In a perfect world, we would all care about each other and the earth. We would all help each other and live in peace. In a perfect world, no one would be mean or selfish, greedy or arrogant, stupid or cowardly.

Guess we don’t live in a perfect world yet.

It takes an enormous amount of energy to think of others before you think of yourself, but many people are taught to do that and spend some considerable amount of time trying to make it happen. The rest of the world, however, may never have had even an inkling of that philosophy, and is quite happy to take care of number one first last and always. In fact, they often come to rule the world, those folks.

Mohammed Ali, the boxer, used to say, “I’m the greatest. I’m the greatest.” Initially, it turned a lot of people off, as in those days, people didn’t dare say things like that about themselves, at least in public. In the end, he was voted “Athlete of the Century” by the sports editors of the world in 2000. After so  many years, he convinced people he was correct all along. Unfortunately, he is now suffering from decades of being beaten in the head, and is limited in his ability to function normally.

Maybe if Mr. Ali had known all those years ago that being the greatest was going to cost him in the end, he might have thought differently about it. Sometimes not knowing the price you will have to pay down the road is a burden in hiding. It jumps out and bites you when you think you have finally gotten to a place of safety and rest.

The people in this world who strive to be “great”, who strive to do things as excellently as they can, who seek out the pinnacle rather than accept the ordinary, often pay a high price for their success or even their attempts at it. Singers who work hard to develop excellent technique, to keep it up, to choose repertoire and gigs carefully, to maintain their physical and vocal health and pace themselves for decades might still end up with vocal health problems, simply because of all the attention their voice has  demanded and received. Teachers who work within the professional associations for free, who dedicate a portion of their time to conferences and congresses, who take positions on Boards of Directors or as officers of the associations, are trying to do things that benefit the professional at large. They do this for free, on their own free time, and often get no recognition for it at all. Why bother, we could wonder. Is it for the good of the group or just a way to spend time? Hard to say.

It can be very tiring to take care of a career or of the fruits of a career. It can be draining just to keep on keeping on. Office workers can retire. Artists just keep going and going and going until they drop. It gets even more wearying if there are outside obstacles that intefere with other aspects of your life. That there are singers who have been able to keep singing for 25, 30, 40 or even 50 years, at a high level, is utterly amazing.

That’s why it’s a good thing to rest along the way. It’s a good thing to stop once in a while and take time out to smell the flowers. It is a beneficial thing to say “no” to gigs now and then and to stop performing or practicing and just be a person. Remember that your singing and your art are supposed to fill you up and give you energy not drain it all away. If that happens, you are not taking good care of yourself or of your voice and sooner or later that will catch up with you. You don’t have to strive to be “the greatest”, or even the “greatest you”. You can rest, you can wait, you can take it easy, you can be ordinary.

Just because we don’t live in a perfect world doesn’t mean you have to let it beat you down. Don’t worry about being “the greatest”. Wonder instead what will happen if you get there and it turns out not  to be at all what it was supposed to be.

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