Tuesday, 14 May 2013

On getting through the rough patches...

Imagine this: you're at a concert and you hear a very promising young singer with a beautiful voice.  But when you ask about her you're told she's a lost cause.  She's hit a rough patch lately, it's affected her singing, and now it's too late for her to get back on track.  She's missed the boat now - no career, no future, nothing.
Sorry honey - the Career Boat couldn't wait for your personal life.
It sounds pretty brutal, doesn't it?  Unfortunately there are people in the singing business who really think this way.  To these people, the singing business is a rat race.  If you get lost or fall behind at one point, you've missed your chance.  You'll never make it.

To these people, your singing career must run on a tight schedule.  There are deadlines for everything.  If you don't achieve X by the time you're 25, you're a failure.  If you don't achieve Y by the time you're 30, you're done for.

To these people, there is no excuse for gettting distracted or held back.  If you let your personal life affect your singing, you aren't focused or dedicated enough.  If you can't always cope, you aren't strong enough.

Frankly, I think these people are full of crap.  How many singers do you know who NEVER get distracted by their personal life?  How many singers have you met who practise regularly and perform consistently EVERY SINGLE DAY, regardless of circumstance?  I'm pretty sure I've never met anyone like that.  That doesn't sound to me like a human being.  That sounds to me like a singing robot.

Sings a perfect high C... completely devoid of emotion.
The truth is, we all go through rough patches.  We all go through difficult times - breakups, bereavement, depression, addiction, and the list goes on...  This past week, many people have been sharing this brilliant blog post by Hyperbole and a Half on her experience of depression.  Seeing so many people share this post and relate to it, I couldn't help but think what a pervasive feeling depression is in our culture.  How many of us have felt deep unhappiness at some point in our lives?  How many of us have felt desperate, numb, anxious, lonely, or hopeless?

We all go through painful times like this.  And in the short term, it can feel like a disaster.  It can seem like you'll never recover.

But then, somehow, you do recover.  And what happens next?  According to these rat race fanatics, you should be written off as a singer.  You've lost too much time.  You'll never catch up.

I refuse to buy into that kind of thinking.  If I had bought into that kind of thinking, I would have given up singing ages ago.

Like most people, I've been through a few rough patches in my life.  Two major ones come to mind, both of which I've written about before.  Both of these times were a huge crisis that felt like the end of the world.  Both of them left me with more than a few scars.  And without a doubt, I lost a lot of time to them - time I could have spent becoming a better singer.  Nonetheless, I am very glad I lived through these rough patches.  In fact, I wouldn't want it any other way.
Wait, what??
Let me explain.  Firstly, in my early twenties, I struggled with an eating disorder.  When things started to get out of control I took a year off from studying music.  I stayed enrolled in the university, but took only academic courses.  I continued taking singing lessons - privately.  A lot of things happened in that year.  I shaved my head.  I got a boyfriend.  I learned about literature, philosophy, history, and Russian film comedy (yes, it does exist, and it was one of the best classes I ever took).  I made some new friends.  And I stopped binging and purging.

When I came back to music the next year, I got a lot of compliments on how much my singing had improved.  It seemed I had taken a huge leap forward in developing my singing technique.  To some people, it might seem that I had lost a year to my eating disorder.  But I hadn't lost a year - I had gained the rest of my life.  I came back with way more strength and confidence than I'd ever had before.  Overcoming my eating disorder had taught me to love myself.

My second major rough patch came after I finished my masters degree in Glasgow.  Following a bad breakup and an unsuccessful run of auditions, I lost my confidence and gave up singing.  I think this is actually a pretty common thing for singers to do - in fact, some people would say that if you haven't ever considered quitting, you haven't ever considered the reality of how tough this industry is.  Anyway, for me giving up on singing was exactly what I needed to do in order to realise just how much I wanted to sing.  By the time I left my office job to join the opera studio, I was absolutely certain that I wouldn't be happy doing anything else.  And I haven't looked back since.  I quit singing once.  Now I know I will never quit again.

Full steam ahead!
There are times when I wish these rough patches hadn't happened.  There are times when I wonder wistfully to myself, how much further ahead would I be by now if I hadn't gone through all that?  If I hadn't wasted all that time being sad, or doubting myself, or getting overwhelmed - how much more would I have progressed as a singer?

But that kind of thinking isn't constructive, and in fact it doesn't make any sense.  The truth is, if I didn't go through those rough patches, I wouldn't be the person I am today.  My rough patches made me stronger, more confident, and more determined.  They gave me wisdom and emotional fortitude.  They made me a better  person - and, I believe, a better singer.

We all go through our rough patches.  It doesn't mean we're weak - it only means we're human.  Nobody should ever be written off because they're struggling through a rough patch.  It may seem right now like they're falling behind, but they might just be getting ready to soar.  In the end, it's not about the time we lose struggling through the rough patches.  It's about the power we gain as we leave them behind.

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