| This is the 590th story of Our Life Logs® |
I was born in a difficult time for my country, but I didn't know it then. I grew up in a small town called Leskovac in the south part of Serbia. The country is riddled with poverty but rich with strong-willed people that can handle anything. My parents did everything to help me have a happy childhood away from all of it.
One of my most vivid memories takes place in the warm summer of 1995. My mother made me a cake with seven candles, decorated with pink and white whipped cream. For me, it was the most beautiful cake in the world. It was not a big party with lots of food, balloons, and toys. It was a modest gathering, but it was overflowing with joy and love. That was all I could ever want. My favorite part of my birthday was opening the presents.
On this birthday, I got beautiful toys like crayons and children's books, but one gift was truly special. That year, I got my first guitar. It was placed in front of me in a large box, wrapped in colorful paper. My grandfather who loved music had given it to me. He wanted me to love music as much as he did. And I did, very quickly. Soon, my days were filled with music and everything else fell into the background.
My parents fostered my love of music by enrolling me in guitar lessons where I could begin plucking away at my strings and let the music transport me to a dream-like state. As I got older, I started going to a music professor every week for extra lessons after school along with practicing at home. What can I say? I was in love. People at school knew that I played the guitar, and so I was always getting calls to be a part of school productions. There was always an opportunity to share my love with others. Since I developed my skills so early in life, other kids wanted to hang out with me and teach them how to play. It was a beautiful childhood. Music shaped my life. It became a part of me.
As I got better, more and more people knew about my talent and recommended me to other musicians. In high school, I joined a band where I practiced and played to my heart’s content. I was so happy, and now I was making a little money to help my parents. It was wonderful to meet so many different people at shows who appreciated and loved my music. I needed that badly as I got older. You see, people around me accepted the fact that I was involved in music when I was a child, but that changed as I grew up. I felt like I was on the path to realizing my dreams, but my community didn’t quite support it.
The same people who lifted me up for my skills when I was a child started to turn on me--relatives, friends of my parents, teachers at school, everyone changed their tune. Suddenly, I was being told that music should not be for a girl, that I should give up the guitar, and be like other girls. The idealized dreams in their eyes were that I should find a husband, not a career.
This may sound old-fashioned to you, but Serbia is a place where equality and freedom of choice exist only on paper. The only way to break out is to fight against it and remain persistent. I tried to do that, but it became harder. Under the influence of the whispers and disappointed looks, my parents turned on my music dreams too. They told me that when they enrolled me in guitar lessons as a child, they didn't think that music would become my everything. It was supposed to just be a fun hobby. The older I got, and the more skilled I became, the more critical everyone got. My parents persistently tried to convince me to stop playing in the band and dedicate myself to other things. That put a lot of pressure on me. I no longer had the support of those closest to me, and everything was getting harder. What was I to do?
For a while, I managed to keep my enthusiasm and keep playing, but I was slowly becoming dissatisfied. When you’re told over and over that something isn’t good for you, that you won’t succeed or make a living as you’ve always dreamt, you start to wonder if they’re right. The doubt took over. Maybe music really wouldn't bring me anything good, I told myself.
And so, after being told over and over it was the right thing to do, I made the unhappy decision to cast aside my musical dreams and dedicate myself to school and education. I was miserable.
At the time, the education that pretty much guaranteed a secure job was through the Faculty of Economics, so I enrolled and moved to another city. I distanced myself from the society that made up my world of music and met some other people. Everyone around me was satisfied. I was glad to enroll, but nothing could make me happier than my guitar. And she was sitting in the attic in a corner, for the sake of "better" things.
Every time I came home to my city, I would remember my past, the feeling I had during the of applause after playing a show. I missed that part of my life all the time. While a part of me felt left behind without music, I will say that it was interesting to discover new places and meet some new friends. I was happy to have people to spend time with. Together, we would go to the Reading Room and to parties, where I had the opportunity to be around a larger company. And it was through socializing with these new people that I was led back to music again.
