Burnt Out

It’s official: I am experiencing a classic case of burnout.

Lake Shasta, where I would very much like to be right now.

Lake Shasta, where I would very much like to be right now.

To be fair, I saw this coming a long way off. Even before T and I found out we had to move, there was enough on my plate. I’m under an enormous amount of pressure at my office job, as well as trying to prepare my church choir for Holy Week with too little rehearsal time. We’ve taken on more responsibilities as volunteers at church, which has unfortunately been tied closely with feeling somewhat distant from some of our friends. I’ve been deep in performances for my community theatre show, which still takes up a ton of time and energy on the weekends even though we’re no longer rehearsing on weeknights. One of our cars was broken into a couple of weeks ago, causing us (especially me) to feel generally unsafe and violated. And of course, the cherry on top of all of this was the shocking news from our landlord as T was halfway to Mexico three weeks ago. It’s no surprise that I am simply done.

For me, the signs of burnout look a lot like a textbook case of clinical depression. I’m exhausted all the time, even when I’ve gotten plenty of hours of sleep. I find myself falling into periods of being completely unmotivated to do anything, even the things I enjoy. Because I don’t have the energy to spend time cooking or preparing food, I end up eating terribly, which leads to not feeling well. That’s usually compounded by anxiety-induced stomach aches. I tend to feed off of other people’s negative energy as well. If a challenge arises or someone gives me criticism, however constructive, I fall apart instead of rising to it. Unlike depression, however, burnout isn’t brought on by a chemical imbalance in my brain. I know exactly where it comes from, but the problem is that they are circumstances over which I have no control.

I thought that finishing the move would alleviate some of my internal struggle, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead of stressing out about packing and physically moving, I’ve replaced that with feeling unsettled in our new apartment and worrying about our finances. Aside from the fact that we are making very slow progress on unpacking, as well as the fact that we have almost no storage space whatsoever, it honestly feels like we’re living in a hotel. Our old place was privately owned, so it had lots of personal touches that truly made it feel like a home. This new place, much like our first apartment ever, feels very institutional with its all-white walls, hotel-grade bathroom counter, and ADA-compliant safety bar in the shower (not that that last one is a bad thing). I’m sure it didn’t help that our moving day coincided with changing the clocks, which just made it even harder to get up the next morning.

I’m sure there will come a point at which I need to stop “wallowing” over this move and the other stresses and just “suck it up” and “get over it.” Granted, to that I say, “Give me a vacation and then I will get over it,” but I don’t want to feel like this. I don’t want to be bitter and hurt by being forced to move. I want to be excited about the things that the new place has to offer, and I want to feel inspired and passionate about the projects at work and the exciting services we’re planning at church. I know God must have a reason for giving me all of these things at once, but I don’t know yet what that reason is, and until I know, it’s hard to stay positive.

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Faithful

What does it mean to be faithful? It’s a broad subject, and it could mean a lot of things. How do we stay faithful to God? What about to ourselves or to other people? In what areas can and should we be faithful? And what about when people aren’t faithful to us?

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A couple of weekends ago, T and I and one other leader friend took twelve of our high school students to a weekend winter camp, where we attempted to help our students answer these questions. We attended large worship services/teaching sessions with youth groups from other churches, and the kids also had the opportunity to go to two smaller seminars taught by the youth pastors. Each of the seminars covered topics related to being faithful, such as “Faithful with Technology” and “Faithful in Stress and Anxiety.” There was one specifically for seniors, called “Faithful from High School to College.”

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Our whole group.

Along with all of my girls, I went to “Faithful in Relationships,” where we learned that that really means remaining faithful to God and yourself within a relationship as well as faithful to the other person. Every person has needs in five different categories (physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual), and each of us must have our needs met within our relationships in certain ways. According to the youth pastor teaching the seminar, in order to be in a healthy relationship, we should look for our needs to be fulfilled in reverse order of that list (spiritual, then intellectual, then social, then emotional, then finally physical). Of course, most of us don’t usually do that, but rather look first for someone who we are physically attracted to or who we think can fulfill our physical needs (or desires). Spiritual compatibility often comes as a last priority or an afterthought, if it’s even considered at all.

