Stop Self-Sabotage and Commit
by Erica Papillion-Posey
As you are aware I was out for the count with the dreaded FLU. It knocked me out physically and mentally, forcing me to ‘be still’ for an entire week. I hadn’t been sick in quite some time and ironically, just days before, I was having a conversation with my husband about not having been sick in months. Well of course Murphy’s Law jumped in like gang-busters! Instinctively, I knew something was coming though, the quiet before the storm. If the illness gave me nothing it gave me time for reflection.
You see, the two weeks prior, I had been running non-stop. Between class finals, teaching, practicing/ learning new music, performances and, oh yeah, family relationships and responsibilities, I was due for a wake-up call. You know, when your body says “enough is enough.” I call it willful self-sabotage.
I’ve always been an excellent multi-tasker and as a wee child, I was always intuitively aware that I was very good at a lot of things. Literally, there wasn’t much that I’d try that I could not conquer or learn- quickly. Done with that, on to the next. My Grandmother used to say, “Baby, be careful you don’t end up a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ and I’d think, “Grandma, that makes no sense.” Needless to say, I am learning just how wrong I was.
In my down time, I read Marilyn Horne’s autobiography, The Song Continues. She speaks frankly about singers today not being as focused or disciplined as they once were. Well– I happen to agree. Oh don’t get me wrong, there are a few ambitious, motivated talents out there but that certain je ne sais quoi is missing. Yes, there are many issues in the entire industry but with regard to singers, the nostalgia of the opera singer is fleeting. Our priorities are too broad. We take pride in juggling multiple tasks, boasting to anyone who’ll listen, unwittingly setting ourselves up for mediocrity (half good and the best at nothing)– myself included.
Last week, during one of my Nordstrom excursions, I ran into a dear soprano friend that I have heard sing many times. I remember the first time I heard her voice (the finals of a Met regional audition). I was blown away. I thought, this girl is going to be a star! Well, six years later she’s running two blogs, working retail, trying to start two ensemble groups etc., etc. everything but singing. Standing there, listening to her laundry list of trades, I was sad for her but sad for me too. I could relate– I didn’t want to.
I find myself doing everything on the fly; deserting arias, languages, vowels, sight-reading, characterizations, even practicing all because I’ve got to get to that next appointment. Now, it is not lost on me that part of it is societal but it begs the question. Whatever happened to the days when you focused on one job, one career at a time? The revered castrato teacher Porpora would have never let a pupil move on to the next aria much less the next vowel without being beyond proficient on the current.
No doubt you were able to view the four-part Youtube series of the legendary Grace Bumbry, who speaks of her training with German soprano, prolific writer and later vocal coach extraordinaire, Lotte Lehmann, who always stressed the utmost importance of preparedness in every aspect of a role. Mastery of a role takes time……lots of it. Realistically, will you have it to give if you spread yourself too thin? Where are the days when honing your craft was your job? Yes, I know those societal requirements again. Oh how I wish I was back there….
Twenty-five years ago, today, my amazing husband started with the Aurora Fire Department. It’s not enough to say that he is THE most disciplined person I know. Okay, I know what you’re thinking but it’s true. Not only is he proficient as a firefighter, inside and out, but with all aspects of the business. He’s a wonderful boss, he’s in phenomenal physical condition, ambitious, progressive and respected amongst his peers. Like many accomplished vocalists who use their knowledge of singing to carve out new careers past the stage my husband has catapulted his talents into another lucrative, field-related career. The key is that he rooted himself, in ‘A’ career field, first (Wow, how lucky am I!). But seriously, a long time ago, he committed to his craft and I would venture to say, he’s one of the best in the business. I often kid with him and others saying, “If I am ever in a dire situation, broken leg with a kick-stand, don’t touch me until my husband gets here, he’ll know what to do.” This kind of accomplishment and security, in one’s career, only comes with service in….and knowledge.
Like my husband, I strive daily to be dedicated to one career, one art. The art of operatic singing. I have been guilty of spreading myself to thin and not realizing one dream before scurrying on to the next. Time to pare down. Willful self-sabotage serves no one. Innocently and ultimately, you suffer mentally and physically, the art suffers and indirectly everyone around you suffers. Learn to master one– at a time!
Erica Papillion-Posey is one of the founders and directors of Operagasm.com. You can learn more about Erica under the ‘About Us’ tab at the top of the page. Her articles are featured on Operagasm.com every other Wednesday. Erica welcomes you to comment on her article or email her privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.