Sunday, 6 January 2013

On staying positive...

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Well, not necessarily.  Depending on who you are, it may be the most terrible time of the year.

It's the time when, after sending out millions of CVs and CDs and application forms, singers are starting to hear back from people.  It might be good news, it might be bad news, or it might be no news at all.

Perhaps you've been accepted into a postgrad programme.  Perhaps you've got an audition for an opera studio.  Perhaps an agent wants to hear you.  And perhaps... none of the above.

For me, unfortunately, this season has yielded me a healthy crop of "no thank you" emails.  Emails which, on their own, are unpleasant enough to read, but in batches, can pack a powerful punch straight to the gut of the old self-esteem.

At times like this, it's difficult not to get a bit down.  And it's especially difficult not to "look sideways", as my Scottish teacher calls it.  Wherever you are in your own progress, there always seem to be people around you who are doing so much better.  People who are getting accepted to courses, invited to auditions, getting contracts, getting concerts, getting their big break.  In comparison, you might feel like you're going nowhere.  You might feel lost, forgotten, left behind.

Like a sad little teddy bear in the woods.
Looking sideways is never helpful in my experience.  If you're already feeling down, comparing yourself to others will almost certainly make you feel worse.  Especially with online media like facebook, which allows people to filter their lives so that they only share the good news.  You won't hear very much on facebook about your friends' failures, disappointments, or nights spent at home eating ice cream and sobbing along to the latest Michael Buble album.  But you will definitely hear about their successes.

Some people like to celebrate their successes with a bit of gloating, and I can't say that I blame them.  If I got some awesome news, I would feel pretty awesome, and I would want to share that awesomeness with others.  Granted, some people take the gloating too far and get a bit, well, obnoxious...

I am so amazing that I'm going to do a dance about how amazing I am!

But when it comes down to it, it doesn't matter how people around you react to their good news.  Whether they tiptoe around it sensitively or rub it in your face, the fact remains that you feel bad about your own disappointment.

At times like this, when you're feeling down in the dumps, your friends, colleagues, teachers, coaches, mentors, family members, and pretty much everyone you meet will chime in with that old familiar chorus: "STAY POSITIVE!"

This chorus will often alternate with verse after verse of sports metaphors, inspirational quotes from famous people, anecdotes of people who didn't make it big until they were 50, and recycled cliches about the long, hard road to success.  Now, if you're really feeling discouraged, and if you're anything like me, you probably reach a point in all this motivational blethering when you feel like this:

I mean come on, when you're feeling really down, that kind of oversweetened Pollyanna-style optimisim is the last thing you want to hear.  Am I right?


Much as I hate to admit it, cliches are cliches for a reason.  And there is some truth in all that inspirational nonsense that people are throwing your way.

Now, before I go any further, I should point out that I am writing this for the same reason that I usually write my blog.  What is that, you might ask?  Basically, I'm giving myself a pep talk. I mean, I do hope that anyone reading this is able to get something from it as well, but most of what I'm writing here is directed to myself.  I tend to keep a fairly positive and chirpy overall tone in this blog - or at least, I try to.  As a matter of fact, the reason I make such an effort to do so is that in real life I am terrible at practising what I preach. I am terrible at staying positive!

Hey, you!  Buck up!
In the past, I have really let rejection get me down. I know that it's an inevitable part of the career, and I know that I need to develop a thick skin to survive in the music world. But knowing that has never really changed the fact that I have a thin skin. I'm oversensitive, I'm a worrier, I'm a pessimist. I hold myself to high standards and I am easily discouraged by perceived failures.

There have been times when I've really wallowed in my disappointment.  I spent days, even weeks, beating myself up.  Telling myself I would never make it.  I'm a failure.  I may as well give up.  What came from all of that?  Well I certainly didn't feel any better.  And when I finally emerged from my haze of self-pity, I looked back and saw how much I had sabotaged myself.  How I had let my low confidence get in the way of performing well at auditions and gigs.  How I had wasted loads of precious time, time that could have been spent practising and getting better, so that the next time perhaps I wouldn't get a "no".

An ex-boyfriend of mine used to tell me "a bad review can ruin your breakfast, but never let it ruin your lunch".  Another recycled cliche, I know.  But those are actually pretty wise words to live by.  Because we all need a bit of time to mourn and sulk after bad news.  But if you let the sulking carry on for too long, it will really hold you back.

There are two ways you can react to a rejection.  You can decide to give up, or you can decide to keep trying.  And if you have any intention at all to keep trying, then for God's sakes don't waste all your time feeling sorry for yourself!  You have work to do!

This lemur just remembered how much music he has to learn.
As much as I'm sick of people telling me to stay positive - and trust me, I have heard it all, a million times over - they do have a point.  Because if I don't stay positive, the alternatives are pretty grim.  The alternatives to staying positive are: 1) give up, or 2) keep trying, but feel so discouraged and negative about things that I do a totally half-assed job and I may as well have just given up in the first place.  So basically, I would be choosing between letting my hopes and dreams die a quick and painful death, or letting them die a slow and painful death.  Not very good options there.

The real reason to stay positive?  It's the only way to keep moving forward.  There's no way to stay motivated and keep working hard if you don't really believe it's going to lead somewhere.  So basically, you have no choice here: you can't stop believing!

Listen to Journey, kids.  They were right about this one.

I'm not ready to give up yet.  And if I'm going to go for something, I want to really go for it.  Not just pretend to myself that I'm really going for it, while I'm actually letting low confidence and lack of motivation get in the way.

So yes, I will let myself feel disappointed when I get a "no".  And yes, I will even cry about it if I need to.  And while I'm sulking, I might hate people a little bit for giving me corny motivational speeches.  But this time, once I've had my sulk, I will pick myself up, I will dust myself off, and I will keep going.  And damn it all, I WILL STAY POSITIVE.

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