Listening to the speaker.

Listening to the speaker.

I also chose to attend “Faithful in an Anti-Christian World” because our current series in high school ministry is about apologetics (knowing and sharing why you believe what you believe) and various worldviews that are different from Christianity. The youth pastor explained how he began to question his faith in college because of people who were hostile toward him and his faith. As a history major, he did lots of research into the historical background of the Bible and the life of Jesus. Once he had gathered the facts, he said, he reached a point where he had to make a decision about whether or not to believe that it was all true. He encouraged the students to do the same.

For me, one of the biggest takeaways from the weekend was that God is faithful even when other people aren’t, and he is faithful even when we aren’t faithful to him. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like God’s presence in our lives is contingent on our presence in his life, but that’s absolutely not true. His faithfulness is unchanging no matter what we do, and because of that, we should strive to be faithful to him in return.

Faithfulness is one characteristic of God that I don’t think we talk about enough. I know in my head that God is faithful, and I’ve experienced his faithfulness in my life, but usually we focus on “love,” “mercy,” and “justice” when we study the character of God. Sometimes one of his traits can be highlighted for us because of our life circumstances, and for me right now, I need to know that God is faithful. I need to know that he will never give me more than I can handle, because I feel like I’m at that point. I need to know that even when I don’t necessarily follow the path that he has laid out for me, he won’t turn his back on me, but instead he will go in front of me and lay a new one. I need to know that I can trust him to guide my steps and my choices, confident that I’m going in the direction he is sending me.

Tell me how God has been faithful to you!

Moving Forward: A Public (and Private) Service Announcement

I’m sure many of you have noticed by now that I’ve been struggling with whether I should continue pursuing a career in singing. It’s been an emotional road over the past several years, to say the least. There are highs and lows to everything in life, and as I’ve gone deeper into the business, the highs have gotten higher and the lows have gotten lower. Of course, the occasional highs are what keep me coming back and facing the much more frequent lows.

Receiving one rejection after another is pretty demoralizing, and the incredibly competitive atmosphere of this business has a lot of negative psychological effects. It has affected my marriage and some of my friendships, and not for the better. I often feel like I’m going in circles, making progress and achieving something new, only to get knocked down hard at my next audition (or twelve). Trying to make time for serious practice every day gets stressful when I’m trying to juggle two jobs, lots of volunteer work, and relationships with my husband, family, and friends.

At the same time, having a successful audition and getting cast in a show is a huge boost of confidence. It’s like someone is telling me, “You’re worth something in the singing world! The time, money, and effort you have put in over the last seven years have not gone to waste!” What singer, what person really, doesn’t need to hear that? Even the physical act of singing just feels right to me. It’s something I know I can do well, that I have control over and that always brightens my mood and relaxes me on the worst days. Singing is a part of me, and I wouldn’t be myself without it.

When I went to Germany this summer, I was hoping for a major revelation about whether or not I should keep doing this. In the weeks leading up to leaving for the program, I kept saying to T, “I don’t want to go. Why am I even going? I regret spending the exorbitant amount of money to do this.” He encouraged me, like the supporter that he is, to use it as a way to figure out if it’s something I really wanted to keep pursuing. I would take a deep breath, nod, and say, “Okay. You’re right. I can do that.” I never had that revelation moment while I was there, but I think the experience helped me along in the process of deciding where to go from here. The program was tough, there were attitudes that I had a very hard time dealing with, and the prognosis of the state of the business was very dark, especially for sopranos like me. I spent the entire time missing T and home and counting down the days until I could go home and resume my “normal” life, whatever that would mean.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve halfheartedly been to a few auditions because I felt I should, and none of them turned out to be encouraging. My YAP Tracker account has been filling up with programs to apply for, but instead of being excited about potential opportunities, I have avoided the website altogether and dreaded having to submit applications and videos that I knew weren’t going to be as good as someone else’s were. The thought of actively trying to leave home for another summer program or out-of-town auditions for companies makes me feel depressed, guilty, and confused. I miss so much every time I leave that there are times when I feel I’m not really living the life I was meant to live. Instead I’m alone at an airport or on a train or in a practice room, wondering what’s going on at home with the people I love more than anything in the world.

