Moving Forward

Moving Forward

4 years ago, I hit a wall. It’s the second time as an adult that this has happened to me, and both times it has felt insurmountable. I seemed to have lost all belief in myself and my abilities. I had a tiny glimmer of a spark, but it felt far away, distant and out of reach. I remember talking to a lady who does reiki and things like that, and she asked me what was holding me back? I couldn’t answer.

I was working in a teaching job at the time, I had been in for over a decade. This job came as a result of burnout from working in the city, running my own agency, “living the dream” and trying to convince myself that I could work in a high pressure marketing job. The jobs in the city were as a result of hitting the first wall with my music career, so I felt a million miles away from what I had originally embarked upon.

In this second wall hit, I was looking at friends and their successes, watching their lives coming together. It seemed that they had the answers and I didn’t – that they knew how the play the game and I was there flailing around, with no sense of direction. I felt numb but overwhelmed, and with no belief that my situation would change.

This small spark, that the reiki lady had helped me identify, kept glowing. I started to feel an urge to create, to make something, and instead of shutting this down, I tuned into it and began to write. I started slowly at first, dipping my toe in the water, feeling overwhelmed to stop, but I kept going. I played my partner (who is a songwriter / producer – no pressure!) one of my ideas, preparing to be crippled by searing insecurity by how shit it was, but instead I felt strangely centred and energised – still nervous, but like I was tapping into something good. I pushed on. Lots of ideas came and went – like bubbles forming and bursting, many of them were never finished. I was reminded of a song I wrote years ago, which I was never happy with but that I liked – a song called “In Your Eyes”. I still felt it had something, but didn’t know at the time of writing what it needed. Now I did. Finishing this song was really bloody hard however. I had no confidence in my ability to finish something, I doubted my choices – should I use this lyric? Should I change to this chord? Is this just embarrassingly awful? What is the point? But I carried on. My partner helped with one line that I was stuck on – even allowing his input was hard – did this mean that I couldn’t finish something on my own? Was I weak? Not talented? A joke? Seriously – the amount of negativity in my head was overwhelming. But, on I pushed. The songwriting continued and the song was finally finished.

Writers talk about the importance of finishing stuff – yes indeed. Finishing this song (even though it is being reworked again now), was super important and gave me confidence to continue writing. Knowing that I could finish something, that I still had the ability, that I wasn’t a total failure, was powerful and gave me just enough energy to keep moving forward.

Sing For Yourself and No One Else

Sing For Yourself and No one Else

Had a fantastic performance workshop with the Broadway composer Adam Guettel in June of this year. He was inspiring and VERY experienced, and reconfirmed something that I have felt for a long time, and feel evermore passionate about now. “Sing for yourself and for no one else”. What does this mean exactly?

Well, singing for me, was and still is a very personal experience. I used to sing as a kid without even knowing I was singing – I’d hum along to things, making up my own tunes, soothing myself, singing when I went out on a walk, singing whilst skipping etc. I didn’t know that this was a “thing” or that anyone would judge me for it or that it had any particular value. I just sang because I sang – similar to speaking really. Somehow along the way, this came into focus and I found myself starting to place value on how and what I sang. I remember going to a local dance school and students there were getting solos and performing songs in front of audiences. This felt like a strange concept to me – I never thought that I could sing, so much as I just did it spontaneously, I suddenly started to question the value of what I was doing, why I didn’t sound like the other girls and if I was doing something wrong. Quantifying a thing that is so personal, felt strange and unnatural. 

In this current climate of singing competitions, qualifications, grading, there is so much sectioning off, measuring, quantifying, valuing, exploiting, shaping, moulding, quaffing, messing, it’s hard to remember why you got into performing in the first place. Everyone has their reasons but there must have been some joy in it initially….

If you choose to sing in front of people or not, that joy and self expression has to have a place there. The connection firstly needs acknowledging, nurturing and forming with yourself, like a bond, like your closest friend, like delving deep into yourself. Even if you have sung the same song a million times, this can still be there. If you make this connection with yourself, I have a feeling that this connection will then be seen and felt by your audience – whoever they may be. If they like and respond to what you are doing then great, what a bonus. If they don’t, then hey, you have lost nothing. You STILL have your connection and your centre. Perhaps you could be that one constant and reliable source in a room of strangers? Perhaps, even in a pressurised audition situation, you could somehow connect with that very personal part of yourself and dare to show it? Dare to go there? It takes guts though, believe me, but what’s the worst that could happen? It would be great if we all really didn’t give a shit about what other’s felt or thought about us. I love that idea.

Nurturing Energy and the Enoughness of You!

The attraction of working in the entertainment industry and being self employed is that you never know what’s around the corner. It really isn’t like a 9 to 5 job and there is no steady wage or “clocking out” to go home at the end of the day and relax. There is an element of being constantly switched on, ready and waiting for something exciting to happen. Sometimes exciting things do happen, and it can often be when you feel at the end of your tether, and almost about to give up. At least, this is how I used to feel when I graduated drama school. Not so much now (thankfully!).

There is lots of time spent “in between” jobs in the musical theatre business. It’s these times that can either be rich, busy and full, or scary, mundane and empty, waiting for the phone to ring, your agent to call or that next big break to happen. In my experience, the next big break never really manifests like this, and even when your wildest dreams are about to come true, they never feel the same as you have imagined them to be. This is fine and nothing to feel down about. Reality is MUCH more interesting than the dream and the dream is exactly what I’ve said it is – a dream. 

