Don’t Stop Believin’, Dreams Do Come True

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What could be more astonishing, more exciting, more incredible than getting a call out of the blue, offering you the job you long dreamed of but never believed you could ever actually have?

That happened to Arnel Pineda, former Manilla street kid and bar band singer, when an enormously successful U.S. rock band called and asked him to audition. After losing its very popular lead singer, the band needed a replacement. Unknown to Arnel, he had been rehearsing for this moment for years as the lead singer of a tribute band where he had developed an ability to sing that was eerily like the departed superstar. But he was still “terrified” that he wouldn’t be good enough and didn’t believe the job could really be his. In fact, he thought the band’s call was a friend’s practical joke; no super rich and super famous musicians would ever offer a tribute band singer from the slums of Manila such an opportunity. The band was completely serious, however, having been dazzled by Arnel’s Youtube performances.

Flown to the US at the band’s expense, Arnel passed the studio audition and then was tested performing at a small concert. Each time Arnel stunned the band with his vocal range, singing ability, and mastery of the band’s hits. So, on to the next step, a small concert tour – IF you can call singing before 18,000 fans small.

Every great accomplishment must overcome some set backs and it was no different for Arnel’s rising status. Many fans would not accept a skinny, 5’4’’ Filipino as a frontman for a macho rock band. It was like having a teenager quarterback the Boston Patriots; he just “didn’t fit” for some fans. But, gradually, his singing won over the skeptics, as it had the band itself, and they all went on to its most successful tour in its 50 year career, led by Arnel’s singing.

This Story Has a Happy Ending
Arnel was not just the fill-in singer, a temporary employee until the band found the real replacement, he was made a full member of the band and, enjoying a full share of the profits, earning a reported $15 million one year. The fans adored him and sought his autograph. He had his own fan club. And was finally able to give his family in the Philippines a good life. He desperately needed a break, and now the band also needed him, since his presence revitalized the band’s sagging fortunes – musically and financially.

His dream realized was a dream come true for the band as well. His rags to riches story and awesome singing brought the band many new fans.

Don’t expect some “but he threw it all away and now is a junkie sleeping in a Manilla gutter,” ending to this inspiring story. Arnel remains successful and admired. And his story has much to teach us about the nature of human life and happiness.

Arnel never allowed himself to even imagine taking over as the lead singer – he always regarded the band as his heroes, living a life he couldn’t even imagine while struggling to survive in the slums of Manilla. Though he wouldn’t allow himself that dream because it seemed so impossible, he did fully realize a better life, a much, much better life. “It’s so good, it’s hard to believe it’s real.” he said.

Arnel never actually says he’s unhappy or at a lower level of happiness than he seeks. But it’s strongly implied in statements such as: “It’s a 24-7 job. You have to be perfect all the time.” “I want to live more healthy and not use sleeping pills.” “The bottom line, what makes you happy? At the end of the day, it’s your family, intact, happy.” And he says he made a compromise, “Performing is my consolation (for being away from his family) because it makes so many people happy.”

And, we can safely conclude that making people happy makes Arnel happy too.

Unavoidable “Laws” of Life
Arnel truly reached the pinnacle of his musical world. So was he blissed-out all day, every day? No way! That can’t happen to anyone. Life just doesn’t work that way. No matter how high one soars, basic facts of life remain permanently fixed in place.

While Arnel fully realized his dream, life reminded him that it operates according to certain unavoidable, inescapable “laws”, with certain predictable regularities:
-Life is a struggle for everyone, regardless of how high one climbs on their profession’s or society’s totem pole.
-Life is never perfect regardless of how immense one’s wealth and fame.
-Life is never free of problems. Money helps but it can’t solve all difficulties. (Think of Steve Jobs’ death.)
-Life, no matter how good, never reaches a point for anyone where it is entirely positive, free of all negatives. Life is never all “ups” and no “downs”.

An exceptional singer, Arnel still had to learn how best use and protect his voice from strain. In other words, this superstar had to prepare and exercise his voice before concerts, reduce vocal strain, and do his best to avoid common ailments – coughs, colds, and sore throats. Because his performances were like those of high level athletes, he had to stay fit and improve his strength and health. Especially during the long, grueling tours taking advantage of the band’s newly restored popularity.

