Guilty.

Apologies for writing delay… New post. Comments and contributions welcome as ever.

I feel bad if I do well. Does anyone else have that?

I am not sure if this is a stereotypically British thing or what, but I do feel bad. I have always felt it. I find it very hard to understand, or accept, being offered something, or being put forward for something over anyone else. I instinctively want to share whatever I get with those around me. (Except food, I’m not good at sharing food.) This feeling of guilt is tricky. There are quite a few of us (understatement), especially sopranos, and a lot of my friends are pursuing the same end point as me. They are all brilliant, wonderfully talented and I want the very, very best for them.

How then to reconcile feelings of excitement if I get something and the guilt I feel when it is something I would also want for a friend?

I can’t.

A difficult lesson to learn.

Perhaps it is really very stupid and naive; my wish that everyone gets what they want, rather than just the lucky few. I remember being at Abingdon Summer School several years ago and taking a few moments to tell a brilliantly talented young singer just how awesome I thought they were. They were dumbstruck, because they couldn’t believe another singer would be nice about them when we are all ‘competing’ for the same thing. They told me that not a single other singer at the same ‘age and stage’ as them, had ever said a genuinely meant, kind word without wanting something from it or appearing to patronise. I was then taken aback, as I consider it important to be encouraging to friends and peers. Did this person think I was patronising too? I didn’t mean to be. How had this person felt they’d never been encouraged by their own friends? What does the word competition matter anyway? As far as I can tell, luck has a huge amount to do with how far we will get (as well as talent and hard work of course), so why not be kind and supportive to our peers and colleagues along the way?

Why was I taken aback when it seems to be a fact of life?

Because I have always been friends with my peers. My best friends throughout undergrad were fellow musicians and singers and remain so.

So then, how to reconcile wanting to do well and also wanting friends to do well and for us all to remain positive about careers and progression? How do you reconcile your own ambitions whilst still being a good person, putting the thoughts and feelings of others before your own? It seems to me that being the stereotypical pushy singer (soprano) goes against the way I was brought up to be. I think we have to stop thinking of everything as a big competition, and care for those around us and put others’ feelings before our own whilst at the same time being gracious when opportunities do come our way.

At the same time, I am having to learn to be less naive. My Dad always tells me to get more ‘gumption’. Personally, I think I’m tenacious enough as it is, but hey. I am slowly learning that information is precious and not to be given freely as people can use you. Friendships are grown slowly, and not everyone you meet is entirely genuine. (However much we might wish they were!) A dear friend once told me I was naive to presume that people automatically think the best of you. She was right, what has become clear to me is that they actually automatically think the worst, because that is easier. It is easier to presume someone is pushy, or ambitious without being nice too, or just an unapproachable bitch, because it gives us something to talk about. It is a sad presumption, but Dear Friend has a good point. Don’t presume people think the best of you.

And a final addition, I would like to chip in that those who are really good, i.e. singing and performing at an international level… actually tend to be truly lovely people. They have no hang-ups about how good they are and no worries about the people around them because they’re happy in themselves and confident in their abilities. This week a group of us went to see the wonderful Joyce DiDonato in concert and afterwards someone was saying how genuine and what a lovely person she is – of course she is! The era of the diva is over; to connect and communicate with audiences you have to be loving and giving, on stage as well as off.

I hope I am understanding this game a bit better, and learning to be a little bit more confident that I deserve good fortune when it comes and stop apologising for it. Learning that being successful doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person, it means you have been in the right place at the right time and your hard work has paid off. I want to be generous and supportive to my friends but I am learning not to be as naive as I once was and trust blindly.

Is that sad or is it called growing up?

One thought on “Guilty.

  1. A very perceptive post. I’m often frustrated and baffled with the ambiguous relationship of rivalry/friendship which we share with other singers. Why does it have to always be so awkward?? We can make things so much more pleasant for everyone by relaxing a little and being genuinely positive and supportive towards each other. There’s no point in being bitchy and competitive – everyone’s path is different and in the end people will end up where they’re meant to be. I’ve been pleasantly surprised here by how positive and supportive everyone is in the studio. I don’t know if it’s because there’s a different atmosphere here, or if we’re such a small group there’s no room for bitchiness because we all need to work together. But whatever it is it’s really nice. People will just come up to you, totally unprompted, no hidden agenda, and say something like “you’re doing really well in this project” or “you were really good in rehearsal today”. I’m always totally taken aback by these comments – I’m not used to getting them and I’m not really sure how to react! But it’s a really nice feeling when someone takes the time to notice you’re doing well and comment on it. It gives me a major case of the warm and fuzzies and makes me want to pay it forward. We all need a bit more of that positive and encouraging spirit in the singing world. It’s tough enough going as it is without having to go it alone.

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