This past weekend, T and I were able to be at the hospital for the birth of our nephew. He’s the first of the new generation in our family and there will definitely be more after him. I had originally planned to be at an audition in LA over the weekend, but I decided not to go because of some other weekend commitments and because the thought of traveling that far for almost certain rejection was, to say the least, unappealing. If I had gone, I may not have made it back in time, and once again I would have put my own pursuits, however unlikely or ultimately unsuccessful they might be, ahead of our family and the things that really matter to me. I’m tired of being a person who makes that choice.

What I’m trying to say is, I can’t do this anymore.

I can’t spend the rest of my life facing rejection. I can’t continue trying to make it in a field that’s designed for 99% of people to fail. I can’t keep letting my desire to sing come between me and my singer friends when they are more successful than me. I can’t put up with the mental games and the psychological warfare. I can’t pretend that it’s my career when I’m always going to lose more money than I make. I can’t put my selfishness and pride ahead of my husband, my family, my friends, my students, my God.

It’s not that I will never sing again. Like I said, I wouldn’t be myself without singing. I’ll audition for local productions and companies, community and professional, without worrying about whether or not I’ll be paid for it or whether it’s the right thing for my resume. I’ll continue to try to achieve the highest level of musicianship and performance skill that I can, and I’ll do my best to communicate through music, because that’s what music is for. But I won’t be applying for summer programs anymore, even the professional opportunities. I won’t be auditioning for companies that would take me away from my real life in the Bay Area, no matter how enticing they might seem. I won’t spend crazy amounts of money on application or audition fees or traveling to auditions. I won’t surround myself with people who play mind games just because I think they will somehow advance my career. I won’t worry about my degrees and training going to waste, because they won’t. I will still use them. But this is never going to be my career, and to be honest, I don’t want it anymore.

I have no idea what direction I will go from here career-wise. Right now I’m happy working my dental office job and my church choir job without always trying to advance to bigger things. Those jobs allow me to live the life I really love, where T and I spend our evenings together, volunteering with our youth group or spending time with our friends and family, and where me missing those things for rehearsals or shows is the exception rather than the rule.

I think I’m pretty safe in assuming that most of you don’t care what I do or won’t be affected at all by my decision here. Even for those of you who are singers, one less soprano in the competitive pool isn’t going to make a difference. I don’t expect to be judged negatively for this, since I’m confident that you either love me independent of what career path I follow, or you simply couldn’t care less about my life (in which case, why are you reading my blog?). But as I said to T last night as I revealed these thoughts to him amid tears of relief, verbalizing it just makes it real, and that’s why I’m sharing it with you. This is what I choose, and now I’m going to move forward with my life, singing and otherwise.

It’s been fun, Singing Business. But I won’t miss you.

What Being a Wife Means to Me

It’s no secret among married couples that relationship growth never stops. You spend your entire life learning who the other person is and who they need you to be. Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to me to be a wife and what kind of wife I want to be to T.

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Proverbs 31:10-31 is an excellent reference point (long passage alert).

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

Here’s what we can learn from the wife of noble character:

  1. She is a rarity in the world. Very few women are truly this kind of wife, which is what makes one so valuable.
  2. She brings good, not harm, to her husband, and her goal is always to build him up and support him.
  3. She is a diligent worker. She gives 100% to everything she does and has a good attitude while doing it.
  4. She contributes in important and unique ways to the provision of her family.
  5. She shows grace and compassion to people who are less fortunate than her.
  6. She stands strong in her faith and is always dignified and classy.
  7. She is wise enough to put her trust in God for the future.
  8. She is called to teach and guide others in their own faith.
  9. Ultimately, she loves the Lord above all else and knows that her true value is found in him.

