Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

I haven't been blogging this week because my brain has been so full of italian recitative, I haven't had the space to create even a single coherent sentence. However, we had a run through of the opera yesterday, and I actually remembered everything, so I feel confident in allowing a few sentences to seep out of my brain this evening.

I had an interesting epiphany in the last couple of weeks that I have been wanting to share with all of you. It's not exactly earth-shattering - it's certainly been written about by many before me. However when something comes to you out of personal experience, it can be far more profound than reading about it in a book, or being told about it by someone else.

I try to keep my blog relatively positive and upbeat, because I try to keep my life in a "glass half full" kind of position. But a couple of years ago I was suffering from a little depression. First of all, I had no singing jobs lined up, and was worried that I would have to change careers not by choice but because of financial necessity. I felt like every performance I did had to knock it out of the park because I needed everyone to love me and hire me back, and this caused me a certain amount of anxiety about performing. Plus I was overly focused on my career and wasn't spending any time on my romantic life, which left me kind of lonely. I really thought that if I could just get a bunch of good jobs and find a boyfriend I would be happy all the time and all my life's problems would be solved.

Well, it's two years later, I have a lot of great jobs, I'm really busy with work, and I have a fantastic boyfriend. And I'm definitely in a happier place than I was at that point two years ago. BUT. I still have terrible days where I get really depressed. I still have anxiety about a lot of stuff - now instead of the things I was anxious about two years ago, I've found other things to be anxious about. I have days where I want to quit the business not out of necessity but because it makes me crazy. I have a great boyfriend but I have to be away from him a lot because I have all this work. And sometimes I miss him so much it physically hurts.

What I've realized from all this is that circumstances alone aren't what create a person's happiness. It's so easy for people - especially creative people with a passion for making their art - to feel that if they could just find success (whether that means steady income, regular jobs, fame, acknowledgement) in their field, they would be happy. But we also know that there are hugely successful people who commit suicide, and people living in poverty or desolation who manage to find their own bliss.

I think happiness is not created by circumstance, but it's something you choose to create within yourself, and which allows you to enjoy your circumstances, whatever they may be. This is an especially important lesson for artists to learn, because often what is defined as success can be rather elusive. You may not be getting paid to sing, or paint, or dance, or act. But that doesn't mean you can't be happy that you have that passion inside of you and the drive to continue growing as an artist. I still think that one of the most fulfilling artistic experiences I've had was singing in my high school choir. Nobody from the Berlin Staatsoper cares that I sang soprano II and wore a burgundy and black dress, and blended with other teenagers, but I still remember how much I enjoyed it, and what a profound impact it had on me as a person and as an artist.

I'm very grateful for the circumstances that have become my current reality. But I'm even more grateful for the realization that even if they should change, I can still enjoy the ride.


Anonymous said...

It's always the process, or the pursuit, isn't it? It's not the achievement. But how often do we stop to appreciate and admire the process which is really where it is at?
Only after the fact do we come to appreciate how we got to where we were going, and then it is gone. To be present in the moment and not wishing we were somewhere else is really what art is all about, right? The only place life really happens is now, and if we are not awake, we miss it. Thanks for sharing your journey, it is insightful and awakening.

Unknown said...

If you're hard-wired to worry, it can be really difficult to break out of those moments when your 'anxiety wheels' are spinning out of control. I guess everyone worries, but the question is--does anxiety get in the way of other things you want or need to focus on?

I'm someone who's always been a worrier, but several years ago, I got it under control, and it's stayed that way, for the most part.

Here's my little trick.

Get a moleskine or a pad of paper or something like that, and whenever you find yourself spending more time thinking about something than you'd like, make a note of what you're focused on, and really try to drill down to figure out what the source of the anxiety is. Make a note of the start time and the end time, and at the end of the week, review it to see how much time you've really spent being depressed.

If depression is related to anxiety, I found that the act of making a note about it kind of 'short-circuited' my worry mechanism. And I spent a lot less time being anxious, as a result.

Maybe it's a gimmicky trick, but it worked for me.

Love your blog, by the way. Keep up the good work!

Deirdre Tisdale said...

Thank you for writing this. It spoke directly to me at a time when I need to be reminded of this

Cynthia said...

I agree, singing in the high school choir was definitely one of the musical highlights of my life. I got to sing with amazingly talented people... hey, that was you!! :) Those are some great memories. I think you are amazing. I love reading about your exotic opera singer life. And I love that you are living the dream you laid out for yourself when you were just a kid. Way to go!

Jessica said...

LOVE this post. So honest. Thank you!

Kennith Freeman said...

Thanks for a beautifully written post that spoke so eloquently to my heart. I'm looking forward to reading many more of your posts in the future.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jennifer, I don't know what to say about your missing your boyfriend. It makes me so sad for you, and there isn't a simple answer for it. Relationships and an operatic career are not the easiest combination, as you well know. Even when everything is arranged swimmingly, you are going to face this sacrifice of being apart from those you love sometimes. And it is a sacrifice that not many can endure. Those who are willing may not ever truly accept it, even after years of it - and why should they? It hurts, always.

I am glad you see that happiness is a state of mind as much as anything, an internal reality and a question of attitude, first and foremost. But I also hope you realize how very blessed you are to have work (these days in particular), someone special to love and also a family who supports you. These are the greatest gifts any artist can hope for, and none should be taken for granted. I know you understand that. You are a good egg for sure.