(For my musical theatre people: I’m Jean Valjean)
Allowing ourselves to just “be” rather than constantly “do”
I had ample opportunity to track my accomplishments as a kid. The millennial generation was known for our participation awards, but I never needed those (hair toss). I got good grades, made it into honors bands and choirs, and performed roles in school plays and musicals. I didn’t need a participation award to quell my eternal need for attention; I already got it when I excelled. You’ll notice that sports are nowhere on my list of school activities– I wasn’t good at them. In fact, I was downright awful–my brain just can’t fire those hand-eye coordination neurons very quickly. I avoided what didn’t garner immediate external validation.
Since we as Millenials spent our childhoods showered with praise for our accomplishments, it’s no wonder many adults today define themselves by their jobs. I have the distinct pleasure of not having the career I want and aligning the entirety of my person with that lack of a meaningful operatic career. It’s not a healthy combination.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a precursor to this post about grit. For more on passion, perseverance, and grit, CLICK HERE.
A couple of years ago, I tried to define myself not as a singer but as a whole person who sings. This shift in mindset was a lovely thought on paper, but what I neglected to cultivate was the actual practice.
I didn’t and haven’t stopped associating my worth as a person with my identity as a singer. For example, I am more worthy if I perform well or have an excellent coaching; I am garbage if I get rejected from multiple auditions or don’t sing as well under pressure as intended.
The untangling began when I was diagnosed with a vocal injury in October and was embarrassed to identify as a singer. Could I even call myself a musician without gigs or auditions on the horizon?
When I stop defining myself as a musician, my other identifying traits trip me up. Ok, well, now I want to be seen as attractive and healthy, so I take the time to style my hair, makeup, and clothes. I make a spreadsheet measuring my macros so I can eat well and exercise daily. Oops- I ate a cookie at a friend’s house, snacked on some chips, or had a couple of glasses of wine. I didn’t feel like cooking, so we ordered DoorDash. I didn’t push myself as hard as I could have in my workout. Now, with my tummy full and my pants tight, I lament that I have failed to uphold the beauty standard I set for myself. Why is it so hard to become thin? Why do I care about this, anyway?
Ok, so I won’t be the fittest person alive. That’s fine; I like food too much anyway. Let’s focus on some of my other traits. I may not be the best singer, but I am disciplined and hard-working. My to-do list stares me in the face, daring me to get started or fall short of my expectations. I sit at my tablet to write, edit my samples, and fix my cover letters. Ding! A text from a friend. Ding! An email; I’d better see if it’s about an audition. Ok, it’s not, but suddenly I’m on Instagram scrolling through other singers’ successes. Ok, back to writing. Back to practicing. My puppy needs to go outside. Is it already time to leave to go teach voice lessons? Jeez, somebody needs to vacuum in here.
What an incredible surprise and disappointment when I realized I was less disciplined than I thought. After all, if I were genuinely disciplined, that Excel sheet measuring my macros would be no problem. Does your brain do this to you, as well?
Disconnecting my identity from what I do is more complicated than I thought it would be.
Bear with me for a second as I recount a Bible story from the Old Testament. Yes, this is happening. If it helps you to infuse a religious meaning into this tale, feel free, but the parable itself has been eye-opening to me through this time of transition, with or without spirituality attached.
In the story of Exodus, the Egyptians free the Israelites, but it’s not easy going from there. Fast forward, and Joshua prepares to lead the Jewish people to the Promised Land. However, they wander in the wilderness for forty years before crossing the Jordan River into Canaan, the land of milk and honey.
When I look back on my choice to pursue a classical singing career, I cringe at the number of wrong turns I took along the way. Every grad school visit, new teacher, audition I wasn’t ready for, and day job I took felt like stepping closer to the banks of my proverbial Jordan River when in reality, I was wandering in circles in the desert. That’s a brutal truth to face. I feel like I’ve been meandering in a wilderness of my own design for nearly ten years.
Milestones are meaningful to me, so it’s no surprise I’m putting so much pressure on my thirtieth birthday. A recurring thought in my mind has been the lamentation that I have nothing to show for myself. This mindset is wrapped up in what I do. I can’t help but feel that it’s inevitable I will cross a river into my own promised land soon. I’ve been wandering for so long, and it didn’t feel aimless before, but it does now. The question from a few weeks ago of what comes next continues to loom over me– I still don’t know. I’ve experienced my fair share of uncertainty throughout my twenties. I do feel sure, however, that I’m ready to stop meandering. A shift in perspective is a dip of one toe into the river’s banks.
It’s challenging for us not to define ourselves by our successes and failures in work and our personal lives. Every time I try and identify myself with traits I have cultivated rather than my accomplishments, that lets me down as well– I’m not disciplined, funny, extroverted, or creative all the time. I constantly fall short of my expectations. Sometimes, I am a lump of coal.
I hate to get hippy-dippy, but I’ve settled on not defining myself. Assigning specific traits or identifiers to ourselves results in self-limiting beliefs. We don’t have to do anything special to be worthwhile humans; we just have to be. When we allow ourselves to simply be, our paths are more sure, free of judgment, and straight ahead– the wandering in the desert ends. The way forward is the right choice, and if I ever free myself from my bruised ego, I believe that road will become apparent.
I am Victoria, and I am not a singer. I am a person who sings.