For every person who gets to live his or her dream, there are many others who never get close. While some of us are “making a life” being artists, there are many who look with envy on what we do and wish they could join us.

Who knows why some are successful and others are not? I have known many people here in New York City over the decades who have been in every way deserving of success but just didn’t get there. Talented, educated, motivated, and willing but, for this reason or that, not successful enough to stay the course and succeed. Forced by circumstance, then, to “earn a living”, they go to work in various “job jobs” (as we call them here) to pay the rent, eat, and have a decent life. They may still play or sing or act “for fun” on weekends or vacations. Some of them go back to school to learn something entirely new. Some of them become teachers. It is true that many teachers are teachers because they gave up singing (or whatever it was) due to lack of  success at a high enough level to keep going. They often have no other skills that are marketable. Teaching seems to be a good way to use what you have learned.

It seems haughty, then, for artists who do well enough to keep going at any level of success, to gripe about “the artistic life”. If we get paid to sing, or dance or act, no matter how many challenges we face in so doing, we can say that we are doing what we want, and that is a big deal. Every day others who would like to do the same are not able to, and every day, others who have tried will have to admit failure and surrender their dreams. When you hit 35, and you have not yet had a “big role”, a “hit record”, a “major positive review”, and don’t yet have a “great agent or manager”, and you are still looking to “break into” the business, it’s time to swallow hard and look reality in the face. If you do not have a family trust fund to live on, or a retirement payout, and if you do not have a spouse who can afford to pay for you to keep going, you are less and less likely to become the next “new star”, no matter what art form you have chosen.

Yes, some people don’t care if they succeed or not. They do their work for the sake of the work and that’s enough. Sometimes they are successful in the larger world anyway, but some are never heard of by anyone at all.

We had a friend who was a retired business man. He had always wanted to be a fine artist. After his retirement, he rented a studio and went there every day for years to paint. He amassed many canvases of work and some of them were lovely. He even opened his own gallery, but his heart was never in any of it. He painted for himself. Sadly, he became ill and all of his work was discarded by his wife after he passed. Not even his friends were allowed to have any of his paintings. Perhaps he wanted it that way.

If, however, you are someone who is still knocking around trying to find your way and you have been at it for over a decade with only meager success, you need to look at that. You might need to have some objective others look at it with you. And, if you stop trying to do your art and decide to teach, make sure you go into teaching with the attitude that it is worth doing well. Don’t fail a second time.


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6 thoughts on “Loss”

  1. As usual you make excellent points. When I was in my 20s and early 30s my coach/accompanist told me she thought I would make a fine teacher. I told her I had no interest in doing that. It was too much fun performing. She said that may be ‘for now’ but in the future she thought I would make a fine teacher and that I would really enjoy doing it. Boy was she correct. So glad I found Somatic Voicework ™ the LoVetri Method along the way. It just enriches the entire teaching experience.

  2. As a college professor, I’m also in a field where many hope to land elusive tenure-track jobs, but few succeed. At the bottom of the ladder, there are thousands of low-paid adjunct lecturers, scraping together a living from semester to semester, often bouncing from city to city. The system is not fair; many intellectually dishonest people land the big jobs, many excellent scholars and teachers spend decades stuck at the bottom of the ladder.

    A friend of mine is in his 50s, having started his PhD program quite late. He turned down a position teaching high school to chase a tenure track job. He didn’t succeed, and now has a one year position, no job security, low-pay in a city far from his family and friends.

    It is unfair that hard work, intelligence, and creativity is not rewarded. It is unfair that universities are hiring fewer and fewer tenure track professors and filling their classrooms with low-paid adjunct labor. And yet, we can’t do anything to change those realities. As you argue here, it is incumbent upon those who are struggling to take a good, hard look at reality and accept that they owe it to themselves to provide a decent living for themselves, even if that means giving up the dream.

    1. NYU unionized the adjuncts a few years ago, against objections from the University. The teachers picked the UAW instead of the UFT. As far as I know, absolutely nothing changed after unionizing except now the adjuncts have to pay annual union dues. Very sad, Sarah, and I agree with you 100% about your comment.

  3. I feel so blessed as a teacher. I knew I wanted to be a teacher even before I knew what I wanted to teach. There are times when I think, “I wonder what I could have done if I had pursued performing.” Those instances are always fleeting however. The life of a performer was just not worth it to me. I am always especially reminded of my good fortune this time of year as students do recitals and final performances before they go our into the world. It is always a bittersweet time in my life. Thanks for your excellent observations, Jeanie!

    1. Your students are lucky, Lynn, to have someone who enjoys teaching — someone who is getting happiness out of helping them. Many teachers of singing are sour on the whole topic because of their own failures. It’s good, too, that you knew you weren’t cut out to be a up on stage. Much better than trying for years only to go to teaching as a “defeated performer”. Thanks for your comment.

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