One day, a friend invited me to a party for her birthday, where all our friends from college were supposed to be. I came there expecting the usual evening with my friends, and then he showed up. A guy who didn't belong to that world. He was older than us, more serious and different from all the guys from college. I found out from a friend that he was into music. He was, in fact, at this party because his band was playing another party that weekend. My friend told him that I was also into music, and I watched his eyes light up with interest. “Will you play me something on the guitar?” he asked.
At first, I didn’t want to. I felt so rusty, and I worried it would be too painful. But the birthday girl urged me to do it for her, so I agreed. That moment when I took the guitar in my hands again will forever remain etched in my memory. I felt a rush of excitement, nervousness, and fear. After so much time, I was going to play again. Those few minutes were magical. I felt again what it is like when you do what you love and what you enjoy. I felt like that evening was a dream. And that... maybe my dreams could come true. I felt hope once more.
A couple of days after the party I got an unexpected call. It was the musician from the party. He called me with an offer to play with his band. I was shocked by his offer, and I didn’t know what to say. I wound up asking if I could get back to him.
Although I really wanted to do music again, I was afraid that it would have a bad effect on my college success, that I would have to give music up again. I called a friend who helped me decide after she asked one question. "Do you want to work a job you don't like every day for ten years, knowing that you missed the opportunity to use the talent you were given to do something you love?" From that moment on, my self-deception stopped. That one question broke all the doubt from within me. I didn’t want to regret passing on my dream ten years from now. I always knew that music was my life, but I’d suppressed it because of other people. I was done doing that.
Soon after making the choice to play with the guy’s band, I made a trip home to my city. But this time, it was one of the happiest events because I was going home to get my prized possession. My guitar. I knew my parents wouldn’t be happy that I was making music again, but I didn’t let their negativity reach me this time. I knew that I couldn’t give up on my dreams because of their fears.
From that moment on, my life became insanely busy. I still had to study and take exams, and then I used all my free time to practice the guitar. There was no more time for walks and socializing, but I didn’t care. Because I had music back.
I would play with the band at parties where my friends from college hung out, and I built my experience. Life had regained its meaning. I became a very good friend of the guy who invited me to join the band, and we became very close. After each gig, we would talk about important life things, like wishes and plans. For the first time, I got the feeling that someone understood me perfectly. We were from the same world. That's why it wasn't long before we decided to start a relationship. It just felt right.
Meanwhile, stories were circulating in my family again that I would not finish college, and that music would ruin me. Only, this time I didn't listen to them. I knew I had enough strength to pass all the exams and work on my dream at the same time.
And that’s exactly what I did. Here I am today, graduated despite all the doubts thrown at me. And I did not give up on my dream. I never will again. My days are filled with playing shows, making compositions, and playing the guitar. I’m building my path from the notes I play. Now, people appreciate me in the world of music. I write compositions for other musicians, and they invite me to play at events. My grandfather, who gave me a guitar 16 years ago, is now very proud because I did not give up. The other members of my family are still not happy about my choice, and they want me to live differently.
But I‘ve accepted that some people will never accept someone else’s choice, but that must not be a reason not to listen to ourselves. I would like everyone who reads this to know that they should follow their dreams, no matter what others say. We know best what our heart desires and where we need to go. If you are passionate about something, hang on tight and never let it go.
This is the story of Lenka Negic
Lenka’s story is a story of dreams, desires, ups, and downs. This is the story of a girl who did not give up her dream completely. Her story shows that dreams are achievable when we are persistent and that even ordinary people can experience success. The concept of success is different for each of us, and for her, it was to make music and live from it. For her seventh birthday, she received a guitar from her grandfather, and from that moment, music became her language for expressing happiness, sadness, joy, and pain. Lenka went through a thorny path. A path that consisted of self-doubt, fears, belittling, other people's words of criticism. Here, she presents herself and her path to dreams. And, maybe you will find a part of yourself in this story too because fears and dreams are part of us--wherever we are in the world.
This story first touched our hearts on December 8, 2020
Writer: Aleksandra Niskic | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker