5 Big Myths About Talent and Being a Performing Artist

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If you are a performing artist, there’s a good chance you’ve either been told one of the following or you’ve assumed as much, at least until you find out for yourself. But even so, society and peers (and even mentors) have a way of drawing us back into these things sometimes. Many articles about performing artist myths are meant for the non-performer (no, Phantom is not an opera…), but this is for the artists themselves. Here’s a list of 5 myths about being a performing artist:

1. She/He was discovered overnight!
You just may have not heard of them one day and you did the next. Or the media picked up said person and made a big deal. But the typical assumption for an “overnight star” is that the person decided to just start being a performing artist and then “got lucky” and became a star. No, probably not. Most “overnight sensations” practiced for years before becoming legitimized by their industry. Take Lady Gaga, for instance. She had been working for years. Gaga (or Stefani, at the time) was playing the piano at age 4. That means since 1990. She started taking voice lessons at age 11. She took acting classes as a child on the weekend – for 10 years. In her own words in an interview with New York Magazine, “I left my entire family, got the cheapest apartment I could find and ate shit until somebody would listen.” She was bullied, rejected, horrible at auditions, wrote songs for other singers, had questionable jobs, and yet through it all she continued to practice and study. You probably didn’t know anything about her (like the rest of us) until 2008, when her debut album “The Fame” showed up along with her avant garde fashion, and if you were like most you were either in awe or disgust at how a 22-year old could suddenly become so famous. Well, that 22-year old had been at it for 18 years already, so…

2. You have to spend every waking moment cultivating your talent if you’re going to “make it.”
No you don’t. That’s a great recipe for burnout. You might do well, but if you have zero life outside of your talent and in fact are nothing more than your talent, you become very uninteresting. It’s one of the reasons that people who are not balanced eventually tend to fall apart, even if they are ridiculously talented. Now please don’t misinterpret me here, you absolutely have to dedicate an amazing amount of time and effort and you have to make sacrifices. But there’s something to be said for being well-rounded, regardless of what your main talent is. God forbid you can’t do whatever that talent is anymore for some reason – if you have made it what and who you are, that’s a major problem.

3. If you’re doing any work besides performing, you didn’t “make it.”
Ok…here’s where we have a talk about what “making it” means. A naïve take on this usually has something to do with having some form of a big famous career. But what’s much, MUCH more important is deciding what making it in life means to you. Is it living life on your terms? Is it having a family and a career together? Is it sharing music with others? Is it waking up each day being proud of who you are and what you do? Or is it measured by more artificial things like status, money, or recognition? Our society gives us the impression that these latter things are important, but are they really at the top of your list of how you define your time on earth as being successful or not? There are lots of AMAZING performers who are also doing other things alongside performing. I personally had a big ego struggle with this. I thought if I wasn’t performing that people would say just that: “Oh, she couldn’t make it as a performer.” But really, my heart dream changed – I fell in love with sharing what I knew with others. And so I changed my path, and my idea of making it now is empowering others to become a higher version of themselves and to bring joy and accomplishment to others and thus to myself. To me, there is no greater gift. So before you bemoan any lack of “making it,” decide what that means to YOU, not what society tells you that should mean. Something to think about.

4. Once you’ve “made it,” there’s a lot less to worry about!
Clearly the people thinking this are not in the position of those about whom they are talking. This is basically the same as thinking life will be SO much easier once you’re out of college (for those of you who are done, remember when you thought that? Haha HAHAHA – and for those of you who are still in college and this is your thinking, I’m so sorry you had to find out this way…). No, life gets harder because with more comes, well, more. Yes, the whole getting hired thing is easier, but there is more responsibility, more complications, more people relying on you, and more expectations. Being in demand is not better or worse, it’s just different, and it comes with its own set of problems.

5. Talent is what sets people apart.
Actually, talent is what most people have in common. It’s your personality, your perseverance, your attitude, and your commitment that set you apart. It’s your willingness to invest in yourself and your resilience. It’s your ability to take direction and to take risks. The talent part is only a very small piece of the puzzle. If you’re assuming (or hoping) that talent is going to take you places, make sure you’ve considered the importance of the rest of the things above as well, because you’ll need to have those in good shape. I know many highly talented people who don’t seem to move forward, and it usually has something to do with of one of the above and nothing to do with the level of talent or potential.

When we don’t see the backstory or the other perspective, it can be easy to forget that they exist. And while there are rare occasions where someone lives an easy life or walked into their career with no struggle, those are very few and far between. And the next time you find yourself feeling envious of where someone else is at, try to remember that for the most part, nothing is as easy as it looks or seems.

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