Do you have the courage to Just Say No?

The “Just Say NO!” slogan was part of an anti-drug campaign targeted toward America’s youth during the late 1980s and early 90s. The advocates of the campaign hoped that it would have the effect of reducing drug use by teaching kids to say ‘No’ if they were ever asked to try or buy drugs.

I remember attending one of these rallies in school. A motivational speaker told his story about being involved with drugs, how it caused a lot of misfortune in his life, and how he was one of the ‘lucky ones’ who was able to turn his life around. The assembly ended with the Just Say No slogan being shouted by all the adolescents in attendance, and the general feeling created by the assembly and the speaker was one of positivity, strength, and courage.

Looking back on this, I find it interesting that this premise was only encouraged in aspects of life where we might be in eminent danger: drug use, strangers…for these things, we were taught to say no and even to run away. Of course, these things could be life and death decisions, so I understand why they were so popular in educational forums. But as an adult – and particularly an artist – I’ve noticed that this concept, like so many things that were taught to us and accepted in our youth, seemed to dissipate as we got older. It was a good idea – if something didn’t seem right, say no.

When it comes to artists, I have noticed a lack of courage when it comes to turning down things that might not be a good match. There often seems to be a feeling of soul-sucking that accompanies a creative career; unfortunately, I witness many highly talented artists that do not feel fulfilled by their artistic endeavors. The jobs for which they apply and the jobs they accept are taken because anything is better than nothing, even if that job does nothing to satisfy their creativity or move them ahead in their careers. The net is cast far and wide, hoping to pick up anything along the way. And so the question comes to mind: When it comes to your career, do you have the courage to say No?

I understand the ramifications of such a question. After all, one has to make a living, one might need to gain experience, and sometimes that will include taking jobs that are not ideal. There is something, however, that would be quite helpful when it comes to getting what you want out of your career and giving yourself the best chance of feeling artistically satisfied: identification.

Applying for auditions solely because you are available may seem like a good idea; the more for which you apply, the better chance you have of getting something, right? But with no process of identifying which jobs may actually be useful to you, it may not be a good idea at all. In fact, you may be setting yourself up for constant disappointment and frustration.

If this resonates with you at all, I would first recommend taking a good look at what you want and what you have to offer. When it comes to what you want, be as specific as possible. And I don’t mean by selecting specific houses you want to perform at. Sure, that can be a good thing to identify as a goal, but only in a long-term kind of way. Look at what you want now based on what you have to offer now. What kind of company? What kind of repertoire do they program? What kind of fee do they offer? Does the kind of performing you want to do happen only in a company house? Only in large scale productions? Only in intimate productions? If you haven’t identified exactly what it is that you want to be doing, you might as well be walking in to every audition with a big sign that says “I can do everything, I will take anything.” The first half of this would be highly unusual, and so that seems suspect. The second half just feels desperate. And so both halves of this are like a subconscious repellent.

You have a much better chance of landing a job that will be a satisfying experience if you have identified the organization as one which resonates with your artistic vision, you have identified why you are a good match for that organization, and you have very clearly identified what you have to offer as an artist. To know this, you will have to do some research. Talk to some people who may have performed there already, read about the mission of the organization, look at their current and previous seasons, read the artist bios of who has performed there, look at production pictures, watch videos – in other words, know what’s going on. And then there’s knowing yourself. Have an in-depth conversation with yourself about what you have to offer and what types of artistic endeavors would be rewarding. There are many ways to feel fulfilled: singing a certain repertoire, working with certain people, making a certain amount of remuneration, helping a cause – each job may have its own reason.

Without identifying these things before accepting a job or applying for an audition, you may be wasting your time and money. Repeat after me: it’s ok to say No. Learning to define yourself and to align that with potential opportunities will give you a much better chance of enjoying your career path. If you can’t find a strong reason artistically, financially, or personally to take that job or audition, back away slowly…and, perhaps, just say No.

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