Fear of Success

Fear of Success? Yes, Fear of Success

I have run into this so many times.

Someone comes in claiming not to have been able to do something vocally for the entire length of their training and performance career. Often it is a baritone who suspects he is a dramatic tenor or a classical singer who has always wanted to be able to belt but has never been successful. Sometimes it is someone who can’t sing easily up high or who has never been able to have any vocal stamina. There have been many issues of various kinds over the decades. Very often, I assist these vocalists in achieving that which has been impossible in the past. What happens after that can be very interesting.

Here is an example: The man comes to me with an established career in professional theater but with excellent training as a classical singer and a good deal of experience in both. He is also teaching singing. He is a superb musician and a very good actor. He is seeking information about how to teach his students to sing in a belty sound.

Since I do not believe you can work the voice in segments and since I strongly believe that you have to make the sound correctly in order to understand how to teach it correctly, he began to work with me, allowing me to take him towards sounds he did not typically make. We met on a regular basis and things were changing and working well. His vocal category was dramatic baritone, perhaps bordering in certain circumstances on baritenor. He was physically strong and his voice was full and powerful.

One day after working off and on for quite a while, maybe about a year, he just sailed up into tenor territory and his eyes grew wide. He sang a glorious, sustained high C. He said to me, “Oh wow, I have been searching for those notes all my life!” The sound was spectacular. It would have rivaled any tenor at the Met.

Subsequently, we sang through both music theater and operatic tenor repertoire and he flew through virtually every aria as if it were butter. The big Puccini pieces were perfect in his voice and the hard, high music theater pieces, like “Gethsemane” went flying out of his throat. They were heartfelt, musical, exciting and just grand. I encouraged him to call NYCO (then in existence) and get an audition.   Really, it was singing at its best.

Then he disappeared for quite a long time.

When he returned, I was stunned. His voice was light, thin, almost frail. It was too light — the core, the excitement was completely gone. He had the high notes but he didn’t have the power that had been so easy and so compelling.

What happened? What ever happens?

If someone gives you something that has eluded you for all of your life you have to ask yourself some very hard questions. You have to ask if you can handle having what you thought you wanted and could never get. Sometimes, you can’t. It’s too much to face the situation you have constructed and say, “Now, I can chuck it all and go for what I really wanted!” You could fail. You could not want what would be part of making a success of what you had finally found. The easy way out would be to lose it again. He did.

I heard later that he no longer performed and that he blamed that on me. Well, in a way, I guess that was true. Certainly, I was a guide for him, taking his voice to a place it was quite willing to go. If that was what was to blame, I stand guilty as accused. Mind you, I did not decide to “turn him into a tenor”. On the contrary, one day the voice sounded like it could just keep going so I let it.

Be careful what you ask for. Sometimes getting the voice that you always wanted is daunting. If you told yourself you “could have been a contender” and the circumstances turn around and you suddenly get the goods to go BE a contender, and you don’t do that, who is to blame? It is easier to run away than face the fear of success. It is easier to build a life where you can say, “well, if I had had the right opportunities” than take responsibility for the fact that sometimes life fools you and gives you those opportunities and you don’t know what to do with them when they show up.

Fear of Success. Indeed.

There are always excuses. There are always factors that seem like justifications about staying stuck. Be careful what you ask for, because if you get it, you better know what to do with it. Fear of success is real. It’s as powerful as fear of failure and just as deadly.

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