Goal Setting: Get SMART

26th December 2016

Y’all, it’s time to get SMART about goals.

Most of the musicians I’ve gotten to know so far in my life have been big, bold, bright thinkers. They have no problem coming up with grand ideas. They dream big. I’d like to think I’m among that group (jury’s out, though).

Being a big, bold dreamer is a great thing! But when it comes to the nitty-gritty of achieving things, they can get overwhelmed with their larger-than-life, abstract ideas and get stuck when it comes to the actual doing of the thing.

The day I was introduced to SMART goal-setting, though? That changed my life.

Set goals you can actually achieve with the SMART method.

In my last goal post (tee-hee), we talked about choosing a single word to define our year. That single word helps us see the Big Picture–our “why” of our to-do list.

Stay with me, y’all, but in this post, I’m about to tell you to.. zoom in.

It’s time to turn that Big Picture into goals that aren’t just nice, fuzzy, grandiose things.

Our Big Picture becomes actionable when we set SMART goals.

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable/Achievable
R – Relevant
T – Time-Bound

Let’s break this down a little.

1. Specific

I’m a creative, which means I can spurt out purple prose and vague nothings with the best of them. I love the abstract and the inexplicable, but those things are liabilities rather than assets when it comes to setting goals that are actually achievable.

For instance, consider the following:

“I want to improve my technique.”
“I want to be happier.”
“I want to grow my savings.”

These are all wonderful things, but unfortunately, they’re not very specific.

Take the second goal on our list, “I want to be happier.”

Well, sure. Everyone wants to be happier. But.. how? What does that mean? What does being happy look like for you?

Getting specific about that particular answer may help you write your question.

2. Measurable

For those of us in creative professions, finding a way to measure goals and progress can be difficult.

We can’t measure success by our audition-to-gig-ratio (every soprano would likely want to die).

How can you measure your goal without relying on a gatekeeper?

What are other ways of measuring success?

Let’s take a look at the “improve my technique” goal. When I’m working on my vocal exercises, day after day, it can be difficult to measure progress or success. You can’t measure an improvement of technique by how many compliments you get or how many auditions you land. Those measures of success rely on other people.

What we want is a measure of achievement that is reliant upon only you.

Take a look at your goals and ask—how will I measure this?

For our technique goal, maybe you say “I will sing my Marchesi exercises for 5 minutes every day for 20 days straight.”

That’s something you can measure.

3. Attainable

We all want to hear “shoot for the moon!”, but the truth is that some goals just aren’t realistic for us at present.

I’ll do myself the supreme honor of throwing myself under the bus.

For instance, it is not realistic for me to assume that I will be singing leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera by the end of next week or even 2017 (unless someone from the Met is reading this, in which case—hey y’all, call me?). It’s just not.

This is a goal that is certainly achievable or attainable in my lifetime. It is not achievable today.

We set ourselves up for failure by expecting too much of ourselves in too short of an amount of time.

Be gentle with yourself and your progress.

4. Relevant

This is like, the crunchy-granola woo-woo letter of the SMART acronym. When setting your goal, ask yourself: “is this relevant to me?”

Take a look at what achieving your goal would mean. If your goal is to land that high-powered internship or Young Artist Program, it may mean uprooting your life. Is that cool with you? Is that who you want to be?

What’s your objective behind your goals? What’s your “why”? (Think back to your Big Picture!)

5. Time-Bound

Creative professions and solo entrepreneurship can suck because at the end of the day, the boss is you.

You don’t have someone telling you to go practice because you have to sing a jury at the end of the semester. You don’t improve your languages because you don’t have a French or a German test. There’s no deadline.

Your goals are dead without deadlines.

Do you know how many times I’ve said I wanted to do something? Do you know how many times I’ve written that something down without a date of completion? Do you know how many times that goal has actually been achieved?

Spoiler alert: very few times.

Give yourself a deadline for your goals. Instill a sense of urgency and importance in yourself. These things are important! You want them! And they’re going to take some work. They’re going to take time. They’re going to take planning and resources. If you want a realistic chance of getting the thing done… buck it up and set a deadline.

