We had the good fortune of connecting with Victor Olavarria and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Victor, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
Aside from the general things like being respectful, organized, available, and invested in my student’s progress, the most important factor behind my success has been my willingness to adapt. Years ago, when I was still living in the Seattle area, online instruction was becoming more and more of a thing. It was getting to the point where you couldn’t ignore it, and by not embracing it I had a feeling that I was going to be left behind. I wouldn’t say that I’m great with technology but I really felt that I’d be endangering my business if I didn’t figure something out. The decision to move to San Diego made it very real, because unless I had a legit form of online instruction in place, I’d be losing all of my Seattle students in a move to a different state where I had no students and would have to start over. So I figured it out, and I don’t mean I just opened my laptop next to my drum set and called it good. I figured out how to have multiple camera angles so my students could see everything as clear as possible. I figured out how to organize all of their lesson materials and assignments in an easy to access way online so that we could still have organic lessons from over 1,200 miles away. I figured out how to do it so that they wouldn’t feel like they had lost any value once I moved. And this was years before COVID! Who knew that by embracing online instruction when I did, I’d be giving myself years to fine tune and perfect my system so that when a global pandemic forced the entire world online, I wouldn’t have to make any adjustments at all?! We’ve all heard the saying “luck favors the prepared…” No one could have guessed that this is where we’d end up, but here we are. Embracing change and being willing to adapt is 100% the most important factor behind my success.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started playing drums in the 5th grade. It looked like fun and I wanted to try it. My parents were game and got me a drum set and drum lessons, and later on opened up their basement to band practices. My band was the most important thing to me, so most of my playing/practicing was related to what I was doing with them. After high school I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, and that was my first real experience outside of my “bubble.” I thought I was pretty good going in, but I started realizing that there were a lot of people WAYYY better. Which is fine, but at the time it felt intimidating and discouraging. This was where my experience with imposter syndrome began, and it followed me around for years. Instead of embracing that there were some areas of my playing that needed improvement, I just clung tighter to the areas I was already comfortable with and did my best to avoid situations that would call upon the things I couldn’t do, because for some reason I thought my inability to do them somehow reflected back on me as a person. After college I came home and joined a metal band called Numbers, and I also toured the country with a band called Hey Marseilles. Those bands were very different from each other, but I did really well with them because I was able to rely on my strengths. But as time went on and the bands broke up, I started feeling a little stagnant and unsatisfied with my playing. I didn’t feel intimidated or discouraged by the things I couldn’t do anymore, I had arrived at a place where I wanted to work on them so that I could be the drummer that I wanted to be. So I started working on them, and as I improved my imposter syndrome started going away, which was incredibly freeing. I started playing drums because it was fun, but somewhere along the way I got in my head about it and it was about a 14 year journey to get back to the headspace of “this is fun, and that’s why I’m doing it.” I’m thankful for the experience though because it showed me that all of my insecurities were misplaced and it also helped me shape my current approach to drumming and learning, which has carried over into how and what I teach my students. The “teacher” is seen as someone that knows all and doesn’t make mistakes, but I want people to know that no one should be put up on a pedestal. Everyone is human, everyone has feelings of doubt and insecurity, and that’s normal. But there are ways to work through that, and it starts with being kind to yourself and remembering why you chose to do what you’re doing in the first place.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Let’s pretend that COVID doesn’t exist during this trip… We’d go to Sunset Cliffs, Liberty Station, the zoo, the safari park, Stone Brewery up in Escondido, La Jolla, Mission Beach, Pokez downtown, Thai Village in PB, Cantina Mayahuel in Normal Heights, drive up to LA and get a burrito at Mixto, go to Disneyland, take a trip out to Joshua Tree, do the slot canyon and palm oasis hikes in Anza Borrego. Southern California is the best.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My wife deserves so much credit, she’s always been so supportive and encouraging and never once doubted that I could make this work. Our friend Allison who designed and built my website, and who put in the time and work to make my vision of online student portals come to life. Like I said, I’m not great with technology. I could not have made this happen without her. When I was first exploring the idea and trying to find ways to make it work, I spent a lot of time online trying to find answers to my questions. I stumbled across a blog that was talking about using GoPros as webcams and all the equipment needed to make that happen (this was before they added the webcam feature). Knowing literally nothing about anything I was trying to do, I emailed the guy and he actually got back to me and helped me out. I don’t know his name, I probably wouldn’t be able to find him again if I tried. But whoever he is, he deserves a lot of credit. Definitely my students. I’m grateful for every single person I’ve ever taught, but with the current world situation in mind: My Seattle students that stuck with me when I moved, my San Diego students that stuck with me once the pandemic started, and all of the students from all over the country that have found me and trusted me to teach them online.
Kami Olavarria, Kelly Mason