When I look back on my life there are a lot of instances where others told me how fearless and daring I was, but I always felt like I was just being me. Due to the fact that I am a drummer, playing an instrument predominantly played by men in the male-dominated music world, I have had to be fearless and daring; otherwise, I basically would not have gotten anywhere in this business.
What I find interesting is how I have had to present myself in order to be accepted in this community. This has not really been a fully conscious effort on my part.
I was always pretty good at reading personalities and figuring out what needed to be done or said in order for a situation to produce or fulfill its maximum potential. My personality is strong and I think sometimes others find it intimidating, so I naturally developed a way to present a more softened version of myself – a “me” that I actually grew to be quite fond of as well. Still, what repeatedly rings in my ears is my mother’s voice scolding me as a child for being too concerned with what others thought. And later on in my life, I recall my dad’s voice remarking on the fact that is was the older musicians, as in one or two generations earlier than mine, who were the ones to hire me because I was never fully accepted by my peers.
I finally realized that a big part of the “me” that has developed was for the comfort of others, based on the spoken and unspoken social laws of behavior for women. Well, now in my forties, as cliché as it may sound, I am finally daring to be my fabulous self, however it may turn out.
I am finally realizing how much time I have spent and wasted on trying to fit into a box here or a box there. From worrying about who likes me or who doesn’t, to worrying about my pant size or hairstyle. My good friend Dianne Reeves once told me that I spent too much time trying to find “what is hip?” and that I did not realize that I am “what is hip!” I thought about that one day and cried for hours because of the truth in her statement. Though I am confident, intelligent, strong-willed, and relatively outspoken, I have felt very much misunderstood over the course of my life and I finally get it that I have some responsibility for that. I see that it takes a lot of courage to discover and to be your authentic self in the world.
Most of us are complex people and it can be difficult to exercise the beauty of all of our complexities in personal relationships, in both business and in society in general. I have figured out that it is freedom that I am looking for and now see that I have been the only one in the way of having it. I see that I possess within myself the freedom to live the life I want. It’s not something that someone else will grant me. So what I am saying is that, with all of the praise, awards, and critical acclaim I have received over the years, this outward reinforcement of my being “fabulous” never really stuck with me because career accomplishments alone did not make me feel complete. It is my own personal achievements and growth that have made me feel fabulous. It is who I am on the inside that makes me feel special.
And I would have to say that the one thing that has made me feel more fabulous than anything else is my decision to have children and start a family with my partner Tracy. Having a family, something that is simple for (or even expected of) most women, is something that I have to work for, something I have to change my life for in order to accomplish. I feel that I have finally grown up in the sense that I am making a switch in priorities, away from career and more toward family. There have been many challenges in our journey of trying to have children by birth and by adoption, but we are now grateful and proud to be parents to an amazing little boy. We had faith that in the right time the right “child spirit(s)” will choose us. And so another journey begins, back in my hometown on the opposite coast, far away from everything I’ve known in Southern California for the last 17 years, but with family. I am also a full-time professor at Berklee College of Music, the very school I went to 25 years ago! My life has come full circle.
So this is who I am – a partner, a mother, a hope-to-be-one-day grandmother, as well as a daughter, a drummer and a teacher. And though my family is being formed alternatively, there is a natural joy and sense of purpose that comes with this, and I am so glad I did not allow myself to be robbed of that!
Terri Lyne Carrington was a child prodigy as a jazz drummer. She got her first set of drums at seven, and by the age of 11 she received a full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music. She has toured with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Mike Stern, and Al Jarreau. She also produces jazz albums and has received GRAMMY awards as both musician and producer.