It started when I was 19 years old. I was a college student, studying medieval literature, but I had a secret habit. Late at night, I would sneak into the basement of my dormitory to sing opera.
Singing gave me energy. Whenever I had to pull an all-nighter to study for a test or write a paper, I would go and practice first. If I sang for just one hour, I would have enough energy to stay up all night.
If I went for too many days without singing, I would get restless. Singing had become a physical need! I was literally hungry for music. And when I did sing, I felt a sensation of wild joy. It was a feeling that I couldn’t ignore.
So I ran off to Europe to become an opera singer. I left school and flew to Austria, where I sang my heart out on the stage of the Mozarteum in Salzburg. I was immediately accepted into a seven-year degree program in opera. That was the beginning of my adventure.
When I followed my bliss all the way to Salzburg, I had a very clear sense of mission. I dared to entertain the idea that God had a specific purpose for me, one that I had never anticipated. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was supposed to do with my life. My prayer life blossomed, and so did my music.
But it was many years later, while at iCadenza bootcamp, that I finally crafted my mission statement. And it radically changed the way that I approach my career. For the first time, I realized that my mission could be applied to the business of singing. By connecting me to my deepest values, my mission statement now helps me choose auditions, negotiate contracts, and promote myself in a more powerful way.
Having a mission statement gives you the freedom to make bold choices. You can walk away from a lucrative contract because it does not match your values. You can start a crazy project because it is a natural extension of your mission. You can get rejected over and over again without losing an ounce of confidence. If you know your purpose in life, you can make decisions without worrying about what other people think.
Opera is a highly competitive career track. We compete for roles, but we also compete for money and prestige and critical acclaim. In this environment, it is so easy to get distracted by other people’s expectations. Somewhere along the line, we stop fulfilling our mission, and we start chasing other prizes. We forget why we started singing in the first place. And even if we do achieve success, it doesn’t always feel the way we thought it would feel.
If you have symptoms of “opera burn-out,” try writing a mission statement. Be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Examine your deepest values and your true priorities. Ask yourself what would bring you the most satisfaction, both in your career and in your life. And then write a mission statement that will inspire you to keep singing, even on a bad day.
My mission is to communicate the white-hot joy that I feel in my own body whenever I sing. I want to share that joy with my audience, even if I’m not singing a “happy” song. When I am singing an opera, I can always find layers of joy in the music, even if my character is bitter or heartbroken. Soulful music connects us to our deepest joy, which is why we crave music even in moments of grief.
Of course, my mission spills over into my everyday life. Even if I’m not singing, I still want to bring joy to the people around me. And when I say “joy,” I’m not just talking about happiness, or pleasure, or good manners. Real joy is much deeper and sweeter than that. It’s what I felt in the practice room when I was 19 years old, and it’s what I hope to give to my audiences. I just want to keep making a joyful noise.