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The Silent Killer in the Opera Singing Community

There’s a silent killler in the opera singing community… it’s comparison. Recently while listening to Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, I had this epiphany as Brown presents that on a spectrum, creativity’s opposite is comparison.

"Comparison is all about conformity and competition. At first it seems like conforming and competing are mutually exclusive, but they’re not. When we compare, we want to see who or what is best out of a specific collection of ‘alike things.’ We may compare things like how we parent with parents who have totally different values or traditions than us, but the comparisons that get us really riled up are the ones we make with the folks living next door, or on our child’s soccer teams or at our school. We don’t compare our houses to the mansions across town; we compare our yard to the yards on our block. When we compare, we want to be the best or have the best of our group.

The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of “fit in to stand out!” It’s not cultivate self-acceptance, belonging, and authenticity; it’s be just like everyone else but better.

[…] Let me sum up what I’ve learned about creativity from the world of Wholehearted living and loving:

“I’m not very creative” doesn’t work. There is no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.

The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born out of our creativity.

If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, dance, decorate, act, sing—it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating we’re cultivating meaning.

[…] Letting go of comparison is not a to-do list item. For most of us, it’s something that requires constant awareness. It’s so easy to take our eyes off our path to check out what others are doing and if they’re ahead or behind us. Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared. And, without comparison, concepts like ahead or behind or best or worst lose their meaning."
(The Gifts of Imperfection pp. 94-97)

Comparison is constant in a singer's life: comparing the quality of one performance to another, comparing your singing to a famous recording, comparing where you are in your career with others, comparing oneself against the others in the audition waiting room and then afterwards, against the person who ended up getting the gig. And with social media, it’s all magnified. It’s too easy to get glimpses of another person’s life and compare your weaknesses with their strengths.

“Stay in your own lane” is one of my favorite mantras. It has helped me significantly in the past year now that social media has to be a part of my life. I didn’t realize how insidious comparison was until Brené explained that comparison’s opposite is creativity.

Every time I compare myself to another singer or another person’s life, I am robbing myself of creative energy and neglecting to be grateful for my own strengths. I am undermining the confidence in myself and my abilities, as well as not recognizing my own individual value.

So friends, if you recognize that you’re comparing yourself to another person, do some compassionate investigation. First, remind yourself that having the thought is not a problem and congratulate yourself for recognizing it before you blindly believed that you are less than. Second, ask yourself some gentle questions—what is it about this person and/or their career that makes me feel envious or less than, can I instead choose to be inspired by them and be creative instead of comparative, what unique gifts can only I combine to create something, is there an aspect of my singing, acting, languages, or professional development that I want to improve, how and where can I get the education and assistance to grow, etc. Often times where we compare, it is in the areas we feel deficient and we think the other party is extremely proficient.

I asked Rodolfo Nieto how he overcame self-doubts and imposter syndrome while he was starting out writing and composing and then later, when he was writing for an audience. To paraphrase, his advice was immerse yourself in doing the process with an attitude of I am learning as I go.

And with that, I leave you with this reminder— if you find yourself comparing, respond with creativity!

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