An example? Take my “improve technique” goal. Maybe I decide that I want to go through the entire Vaccai book. How long will that take? Sit down and think about it realistically, then write down a date.


Get SMART about your goals, you big, bold dreamer. How can you take your resolutions for this coming year and make them SMART?

This Holiday Season, Hug a Musician

24th December 2016

It’s Christmas Eve. At 8:30pm tonight, I’ll be singing downtown in a beautiful Christmas Eve service. There will be Christmas trees, there will be lights, there will be “O Come All Ye Faithful.” There will even be a party afterwards, complete with champagne.

But I won’t be home. I’m here in Kansas.

I’m a singer, and that’s part of my job.

My mom is in Arkansas. The rest of my (small but mighty) family is in Illinois. This is the second year I haven’t been home for Christmas, which seems like it’s Not a Big Deal, but.. it is.

Don’t misunderstand me. Being a singer is awesome. I love it more than anything in this world. I get to enrich people’s lives with music, enhance their worship experience.

Travel is pretty cool, too.

Being a forever tourist has its perks–for one thing, I can always claim “I’m not from here!” when people try to shoot me nasty looks while driving. I love seeing new places but not being tied down to them. I can stay in a place just long enough to get tired of it–then I’m off somewhere else.

Still, there’s something special about being in the place you call home, especially during this time of year.

For those of us who have devoted our lives to music and won’t be home for Christmas, this can be a tough time. It isn’t really sad, it’s just strange. And we make it work. We seek community and love from those around us. We build small families at our church jobs, our Messiah gigs, our concerts.

But friends?

If you happen to meet a musician today or tomorrow–ask if you can hug them. They very well may need it more than you know.

It may just feel a little more like home.

Goal Setting: Choose One Word

23rd December 2016

There’s a billion things you want to do and a billion obstacles in your way.

How can you cut through the clutter and clarify what’s important for the new year?

So far, we’ve started our goal-setting journey and we have taken a look back by asking five essential questions. We’ve seen a little bit of what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and we hopefully have a bit of an idea where we (maybe, kinda, sorta) want to go from this point forward.

We know where we are.

And boy, it seems a little messy, doesn’t it?

It’s easy to look at our list of completed goals and unfinished business and see an incoherent jumble. There’s no rhyme or reason, no grouping, no theme.

Cut through the clutter of goal-setting and choose one word to define your year.

Today’s challenge is to choose one word to define your next year.

I am in no way the first person to think of this concept. Many creatives, writers, and visionaries incorporate this idea into their planning and goal-setting.

To name just a few: Ali Edwards has One Little Word®, Susannah Conway has Find Your Word, Gretchen Rubin has a mini-sode of her podcast Happier, and even my dear friend/mentor Jackie Wolven is helping others find their word.

Cool. It’s trendy. What’s the point, though?

Anyone with a to-do list will tell you it’s incredibly satisfying to cross things off of it. It’s rewarding–so much so that we sometimes write tasks we’ve already completed at the top of that to-do list just so we can cross them off (guilty as charged).

But goal setting isn’t about making a to-do list. It isn’t about checking things off.

It’s about the bigger picture.

The weird paradox of goal setting is that in order to achieve the bigger picture, we’ve got to get specific with our goals.

Our lives aren’t lists. They can’t be. Our lives are big picture things.

By choosing a word to define our year, we keep our eyes on our own big picture.

Go back to that jumble of things you wanted to do last year and the awesome things you managed to get done.

What jumps out at you?

What did you want but not get? What did you have that you didn’t expect?

All of these questions can help you find your word.

Maybe your word is “faith,” because you want to explore your spirituality.
Maybe it’s “authentic,” because you haven’t really felt like yourself in a long time.
Maybe it’s “home,” because you’re finally building that dream house you’ve always wanted.

Your word doesn’t have to be an SAT vocabulary word.
It doesn’t have to be anything but meaningful to you.

