My Happy Place

My Happy Place My Happy Place My Happy Place

Another performance season approaches and another school year is imminent! Thanks to the option of summer classes, I have managed to complete half of my doctoral coursework in one year, maintaining a 4.0 and enjoying every minute! School is my happy place. :)

Come to think of it, I have always considered the stage to be my happy place. I used to pursue the stage with unrelenting grit and determination, because that was where I reached ultimate joy and transcendence. I need moments on a stage, bathing in lights so bright that I can hardly see past my nose. The stage is the place where I can test my bravery and stretch my limitations, and it is also where I can pour into others. As an encourager and an empath, I crave opportunities to lift up those around me. Every day, in every interaction, I love to look for the root of a person's heart and find a way to connect, relate, and uplift. As we all know, it is a joy to love.

The stage gives me a platform on which I can pour passion and love and encouragement into an entire audience. That is one reason why I have eagerly sought out performing opportunities. Singing allows me to serve others by helping them understand and interpret their inner workings through music. Music allows people to connect with feelings that get locked away, so that they can detox and move forward refreshed. When I perform, I imagine myself as a cable that connects the listener to the Creator. My desire is to be a vessel through which listeners can find spiritual relief and renewal.

The stage offers me moments of thrill. Performing live affects me as would skydiving or riding a motorcycle. I get to be daring. I get to test myself. After all, anything can happen in a live performance! But more than that, I get to serve an audience. That's the best part.

I love performing, not just because of the thrill of the stage but also because of the rehearsal process. I crave rehearsals with like-minded colleagues. Few things comfort me more than fellowshipping through music-making. Teaming up with other musicians with the common goal of bringing a project to life must be like being on a football team or in a platoon. There is an immediate bond that happens every time I meet a group of artists for a new project. For me, the experience of communing with others via music-making, sharing that common goal, conversing back and forth through the music, is as valuable as the performance itself. People make performing a joy: both the audience and my colleagues. It's not because I want to show off for others. Rather, it is because I want to connect with others. #INFJ

When I decided to release my urgent and stubborn need to perform constantly, I asked myself, "What is it that I love about singing? Can I find those elements of joy by other means?" I asked myself this question because there were moments when too much time had passed between one show and the next. In those moments, I found myself lacking fulfillment and purpose. Those times took a significant toll on my spirit. I realized that in pursuing a performance career without giving myself any flexibility or opening myself to other options, I wasn't living into all of my gifts. I wasn't thriving, and my life lacked balance.

Last year, I decided to release the vice-grip I had on my performing career and shift my focus to doctoral studies for a change. That is when I realized that I have more than one happy place.

Not only do I love performing, but I love learning. Indeed, I thrive on consistent goals and stable structure, so the academic environment suits me well. I finally admitted to myself that as a full-time performer, (or sometimes as a part-time performer with part-time survival jobs,) structure would remain an elusive pipe dream. When I found structure at school, I couldn't help but rejoice!!! I had been warned that getting a doctorate may be fatiguing and stressful. But I LOVE IT. Nothing is as fatiguing and stressful as a lack of structure and consistent purpose, and classes and papers and exams restore my energy! I love researching and writing papers and pressing toward goals that are sure to pan out with hard work. Thus, I began to reshape my career vision.

I realized that I can create a more balanced career, teaching, researching, and performing. I don't have to choose one. Neither do I have to feel like a failure for not being the next big star at the Met. I began to acknowledge the value of my personal journey and of my unique set of gifts. I began to consider my Kingdom purpose, how the Creator might use my life for His glory, and I submitted to the truth: success through the world's eyes rarely looks the same as success through God's eyes. I needed to release my expectations for personal perfection as a performer, and let God use me in whatever way He desires. (Maybe I'll expand on that thought in a future post.)

Learning and teaching go hand-in-hand. What's more, performing and teaching share the commonalities of encouraging and pouring into an audience; so it goes without saying that I love to teach. Teaching brings me to another happy place. It's not the same as performing. It's not as intoxicating; it doesn't send my adrenaline rushing in the same way. Even so, teaching is equally valuable. It is a joy to encourage my students and to support them on their vocal journeys, guiding them toward thrilling epiphanies and milestones in their technique and artistry. Teaching gives me the daily opportunity to put others ahead of myself. There is great value in that. For one thing, it keeps me humble!

Performing and learning and teaching each provide me with a different happy place. But perhaps my happiest place of all is the presence of my family. I am the aunt of three boys, aged 2 years, 1 year, and 1 month, respectively. I confess, I've never wanted to be the singer who compromised her music career in order to raise a family. But then my nephews came along and changed my life. Now #aunting is my favorite hashtag. I have always been competitive, and now I am competing for the title, "World's Greatest Aunt." I move around my schedule whenever possible just to make the three hour drive home so I can let my nephews know that I love them, and so that I can give my brother and sister-in-law some down time. Chasing my nephews around the house and capturing them in a bear hug, getting up in the middle of the night to comfort and feed them, singing them to sleep, driving them in circles around the neighborhood, reading stories, and even watching Little Baby Bums over and over and over again... that's my happy place. When I pull in the driveway and my two year old nephew exclaims, "Gan's home!!!!!!" there is no better feeling. Even the stage can't compare. And that's saying something.

I used to tell myself that I would only reach optimum happiness once I was singing big shows on big stages all the time. I pushed as hard as I could toward that goal. Of course, ironically, that mindset made me miserable. Now I'm choosing a balanced life, and I'm the happiest I've been since my career began. Happiness and success aren't determined by how many fancy gigs I get or how many accolades I receive. Happiness and success are found each time I let go of my expectations and live in the present moment, putting my trust in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6). I find happiness when I remember not to worry about the future (Matthew 6:24), i.e. when I LET GO, trusting that God knows the plan He has for me (Jeremiah 29:11) and that His ways are higher than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9).

I'm learning that happiness isn't based on my circumstances, but on the degree to which I surrender my expectations and put my trust in the Creator each day, choosing to be present and to let go. There truly is freedom in surrendering.

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