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Easing back in: Career Happiness

The season is starting to wind down, and I’m hoping to get back here with more regularity in September. I’m jumping in a wee bit early, though, with a link to an article written by a friend. He drills down to the four basic criteria for career happiness:

I believe there are four factors that contribute to how happy or satisfied you feel about what you do for a living, and the potential for happiness increases the more these factors overlap.

 

You love to do it.
You do it well.
It gives you financial security or independence.
You believe it makes a difference.

We experience those four factors to different degrees, but I’d agree that they all come into play when you find the right spot.

You can read more (and see his super-nifty Venn diagram) here.

Gone fishin’.

This little corner of the internet has been pretty quiet this spring. I’d apologize, but it’d sound disingenuous as I’m about to head into my busy professional season, and there’s little chance that I’ll redeem myself over the summer months. If you’re interested as to what I’m doing, please check my colleague’s blog here.

Looking forward to getting back into the swing of things this September. Enjoy your summers!

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Checking in.

I’m furiously prepping for the summer season (won’t you join us?), and am popping in briefly to say:

  • Stay tuned – I have some wonderful profiles to share with you before the summer hits!
  • Read this: a lovely reminder of the necessity of redefining success multiple times across one’s career.

And, as a means of a sorry excuse, here’s the reason posting has been sparse this spring:

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(Here’s to warmer weather, speedy housebreaking, and more profiles and articles to come!)

Growing pains.

There are a lot of growing pains in the operatic world today. San Diego Opera’s closing has elicited strong opinions from administrators and singers. My Facebook feed is full of commentary: some productive, some vent-tastic.

We’re accustomed to companies closing because of crushing debt; mismanagement. But when a seemingly healthy company like SDO chooses to close to go out on a high note, there are questions. Why? What are they doing with their assets?

The larger, unasked question, is “Is this a fool’s errand?”

We know that, measuring the answer solely by dollars, the answer is yes.

We also know that, measuring the answer by lives touched, the answer is no.

We struggle to maintain a high standard of performance, despite the growing costs and dwindling resources. We ask so much of our singers. Often, we ask even more of our administrators, stage managers, shop staffs, ushers.

We are losing. Losing audiences. Losing administrators. Losing artists.

We could chalk this up to the inevitable backlash of the expansion of the 90s, sure. But that’s a glib, too-tidy answer.

My two-penny thoughts, for what they’re worth. (maybe not even two pennies, actually.)

  • We need more collaboration, less ego. We can make more with less, but only if we work together. Across departments, across organizations. These partnerships are always messy at first, but they can grow in tandem into beautiful things.
  • Artistic standards must be impeccable. Every time you sing, it’s someone’s 1st time in the opera house. As an artist, it’s not enough to sing – it’s a ministry, and to ensure the continuation of the art form you need to convert the newly baptized. A singer a friend voiced on FB that we’ve all seen mediocre or poor performances: the ante is much higher now, and phoning it in means empty seats. (I’d extrapolate that this ties in to every kind of venue and performance opportunity…but I have a feeling you understand what I’m saying.)
  • We, as a community, don’t get to decide when one of our members walk away. We know a very small sliver of the story, and to prescribe action for a company with which we’re unfamiliar isn’t wise or helpful. (We can’t know what goes on behind closed doors: it goes for families and marriages and most likely opera companies, too.)

This news comes as I’m in the middle of a several-day spate of internship interviews. While the rest of the nation may be decrying the work ethic and writing skills of these Millenials, I’m finding these several days rewarding and frustrating, in equal measure. Rewarding, because these young people love opera, love the art form, want to gain experience and knowledge in this wacky, wonderful artistic medium. Frustrating, because their opportunities are shrinking.

We’ve been a niche for a long time, we opera folks. And part of me wishfully hopes that, someday, we’ll be cool again – like bluegrass and mandolin, like using Bach in techno samples. I think it can happen, but I also think that it will take a highly individualized, community approach.

So y’all? Bring a pal to the opera this season. Just one.

You’ll be glad you did. And we will be, too.

“Failure is the best thing for some people.”

The Telegraph UK has an interesting article written by Hanna Furness; a short interview with Tim Rice (That’s Sir Tim Rice to you!), the librettist who might be most well-known (at least to folks of a certain age, ahem) as the librettist for Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Lion King.

He had planned to be a lawyer.

He was good at tests, and he figured he’d ace his exams.

He didn’t.

In fact, every time he re-took them, his scores went down.

“When I went to do law, I kind of drifted through that and thought I can pass these exams. And I didn’t – I failed three times and each time I did worse and failed by a bigger margin.

“And that taught me so much. I always worry today when I see everybody has to pass – there’s very little failure these days. I think failure is the best thing for some people.

“It tells you whether you’re in the right job or the wrong one. It’s a cliche, but most people are good at something and most people are good at what they’re enthusiastic about.”

Failing stinks. It makes us feel icky – it challenges our perception of ourselves and our relationship with the world.

But oftentimes it either makes us look around for other options, or challenges us to dig in more deeply.

(So maybe it’s a win, even if it doesn’t really feel like it?)