Your word is short and sweet, so when life gets complicated, you can remain clear on what your purpose is. The Big Picture.

Your word should summarize your Big Picture. What do you want this next year to look like? What do you want to be doing?

More business opportunities or auditions?
More time spent with family?
Less time hustling, more time savoring?
Building relationships with those you love?
Living less out of fear and more out of faith?

Go on, pick your word. Once you’ve got it, share it with me in the comments.

Don’t miss an important thing from me. Sign up for my newsletter and get me straight to your inbox, southern-fried.

Goal Setting: Answer 5 Essential Questions

22nd December 2016

You know you want next year to be different.

If I had to guess, you’d probably say you want it to be better.

You’re staring at Different and Better, as if they were exotic, distant locales for your next vacation. You know you want to go there. But how?

To know how to get somewhere, you first have to know your starting point.

Reminiscing over this dumpster fire of a year (shout out to you, 2016) may not be the most pleasurable task, but remember: we’re here to grow, and growing pains aren’t just a thing that you gave up past puberty.

Want to make sure this year is your best yet? Begin by answering these five essential questions to begin the goal-setting process.

1. What did I want to do?

Time to pull out your list of resolutions that may or may not have fallen under your bed. What’s on that list?

Maybe you wanted to:

  • learn new arias for your package
  • pay down a credit card
  • finally open your private voice studio
  • start a blog or website
  • take a vacation to Disneyland
  • lose 20 pounds
  • go to NYC for an audition season
  • read 25 books

Knowing what you wanted to do this year leads us to the next question…

2. What did I accomplish? What went well?

Alright, slugger. What did you get done?

Don’t be discouraged if some of those things are partially completed.

Maybe you didn’t lose 20 pounds, but you did stop eating fast food four times a week.
Maybe you didn’t read 25 books, but you did read four.
Maybe you didn’t learn those arias for your audition package, but you made a list of repertoire.

Give yourself a pat on the back for your small victories this year, and then buckle in and take the next step.

3. What didn’t happen?

We just took a look at what we achieved this year. Progress is progress, no matter how small!

But. We didn’t get some things done.

  • Making a list of repertoire is not the same as learning the music on the list.
  • Curating a Pinterest board of content ideas is a great start, but it’s not starting a blog.
  • Ordering the book of Marchesi vocalises on Amazon is awesome, but it’s not practicing them.
  • Thinking about going to NYC for audition season is A+, but it’s not making a plan to make it happen.

You can acknowledge that you made progress and acknowledge you didn’t achieve the desired outcome.

Saying “okay, I didn’t complete X” doesn’t diminish or negate the work you did toward your goal.

It is, however, doing the most important thing of this work: being honest.

Which leads us to..

4. Why didn’t I do the things I wanted?

Usually, at least part of the answer is obvious.

“I didn’t go to Disneyland because I couldn’t afford it.”
“I didn’t read 20 books because I was too busy.”
“I didn’t start my professional website because I’m not good with computers.”
“I didn’t learn new arias for my audition package because I don’t know what I should be singing right now.”

These are all truths.

You probably couldn’t afford that vacation to Disneyland.
You didn’t have enough time to read.
You don’t know how to work WordPress or Squarespace or Wix or Weebly.
You never asked your voice teacher and other members of your team about the appropriateness of the arias you wanted to learn.

Pause the movie, y’all. I can almost hear the self-loathing from here.

Remove the judgment from your observations. Let’s not ascribe any existential meaning to them.

I think sometimes we get so caught up in the “why” of our procrastination that we attempt to undo some massive, abstract concept that isn’t easily remedied.

What I’m trying to say is that for most of us (or at least me, and this is my blog, after all), the reasons “why” we haven’t done something aren’t going to disappear overnight. They may never disappear at all.

We may never be wealthy enough to have the resources to do all the things we want to do.
We may never have enough time to read.
We may never be comfortable asking our teachers for recommendations or help networking.

The good news is that we can circumvent the “why,” even if we can’t get rid of it.

