywhere. After a decade of similar near misses that keep her hope alive, she moved from New York to LA. After four more years, she “was at a mind-numbing but stable job, which I blamed for my continued failure.”
The process of trying to become a star sounds dehumanizing: Men in suits discussed things like how she should spell her name, and what her “look” should be. In that first big meeting, the executive spoke only to her management team, turning to Ramos only at the end and patronizingly saying, “And you look very pretty today.” She went into deep credit card debt to finance two full-length albums that she hoped would catch the attention of the right people. Though her LA job paid well, she quit in order to focus on her music. Instead, she lost just about everything.
Ramos ran out of money and moved to Florida to live with her dad. She has no college degree, no savings, and lots of debt. Ramos is now 36, or as she puts it, “at least 20 years older than the average new artist.” Her account of how she came to terms with what happened is startling:
Last night, I finally articulated the truth to myself: I came to Florida because I failed. I tried to do something that I really wanted to do and I didn’t succeed and now it doesn’t make sense to try doing that anymore.
I have other dreams, after all. I want to get married and be a mom. I just assumed (wildly overestimating my luck, abilities or both) that I would first get to have the exciting, sexy life on the road before transitioning to a quieter existence with a family of my own.
I really do feel finished trying for that pop star thing. I guess I just wish I had a little more to show for my efforts.
It’s hard to dig an encouraging moral out of that story, though Ramos tries: She’s proud she tried, she did some good work, etc. etc. Those are totally understandable coping mechanisms. For the rest of us, the lesson is to think long and hard about the very real risks of pursuing a crazy dream. You don’t always get a happy ending.
Photo of Ramos: xojane