Changing your view of reality and the day to day is super important. Something that feels mundane or “in the way” of you getting to where you want to go, could be an important learning curve. I found out recently that two people close to me are very ill, this has shifted my focus into the present dramatically and for anyone who has lost a friend or loved one, you will know what I mean. It’s easy to focus on straight ahead, success, the top of the mountain, but as Miley says “It’s all about the climb”. She is right I think. I know this isn’t new, but hey, the most growth happens on your way up to the top (if the top even exists) not whilst you are there staring at the view. You appreciate the view much more when you’ve had to climb to it!

The day to day can seem repetitive and unexciting at times – breakfast needs to be made, clothes need to be washed, work needs to be done, money needs to be earned. You can say, well I never trained for this! I want to play a lead in a show! Where is my success? How come she has this and he has that? These thoughts can lead to feeling frustrated, jealous and angry which can fester and amount to a big energy drain. I know, trust me! On social media it’s hard not to compare yourself with everyone else’s announcements and victories. There is ALWAYS a story behind the pictures and it is much more mundane and day to day than it seems. Being aware of your own progress and development is essential. As most of my Facebook friends know, I own my own horse. This was a dream of mine, and I felt really stupid having it initially as I could barely stay in the saddle. However, staying focused on myself, my goals, not anyone else’s and trying not to compare my apparently meagre improvements with someone jumping a 6ft fence, was not always easy. Comparing myself did nothing for my self esteem but rather made me feel inferior, rubbish and full of self doubt. Staying on target and keeping focused on what I wanted to achieve, however seemingly small, really did the trick and I am totally getting there now. 

It is great to have goals though. Goals that are healthy, achievable and realistic and goals that are going to help you to get up in the morning and get out of the house (or flat if you live in London!). Goals that will nurture your soul in some way, and give you an indication of your own progression and growth. I have found that having a hobby outside of performing and writing really helps to reset things, and gives me much needed energy to feed back into my work. I can’t be creative when I am strung out, depressed or anxious or when all my energy has been taken. I CAN be creative however, when I have nourished me and taken responsibility for giving myself energy and creating energy. I can then use that energy to put into the things that I really want to do. On a quick note, energy is not infinite, and there is a limit to what you can give. Being aware of when you are running low and in need of a top up is super important – like knowing when your car needs more petrol. With a car you have a warning light or a bleeping sound, with your body and mind you don’t get any obvious signs until you keel over onto the sofa or (in my case) have an emotional melt down! I want to ensure that I never now, get too low on energy so that I cannot function or that I end up beating myself up for not being good or strong enough. This has to stop!

Waiting for the phone to ring or for an email to arrive, is a horrible thing – be it to hear the outcome of a job, or (in my case) waiting to hear if your funding application has been successful. Waiting in general, is super draining and energy zapping. So, rather than waiting, how about using your precious and valuable time to focus on you and what you need? If you want to perform, how about getting a few songs together and performing at an open mic night or cabaret? Or how about hooking up with your friend who is fierce on the guitar and putting together a set? How about learning how to play the ukulele? This may sound irrelevant, but things like this keep you active, build your skills, keep you busy and any gigs that you are doing, read great on your CV. Open mics are also a good and beneath the radar way to road test new songs pre audition, and to get a sense of playing to an audience and singing in different acoustics and environments. You can just slip in and slip out without too much of a faff. It also shows the world that you are working, which is very attractive believe me. 

I have a musical in development that has been “in development” now for 2 years. It feels at this moment, a very long way from ever being completed and I have been turned down or just not replied to on numerous occasions so far. I have had people request material only then to be told that they don’t have the time to watch or listen to my clips. I have had emails responded to one year after sending them, still with the same response – “sorry, this position has been filled” or “we’re not looking anymore”. To be honest, getting a response whatever it is, is a bonus! It’s easy to feel invisible, so yours (and my) jobs are to ensure that we feel very visible and alive and energised. Whether that be by digging out a great book, watching an inspirational film, meditating, going make up free for a while (yes!), meeting with friends who love you, being with family, going for a swim, taking a break, having a Starbucks (I am not endorsing them but blimey their soya cappuccinos are goooood), or just taking 5 minutes out of a hectic day to say, “hey, you’re doing OK”. All of these things make a difference.

I have decided not to wait for anything, but to crack on and get things moving myself. At the end of the day, it’s all about me and what I want to create / how I want to be, not how other people see me or what value I am to them. I feel at my weakest when I compare myself to others. I feel at my strongest (and this is a fluid and changeable thing) when I am centred on myself, and my needs. This can at times make me feel like I am being selfish, but being selfish isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I can then use my self nurtured energy to give to others. Sometimes, when you’re down on your luck and low on energy, having that one friend, family member, colleague who gives you a boost or tells you something nice, can really make the difference between you bottoming out or feeling a little glow of pride. To give to others, you have to give to yourself and energy and good vibes can be passed around. In this business, they are REALLY needed and important. We would all be a juddering heap of nervous and exhausted wrecks otherwise. 

So. Stop waiting for the phone to ring. Take some time and remind yourself what a beautiful human being you are and of all the unique things that only you can offer. You are valuable, you are special and you deserve to feel loved. YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Sending love and warmth,

Michaela Xxx