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Lessons Learned

By Stephania Romaniuk

Someone called me a diva this past summer. It was really the last thing I expected to come out of this person’s mouth, and it felt like a slap in the face. Let me explain: other than the occasional sarcastic quip, a singer is reluctant to don the title “diva”—no badge of honor, this title refers to someone whose ego is out of place, regardless of their talent. Putting that disturbing thought aside, I had a few minutes to compose myself before going onstage to sing a festival performance. Actually, “composing myself” turned into a few deep breaths, convincing myself that this had just been a misunderstanding, and resolving to bury the sting for the moment—revisiting it only after the performance. As it so happens, the next time (literally, 15 minutes later) I ran into this person, I was greeted with “Oh, nice outfit. I really like your shoes, but you should buy a guitar stand. Nyuk nyuk.” Sigh. Go figure.

This is the second of two important lessons I learned this summer: people will say things you would never expect they would, and unfortunately, these comments may come at the most inconvenient moments. Of course, this isn’t really new information, but sometimes we have to learn lessons a few times before they sink in.

The first lesson I learned has to do with not confusing what you do with who you are. More specifically, building your craft as a singer, violinist, engineer, English professor—this career-related knowledge—is distinct from your worth as an individual. My experience comes from music; I am deeply familiar with working toward goals of self-improvement in tone, diction, musicality, style, breath function, and dramatic intent, but you could substitute these criteria for any that are applicable to your own goals, whatever the field. Increasing knowledge in any arena comes from ‘putting yourself out there.’ Learning what relates to your career path or personal interests (and the beautiful experiences that are outside of, but inform, them) is a valuable, inspiring goal. And yet, disappointment comes when our achievements fall short of what we expect of ourselves. A hidden danger appears when, at this point, we interpret our unmet goals as failure as a person. This place of self-criticism feels ‘stuck,’ regressive, and inwardly hurtful, and has a tendency to perpetuate its own constricting cycle.

So, what to do?

Forge ahead, anyway! Starting this fall, I’ll be taking up studies on the topic of “Color and its Influence on Social Media” as part of the U of R’s Take 5 Program, a tuition-free program of studies unrelated to your major. The courses I’m taking mark quite a departure from those of the past four years, and I will assuredly encounter mistakes, self-doubts, anxiety, and what the Germans call angst (although late-night study sessions for Music History and Aural Skills may already prove to be solid training in this department). The measure of my ‘success’ this time around may be shifted slightly, however. If instances arise where I tempt fate by demanding perfection and consciously switch that thought process to one of acknowledging human error and advancing anyway, therein will I have accomplished something worthwhile, regardless of the outcome.

More to follow, and thanks for reading!

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