Rock on, Sir Tim.

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Inspiration via a Homework Assignment.

Often I feel like things don’t count unless other people know about it. (Teh Interwebs make it a little too easy to be out there – twitter, instagram, tumblr, foursquare, facebook…all of it.)

But this article reminds me that it’s the act of creating that’s important.

The sharing is ancillary.

Homework that splits the difference:

Make something.

If you’re brave, comment with your initials. (I don’t want to know what you did…just that you did something.)

Let’s make Monday beautiful.Kurt Vonnegut

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Defining success.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 5.59.54 PMI’ve been struck in the last few weeks at the number of blog articles addressing the competitive nature of the field, and the relatively low odds of “making it” in opera. There are also a corresponding number of positive articles. (You’ll notice that two of the “you’ll never make it” and one of the “you’ll totally make it” articles all come from mezzo-soprano Cindy Sadler – who has a great perspective on this crazy art form and the accompanying lifestyle.

I’m reading these while we’re interviewing applicants for internships and seasonal positions. Let’s be honest – I’m getting older, the applicants are getting younger, and the things that seem obvious to one party are not at all obvious to the other – and vice-versa. I will say that many of these people are much more put-together than I was at their age. (I’m both thrilled and thankful that Facebook and camera phones did not exist when I was in high school or college…)

I keep returning to several themes:

  • Perspective & experience. Start your education in broad brush strokes, learning as much as you can with a view towards breadth. Narrow that perspective down as you gain experience. (If you decide that you’re going to be an architect but can’t pass calculus, suddenly you’ve got a decision on your hands that feels life-changing. If punking out on calculus happens early enough, it helps you to self-select out of fields that rely on it. (Or gives you time to conquer it, I suppose.)
  • Defining success. One person’s success looks like gigging at the local company so they can have a house and a family and a garden. Another person’s might be a career that takes them all over the world – and they’re cool about keeping their non-travel life in a storage locker or at their folks’ house. For some, performing is a life-long goal, for others it’s a chapter. Knowing what parts are important to you – and why – will make decision time easier.

Personally, I loved the collaborative aspect of rehearsals. I found performances stressful and anticlimactic. I wanted to be known for my brain more than my pipes (not quite sure that worked out… #blondmoment). And I wanted to have a home, to be known in my community. It took me a long time to separate my professional desires from my chosen field, and I’m lucky (oh so lucky) to have found a great niche. Had I been more honest with myself earlier, though, I might’ve found my path a little more directly. It’s often easier to follow someone else’s path, to cede your energy to someone else’s expectation when you feel that they have your best interests at heart. But ultimately, it’s your path….it should look like you.

A riff on ‘The Compassion Gap.’

A riff on ‘The Compassion Gap.’

I seek out Nicholas Kristof‘s opinion pieces for the NYT because they always illuminate a dark corner of which I was wholly unaware. Not surprisingly, this article about the Compassion Gap really touched a nerve for me.

I cannot count the number of people I’ve spoken with, in reference to this blog, who thought that teaching and performing were their only options, because those two professions were the only options that were familiar. 

When you magnify that myopia by whole communities, towns, cultures? It’s terrifying. 

Using this as a small lens on a small field?  It has reenergized me. These stories need to be told -to illustrate that there are options, to temper the shame of opting out of performing with the knowledge that fulfillment lies elsewhere, to justify (again, always again) the value of pouring one’s heart and soul into studying something that traffics in beautiful intangibles. 

I want to help you tell your stories. If your love of music didn’t fall neatly into “perform” or “teach,” I’d love to talk with you. 

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Profile Phriday (Ph)Recap

I’m so grateful to the people who have allowed me to share their stories on these pages. Some are just starting out on their career journey, some are established and highly regarded; all of them are quality people who successfully made a big transition into a career that they love.

If you’ve not had a chance to read them, here they are in a convenient list!

Jeff Gaynor (National Center for Supercomputing Applications)

Sarah Andrew Wilson (The Levine School)

Nigel Boon (National Symphony Orchestra)

Nathan DePoint (Fort Worth Opera)

Gia-Ninh Chuang (Fitness Professional)

Peter Zimmerman (Wolf Trap)

Tom Wright (Vancouver Opera)

Annie Burridge (Opera Philadelphia)

Stephen Brody (Schedule Arts)

Vic Muenzer (CD Syndications)

Tracy Cherpeski (Life Coach/Personal Trainer)

Kim Pensinger Witman (Wolf Trap – my boss!)

Sean McAuliffe (Boeing)

Tonya McKinny (Manager and Mom)

Jennifer Empie (U.S. State Department)

Joseph Craig (NextEra)

Melissa Collom (Performer/Planned Parenthood)

James Lynn (Insurance)

Mark Bradley Miller (Photographer)

Brava, reposted.

My colleague Kim Witman wrote a beautiful piece about a wonderful woman who practically created the Wolf Trap family. She retired a few weeks ago (two, to be exact), but she’s thankfully still around – and for that I’m quite grateful. She’s a role model, an inspiration, and I’m lucky to call her friend.

Thank you, for everything you’ve done for us, Ann McPherson McKee.

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