At the age of 59 and turning 60 this year, 2020, I am forced to find what my future is going to be about. My chosen occupation was being an operatic tenor soloist. I had a good career doing that for about 22 years thanks to the people who believed in me and to that amazing German theater system. It was an amazing time in my life and I learned so much about the world and myself in the process.
- But I was forced to stop not because I couldn't get hired anymore, but because I had lost the ability to sing easily. What exactly caused the problems is not completely understood, but it was probably the combination of several things. I had "silent" acid reflux for a long time before it came screaming to me when I got ill one summer. So, I am sure that this played a large role before, during and after that illness because the condition is really bad for singers. Secondly, after a period of high pressure I somehow started having middle of the night panic attacks and became depressed as a result of loss of sleep. I think the panic attacks were really the onset of sleep apnea. But the stress in my life was very bad during that time and so to treat the depression I took an anti-depressant which had the affect of numbing the nervous system in some way. I think it caused some problems with my connection to the voice. So all of these factors mixed together made it more and more difficult to sing with the lightness and ease that I had before.
I could no longer take the stress of singing with such difficulty. I thought I could take some time off, relax, work steadily and get myself back together, but just like Humpty Dumpty I couldn't put myself back together again.
What I learned from this experience is that when your career, your way of making a living, your identity and your heart and soul are all tied together in doing something as specialized and difficult as being an opera singer then you must protect yourself from endangering that ever so fragile existence. You cannot let personal relationships, bad habits, distractions, and illogical decisions ruin your life, because it is your life.
In the world of opera you are either in or out. In other words, once you get in, you will most likely be able to stay in it. But, if you ever leave it, it is difficult to get back into it.
When you start the career you've chosen you must decide that that is where you are going to spend your entire life. You must make your "Sacred Commission" a "Sacred Commitment." Every decision you make in life has to be viewed through the lens of whether it is good or bad for that course which you have chosen. Health choices, relationship choices, money choices, residence choices, and network choices are all things you must consider with the focus being on how to maintain a stable and long term career in the area that you originally set course on.
Your professional reputation is something that is valuable beyond what you think it is. I never really thought of that during my career. My default belief was that it was going to end someday, so I should look for other things to do in the meantime so that when it does end, I am not left out in the cold. But, in fact that was the wrong thing to do. Instead, the only thing I should have considered was making it possible for me to have a long and stable career, which meant I had to lead a life congruent to that. The bottom line is, a career is really very, very important because it is how people see you and what people trust in you to be good at. Get outside of that fish bowl and life becomes very difficult, very fast.
Now, hindsight is 20/20. But, what do I do now? It is a question I have been asking since I stopped singing. It still hasn't been answered. I need a "Sacred Commission" going forward, and it must be intrinsic for me. It must be something I love doing, something I will be able to continue with far past "retirement" and something that I am good at.
I know music because I have been a musician now for almost 40 years. I don't have a DMA, or a PhD, and I can't audition for a faculty position because I can't really sing anymore. So, becoming part of an institution isn't really possible for me. Teaching voice in Bowling Green, Kentucky is possible but the numbers are not really very compelling here, especially considering my area is in classical music. So, in essence, if I am going to have a private studio, it probably doesn't make sense here. But, where? Ideally, Europe, where the real work is.
But, is that really what I want to do? Is that my "Sacred Commission"? It doesn't feel like it. Is my new "Sacred Commission" even in music? Is it in acting? Is it in writing? Is it in building a business? Is it in figuring out how to create assets that pay for my existence?
What the heck do I want to do? It is a confounding question that has been bugging me for almost 10 years now, and this indecision has cost me everything I ever have accumulated. Money, friends, living situation.
I have been a performer. I have always looked at life through the lens of being "the guy" who does the thing in front of people. Singing, speaking, teaching, or any stage related activity has been my motive. I wasn't raised to be the behind the scenes guy who manages everything. I am a front man.
However, my nerves aren't what they once were, and I feel the pressure of the directors and conductors on my back pushing me and pushing me to go, go, go. I feel more anxiety now for doing something in front of people than ever. I over compensate by throwing myself into it and completely exhausting myself in the process, and the audience, whether it is university students or anyone else, just sit there, no feedback or anything. It is like screaming into a vacuum and feeling my soul escape like the air from a space ship with a hole in the hull.
But, I guess if I am going to achieve anything in the future then hustling will probably have to be part of it. But the real challenge is deciding what it is going to be, committing to it, and having that "Sacred Commission" be the thing that defines the end of my life and my contribution on earth. It is going to be what my life is about. If I am going to leave behind a legacy, it is going to have to be with that. So it comes down to the following questions...
- What do I love?
- Who do I want to help?
- Where do I want to live?
- Where is the opportunity?
- How can I make a living from it?
- What do I want to leave behind?
- Who will be my partner in life and will support my endeavor?
I am most likely not going to be able to answer all of these questions at the beginning. It is a journey and not a destination.