When are you allowed to give up your dream?
This weeks guest blog post comes from Norwegian singer, actor and writer Patrick Egersborg.
I've been thinking a lot about the time when I really was trying to become that run-of-the-mill opera singer, and how I used my time and resources.
A lot of the time, I didn’t really do things that were beneficial to me or my development. I practised, yes, but ridden with stress and anxiousness, constantly worrying if I was doing things the right way. I spent huge amounts of energy comparing myself with others, constantly trying to box myself into a definition so that I could belong somewhere, such as dramatic bass-baritone, lyric baritone, basso cantante, and the list goes on. I always asked people for feedback and was constantly searching for approval. I felt nervous, vulnerable and unworthy, mixed with a good dose of self-pity and entitlement. The time that was left over, I spent trying to distract myself away from those feelings instead of dealing with them.
Being a diligent student who did his homework was part of this coping strategy, but that didn’t necessarily lead me closer to my ultimate goal.
I hadn’t dealt with my personal shit, as most 20 year olds haven’t, so I was always pushing the weight of my own history together with the burden of my ambitions in front of me. No time to deal with all the crap that was hiding beneath the surface, when my excuse was that I was busy becoming a successful opera singer, right?
Now, in comparison, having left pursuing being an opera singer as the goal of my career, I feel much more confident about each action I take, and I’m more conscious about what priorities I have to make when working with my different projects. Instead of being driven by an endless list of should’s and shouldn’ts, I’m driven by passion, my own commitment and inspiration.
I experience that my work with creating music theatre with my company and working towards becoming an artist without limitations to genre is effortless, filled with joy and motivation, and I don’t question every move I make. Must mean that this approach is a better fit for me. But it takes a lot of work and time to stay there, and it most definitely is work in progress.
If I could turn back time to when I was studying classical singing in Berlin, I wish that I allowed myself more time to grow.
Grow some patience, grow more compassionate with myself and give less of a fuck about it all. I wish that I didn’t hold myself back because I was scared of doing the wrong thing all the time, or being scared of people judging me. I should’ve gone head-first into everything, no matter what the task was, open to explore and learn new ways to approach my artistic identity, be it sung, spoken or written. I also wish I trusted my gut to a greater extent, so that I could be taking necessary and dramatic shifts in direction without hesitation. Instead, I was spending most my days following this recipe:
Work hard and practice a lot, with gritted teeth, lots of tension and unrealistic expectations. Oh, didn’t work? Blame myself or my teacher. Find a new teacher! Big revelation! Aha moment! Work hard and practice more, with gritted teeth and lots of expectation. It doesn’t work! I’m not the best opera singer in the world yet! Buhu! Big drama! Blame myself, my circumstances OR my teacher OR someone else. Find a new teacher! Big revelation! Aha moment! Development! NOW I must’ve become worthy enough be getting a lot of attention for it! Audition. Or performance. Didn’t get the feedback I expected. Buhu! Big drama! Blame myself, or my teacher, or my body, the shift in the earth’s magnetic field, or your star sign, or God, or mom. Or gluten!
… you get the drift.
So what should I have done instead? What could we do to break the pattern of failure? What did I have to go through before allowing myself to give up my dream?
You feel constricted, tense and stressed about your work or practice? Take a long break, or try to change approach by doing something totally opposite of what you’re doing now. It might be changing your practice routine, or playing something out of your comfort zone, or something you just love performing. Maybe you want to explore other creative qualities in yourself, or a maybe there’s an activity you want to try out? Do that! You never know what will come out of it.
If singing Turandot is what makes you happy, sing it!
If you feel like screaming through a whole Metallica album is what you need to get through your day, that might bring you further than punching in hours singing Schubert songs that you don’t feel connected with. Or maybe you could come out of your comfort zone by begin dancing, or doing karate?
My best friend, also a singer, began boxing in a period where her singing career looked uncertain. She was always amazing on stage and was an incredible singer, having already achieved a lot career wise in her mid-twenties. At this point she felt stuck and unrewarded in her work. She was even afraid she had peaked already. When she started boxing she changed into another person. She grew positive, motivated, clear minded and her focus shifted completely regarding her own career. She developed a greater sense of strength and confidence through her weekly boxing sessions. The clarity and direction she showed up with in her work with singing after having boxed for about a year, brought her a new sense of commitment, and ignited the new phase of her career. She is now thriving as a lyric soprano at a German A-house, singing the dream roles of her life.
You haven’t achieved any results from courses, your school or private lessons?
Talk with your teachers or those responsible for your program about it, express your expectations and frustrations. Check with yourself if you are really paying attention, if you are honestly taking advantage of the classes and lessons you’re taking. Are you mentally preparing to allow for the guidance your receiving to make an impact? Is there some resistance within you that you need to work with?
If all that doesn’t help; change teacher. You can even change or quit school! You don’t owe anyone your loyalty. Explore your skills on your own. You’re not an idiot. You probably know a lot about what you are doing, and building trust in yourself is just as important as the right guidance. To know when guidance is needed and from who is a something I’ve learnt to recognise with time. Finishing a degree doesn’t necessarily get you where you want to be, and just finishing a degree to get a piece of paper doesn’t serve anyone. You deserve to be guided properly, thrive and develop towards your goal. Most schools get paid to get you through your degree! How fucked up is that? The soprano I mentioned, among plenty of other artists, quit halfway through her degree because she auditioned and got a real job. If you can, why not try to get work already before you’re finished studying? You might be ready for it. If you’re not, you’ll learn a lot from trying.
