Recently, I had the great joy of reconnecting with a former student whom I taught when she was in high school. Even then, she was auditioning for everything and anything, and was an accomplished dancer as well as singer and actor. She finished her BFA in Musical Theatre at Penn State a few years ago, then immediately moved to New York. She began performing on cruise ships, in regional theatre, summer stock, and even had a spot on Law & Order: SVU. At the ripe old age of 25, she is now on the national tour of A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder. Here she is:
You might ask: why is Dr. Kris telling me about someone I never met? Well, I'll tell you.
Sarah's work ethic has made her life possible. She is from a tiny town (and I mean tiny: 10,000 people, 6,000 of which are university students). This did not limit her. She began voice lessons in high school, she took instrumental and dance lessons beginning in elementary school, and she performed in summer productions as a kid. True, some of you did not have these opportunities growing up. Sarah came from a loving family, and both of her fabulous parents are musicians who supported her dreams from the day she began dreaming them.
These advantages gave her a head start, to be sure. But my point is, even with all of the opportunities her parents had given her, she confessed to me that she felt behind when she got to Penn State.
That's right. She felt like she had to catch up. She was up against people who had been immersed in her field of choice since forever. So what did she do?
She loaded 20 CDs of musical theatre shows onto her iPod each week, and listened to them every day while she was on the treadmill at the gym. She got the sound of as many professionals as possible into her ear, so she knew what people working in the business were doing. She created a sound model in her ears, which she could then draw from when she was preparing her own audition rep. [Just as a reality check, that's significantly more listening than I'm requiring you to do all semester, and she did it of her own free will.] She wanted this career, and was passionate about learning all she could.
She also did this while putting in gym time. She knew that her body was her instrument, and if she was going to get hired, she'd better look the part and have the physical stamina to carry it. She knew that if she only sounded great, there were people out there who not only sounded great but looked better...or who wouldn't get winded during dance rehearsal.
When she got to New York, she took every gig she could. She showed up prepared, went the extra mile when she was asked to choreograph this or that, and was nice to everyone. People remember when you are good colleague. They remember when you not only do everything you're asked to do, but also when you go above and beyond and are easy to work with on top of it.
This is all by way of saying, we all come to our work with deficits that need to be remediated. Our job is to work on them without dismissing them as unfixable. If you say you want something, prove it by your actions. Passion for what you want in your future can be the fuel to get the work done.
And last but not least, Sarah had a team of people cheering for her, encouraging her, and challenging her. These people were her teachers, her mentors, her friends, her family. Find that team in your own life, and lean on them. Ask for their help. Request that they ask more of you than you think you can give. Be hungry to learn more than you think you need to know. That's how you grow.
Sarah can be a role model for each and every one of you in some way.