Diva, sometimes it is okay to quit.
There. I said it.
It is, in fact, completely okay to quit singing as a career. You might think that a post about quitting is incongruous with the whole 29 Days to Diva series. But, I must tell you that the two most popular posts on the Sybaritic Singer year in and year out are Top Music School Rankings and I Quit Singing. My heart sinks in my chest when I look at those stats; partially, because I know those feelings so well. More truthfully, that sinking feeling comes from the confirmation that so many of us are experiencing that specific pain.
“You should sing professionally” and “Have you ever thought about performing?” are such powerful, life-changing expressions to hear from someone else. Full of confidence and aspirations, we seek out the best music schools in the country. We take all the classes, do all of the auditions, suffer all the rejections, relish every single curtain call and then there is a moment we sit in front of a brightly lit computer screen with a blinking cursor. Then, we type, “How to quit singing.”
Your 29 Days to Diva Challenge for Day 21 is to Understand that Quitting is an Option.
The post I referenced above about quitting was pointing to this personal essay I read in Real Simple written by Adrienne Starr. She wrote,
I’m done, I thought. I’m done with singing.
Until that moment, there had never been a time in my life when I didn’t define myself first and foremost as a singer.
“How could you stop?”
I was floored. It had never occurred to me that you could be done with singing. Our identities are so wrapped up in this business. I could shape shift more easily than I could imagine a life in which I would not be a professional singer.
Then, like a person coming out of shell shock, I remember particularly awful moments. I remember the moments tucked away in a bathroom, staring in the mirror, tears streaming down my cheeks, thinking, “You must let go of the things not meant for you. Singing isn’t meant for you.”
The holding onto it, though, felt like having it. And, even lying to myself about having it was such a lovely feeling that I cannot imagine my world without it. Holding on so tightly isn’t the solution. Our grip is infinitely more infallible than loss.
“You can’t let all your work and talent go to nothing.”
Kevin Clark gave a fantastic presentation on Baumol’s Cost Disease at the New Music Gathering in Baltimore this past January. Out of the hundreds of insights he provided, one really stuck with me, “You owe nothing to the money you’ve already spent.”
He elaborated that this includes the investments of money and time we have spent up to this point. We do not owe anything to the money we spent on our education. We do not owe anything to the time, effort, and money we have poured into auditioning. He continued, “there is only one person in the world who you are undeniably smarter than and it is your past self.”
The work and talent that brought you this far have been confirmed. You can choose to accept that you are smarter than the you that began. The best way to admit to being smarter than you were in the past is to be open to the best things that could happen to you now. Sometimes, that isn’t singing as a career. Sometimes it is. Do not let the fear of losing that which you think defines you supersede the courage it takes to achieve all of what you are capable.
“Quit for a week”
If you happen to be in a place of transition, but you are nervous about quitting, try this useful exercise that I learned from the irrepressible Shaya Lyon — quit for a week. Shaya is the founder of The Live Music Project in Seattle. The way we were talking about this exercise was related to trying something new which I think is a much more uplifting way of thinking than getting stuck on the word “quitting.” The way she explained it to me it is like trying on a new self for a week. Check it out. Does it fit? Does it feel good to see yourself this way? Does it need some alterations?
Quit for a week. Does it feel good to see yourself this way?
The thought of giving something up seems incredibly foreign, especially in contemporary American culture. Perseverance is practically baked into everything we do. “Winners never quit and quitters never win” has seemingly replaced the Pledge of Allegiance as our collective mantra. But, persistence is useless when you are on the wrong path or simply going around in circles.
“What will quitting say about you?”
It is okay to quit if you find yourself saying, “I just don’t want to do this anymore” more than you are saying, “I want to change the world through classical music.” Only you will know the difference between a rut and soul-crushing, creativity-crushing apathy.
Maybe it isn’t singing that is actually the thing you are most passionate about. Maybe it is something singing-adjacent. When you discovered that there were actual jobs in music, did you know just how many opportunities there were? Did you know about the many offshoots that would present themselves as you were pursuing singing?
We fear that we will disappoint those we care about because we decide to “quit” singing. They’ll think that I cannot follow through on my dreams. Sometimes the dream changes.
Remember, we do not owe anything to the old dream. It was nice to have. It was incredibly useful. It got us here. You are making space for bigger opportunities to come to you.
I really needed to write this post for all of us that don’t want to quit as well as those that do. It isn’t failure. It is simply an option. When we quit the business, they don’t make us leave our voices. We get to take them with us to our next adventure. We get to use them to change the world in the best way for us and those we love.
When we quit the business, they don’t make us leave our voices.
Killer Audition Seasons Are Made in the Winter
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Thank you for your insight. I keep on following your page for a while now and I always find new and interesting things to reflect upon. I had a big breakdown some months ago after rejecting a part that I wanted badly to sing but was really scared of. Together with a hard personal issue that was running in the background for sometime, I started questioning myself whether I have the nerves to go on in this business…So the question of quitting arose and more than that, the question whether I am good enough to reach the high goal I had put on my mind was more intense than ever. It appears that my dream was becoming an everyday nightmare for a long time unconsciously.
So reading your post it resonated within me. The first question I think to be asked is: Why are singers so unhappy? I would answer like this: We expect singing to make us happy, to fulfill our enormous ego needs that never end. We depend our whole existence on an activity and furthermore we flatter ourselves that we are artists because of this choice (I still have no clue what that means at all). This is insane. How can we let this happen? It’s not bound to work.
The reason why I am writing this post is that in my experience the talk of quitting or not is not the real problem and therefore is not a real solution. Because here is what happens and we should really see to it someday. We define ourselves by means of action (profession, social roles, behavior) but this is a huge illusion. We are not the personality we have created to go on around in society. So , BAM, if we are not that, this means we can shift it anyway we want it. So singing or the business is not the problem. The problem is that we have not established HOW we are now and how we want to be in the future. Instead we keep on chatting about WHAT to do e.g. with an audition/a job/a lesson. The action is not the problem, the way we have wired ourselves to think is the problem. Think it this way, if you WERE a joyful person being able to find joy in every little thing in your path, would it matter if you ever sang in the MET or had that job? Met is a great aspiration but in the moment it becomes the Ultimate dream , it is bound to crush you. In my experience, the singers who have quit are not necessarily going to a happier direction in life(of course there are exceptions). Maybe in the beginning it will all make sense (it’s the same feeling when you go on vacation)but it won’t last (at least not for everyone). After some time you will experience problems of the same kind in your new field of interest and then regret will sneak in. So for me the most important realization is: Singing is just what I do (chosen consciously for this and that reasons), happy is the way I am and I will not let any activity or person or situation define what happens within me. It’s not singing’s responsability to make you happy, it’s yours.
Have a nice day and keep up the good work. Thanks again! Best
Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment! I am so glad this post resonated with you. I love what you said about, “We expect singing to make us happy.” I was just listening to a podcast with Esther Perel as the featured guest. She was talking about how marriage has changed over the years and mentioned that now we expect our partners to fulfill ALL of our desires. It’s so unsustainable. Expecting singing to make us happy just like that is also unsustainable! Just like what you said, “Singing is just what I do.” I choose to think of singing as part of my identity but not my whole identity. There are so many other aspects that make up the round, complex character I choose to be.
I always say, “no matter how far away you move, you always take yourself with you.” If you aren’t happy with who you are, no amount of mileage between now and then will change that. We can only do the work we are meant to do – emotionally and vocationally.
Thanks again for reading and commenting!! It made my day.