5. Where are you now? What matters today?

We’ve taken a look back at our goals/resolutions. We identified the things that we did achieve, even if we didn’t complete the overarching goal. We observed what we didn’t finish. We asked ourselves why.

“I am so busy I can’t find time to read.”
“I am afraid of asking for help on my aria package.”
“I am a person who doesn’t have the financial resources to treat myself to the things I deserve.”

Now that we know the obstacles that are in front of us, we can start brainstorming ways to circumvent them.

Next up in the series: how one word can make the difference in setting goals. Don’t miss it! Sign up for my e-mail newsletter here: Southern Fried Soprano newsletter.

(This is part of a series on Goal Setting for the New Year. If you missed the first post, learn why I started this series in the first place.)

This Ain’t Your Average Goal Setting Post

21st December 2016

Tempus fugit, y’all. Time flies. We are at the end of another year.

Say it with me:

“Next year will be different.”

This past year was rough for a lot of my friends and neighbors. It was rough for a lot of the world. There is a lot that is uncertain. I feel uneasy about the state of things. Maybe you do, too. Many things are out of our hands.

But then again, many things are in our hands.

If you’re anything like me, you look back at the past year and compare all the things you managed to accomplish with the litany of things that you set out to do in January.

“I was going to go through all of the Marchesi exercises.”
“I was going to revamp my aria package.”
“I was going to research and learn repertoire for that competition.”
“I was going to improve my [insert language here].”
“I was going to improve my network—I was going to make connections.”

So—why didn’t you? Why didn’t I?

The answer is: lots of reasons. Reasons that matter, and, for our intents and purposes, don’t matter a whit for what’s to come in this next season of growth.

There are a lot of people on this here magical Internet who would like you to believe that you will achieve any goal you set.

I don’t do the lying thing, so I’m about to say something that may raise a few eyebrows.

We don’t achieve things just because of our effort.

Man, does that suck. I’m mad about it. You should be, too.

If you try, and you try hard, and you do a good job, you should Get the Thing™. That makes like, sense, or something.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works.

Effort + Heart + Good Work ≠ Achievement

I can’t promise you that you that you’ll get into that young artist program, win that competition, or even sing five arias well at the end of this next month, season, year, whatever.

Those sorts of things involve a LOT of variables. I also suck at math, so don’t ask me for more equations with fewer variables.

What I can promise you is that you definitely won’t come close–not even a little bit–to achieving any of the things you want if you don’t start down the long, sometimes-arduous path of Doing the Work. 

So what?

Over the next few days, my dear Invisible Internet Audience, I am going to share with you a few of the ways that I reflect on my progress, set goals, and begin doing the work to achieve those goals. 

I am a work in progress. You are, too. I’m not going to pretend to have it figured out and I don’t expect you to have it figured out after reading this series.

What I do expect, though, is that you’ll come away with it with a little bit of a clearer vision on how to get just a little bit closer to making this next year a little bit different. 

I keep saying “a little bit” because that’s the key. We’re making things a little bit different.

If you want to join me, and not miss a single post, sign up for my new email newsletter here.

Let’s do this.

Southern Fried Soprano - A Note Before Voice Juries

A Note Before Voice Juries

11th December 2016

Southern Fried Soprano - A Note Before Voice Juries

Dear Me,

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.”

What are you so afraid of, anyway?

Singing a wrong note? Missing an entrance? Being out of tune?

So what if you do? So what if you are?
What happens then?

Does someone die?

Does the composer rise from the grave and materialize before you, cursing your name, your voice, your career?

Have you ruined art?

No.

“You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

You love singing. More than anything in this world.

Do you remember when you were little–before you knew what all those words in a foreign language and dots on the staff meant?

Do you remember how you used to go in the backyard, all alone, and you would sing about the leaves and the birds and the dirt and the bugs and the rocks and the pavement and the sun and the sky and the moon and the fence and the light and the water and the dog…

Do you remember that you didn’t care whether or not it sounded good?

Do you remember what you thought if someone heard?

