Losing It All

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| This is the 340th story of Our Life Logs |


My dad was born in the United States to a family of Korean immigrants, and my mother was born in Argentina with a European background. Eventually, the two settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and had me in 1994.

Ever since I was a baby, my parents, siblings, and I visited Buenos Aires, Argentina, many times. It was always super fun to visit my mom’s side of the family. That said, I still felt like I belonged in my beloved hometown in Pennsylvania. It’s where I went to school and had my friends and family that I loved very much. Not to mention, the Korean side of my family also lived there, and because I looked more like them, I felt a further sense of belonging. The US was my home.

me playing baseball in PA 2001
Me playing baseball in Pennsylvania, 2001.

In 2004, my parents went through big spiritual and personal changes, leading them to decide that it was time for our family to start a new life and move to Argentina. In other words, they decided to take me very far away from Pittsburgh. I remember when my parents sat me and my younger brothers down to tell us the news. My heart sank. A feeling of intense emptiness began to settle inside. Somehow, I knew that the innocent and happy world I’d lived in for 11 years had just ended.

The change my parents were going through, plus the whole uprooting experience, hit me hard. I always loved visiting Argentina, but it was a whole different game to live there. Now I was immersed in a completely new culture. The monstrous city of Buenos Aires is amazing, but it’s also dense and overwhelming. Even with family there, it was still intense for a young boy. But I had two little brothers and a newborn baby brother, so there was no room for me to be a cry baby.

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We settled down in a town called San Isidro and I started going to a private Catholic school. I was well received because it was cool to be from the US. At the same time, I got a lot of annoying nicknames and jokes about being Asian, which I hated. People in Argentina tend to do this a lot and I was not used to it at all.

My family and I would visit Pittsburgh every once in a while, and each time I would feel right again. But soon enough, we’d come back to Argentina and the sinking feeling would return.

By the time I was a full-fledged adolescent, I started to feel part of both places and part of nowhere at the same time. I was well adapted to the Argentine culture and had many friends, but I always felt like I didn’t really belong, and planned to move back to the US someday. However, the trips back to Pennsylvania weren’t as comforting as when I was younger. I was dealing with a feeling of being torn in two and not understanding where I was supposed to be. It wasn’t that Pittsburgh had changed; I had.

Trying to form an identity without that foundation can be difficult. Not to mention, my parents were pushing their new life values and beliefs onto me and a fifth baby was on the way. As a teenager with a “victim complex,” I just felt like I had no voice at all. It all made me very angry and confused.

Luckily, this frustration was a blessing in disguise. It led me to realize the greatest way to express my feelings and discover who I wanted to be.

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So, what was my escape? Music. Through it, I could hide, run away, scream, and cry. It gave me a space for all the anger and confusion I had boiled up inside. Around 2007, I decided that I not only loved music, but I also wanted to play it. I was still unsatisfied and troubled with life, but playing music was my way of dealing with it. I started playing drums and writing song lyrics with my brother who played guitar and sang. Soon, my cousin joined us and we formed a band. By the time I was 14, we were playing shows. It gave me a whole new reason for being.

By 2013, most of my traumatic thoughts and anger from the past had toned down. I guess my “place” in the world was wherever I could bring my instrument. In fact, I was actually pretty happy by the time I graduated and knew my purpose was to keep pursuing music, even if I wasn’t quite sure how I could do it as a sustainable career.

In coming up with a back-up plan for my life, I started college which didn’t seem like the best option and didn’t last more than three months. From there, I went on to work boring 9-to-5 business jobs for two years. Yet again, it was like I was living in the land of nowhere, and all I could do every day was dream about playing music.

By 2014, I was sick of working jobs I hated, so I quit with the hopes of finding something better—whatever “better” was.  After several months of updating my resume and countless interviews, I began to have real doubts about what to do with my life. I dreamed about being a professional musician, but worries about not having a future kept creeping into my head. Friends around me were all moving along with their careers, and I still had nothing going for me.

Then something clicked. My life would be what I’d make of it. I knew what I wanted to do and I had a great passion for it—so why was I not pursuing it? Sure, there’d be risks in doing so, but the more I thought about it, I realized I had nothing to lose. I’d already experienced “losing it all” before. What’s the harm in taking another risk? That’s when life really got interesting.

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In 2015, I went all in with music. I played drums in two bands, took guitar lessons, and enrolled in music theory classes at a nearby university. My first problem was that I needed to make some money. So, what was the quickest way to make money with music? Well, playing it, for starters. I taught myself the basic chords of the guitar, learned some cover songs, and decided to sing on the street. A friend from school and I started busking many times a week.

After an intense year of music, busking, and building the foundation of a whole new life, an even bigger adventure came into the picture. My two best friends and I decided to backpack through South America without a return date. We had no specific destination or schedule either, we just figured we’d go through the countries of Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador, and play music along the way. Even though I felt scared out of my mind, it felt like the right thing to do. After all, I’d felt displaced most of my life. Eventually, the discomfort had become my home. So, in 2016, we were off.

With my two friends in Iruya, a little village north of Argentina
My friends and me in Iruya, a village north of Argentina, 2016.

During my stay in the city of Salta (up north in Argentina), I caught the media’s attention by playing on the street. This led to me being on the cover of Easter Sunday’s front page news and an invitation to play on TV. In that moment, all the risks I had taken felt worth it and it validated me that this was truly the path I was meant to be on. The media coverage fueled me to support my whole trip playing music at bars, restaurants, and on the street. I could have stayed, but I didn’t care about fame. There was so much of the world to explore. The whole thing lasted from February to August of that same year. By then, I held the confidence to return to Buenos Aires and keep pursuing music in a more stable way.

playing on the street in Salta, 2016
Playing on the streets of Salta, 2016.

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Since then, I’ve found a way to play music and make a sustainable income. I get paid for playing shows every week and am currently writing, recording, and producing my own music. I’m also a freelance writer which allows me to live life and dream how I want.

As the years go by, life scares me less and less. My confidence increases, and the anger, confusion, and fear of loss decrease. I spent much of my early life feeling displaced and unsure of my identity, but now I’m thankful to have felt those emotions because in doing so I found my passion and path in life. It’s funny how things always end up being alright—or even better—after each new risk I take.

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This is the story of Tomas Chough

Tomas now resides in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he continues to pursue his music career and write. Tomas went through some tough times as a child. Fortunately, moving from his hometown in Pittsburgh to start a whole new life with his family in Argentina taught him how to deal with adversity and to search for his true identity regardless of the circumstances. Pushing boundaries has been a central part of his journey, leading him to further growth and amazing experiences. Most importantly, he mustered a strong core confidence and the courage to chase his dreams. Today, Tomas is a writer and professional musician who continues to push himself towards his life’s goals. He also wishes to inspire others to live the life they desire, despite whatever it is that’s holding them back.

Valparaiso, Chile 2018
Exploring the streets of Valparaiso, Chile in 2018.

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This story first touched our hearts on May 23, 2019.

| Writer: Tomas Chough | Editor: Colleen Walker |
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