Right around this time of year is when everything starts to shape up for the next year. Casting is released, callbacks are completed, travel plans are finalized… you get the idea. Now is also the time when many, many people will start to post things on Facebook like “thrilled to announce that I [got into the best thing ever in my life omg I’m so excited blah blah blah]!!!!”
I also post things like this when I get good news. There is nothing really wrong with posting these things– you want to tell the people in your life that you got something cool, you want to get positive feedback from your peeps which makes you feel good, etc etc. Let’s be honest: social media continues to thrive because at its core, it exists to glorify all our most selfish desires– instant gratification, positive reinforcement, self-image-enhancement, and so on.
If you’re my friend, chances are, I WANT to know what you’ve got coming up, regardless of how talented a singer I think you are. But I need to get real with you for a second.
I am human, and so it also makes me sad.
It makes me sad to see people who are my peers rising up in the world when I seem to be stuck here, improving, doing great work, and not getting hired. It makes me jealous to see singers who I know objectively to be lesser performers than myself getting hired for ever more prestigious jobs, even if I know we are of completely different voice types. It even makes me a little sad when you’re someone that I love dearly, even when I’m not competing with you for the same roles, even when you’re a demonstrably better singer than I am. Seeing all the happy springtime posts from singer friends and colleagues around this time when I have literally nothing on my calendar after June of this year, not even a day job, makes me sad, because I feel like I’ve failed.
I think I am not alone.
I think there are many of you who have been auditioning and auditioning and getting nowhere, who have been told again and again by coaches and teachers, “This is your year!! You’re ready to go!!” only to have the door slammed in your face over and over again. I imagine there are different reasons, and some of the same reasons. But there is something you must remember, something that I have to remind myself of each time this happens. It gives me some comfort, and I hope it will comfort you, too:
LIFE ISN’T FAIR.
This may seem like an exceedingly cynical way of comforting myself, but hear me out.
Life isn’t fair. No one ever “gets what they deserve.” There is no big opera god sitting on a cloud doling out jobs to each singer according to their skill and need. There is no “day of reckoning” when suddenly you will get hired and that terrible soprano from your undergrad who somehow keeps getting work will become a receptionist at a hair salon.
“Wow, you’re a big f**king downer. How is that comforting??” you might be asking me.
I’ll tell you how. It’s comforting because it means that the reason you’re failing ISN’T necessarily because you suck, and no one wants you. If your failure isn’t the result of justice being served, then it’s just chance.
Once you accept that, you realize something else comforting: that means you’re in control. You’re in control of which jobs you audition for. You’re in control of how you choose to spend your free time. You’re in control of how long you want to stick around doing the same things over and over again, with no results. You’re in control of changing your game plan. And you’re in control of making your own opportunities.
Yes, you heard me, you can make your OWN opportunities. Of course, it’s nice to be hired by someone. It’s good positive reinforcement for you. But if there’s a choice between not singing at all and putting together a performance with some of your friends, which would you rather do? Don’t let anyone tell you your work doesn’t have value if you’re producing it yourself. THAT’S JUST FEEL-BAD RHETORIC FROM THE MOUTHS OF ESTABLISHMENT SHILLS!!! IT’S TIME FOR A REVOLUUUUTTTIIIIOONNNN….
But seriously. If you want to work right now, where you are, with what you’ve got in front of you, make it happen. Even if it’s a recital at your mom’s house. If it will make you feel good, do it.
Let me be the first to say, all this “you are great! you are enough where you are right now! love yourself first!” bullshit kind of makes me throw up in my mouth a little. If we can be cynical again for a minute here, some people are just never going to make the cut. Some people are never going to sing professionally.
BUT THAT’S OK. There physically aren’t enough jobs for everyone who wants to be a full-time performer, that’s just math. And if you end up being one of the people who loses the numbers game by chance, you’re going to be in the same boat as the dedicated amateurs, so you may as well make the best of it.
I made a decision for myself recently, and it may not be the same for everyone, and of course there are going to be exceptions in my life, I’m sure. But I want to have a good time. I don’t want to get stuck doing something, even if it’s in the career that I chose for myself, where I dread going to work every day, where I am literally watching the clock for the moment that I can leave. That’s why I made the decision last year that I never wanted to be a professional opera chorister. Some people have a great time doing it, and I’m extremely happy for them. But I tried it, and I was MISERABLE. So, the fact that I’m not announcing “happy day! I got a great tenured opera chorister position!” right now is ok with me.
If this career ever stops being enjoyable more than 50% of the time, I’ll have to seriously reconsider what I’m doing. And that is definitely one thing I can comfort myself with at this time when no one is paying me to sing for the foreseeable future– at least I’m having fun. 🙂