One of the basic ways of enhancing your mental fortitude is to honestly and openly determine your strengths as a person. This goes beyond your skills as a musician. You may have the best coloratura in your studio. You may have a stellar French schwa. You may have beautiful headshots. If your perseverance is lacking, however, you will be in for a rocky experience no matter what.
Identify Your Strengths
We’re going to use the VIA Institute on Character’s “Classification of Strengths” to help us identify our strengths. The Institute breaks down strengths into six areas: wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. These targeted areas of our character can help us hold on to a sense of identity that is bigger than ourselves as “musician” or “composer.” When we surround ourselves with other music professionals it can be difficult to think or talk about other things outside of our passion for sound. I know, folks, I’ve seen it happen. But, we all know that we can’t hustle in a vacuum (or the vacuum of a practice room) so we need to know who we are outside of our skills for secco recitative or a perfect messa di voce.
Wisdom and Knowledge
This is first because it is the most obvious answer when we are told to think of our strengths. The area of wisdom and knowledge goes further than mastering new skills and critical thinking skills and covers subjects like curiosity, creativity, and perspective. Where do you feel strongest or weakest in these areas? What steps have you taken in the past to stay open to new experiences?
I wonder if studio class should just be rebranded in “developing courage as a singer.” Each week would be designed around bolstering each singer’s “bravery, perseverance, honesty, and zest.” Your singing is divine but you need to have courage to sign up for auditions time after time. You will feel beaten down and you need to develop the skill of saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” Then, actually trying again tomorrow with all the enthusiasm you had before the bitter taste of “not at this time.”
Our community and field is full of people. Say it with me, “we’re all in this together.” Our profession simply could not happen without other people. Opera will cease to exist, in the way that we love it, when all of the parts and pieces are replaced by computers. Take a moment to assess your strengths in the areas of love, kindness, and social intelligence.
Justice is intertwined with humanity. We need to be aware of our strengths in teamwork, leadership, and fairness to make sure that our community is just. Do you organize events in your area? How well do you encourage others to achieve their goals and the goals of your group together? Do you actively work to root out bias in your musical community? Think about your cognitive strengths here as well as your demonstrated strengths.
Like your ability to manifest courage in your life, are you able to actually forgive people? Can you look upon your skills with humility and modesty? Temperance, in this respect, is not about totally abstaining. It is about approaching your life with self-control and discipline. What are your strengths in these areas?
Don’t stop reading. Transcendence isn’t just about spirituality. That is definitely part of it and that can be however you choose to experience it. Transcendence also has to do with your ability to appreciate beauty and excellence in the world. And, my most beloved parts of transcendence, what are your attitudes to humor and hope?
Show Your Work
This is where the rubber meets the road. The idea of inner work is dependent on the “work” part. Set your timer for five minutes and read through those six areas again and write your perceived strengths in each area. Bonus points if you ask your singing team what they see as your strengths under each category. Then, see if your answers align. Let me know if anything comes up that surprises you. Or, let me know if you think this was an easy or difficult challenge. I love hearing from you all. Hit me up in the comments below or tag me on Twitter. I’m @mezzoihnen.
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