Do you feel ready to start exposing yourself and get your career started, but don’t know where to start?
Then do those recordings, write to those agents and say yes to almost everything. Go to every audition, and make connections. You think it’s scary or feel scared of judgment? Then there probably is some work to left to be done in the personal department. We can’t allow our self to be censoring ourselves from succeeding;
If you truly want to be a successful artist, you need to show that you stand by what you have to offer.
So many singers have this dream about becoming an opera singer, but feel uncomfortable and insecure when taking the action needed to get closer to it. If you feel too insecure to take action and go through with the necessary steps, then there might be a discrepancy between your state of mind and your will to succeed. Just as much as it’s important to show off a good technique, musicality and ability to present and interpret, you need to know how to not give a fuck about what other people will think. You most definitely will be judged, but you can’t let the judgment of agents, artistic directors, your peers and colleagues hold you back. There is a whole world full of possibilities, especially in opera. To fail and to show imperfection over and over again with a pure belief in your own ability to succeed at some point is what will make or break your career, alongside hard work. To show up for yourself and show yourself off is a big part of the job.
For those who do have a career:
Are you feeling that you’re not going anywhere with your career, not singing the roles or repertoire you want to be doing? Or that you’re not getting enough attention from your agent, artistic direction or manager? Tell them, and if they don’t assist you towards your goals, the auditions or the jobs you want, change/fire your agent or manager! Maybe even quit your job? Quitting your job and giving up the safety net might open up for possibilities that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to pursue or allow to happen. Maybe there is time to take a risk and jump out into insecurity for a while? It might be scary, but passively letting your career happen to you rather than for you is not going to be satisfying in the long run.
Another good friend of mine who in recent years has soared to become an internationally acclaimed Wagner soprano is the perfect example of how making decisions based on your gut feeling can bring you where you want to be. She always followed her intention and acknowledges her needs, and has a perfect sense of what her value is. In the recent years of her career, she’s had relations to several agents that didn’t contribute enough to get her where she wanted to be. She had a clear gut feeling, telling her she didn’t get what she needed, and decided to move on no matter what the consequences were. She had a schedule that looked uncomfortably open, but she decided to go solo anyway, trusting that it would work out somehow. Now she is with an agent who is working to expose her to the employers who actually need her, and she has a full schedule, singing at major opera houses all over the world. This wouldn’t be possible for her, if she didn’t open up for it to happen by creating the space to be filled with better relations. She is an extremely gifted singer and has a strong stage presence, which obviously is of great help to her success, but without her ability to listen to her gut, she would not be able to demand the attention she deserved to expose her talent and get the jobs she wanted.
A great number of artists spend so much time considering what move to make, that they miss the train and stay stuck at the same station.
Always consulting your insecurities and blending it with other people’s opinion is not going to get you where you need to be. Holding on to relations that do not benefit you will occupy the space and energy needed for the relations you do want to establish. Clear space for the right things to happen.
I’ve tried all of the steps I could’ve taken to reach my goal, and didn’t succeed. That’s why I’m allowed to give up and go in another direction, and not pursue opera as they only way of expressing myself as an artist. Could I have tried again and done it with more confidence, knowledge and patience? Absolutely, but I’ve also learned that I’m not a person who can thrive constricted within the frames of the opera industry.
Until you’ve taken the necessary action to succeed, it’s going to be hard to allow yourself to give it up.
Not really trying and not really giving up is a painful limbo filled with uncertainty and self-loathing. Maybe the comfort of not really having tried is holding you back? It is scary to go where you can fail big time. It reveals your true path. That path might lead you out of opera, but it might also lead you to releasing your full potential.
Patrick Egersborg is a Norwegian singer, actor and writer from Trondheim, currently situated in Copenhagen.
If you have enjoyed this blog, please click Patrick Egersborg to read more of his work.
Patrick also produces and performs new music theatre with Operakollektivet in Oslo, a fringe music theatre company that aims at creating and performing relevant, accessible and contemporary music theatre for a younger audience. They premiered their opera “Team Player” by composer Gísli J. Grétarsson and playwright Oda Fiskum in Oslo 2016 to much acclaim, where Patrick performed the role of “Boss”. Patrick studied at Hochschule für Musik “Hanns Eisler” in Berlin and the National Opera Academy in Oslo (KhiO) where he graduated with a master degree in 2014, performing in the role of “Don Alfonso” in Mozarts Così fan tutte. He has appeared at the Soho Theatre and The Arcola Theatre in London as part of the Grimeborn Festival, as well as Opera Holland Park and Grange Park Opera in the UK. He has performed several opera roles with RingsakerOperaen, Opera Østfold, Åmot Operagard, Oslo Opera Festival and The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet, and has performed in numerous concerts with a variety of repertoire, spanning from church music to musical. For the Oslo Opera Festival he played the role of “Sam” in Bernsteins Trouble in Tahiti with the direction of Erlend Samnøen. He has recently taken a shift towards the musical repertoire, while still producing and performing as an opera singer in the shows of Operakollektivet. He is also the writer of the blog “Give Up Your Dream with Patrick Egersborg”, which is a blog about his move from pursuing opera as a career to following his own path into an expanded definition of his creative identity. At the moment he is developing two new shows, one that is the marriage between all his areas of interest, and one about the norwegian welfare system with Operakollektivet.