Your first thought was to stop, giggle to yourself, and then carry on as if the possibility of being overheard wasn’t embarrassing but exciting?

Do you remember when you got a bit older, you used you to sit in your room, door shut tight, crouched over your choir music, studying and singing for hours on end?

It wasn’t easy to learn the part. But you weren’t concerned.

Do you remember that it wasn’t a matter of if you were ever good… you would practice until you got there.

“Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”

Then you went to school, and you learned what all those black dots on the staff meant. You learned the meaning of those strange words on the page.

And it was great to know things. It was good.

Somewhere along the way, you became convinced that making a mistake meant something bigger than just.. making a mistake. You thought, all of a sudden, that your mistake was a statement on you. On your dedication, your preparation, your talent, your gift.

You forgot to just sing.

“Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.”

Are you really all that different from the little girl singing to herself in the backyard?

Two decades older, two academic degrees later.. a lot of knowledge and a lot of songs sung.

What has changed?

Nothing.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

This is my prayer for you tomorrow, when you walk into the room and sing your voice jury: that you remember that you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t even have to be good.

You don’t have to be anything at all, but the little girl in the backyard who loved to sing.

No, loves to sing.

She still does. And always will.

Now–go sing.

(poetry is Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”)
Gifts for Singers

Gifts for Singers

8th December 2016

It’s hard to buy a gift for an opera singer.

You want to give something that says “hey, I just knew you’d love and could use this” … or at least “please, dear God, don’t throw this in the trash.”

But what do you give a singer, anyway?

A scarf?
A dump truck load of Mucinex?
Cough drops arranged in some sort of ungodly edible arrangement?
A… CD (do people buy CDs anymore)?

Have no fear, dear reader. I’m here for you. The answer is…

A large bag of money!

… I’m realistic, though, and realize that you may not have access to a large bag of money. You still may want to give that special singer in your life something, though, so…

If you’re playing Santa Claus to a singer this year, these singer-centric gifts are sure to please.

(Oh, and before you ask–I’m not getting paid to plug any of these things! I just think they’re cool.)

Southern Fried Soprano - Gifts for Singers

Continue reading

Baby, It’s Cold Inside (My House)

5th December 2016

southern-fried-soprano-baby-cold-outside

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

While I’m sure that chestnuts are roasting on an open fire somewhere, here in Wichita, Kansas, yours truly has Jack Frost nipping at her nose in her ground-level apartment. It’s chilly in here, y’all. And before you ask, the thermostat is set at 70, so.. it’s not like I’m trying to save (frozen) pennies. I just get cold easily, apparently.

I seem to be doing better than last year, though! Progress! I swore that this year, the year of our Lord 2016, I would not be wearing two sets of pajama pants, two sets of socks, a shirt, and a hoodie (zipped up, duh) to bed… to sleep under my four (count ’em, FOUR) blankets.

I told you I get cold.

I did myself a huge favor and moved my bed from under the window in my bedroom. My highly scientific observation (re: singer paranoia and anecdotal evidence) is that this keeps me from Drafty Winds™. It seems to be working well so far–while I’m still wearing a light sweater and slipper socks to bed, I haven’t felt the need to Suit Up™ to do what normal humans do for 6-7 hours a night. I also got a rearranged room out of the bargain, which has just got to be good for my psyche or something.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, Y’ALL.

Y’all know I love seasonal things, so I’m trying to slow down and savor this holiday season as much as I possibly can. I felt super cheated out of fall this year (singer scheduling can be a beast, man), despite consuming practically every pumpkin-related thing in my immediate (and not-so-immediate) vicinity.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in the mess of parties, gift exchanges, concerts, and last-minute get-togethers. Get on Pinterest (here’s my Christmas Pinterest board) and lose yourself in the recipes, the gift ideas.. It’s easy to forget just how much we need to stop and pay attention to what’s going on around us.

Things are pretty bleak in the world right now–and they have been for awhile, honestly. It feels like the ugliness of humanity has just been bubbling under the surface for quite some time, and it has taken some recent current events to make a lot of us acutely aware of it.