Life was FAR FROM PERFECT for Arnel: Between concerts, the band lived in a luxury bus, but a bus nonetheless, or stayed in hotel rooms. There was little semblance of a “normal” home life with family. What could be more thrilling and fulfilling for a singer than performing your beloved band’s anthems? But, singing them exactly as they sound on the CD, because “that’s what the fans expect”, can drain some of the rush from performances. Little innovation or creativity was tolerated.

Arnel’s life had it’s own PROBLEMS. Touring the world, he was emotionally and geographically far from his beloved family. Compared to his early life in the Philippines, his rock star life provided enormous benefits AND high costs, high NEGATIVES; fans could surround him everywhere, mobbing him for autographs and “selfies”, giving him little freedom to just be Arnel.

In addition to those already mentioned, he seemed to never feel secure in his new role. Never feeling that he had truly “arrived”, always feeling he had to prove himself at each concert. So he always felt a kind of loneliness. Even when thousands of fans were expressing their love for him, he was far from his loved ones and their understanding, reassurance and comfort.

We live in an “ocean” of conditions. We’re surrounded everywhere and at all times with a countless variety of conditions. We cannot ever be free of all conditions, so of course they matter.

Some assert that we can be happy regardless of conditions, be happy under any and all conditions. That may be possible for Zen masters, but for the rest of us we need the right conditions to give us a start on happiness.

Try being happy in a God-forsaken refugee camp in hellacious South Sudan with little food, water, or safety. It’s much better than being the target of murderous, savage marauders, but most people would have a hard time reaching happy. It would take a lot more than the advice of “don’t worry, be happy”.

Our species evolved to thrive in a limited range of conditions. Yes, our ability to adapt by attitudes and technology has enabled a few of us to reach the peak of Everest or the depths of the ocean – but only briefly. And when they do they’re certainly not thriving.

While a main point of these articles is that conditions themselves are important, they alone are usually not sufficient for happiness (certain attitudes and emotional adaptability are also necessary). Conditions do have a significant impact on our happiness, Zen masters excepted.

In addition to the “life laws” already mentioned, we must also explore how someone with near ideal conditions, like Arnel, might not be able to sustain a high level of happiness.

Some realities about the conditions of our lives:
-Conditions CHANGE: Nothing in our lives is permanent and unchanging. Mountains seem “eternal” because we don’t live long enough to witness that they change, too. A previous lead singer of this band lost his voice permanently while on stage. He expected that with proper care, he too, could maintain his voice in good condition. As mentioned above, with Arnel, the band reached a high point – a great change. But fans could lose interest in the singer and concerts would have to be cancelled. Fending off such a possibility put a lot of pressure on Arnel. Such changes could impact our happiness.

-OUR FEELINGS about our conditions can change: The band is selling out everywhere. Such demand seems to be high into the foreseeable future. So maybe our conditions aren’t exactly changing, but our feelings about “singing that same damn song one more damn time” might be. Our changing feelings about or circumstances can also impact our happiness.

-TOXIC ATTITUDES about our life situation can change our conditions from being a good part of our life to an unbearable burden. Again, Arnel felt he had to prove himself constantly. He never really felt he was good enough in spite of fans, the band’s support, and the band’s success. That’s more wear tear on an already pressured situation-wear and tear that might lead to burnout – a deep form of unhappiness.

If we’re looking for happiness to last for the long run, we must not only put ourselves into conditions that have a high likelihood of producing happiness for us, but we must also be prepared for changes in those conditions and realistically include the impact of life’s laws on us.

Recall, the three general views on the source of happiness:
It depends entirely on the right conditions.
It depends entirely on our accessing our innate core of happiness.
And, it’s the result of the interaction between conditions and our mindset about those conditions and our reaction to those conditions.

For example, we must be able to find happiness in the inescapable struggle, imperfection, problems, and negative aspect of all life. (More on this next time.) In other words, we must actually find ways to enjoy the journey of life, not just the arrival at our goals.

Thank you for taking this journey of ideas with me and Arnel.

Oh, the name of the band? JOURNEY!!

(For more on Arnel Pineda, see “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey”. It’s currently available on Netflix and short films of Arnel leading Journey are on Youtube.)

Written by Tony Johnson is a retired university mental health center psychologist. He has lived, learned and enlarged his happiness in the Costa Ballena for over three years. He has the curiosity of a coati about all things life! These articles are his best shot at answering those “Life Questions”. Hopefully, you will find them informative and useful.

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