What do those things translate into for me, practically speaking?

  1. I will always take opportunities to build up T to other people. I once read somewhere that you should always affirm your spouse in front of others and never, ever put them down, and I try my best to abide by that. I should do whatever I can to support him however I can. Whether it’s bringing him dinner when he doesn’t have time to go home between work and youth group, taking over driving on a long trip when he gets tired, or doing the laundry/cleaning/grocery shopping so he doesn’t have to, I constantly look for ways to make his life easier and better.
  2. Individually, my attitude at work (any kind of work) should be positive, committed, and selfless, which not only allows me to benefit other people through my job, but also helps me provide for my family.
  3. I can be an example and a role model for others, especially younger Christians. Right now I’m learning how to do this in youth ministry, and someday I hope to be able to guide my own kids in their faith journeys and relationships with Christ.
  4. My own faith should be the number one priority in my life, after which everything else will fall into place. I need to trust in God’s provision for my life and know that I was created to be a child of God and to find my ultimate identity in him alone.

I know I’m not always the perfect “Proverbs 31 wife,” but the beauty of marriage is that I have a lifetime to work on becoming one. I also have a godly husband who will (and does) encourage me in my efforts to be the kind of wife for him that God wants me to be.

Ladies, have you ever heard of the “Proverbs 31 wife”? What does being a wife mean to you?

Happiness Is…

Today I had a voice lesson with my regular teacher. It was my first lesson since I’ve been home from Germany, and it was my first lesson with her in two months. It was nothing out of the ordinary as far as lessons go, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

It started with me telling her about my current existential crisis with singing, which sparked a half-hour conversation about doing what makes me happy and how it has nothing to do with letting people down or comparing myself with other people’s successes or feeling like I have to do this because of the time and effort I’ve already invested. The thing is, I already know all of this in my head, but I have a hard time internalizing it. I think I’m on my way, but I’m not there yet.

I guess I need to figure out what it would take for me to be happy singing. I need to know what kind of singing, where, and how much I would need to do in order for me to feel both fulfilled and successful in my own realm of success. I don’t want those things to be defined by other people’s happinesses and successes, but I’m not sure how not to let that happen anymore.

I know that this is a gift from God, and I know he wouldn’t have given it to me if he didn’t have a plan for how I should use it. My prayer is for him to show me just how he wants me to use it, and that I do it for his glory.

Meanwhile, I'll be singing tonight at a local cafe downtown with several members of my little company. I'm looking forward to singing for the love of it and not for anyone's approval.

Meanwhile, I’ll be singing tonight at a local cafe downtown with several members of my little company. I’m looking forward to singing for the love of it and not for anyone’s approval.

Who Am I

Earlier this week, I posted a little bit about the career/existential crisis that I’m currently going through and the criteria for my mysterious, elusive dream job. Last night, as I was driving home from seeing Susannah at San Francisco Opera, I had a revelation.

I was listening to the song “Who Am I” by Casting Crowns, which is still a fantastic song even though it was released when I was in high school. One repetitive section of the lyrics goes, “Not because of who I am, but because of what you’ve done / Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who you are.” I was singing along, and all of a sudden I realized that so much of my time and energy during this existential crisis has been devoted to wondering how I would identify myself if I decided not to pursue opera as a career anymore. I wouldn’t be able to call myself an “opera singer” or a “professional singer,” and that’s been a hard bridge to cross.

But what if the very reason I’m struggling with singing and having this existential crisis is just that?

What if God is actually, purposefully taking away the possibility of a singing career BECAUSE he wants me to find my identity in something other than being a singer? Specifically, being a follower of Jesus?

And also, how did I not realize this before?

1 John 3:1 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” There’s no better identity than that.

I know many of you don’t share my beliefs, and that’s okay. I know some of you might think I’m overreacting to the rejection that comes as a normal part of a singing career, and that’s fine too. But as soon as I made this realization last night, I knew it was the truth. God doesn’t tempt us or test our faith, but sometimes he puts up roadblocks or challenges in our lives in order to bring our focus back to him. I’ve known for a long time that I need a new perspective on singing, and now I’ve taken the first mental step towards not letting it control my life.