It’s almost like this season–this holiday season–is coming at just the right time. We need a little goodness and cheer right now. I don’t think the world needs another Dirty Santa gift exchange, but it sure could use a few friends or coworkers coming together and laughing and sharing. It could use a few more book and toy drives, people taking time to donate food for holiday dinners.. it could use a lot of those things year-round, really. It’s a shame that it takes us until November or so to start acting like we care about our fellow human beings.

My friends laugh at me because I decorate my voice studio office door for the holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, various December holidays…). I laugh, too. I buy things from the discount store and hang them up on the walls. I wear silly hats.

But I don’t know.. maybe there’s something more to it, for me. I tell my students all the time that you’ve got to have something silly in your life.. something silly, something that no one can take away from you. Something you can turn to when things are tiring or frustrating.

Me? During this time of year, when I smell cinnamon and apples and fresh pine needles, when I drink hot cider, when I can admire lights on houses.. when people seem to care just a little bit more about each other, when I find the perfect little gift for a friend or family member..

It never really seems cold in my house at all.

Southern Fried Soprano: It's November

It’s November, Y’all

1st November 2016

Southern Fried Soprano: It's November

Can I be honest with y’all? I know I can, because you’re my Invisible Internet Audience™, which means I can always talk to you.

It’s November. Yes. Which means it’s been.. a hot second since my last post. (For those of you playing at home, my most recent update was in May.) I didn’t write a single word over the summer.

Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t think about writing. I definitely thought about it. There were times over the summer when all I wanted to do was scream from the top of my lungs about the things I was experiencing and feeling–things that I haven’t felt or experienced for a long while, and things I don’t really wish for anyone to feel or experience any time soon.

What I should have done was take out my personal diary and write those things down. Process those things fully but privately–in a way that still made me feel like I was telling someone but not, you know, telling someone (like my Invisible Internet Audience™).

But I didn’t do that either, honestly. I did, however, talk to some really cherished friends and family members (y’all know who you are, shout out to you), who put up with me despite my endless talking in circles (I kind of feel like I’m doing that right now?).

Instead of processing my feelings like a mature human being, I took a lot of bubble baths and watched more than my fair share of bad court television. I told you I was good at wallowing.

Anyway.

This is all to say that the past few months have been difficult, but ultimately good. Hard, but necessary. Refining, in a way.

The last few months have tested me; they have asked questions that I am not sure I can answer now (or maybe ever!). … which reminds me!

I first learned about Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet during my summer at Arkansas Governor’s School. Rilke’s advice is not just for artists; it rings true for anyone who’s a member of the great mass of humanity. I walked into my Area II class (thanks, Bryan Cwik [now Ph.D! man, tempus fugit] with this quote on the chalkboard:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I learned a lot of things from Bryan Cwik’s Area II class, but this is probably the thing that has changed my life the most. I picked up a copy of Rilke’s letters and devoured it. I return to his words again and again when I need inspiration, comfort, or guidance. Excerpts are posted on the door to my voice studio so my students can read them.

This seems to be one of those times when I needed to read Rilke’s words again.

I am, perhaps gradually, without noticing it, living along these distant days since my last post into the answers that the questions of this summer asked of me.

In short, it’s good to be back. I’m glad you’re still here, Invisible Internet Audience™.

 

4 Unexpected Things My First Year of Grad School Taught Me

16th May 2016

4 Things Grad School Taught Me

If this post is published, it means I have finished my first year of my graduate degree in opera performance!

Where does the time go? (Although–since I’m taking things 10 minutes at a time, I’m all-too-aware of just how fast it can go!)

I could write a retrospective post on all the musical or academic things I’ve learned since I arrived in Wichita and began classes, but… I think I’d like to share a few unexpected things I’ve learned.

If you already know these things, congratulations to you! I am but a Helpless Grub™.

Without further ado, I present to you:

4 Things My First Year of Grad School Taught Me

Continue reading