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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Happy Blog-iversary!

As of today, I have been blogging for an entire year! I’ve had a couple of blogs in the past, but none that have lasted this long or had any sort of following whatsoever, so this is quite exciting. I’ve been able to unpack thoughts on this blog, as well as share fun facts about my life and travels.

What does the future hold for Perfect Harmonies? Since this is purely a hobby for me, I don’t plan on trying to make any significant income from it. However, it is a very fun hobby and I’d love to grow my content and readership, so I do plan on making some improvements and implementing some new ideas around here. Look for fun changes over the next few months!

To celebrate Perfect Harmonies’ first birthday, here are some of my favorite and most significant posts from the past year.

The realization that my life struggles happen for a reason.

A solo trip to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studios in London.

How I view my role as a wife, and what’s awesome about being married to T.

Top five things I’ve learned from working at a dental office.

One of the most life-changing decisions I’ve ever made.

Why every kid needs cousins, and why we will eventually give our nephew some of his own.

The story behind my right-hand ring.

Traveling to Brazil? Here are some of my observations about the Portuguese language.

How I overcame one of my biggest fears.

25 days of Christmas music.

The greatest trip of my life.

How to be awesome at public transportation.

I hope you enjoy reading Perfect Harmonies as much as I enjoy writing it! What are some of your favorite posts?

Life Happens

Sometimes in life, everything goes exactly as you had planned.

Other times in life, you’re at rehearsal on Valentine’s Day and you get a text from your husband as he’s literally halfway to Mexico, saying that he just heard from your landlord and the two of you and your cats have sixty days to move out of your apartment so she can move back in.

What do you do in those times? Well, you go into panic mode in the middle of rehearsal. You immediately start searching on Craigslist for something, anything, that might be available in your price range in the next month. Your freakout is compounded by the fact that your husband will be crossing the Mexican border in a matter of a few hours and will be largely inaccessible for the next six days.

Then you happen upon a listing on Craigslist that seems perfect. You realize that it’s open today (thank God it’s Saturday) and you drive straight there after rehearsal, all sweaty and haphazard after dancing for three hours. When you meet the office manager, you are incredibly friendly and charming while making sure to communicate your state of panic. She is super nice, offering you water and as much time as you need to text your husband photos of the apartment and answering all his questions, while you silently thank God that he is still in San Diego and hasn’t crossed the border yet.

In order to hold the apartment for 48 hours, the manager says, you have to put in an application and make a relatively small refundable deposit. After getting the okay from your husband, you go ahead with those things. Then the clock starts ticking down the 48 hours. Your husband crosses the Mexican border. And you start having second thoughts, doubting all the little things about the apartment that might not work for you, like the fact that there is absolutely no storage or the fact that the floorplan is inefficient enough that your furniture might not all fit.

Your mom tells you to calm down, that it will all work out and that she would be happy to go look at the place with you to give an outside opinion. The next day, you get what seems like a miracle text from your husband, who turns out to have wifi, and you are able to continue discussing the place and your options. And among all of this, you go to church on Sunday morning and several people come up to you offering places to stay or help with moving, and you remember what a fantastic, loving community you have around you. Then you realize that God would never not come through for you in a situation like this… and then you pray, and then you wait.

Of course, this is all hypothetical.

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.

Irrational Fears

Today I’m participating in a link-up hosted by Casey at We Took the Road Less Traveled. She prompted us to share three of our irrational fears, so here we go…

1) If you’ve been following me since May, you know that one of my biggest fears is Ferris wheels. It makes absolutely no sense, but they freak me out and make my stomach turn. I’m proud to say I took a huge step toward overcoming this fear when I rode the London Eye earlier this summer.

Take that, demon machine!

Take that, demon machine!

2) I really hate being home alone overnight. It doesn’t happen often, but on the rare occasion when it does, I triple-check the locks on the front door and keep the TV on until the last possible second before I go to bed, just to hear another human voice. Even so, I get super jittery once it’s completely quiet and there is no one else in the house. The cats aren’t usually much comfort either. Also, T is going on a short-term missions trip with our church next February and I’m already dreading him being gone for a week.

3) This one has gotten a lot better over the past few years, but I get unnecessarily nervous about driving long distances by myself, especially when it’s dark or I’m tired. I take more precautions than necessary: tons of coffee and snacks and water and music on my iPod… you get the idea. I don’t actively try to avoid long solo drives, but I do get a little pit in my stomach before making drives that are more than a few hours long, if I don’t have any travel buddies.

How I feel about driving by myself for many hours at a time: strongly "meh."

How I feel about driving by myself for many hours at a time: strongly “meh.”

Now that I’ve written them out, I notice that two of my three biggest fears are directly related to being alone. Clearly I am very needy when it comes to social contact.

Anyway, what about you? What are your biggest fears?

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.

My Dream Job

I’ve been having a bit of a career crisis lately. In case you weren’t aware, trying to make it as an opera singer is really difficult. Shocker, right?

It’s more than that though. Singing, as both an action and as an industry, is extremely psychological, and when it doesn’t go well, it can have a very negative effect on your psychological well-being. (The good news is, this is normal. This article about rejection is actually pretty comforting.) Lately, the big question for me has been whether or not I want to continue dealing with rejection as part of my work for the rest of my life. And really, what sane person would want that?

At this point in my life, I have many other things that are important to me. I have an incredible, wonderful, loving, godly husband who deserves 100% of my heart, and kids are within our five-year plan. We want to be homeowners and have significant time to devote to our families and friends. We love being youth leaders and guiding students on their faith journeys. And over the past few months, I have started to wonder if my attempt at a performance career is truly compatible with all of those things.

This picture from our youth group houseboat trip in June includes so many of my favorite people.

This picture from our youth group houseboat trip in June includes so many of my favorite people.

A few months ago, Julie at Alone With My Tea (who is, incidentally, a wonderful real-life friend) posted her criteria for her ideal job, which inspired me to write down mine:

-Has a flexible schedule, or at least allows for some time off

-Lets me spend a lot of time interacting with people

-Has a major creative element

-Is compatible with my love for music/singing/performing

-Helps people in some way

-Is something I’m passionate, or at the very least excited, about

-Isn’t repetitive or boring

-Includes projects or goals to work towards

-Is something I am excited to do every day, and a bad day is the exception rather than the rule

-Seems meaningful and relevant in society today

-Doesn’t ask me to compromise my beliefs, morals, or values

-Is compatible with having a family and good relationships with them

-Provides significant enough income for me to make an actual contribution to our family finances

What do you think? Are these reasonable expectations? Based on these criteria, do you have any ideas on what I should do with my life?