Overnight success and other myths

‘It takes twenty years to make an overnight success.’ Eddie Cantor

Some of the most inspiring stories are the ones that admit failure, that admit things didn’t always go smoothly. Opera careers don’t happen overnight, but the media / singers’ agents / opera company PR departments want us to think that they do.

It would be useful to hear more about the failures and setbacks, and I don’t mean just for the schadenfreude. Everyone is so busy tweeting and tooting about all their successes, spin-doctoring the facts and erasing the difficulties, that it’s easy to feel that you are the only one who ever fails, or has to cope with periods of un- or underemployment, or gets the sneaking suspicion that everyone else is having a big party and you weren’t invited…

Recently one of my colleagues was complaining of having to battle her own demons in this area. This is someone I consider to be more ‘successful’ than myself, and it actually shocked me that she should ever feel this way. My first though was: but you’re doing so well – you’ve ‘made it!’ Then I realised that it was actually reassuring that she also sometimes faced feelings of insecurity: maybe we really are all in the same boat.

We are made to feel that it is too much of a risk to ever admit to anything less than complete unwavering confidence at all times: not just opera singers but pretty much anyone pursuing a career in a competitive field. ‘If they see me being insecure’ that little voice in our heads whispers – ‘if they find out I don’t have any gigs booked for next season, they’ll think I’m a big loser and reject me.’ Who ever ‘they’ are. But even the big stars in our field have difficulties. Joyce DiDonato is a good example of a successful singer who is not afraid to tell it like it is and also to be generous to singers further down on the career ladder. She did a fantastic podcast related to this issue: http://youtu.be/sQXNcoG2Z3w

Wouldn’t it be great if more star singers would be this honest! Perhaps we need some sort of anonymous blog where they could post their stories of failure, for the rest of us to read when we’re feeling discouraged. Because we all have challenges, every one of us. Nobody goes straight to the top (and if it appears that they do, they often go straight back down again.) When speaking to a student of mine who was getting discouraged about some failed auditions, I related some of my own audition horror stories. She looked at me in disbelief and said ‘could you please tell me when things go wrong for you? It would make me feel so much better!’ Who can claim to not feeling like that…occasionally?

‘Remember that failure is an event, not a person.’ Zig Ziglar

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