Friday, May 11, 2012

Own Your Dream

As a singer, it’s easy to find yourself dreaming of winning a reality singing competition and becoming an instant celebrity, or getting discovered singing karaoke and getting a shot at being the next big thing in music. In fact, it seems almost everyone harbors a dream to be a rock star, whether they’re a singer or not.

But, to be more specific, it seems to be like the dream is always to be THE STAR, the one out in front, the individual at the center of the attention. I have these dreams too, of course, but lately I’ve begun questioning whether that’s where I really want to be. Looking back at my career to date, I realized that I’m always striving to make others look good, working behind the scenes in support of that star out in front.

When I was doing theatre, I loved stage management and working on a backstage crew – ensuring the actors’ props were clean, unbroken, and in their proper place, or getting a light or sound cue just right to achieve the mood or feeling the designer had intended. It wasn’t about me being in the spotlight – it was about making sure that the people who were, looked good.

Even in my corporate career, I have the same tendencies. I find myself striving to always give credit to others for their ideas and contributions, framing my boss in the best possible light, bringing things to people’s attention to help them avert a possible sticky situation, and being willing to take the blame when things go wrong if I had any part in the cause, to make sure someone else doesn’t take the hit. I tend to avoid highlighting my own accomplishments, and instead focus on teamwork and others’ achievements.

So I got to thinking, if this is how I prefer to work – being out of the spotlight, making others look good – maybe this is how I should approach music. Maybe what I want to do is be a background vocalist. The idea of it is really appealing – it feels less vulnerable than being the main singer in the spotlight, but still requires a lot of talent and dedication and hard work. Singing backup also involves a lot of harmonization, which I love doing – I remember back in high school, my best friend Christine and I used to always sing along with the radio while driving, and I would always take the harmony line while she sang melody. Even back then, I was drawn to the supporting role. ;)

When I found myself contemplating this idea, though, I somehow felt like it was less worthy of being my dream than the idea of wanting to be a lead singer. Who dreams of being a backup singer rather than the star? I felt like it was a cop-out dream, like I was too scared of reaching for the “real thing” and instead taking my dreams down a notch to make them less audacious or bold, or like I figured it took less talent to be a backup, so it was a better fit for unqualified little me.

Then a funny thing happened. Not long after all these thoughts were rolling around my brain, during one of my voice lessons, my teacher and I got on the subject of current popular singers, and out of nowhere, she said, “Wow, I would LOVE to be a backup singer for someone like that.” I couldn’t believe it – this is someone who has sung opera all over the globe, whose voice is out-of-this-world amazing, and she was wishing to be a backup singer.

I asked her, didn’t she think it was somehow less of an aspiration? And she asked me, “Are you crazy?” She pointed out that backup singers don’t work any less hard than leads, and there are a lot of advantages to being a backup – having the opportunity to sing for a living and go on tour while not carrying the burden of a show the way a lead singer does, getting the chance to sing harmonies versus melodies, and not being subjected to same level of scrutiny in terms of appearance (i.e. not having to be the Hollywood standard of blonde, buxom and size 0).

While I know that I shouldn’t have to look to others to validate my own thoughts or dreams, I was really grateful to hear my super-talented and accomplished voice teacher share her point of view on this. It helped me realize two things: first, that aspiring to be a background singer is absolutely a worthy and worthwhile dream.

But second, and maybe more important, was my understanding that I shouldn’t doubt my own thoughts or aspirations. If I want to pursue a certain type of career or role or interest, I shouldn’t let myself doubt it or bring it down, just because it may not be the usual thing or what everyone else dreams about or even what I think I “should” be working towards.

This comes back to an idea that keeps presenting itself to me lately in books, blogs and conversations – each of us can only be ourselves and no one else – and no one else can be us. As Dr. Seuss wrote, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

I think what it all comes down to is, I need to learn how to be myself, accept myself for who I am, and be the best me, the Me-est Me, I can be. And whether that means being a lead singer or a backup singer or a different kind of musician altogether, I have to remember that my dreams are mine and no one else’s – mine alone to dream up, validate, and make come true.

If this post rings true for you, leave a comment and tell me why, or share your own uniquely-you dream.