Friday, June 10, 2011

Standing Up to Fear

I saw an old friend recently, someone I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.  (I miss him terribly, as we’ve grown apart for reasons unknown, but that’s another post for another time.) We got talking about work and careers, and I unloaded without hesitation about how unhappy I am in my current job, how I need to get out of it, detailing all the downsides to it, describing the stress I was under…

Then he asked me, “Well, do you know what you want to do instead?” And I froze – not because I didn’t know the answer, but because I was too afraid to say it.

I find this interesting for a couple of reasons – first, it just goes to show how easy it is to be negative and spew that negativity out towards others. I couldn’t get my complaints out fast enough when he asked me about my current job!  :)

But second, because it highlights my biggest impediment to living out my dreams: FEAR.

For years, I have secretly dreamt of being a singer. I’ve always maintained that if I could choose just one talent to have, it would be singing, because it’s something that I love doing, something that makes me happy. But I honestly never thought I had any talent for it. Sure, I could carry a tune and had a decent sense of rhythm – 12 years of violin lessons will help with that that  – but my sister was the singer in the family, not me.

Now that I’m taking voice lessons and gaining new awareness of my abilities, I have been considering a career in music as a real, viable option in my life. But admitting this out loud has been very slow in coming – I had to skirt around the issue and sort of sidle my way into it over multiple conversations with my own husband before I could finally spit out the words. Admitting I want to be a singer makes me feel like a foolish young girl who knows nothing about making it in the real word – like a kid voicing a silly dream that will never come true.

Fear is what has kept me in a job that, at its best, has not fulfilled me, and at its worst, has made me miserable. Fear is what caused me to start seeing a career coach to map out a conventional career path in a reliable career field. Fear is what has made me practice my singing lessons in the car on my commute every day, rather than sing at home where my husband and daughter might hear me. And fear is what made me tell my voice teacher during our introductory meeting when she asked me why I wanted lessons, “Look, let’s be clear – I have no delusions of being a professional singer. I’m not doing this as a career move. I just love to sing and I cantor for my church, so I want to learn how to do it the right way.”

But something changed that night with my old friend at the bar. When he asked me if I knew what I wanted to do, I stammered, stumbled, told him yes, thought about it, and decided to make the leap.

“Yes, I do know what I want to do. I want to be a singer.”

It might seem to be a small, even tiny, step, but for me it was a turning point. By voicing this desire – and having him take me seriously, and not laugh or tell me I was being ridiculous – I realized how much better it felt to stand up to my fear, and stand in the truth of who I am and what I want. It’s a small but important step on this path that I’ve just started walking.

And I’m happy that I’ve been continuing to stand up to my fears and finally start getting past them. For example, it’s fear that has kept me from ever confronting my old friend about why exactly we’re not friends anymore. So as I type this blog post, I’m in the car waiting to meet up with him for dinner and a chat, where I’ll finally open up that difficult, scary, but necessary conversation.

Oh, and I’ve been practicing at home within earshot of my husband all week. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Introduction - Part Two

