David Servan-Schreiber, French psychiatry professor and author said in an article in Ode magazine, “One of the most stressful things for an animal in captivity is to find itself in a new cage with a new group, where it must establish a new social position. Humans are not so different. We too struggle to establish our positions within the hierarchy and once there, don’t want to risk losing them.” He’s talking about how we often get stuck in a certain grove that sometimes doesn’t jive with where you are now or where you want to go. That means in your professional world, private and public relationships, and even within yourself. You don’t want to risk losing your position within your current every day world. Even when you feel you suffer from the results when your place in the pecking order no longer fits with your values and aspirations, it can still be incredibly difficult to free yourself, to stop conforming to what you believe others expect of you.
Centuries ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle talked about self-determination. For him, each human being was like a seed that had to grow into a unique plant. Each human therefore needed to strive to achieve all that his/her potential would permit. Some 2,500 hundred years later, Abraham Maslow, humanistic psychologist and founder of the personal development movement in the 1960’s studied happy people. He concluded, like Aristotle, that they were more in touch with their inner selves and had greater “self knowledge” than others.
Recent studies have found that to function at our best, with healthy immune systems, with mind, body and spirit in balance, we need to feel authentic, true to ourselves, even if we risk the disapproval of our peers and even our families.
So many of us instead live as Thoreau said, “lives of quiet desperation.” We live behind masks, some more carefully constructed than others. But developing the courage to be you is one of life’s most important processes, and we now know, crucial to a healthy, well balanced and successful life and career. It’s a challenge for sure, and often when you hit that brick wall which we all have done at one time or another or will do at some point in our lives, the first step to recovery is to simply stop and recognize that it has happened. Besides all the emotional turmoil, hitting the brick wall is usually accompanied by feeling down and depressed, supplemented with a definite lack of energy and tiredness. It’s a time when you question what you are doing with your time, your life and your relationships. Usually you feel you have not accomplished the goals you expected to have reached by this time in your life. You may feel you have not lived up to your potential and it’s too late to do anything about it. This experience carries a powerful impact and can often feel like mourning the death of a loved one or a family pet. It can be all consuming and overwhelming during its run.
“Anything unattempted remains impossible.” — Unknown Author
If you are experiencing this type of situation, here are several ideas I would like to suggest to help you move on in a satisfying and productive way. You will once again live a life filled with happiness and passion because these are the intrinsic and repeatable by-products of living your life with integrity and by making conscious choices every day that flush unwanted and unwarranted emotions down the drain.
Choose to deal with the overwhelming mixture of feelings that rage within, by untangling and taking a look at them one by one to see if they are legitimate, warranted or unproductive. Often we are holding on to unrealistic or no longer viable systems of beliefs. This takes time and energy, so deal with it one small portion at a time.
Decide to take a break from singing and all that entails. Take a week to a month or two or even longer off. That means no lesson, practicing, coaching, studying languages, auditioning, performing, or even thinking about it, etc. Look at this as an opportunity to refresh, renew, and rejuvenate your musical muse. If, after your imposed break, you feel you would like to try another direction, a different occupation, go for it. The goal in life is to get to know yourself well, and in doing so, be happy with the life you have chosen.
“Never confuse motion with action.” — Benjamin Franklin
Sometimes you push so hard to reach your goals that you stop noticing if you are still moving in a direction that is productive and benefits you the singer. Notice if you have fallen into the trap of being greedy by not letting any opportunity, even if it over taxes your time and energy, pass you by. That is usually not productive, but does take too much of your time, energy and sometimes money. Work smart. Do your homework and find those auditions, programs, opera companies that will benefit you by taking you closer to your goals. The other is simply crazy making, unhealthy, and unwise.
“Stress comes from within; it is your reaction to circumstances, not the circumstances themselves.” — Brian Tracy
“Say what you mean and do what you say” is one of the most powerful ways of being true to yourself and living up to your word. Very few people understand the connection between being true to yourself and being happy with yourself. This is big. Forge that link, and you will automatically boost your confidence and self-respect. Living your word is the ultimate form of being true to yourself. Not doing what you say you will do creates self-doubt, insecurity, inner conflict, anxiety, and fear. Your good intentions are, unfortunately, just that. Without follow-through, you can’t even count on yourself.
Words and thoughts hold such power! It’s not just about what you say to others, but just as important what you say to yourself, you know that inner voice that you often have a conversation with. When you speak either out loud or internally to yourself, it literally resonates in your cells. It permeates you and, all of a sudden, it tends to show up in your world. I myself have often said things are either a pain in the neck or a pain in the ass. Low and behold after all these years I have pains in both of those places, so I don’t use those phrases anymore and am very aware and careful of what I say when dealing with frustration, etc. I notice other people saying things like “I’m too old for that,” or “I can’t afford to.” Or they gossip, perpetuating negative words. In his seminal book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz encourages us to create an agreement with ourselves to be impeccable with our word. He suggests making a pact with yourself to consciously choose the best words, with the most loving intention, that offer the greatest clarity, that can be put into action.
Taking action is key. When you do what you say, you are taking action not just reacting. People so seldom follow-through with what they say they will do that you may find yourself pleasantly surprised when it happens, especially when it is you who is doing the following-through.
Daniel Pink, the New York Times bestselling author of The Adventures of Johnny Bunko has written an interesting book that I suggest you read. The most refreshing thing about the book is that it is a comic book! There’s only about 50 words per page – which makes for a quick read – yet each lesson is hashed out in a way that is meaningful, relevant and easy to remember. It tells the story of a young office worker who hopes to break free of his dismal accounting job. Mr. Bunko stumbles horribly at first, but then he learns six lessons of a satisfying, productive career: 1.There is no plan. 2. Think strengths, not weaknesses 3. It’s not about you. 4. Persistence trumps talent. 5. Make excellent mistakes. 6. Leave an imprint.
“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” — Carlos Castaneda
Here is an interesting formula that works to help put you back in charge of you.
Breathe – don’t just react. Notice that this is a “wow” moment. Take a deep breath and give yourself that moment to do nothing.
Acknowledge what you feel as a result of that “wow.” That’s right; notice the emotions you are feeling on the inside. Take the time to really feel them, then take one small step back out of the emotional space either literally or figuratively leaving them over there. This gives you the opportunity to look at the situation for what it really is without the emotional baggage. You can then choose to feel differently.
Take Action or not, whatever seems appropriate. Ask, what would the best me, the highest minded me, do in this situation. Then do not become attached to the outcome.
You are not the lone ranger experiencing this “hitting the wall” phenomenon. We all experience this process several times during our lives. And it’s not only about career situations, but can show up in all the different parts of our lives at different times. It is real and needs to be recognized, appreciated and dealt with. Sometimes a professional may be the best route if you feel you can’t handle it by yourself and believe me when I say there is no shame in that. What’s important is that you can eventually move on and get back to living your life with joy and purpose.
Know that doing what you say you will do is what lets you sleep at night. It is what lets you look in the mirror and feel good about yourself. It is what sets a powerful example for your family and friends. It is what shows people you are reliable and confident and worthy of their respect and that translates into you having respect for yourself, which then reinforces the behavior of saying what you mean and doing what you say.
Avanti! Ciao until next time,