Finding my identity and worth in God instead of singing won’t hurt me at all––I know I’ll be able to continue singing. It’s not like God is asking me to never sing another note. What it will do is put me on the path that I should be on, that I should have been on all this time: living my life with Jesus as the central focus, not how/when/where/what I will be able to sing next. It will only be good for me, and I know it’s the truth because just thinking about it gives me peace.

I wish I had three-hour solo time every week... I might have made this realization a long time ago.

I wish I had three-hour solo time every week… I might have made this realization a long time ago.

On the Decline of Arts Organizations

I have to take a pause from my Europe trip recap to share my thoughts on an issue that has become rather personal to me recently, especially since it affects both me and many of my closest friends. It may not be obvious to the average American, but to those of us who work in the industry, it seems like a new theater or opera company closes its doors every week.

Earlier this year, New York City Opera declared bankruptcy and shut down. A couple months later, San Diego Opera made the shocking announcement that they were following suit, and only after much drama and discussion about the shady activities of its highest level of directors did they miraculously rise from the dead. And just this week, the press releases started flowing about the closing of San Jose Repertory Theatre in my own hometown.

The San Jose Rep.

The San Jose Rep. Source

Obviously, this most recent closure stings the most for me and my immediate circle of colleagues. Back in the fall, I participated in the Rep’s workshop of The Snow Queen, an original musical based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairly tale of the same title (the same source material for Frozen, FYI). They had auditioned music and theatre students on our campus the previous spring and I was lucky enough to be offered a spot. Together with a handful of other students, I had the chance to read through an original script and score to give the writers a chance to adapt it before the “real” production went up. It was a fantastic experience and a fun process, and when I found out a few days ago that the company will close its doors, it seemed more real and personal to me than those other, larger companies for whom I had never worked.

When the announcement came out about the Rep, my Facebook news feed exploded with shocked, upset, and even angry comments from the theatre and music world. There were several themes that manifested themselves in these comments, but one of them stood out to me more than others: “Why, in one of the capitals of wealth in the state, the country, and even the world, couldn’t the tech industry manage to bail out a struggling theatre company?”

Honestly, I think there’s a perfectly good answer: it’s not their responsibility.

Yes, art and culture is a huge part of what makes the Bay Area thrive. Some would probably argue that that alone means that we all have a responsibility to keep it alive, and maybe that’s true of individual people and businesses that are directly related to the arts or have already expressed an interest in them. But we, the arts industry and its supporters, can’t assume that the big corporations or “the 1%” will step in to save our skins every time we find ourselves in financial trouble.

Obviously I’m on the side of the arts here. It’s my job, for goodness’ sake. But allow me to be controversial for one second and tell you what I think the real problem is for a company like the Rep: no one cares about their seasons. They program shows that don’t draw an audience. One glance through the archived seasons list on their website is extremely telling. Upon showing the list to my husband who doesn’t work in the industry but is an arts appreciator, a category that I imagine most of the Rep’s patrons fall into, he recognized maybe three titles over the past eight seasons, with eight shows per season. That’s not a very good ratio, or one that will interest the average theatergoer.

This is true for opera companies as well. Many smaller companies are programming operas that are rarely performed and thus less popular, or modern operas whose music doesn’t appeal to the average non-musically educated audience member. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely support the programming of these kinds of shows. After all, opera won’t survive if nothing new is being composed. But entire seasons of obscure repertoire in the name of being “artsy” or “controversial” can’t carry a company financially.

I hope it’s not too late for the Rep. It’s an extremely important part of the arts scene in San Jose, and I would love to see it make a comeback like the San Diego Opera did. However, I also hope that other companies will learn from the Rep’s struggles and realize that the answer isn’t waiting around for a patron or the tech industry to rescue them. They need to rethink how they attract audiences and make their seasons relatable and interesting to the people who buy tickets. When did that become such a challenge?