When I first thought about this loaded statement, a slew of things shot through my mind: practice more efficiently, make better financial choices to help your career be obtainable, read and research everything you can, take more auditions even though you’re tired, don’t give up so easily, trust in yourself and listen to your instincts. And when I looked at that rambled list, I was shocked that the last one “trust in yourself and listen to your instincts” aka be confident, was not the first thing I would have said to my inexperienced younger self!
“Lack of confidence kills more dreams than lack of ability. Talent matters- especially at elite levels- but people talk themselves out of giving their best long before talent becomes the limiting factor. You’re capable of more than you know. Don’t be your own bottleneck.” - James Clear
It has taken me years to build-up my confidence and be proud of what I produce. I still struggle, but it is a journey and I’ve heard many working artists in various fields echo this sentiment. We absolutely need to do the work first, learn the rules of the game, and then break through with our own voice. What is that effort worth though if we don’t believe in ourselves from the moment we wake up every day? We make our own path, we can only lift ourselves up, and no one will do it for us.
Even recently, when I wasn’t happy with what my voice was or wasn’t doing, it was hard not to dwell on the “reasons” why I thought certain things were happening or worrying what people might think after hearing it. I flashed back to the many times I would self sabotage or feel defeated before I even opened my mouth: “I’m probably not what they are looking for,” “my resume isn’t good enough,” “my aria package is lame,”“they are going to see right through my acting.” These destructive thoughts usually include excuses. However, I learned pretty early on that I am 100% responsible for everything I produce and bring into the lesson or rehearsal. This helped me take charge and use mistakes to drive my motivation and productivity. The trap of focusing on what wasn’t good and sitting in that negativity is always there. But now I am better at recognizing when I’m caught in a loop of negative thinking, and I have strategies for overcoming, like deep breathing, playing with my son, or going on a run.
“Make a bold mistake” – voice teacher #2
One of my early voice teachers would say this to me in almost every lesson. I wasted too much time making sure people knew when I wasn’t perfect or was so afraid to make a mistake that I under supported everything and sang quietly. I look back now and want to yell at my 18 year old self, “stop trying to focus on everything that you’re lacking, quit apologizing, and embrace your strengths." I should have been focusing my attention and efforts on fixing those corrections, growing my musicianship, and emoting, instead of tearing myself down. Narrow down what you would like to improve, make the goal specific and realistically obtainable. Then move on to a new goal. Eventually you will come out a well rounded singer and performer with all of those tools and skills in your control.
“You have to love your voice” – voice teacher #4
Recently, I’ve heard a lot of singers say that they have gotten to the point where they now accept their sound, their voice, instead of trying to mold themselves into a box that the industry wants them to fit into. This is huge and liberating when you can finally let that go. I admit, I never tried to sound like any particular singer, but I definitely didn’t “love” my voice. In fact, when my teacher said,“you have to love your voice,” I thought, that sounds cocky and that’s not me at all. But loving yourself is not cocky and what she meant rings so true; if you don’t want to listen to your voice, why should anyone else? It forced me to analyze and accept my individual sound. I moved on from trying to please my teachers and mentors, and I gave myself permission to play around and sing for myself. Gradually I understood that loving my voice increased my desire to share it with others. Loving my sound propelled my determination to audition, and at the audition, I felt like I was worthy of being in the same room with all of those other very talented singers.
“Prepare. Commit. Accept.”
I use this phrase often when I teach and during the last year, I have had to remind myself almost every day. Let’s break it down with singing as an example: if you set your structure up correctly and efficiently, dive in head first by releasing air, and then allow whatever good or bad sound may happen, without resisting, you will get results. Either it’s the best high, open-spaced feel or maybe it was a hot mess, but now you know exactly what to repeat and work into muscle memory or what you should try not to do next time. And something I continue to work on is what comes after; not reliving or thinking about a moment that has just passed and instead, using the experience to inform how to move forward.
We are constantly trying to balance and multitask while pursuing mastery in our craft and life. If we find ways to take small steps towards that ultimate goal, instead of living in the negative space of why you can’t get there, there will be success. As a teacher, I hear and see my students falling into the same trap I did. I try to encourage them to “let it go, Elsa!” and share the wisdom “Prepare. Commit. Accept.” so they can take control of those doubts and inconsistencies and focus their mental energy on doing the process.
“Rome wasn’t built by you going to the gym once.” - Trixie Mattel
I could go on and on about (how much I love fellow Milwaukeean, Trixie) rigorous practice routines, aggressive music learning, and vocal exercises which would progress one’s voice into vocal technique gloriousness. But instead, I want to talk about one “practice” I do that comes from a dear friend: no matter how big or small the audition, I always treat myself afterwards. I found that this acknowledgement of the energy spent on that particular opportunity (whether I felt like it was just not my best or I checked a lot of the boxes off) allows my brain and body to accept, move on, and learn.
Performances and gigs are different because that is what I am hired to do, even though it is still great to celebrate when you are proud of what you have produced and accomplished! But on those occasions when we are putting ourselves out there, knowing very well that we may not get hired and we might make mistakes, there is a vast vulnerability that we undergo every time. Even if we are in a comfortable place, knowing the formalities or walking into a room seeing familiar faces, we are still asking the people in the room to like, validate, and want us: our voice, our technique, our expression, our story telling, our personalities, the list goes on. Even if we feel like we’ve checked all the boxes, it still feels a tiny bit (or a lot!) personal when we get that rejection email. So at the end of that process, a pastry or an ice cream, an extravagant coffee or a cocktail, or maybe finally eating that burrito I’ve been dreaming of all week, makes me feel like I put the work in and I did the best I could. I take what I can to learn from that experience to make the next one even better. Now I have new goals ahead of me to continue to further my practice and deepen my commitment to this career. I can happily say that having far more rejections in the past makes my present and future engagements more rewarding and at this age, I appreciate all the roads that brought me here, even if they were a little windier than I expected.
Many of my experiences bring me to the same conclusion that I wish I could have figured out sooner. For the younger singers just embarking on this “unconventional” career path and the seasoned professionals with self-doubts: Do your work, you do you, and put yourself out there. You are worthy!