How To “Be Somebody”
I’ve been discovered! Well … more like I once was lost and now I’m found. Like many of us, I spent years and years preparing to pursue the path I thought would lead me to the ultimate destination of happiness and in 2012 my husband Josh and I moved to Music City to “chase that neon rainbow”. Most of us think, “If I could just reach this goal, earn that degree, marry this person, move to that city, then I’d be happy!” So there I was in Nashville Tennessee where my longing heart cried out, “If I could just get that meeting, schedule that co-write, break in, be seen, stand out, rise to the top, then I’d be happy.” I went to workshops about how to be major label ready. I went to conferences about how to become a published songwriter. I networked, made phone calls, sent emails, studied the craft, and signed up for every industry newsletter. I did all the things I was told I needed to do to become ‘successful’, to ‘be somebody’.
But somewhere down the line a gnawing tension deep within demanded that I explore what the word “success” really meant. I may be a little biased but I’ve come to see with clarity that the answer lies in the context of storytelling. We all love a good movie; but tell me this, would you enjoy watching two hours of perfect people, living a perfect life, with their perfect family, in their perfect town? No?! Why not? Because that’s not real life. We would spend the entire movie in suspense expecting something ominous to be lurking outside the door just waiting to barge in and give us a story worth watching. You know, that whole conflict-resolution thing. Again, why? Because we’re all living a story and we know that nobody’s life is that perfect.
This search for meaning and purpose lead me back in time to the story that started it all. It began in Eden. Beauty. Perfection. Wholeness. Adam and Eve - created beings - walked hand in hand with their creator. But early on in the movie of God’s grand love story, a serpent barges through the door and steals mankind’s innocence. All of a sudden they looked around and realized they weren’t in Eden anymore. Chances are, by the time you’re old enough to navigate an iPhone or use the bathroom on your own, a snake has come in and messed with your Eden too - with the way life “should” be. You realize you’re not in Eden anymore. It could be divorce, moving to a new town, sexual assault, losing a loved one, physical assault, mental illness, addiction, or any number of attacks on your sense of security, stability and identity. You go from hopscotch, G.I. Joe and an ‘all is right in the world’ innocence, to a ‘nothing will ever be okay again’ frame of reference.
What do we do when our innocence is shattered by tragedy? Most of us throw up walls of defense to make sure it never happens again. That’s what I did. Through various circumstances the serpent came into my life at a very young age and whispered lies dressed up as the truth. He convinced me that I was a mistake. An accident. That I was an insignificant burden who was ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’ all at the same time. Without even recognizing that my heart had been damaged, I responded by determining to prove those voices wrong. I was going to ‘be somebody’. I developed a desperate need to be seen, heard, honored, respected, admired, and looked up to. I needed to find a way to fill the void left by insecurity and self-doubt.
It turns out I was pretty good at music and consequently, though subconsciously, thought, “There’s my ticket! That’s how I’m gonna ‘be somebody’”. I learned how to play guitar, started writing songs, and moved to Nashville. I idolized country stars. I said, did, and wore all the “right” things. I chased after Eden as best I knew how … but something never felt quite right. Let’s be real here, Adam and Eve’s sin runs through our veins and the hunger for Eden is in us too. Whether or not we realize it, we all long to return. The author of our story put that thirst for eternity in our heart. Look at Disneyworld. It’s all about fun. Pleasure. Perfection. Happy ever after. But this isn’t Eden and the park closes at dusk. So we cope. Some of us do drugs. We get facelifts and boob jobs. We have sex and eat food. In my pursuit of Eden I thought celebrity would bring me wholeness and security. If I could just reach the pinnacle of tour busses, music videos and country music awards then all would be ‘right’ again in my world. But here’s what I’ve learned, in a world that worships celebrities and celebrates what is seen, God looks into a person and celebrates what is unseen. My music. My brand. My career. My image. As it turns out my ongoing inner tension was the result of using my God given gifts solely for my own benefit.
After years of straining and striving, God brought me home to rest and reflect. I live in the Pacific Northwest where I was born and raised. The place I love with all my heart but never thought I’d live again. No, not the rainy side. We’re on the desert side smack-dab in the middle of wildfire country. Last summer we had the most devastating fire in recent history. Processing through the aftermath as any songwriter would, I ended up with an anthem of sorts for our community called, “When the Smoke Clears.” I quickly decided to grab my camera and go out and interview some of my neighbors about their experiences. The resulting video has become somewhat of a time capsule for our community. Something really cool happened during the process of being behind the camera, instead of in front of it. Something healing. I heard a still, small voice whisper, “This is why I’ve gifted you, to tell their stories. Keep telling their stories.” So … How do I tell the best story with my life? I help other people tell better stories with their lives. I used to write songs that would put me in front of the camera, songs that would elevate me and my goals. Now I’m learning how to step behind the camera, behind the song, and write material that gives a voice to our common human experience. Songs that illuminate the bigger picture.
Here’s what I’ve noticed. There’s one question that many people, if not most, go their whole lives never answering: “What am I going to do with what has happened to me?” My good friend Kim once said, “It is so small to be stuck in your own story.” In case no one has ever told you, there’s a greater story being told. One that spans all of eternity and is made up of millions of smaller stories like yours and mine. That longing for Eden, for perfection and wholeness, to be loved the way you desire, you won’t find that here on earth. But there’s Good News: if we’re living out a story, then the grand author and storyteller is the one who can give those things to us. Bottom line of my story, and yours too in fact: the more I find my worth, value, and security in who God says I am, the less concerned I am with who the world says I “should” be, or who that serpent says I’m not. I can just hear his tail rattling now. The truth? The world may never know the name Nicole Unser, but I have a Father in Heaven, the author of my story, who sees me and I will one day hear, “Nicole. Sweetheart. Daughter with whom I am well pleased. Welcome home.” He knows my name.
Our longing for Eden, for perfection, affection, unfettered intimacy and belonging, is a good and natural thing. But I beg you, please don’t forfeit your real eternal wholeness and security for an earthly counterfeit that will promise “success” but only continue to disappoint.
Juvenile detentions centers, McDonalds, fishing lures, 12 step programs, guitars, abstinence, youth centers, meth addiction, adoption … What does all that have to do with all this? Join me next week as the bigger, better story continues!