So I started on the quest to find a new career – the RIGHT career. I read books like Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur and Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love. I started stumbling across and subscribing to blogs such as The Art of Non-Conformity, whose author travels and blogs his way around the world as his career, and Man Vs. Debt, written by a guy who decided with his wife to sell all their belongings, pay off $18,000 in consumer debt, and move to Australia with their daughter. I researched and found a career coach, started taking various personality and skills assessments, asked friends and family to provide me with descriptions of myself, pestered people for ideas of what to be, read through page after page of the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
In the midst of this process, I began to realize that I really missed music – I played violin for 15 years, but hadn’t played much over the past decade, and wanted to get back into it. I even thought I might be able to incorporate it as a small income stream, possibly playing with a quartet for weddings and such. So I looked around online and found a company that was a bit like a matchmaking service for music students and teachers. I put in my information, background and availability, selected “violin” and submitted my request for a teacher. Almost on a whim, I thought, I wonder if they do voice? I have always loved to sing, and had been cantoring with a small church group for over a year. So I submitted a request for a voice teacher as well, just to see what would happen.
Lo and behold, a few days later I got word of a match with a voice teacher named Angela. When we got together for my 30-minute introductory lesson, we spoke a bit about why I wanted voice lessons, and she put me through some paces to see what my range was like, how easily I could follow direction, that sort of thing. I told her point-blank, “Look, let's be clear. I’m not deluding myself that I would make a career out of singing - that's not why I'm here. I just really like singing, and I cantor for my church, and I want to learn how to do it correctly, and also increase my range, because it’s very limited right now.” We agreed that I would let her know whether or not I wanted to start taking lessons with her (although I already knew that I did). It was a lovely half hour and we said cheerful good-byes, and then I started driving home. I hadn’t even gotten to the end of her block when I suddenly found myself crying. I had no idea why – other than that I knew this was RIGHT.
And so, this brings us to today and why I’ve started this blog. I’ve been taking lessons for just under three months, and I am LOVING them. It still feels exactly right, and I'm learning very quickly. Angela has been really impressed with my progress – for the first few lessons, she kept asking me, “And you’re SURE you haven’t taken voice lessons before now??” because I was able to make adjustments and do new things so quickly and easily. Lord knows I'm no prodigy! But I think my background in music, paired with a bit of inherent ability and a lot of hard work, is allowing me to progress faster than your average beginner. About 6 weeks into taking lessons, Angela told me that, even though it was probably way too early to be making this kind of assessment, she really thought that I had the makings of a professional singer. I told her she was crazy, but secretly I was thrilled to have a longstanding daydream of mine unexpectedly brought out into the light.

So I continue with my lessons, working hard during the week at practicing what I've learned and relishing the hour each Sunday that I spend solely on myself in my lesson. I absolutely love that, at 33, I'm just finding my voice. It's an exciting process of discovery, finding things I never knew were there, and allowing myself to daydream more openly and out loud, sharing things that I've never spoken about to anyone before. And suddenly, the notion of a career in music doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea after all.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Introduction - Part One

Well, here I am, just starting to record the beginning of my adventures. I have a feeling it'll take a while to get through all this background, so I'll be breaking this introductory posting up into two separate entries.
I’ve never really known what I wanted to be when I grow up. Heading into college, I thought I might want to be either a psychologist or a lawyer – so I took Intro to Psychology and Criminal Justice 101. For reasons which still elude me, I decided to go with Psychology and declared my major after that first semester.
It didn’t take long to figure out that I didn’t want to by a psychologist, but I found my studies interesting and didn’t know what else to consider, so I kept my major. Midway through my junior year, a turning point in my life occurred – I saw an ad in the school paper for auditions for singers for an upcoming theatre show, and I thought, what the hell. So I auditioned and landed a part, and worked on every theatre show after that until I graduated.
The summer before my senior year, I decided to do a business concentration – which basically just meant taking a bunch of business classes that were too few to be considered a minor – to cover my ass when I got out of school. I was thinking of going into management consulting, so just before my final semester, I went to my favorite business teacher and asked his advice for what I should do – go into theatre, or go into consulting. His answer was immediate – go do theatre while you can! Before you have a family, settle down, and get weighed down with other obligations, follow your heart and do theatre.
So I did – I got a theatre apprenticeship, moved to Philadelphia, and worked in professional theatre for six years. At first, I concentrated on what I considered to be the fun stuff – production work such as backstage run crew, stage management, running sound boards, etc. But ultimately, the extremely low pay and the freelance nature of the work had me broke and stressed out, so I moved into theatre administration.
Fast forward those six years – after bouncing around a few different jobs with varying degrees of unhappiness and dissatisfaction – but always with that same pitiful salary – I got laid off ten days before Christmas 2005, with an 8-month-old at home and a husband who was also in theatre (read: broke). It was the final straw – I decided I was done with this starving artist crap. I reworked my résumé, put it up on, and miraculously got a call from a recruiter at a large global software company headquartered nearby. I landed the temp job, scored a permanent one a couple of months later, and have been working there ever since.
This job has been a huge blessing in our lives, make no mistake about that. It provided me with steady work and excellent pay – from the start, I was making twice as much as I had made in my previous arts administration position. And since then I’ve been promoted and gotten raises. This job helped us get back on our feet financially, get out of arrears with our student loans, improve our credit, save up for and purchase our own home, and have a second child. But after accomplishing all that, I felt that it had played its role in my life, and I started feeling more than ready to move on.
The question was, move on to what?