For performing artists, the question "What do you do for a living?" truly resists simplicity. You get bonus points if the follow up questions are either "Have you auditioned for The Voice?" or "Can you sing something right now?" (and an extra gold star if it's both.) But performing is a strange job, and it always has been. When I saw music theatre shows as a kid , I thought the actors lived in the theatre; this was their whole life, right? It might sometimes feel that way, but separating work and personal life is crucial for performing artists. Doing this when your body is your instrument is complicated, but necessary for your mental health.
Assigning meaning to vocation and employment is becoming increasingly convoluted and flexible in the glorious age of the internet. But a sentiment that I feel receives far too much attention is, "If you can do literally anything else besides a career in the performing arts, you should do that instead." This is a loaded generalization, which demeans the hard work of both aspiring and currently working performing artists. But what I fear most from this sentiment is that your life and career are intrinsically bound in a fusion of tangible, quantifiable success, no matter what your career.
Now, should you be itching to leave your stable, easily taxed, benefit-providing job to become an opera singer? Absolutely not. It takes decades of intense training to build up your voice and artistry to a professional level. Patience, diligence and of course, our dear friend rejection are all integral parts of the singing career. Artists have the advantage of many formative stages (literally and figuratively) in their development. The expectations we put upon ourselves and our success is often completely different from what actually happens in our careers.
It's convenient to believe that something that you are naturally talented at will bring you prosperity. Shifting expectation, including of what you are capable of, the value you place upon the input of others and what your success looks like are important tools to learn. Gaining these tools are an exercise in experiential trial and error, so in the meantime, I recommend the following books to help you along the way:
Each of these books focuses on varying levels of skill building for creative and talented individuals. But more directly, they suggest that doing something you love won't always bring you joy (Especially Cal Newport's amazing book). Performers are are constantly building upon skill sets- there is no arrival point, because there is always more work to be done.
I completely recognize that I am approaching this topic from a position of immense privilege. In a few years I may be on a completely different side of this story. But, it is my story, and I intend to continue being an optimistic nerd until further notice.
So, if you're stressing about what's next, or fearing that this career might be for you, or that you gave up too early, or thinking "How can this be my job when it costs me so much time, money and effort!?" Fear not. These are important questions to ask yourself, your family, your mentors and colleagues and friends. It's a romanticized and foolish notion to think that art is only possible through great struggle and sacrifice. While that's certainly part of life, those aren't skills for your resume that will get you the job.
Being a Si...
November 14, 2017
For performing artists, the question "What do you do for a living?" truly resists simplicity. You get bonus points if the follow up questions are eith...