Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sometimes a chronic problem is really the solution to a worse problem.

You can battle a chronic problem forever, or you can sit down and figure out why it's hanging around and start from there.

On the first morning of one of my Big Cheap Weekend Workshops last year (not in New York, like the one coming up Nov 19 - and it wasn't called a Big Cheap Weekend either but it was the same thing exactly) we had a perfect illustration of that principle. A woman I'll call Hilary stood up and told us how her inability to lose weight was the obstacle to her dearest, most treasured dream. She told us that she had a good voice, that her teachers had all agreed and she knew there was nothing she loved as much as singing; that she did it at home, in private, as often as she could. Nothing made her happier. But taking lessons can only go so far, and Hilary had dodged every chance she'd gotten to actually perform on stage, in front of a live audience. She explained that she couldn't get on the stage unless she looked better, and her attempts to diet had the usual results.

'If I get up on a stage looking like this all I'll be able to think about is how awful I look, and how people must be laughing at me, and I won't be able to sing a note.'

Now there are a lot of reasons people aren't slim, and there might be a lot of reasons they shouldn't be slim. Who knows what's health and what's fashion when advice changes every few years. But the point is she felt she couldn't sing if she didn't lose weight, and she couldn't lose weight. And I didn't want to send her home with the same 'blame the victim' advice she'd clearly gotten from friends and teachers and diet coaches, which was: 'Well, if you want it enough, you'll lose the weight.'

First of all, I don't think that's necessarily true at all. Sometimes when you want something too much, you stop yourself from getting it. Second, I don't like that kind of advice. People too often blame the victim when they feel unable to help her. She said she couldn't seem to lose weight, and I believed her. Instead, here's what I told her.

'Sing fat. Don't lose weight. Give that up. You want to sing, so you have to sing. Book a date wherever someone will let you sing, wear black, look gorgeous above the neck and below the hemline, and get up there and sing your heart out.

'If the weight is protecting you from some danger involved in singing -- maybe going back to your childhood -- and you sing, the weight might give up and just go away and you'll lose it without working at it. And if it doesn't go away, who cares? You're singing!'

What happened then only happens in a workshop. Someone raised his hand and said he had a piano club in a nearby suburb and she was welcome to come sing that night. There were always very good amateur pianists who could accompany her. You could feel the excitement start building in the room.

'I don't have the clothes or the makeup...' she stammered.

Just like every Idea Party in every workshop, when people heard the sincerity of her wish, and the clarity of that particular obstacle, they stepped forward. One woman who lived nearby had a 'shiny' black dress she knew would fit Hilary. A makeup artist stepped forward but didn't have her materials. A glamorous woman standing next to her handed her a bag packed with makeup. One woman held up a spectacular pair of green, glittered shoes and shouted 'What's your shoe size?'

Everyone else wanted the address so they could hear her sing that night after the workshop ended. Rides were set up. She was to sing in 3 hours. (I think if she'd had more time it would have actually been harder -- or she'd have fainted.)

It worked. I couldn't be there but the reports were glowing. She got up on stage, lost her voice for about 5 seconds, ran her hands down her sides and the slippery black dress (which fit perfectly) and started to sing. Her first song was very nice and everyone applauded. Her second, and every one after that, was spectacular. People in the audience were crying.

She wrote us all a few months later in our email group. She said she sings regularly now, and she has lost some weight, but she'll never be as slim as she thought she had to be. And it doesn't make a bit of difference. People love her singing. And she loves to sing.

Try it yourself with any chronic problem. Any sentences that go like this: "If I could only do x, I'd be able to do what I really want to do. But I keep trying and can never do x." This method doesn't always work as well as it did with Hilary, but something good always comes of it. If she'd been on her own and booked a performance date and gotten ready for it, she could have raised her danger level so high that it would reveal itself and she'd have discovered what she was really dealing with.

I once had a client who continually sabotaged her singing career in a different way. She sang professionally, everyone loved working with her and called her in for jobs, but she always stayed just under the radar, never broke through the way she wanted to. Her chronic problem: smoking.

'It's totally crazy that I smoke. I stop when there are no gigs on the horizon, but I start again when I get hired for something!' We discovered it was because her mother, a wonderful singer, stopped singing after a family tragedy that occurred when the client was only 9. Every time the client got close to singing with everything she had inside her, she got terrified and we found she was afraid of feeling the grief of that child she was so long ago. She always dodged the grief by smoking, which hadn't yet hurt her voice, but was her way of not giving her whole self to her performing. But that was when she didn't understand what it was. When she realized it was grief, she let the 9-year old inside her have a real cry. And when the tears stopped, the fear was gone. So was the need to smoke. Her singing career took off big time.

(Her mother started singing again too! But that's another story.)


  1. Enjoyed this post and spending a little pamper-time on a Sunday afternoon with you, Barbara. I still have my first copy of Wishcraft (from the early 80's, I think). The pages are falling out but that's just because it got a workout! (Found the link for this post in my Facebook news feed, in case you are wondering.)

    I am working to move beyond my own excuse for "not enough time" to juggle another creative ball. As for singing, I get paid NOT TO! Works every time. :)

  2. Another two great stories. I know a few people who say that what they're doing is practising. That allows them to fail or not do as well as if they were doing it for real.

    You really see through those excuses. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Your stories always bring me to tears & remind me it IS possible! Thank you.

  4. Thanks Barbara. Great story! It;s so crazy to me that I am actually posting something on your blog! I've been reading your books for years and it neat to have one of my fav authors be so close. Thanks again!

  5. I truly appreciate this post now as I have recognised over the last year that I have been discouraging myself and sabotaging my efforts at making my hobby into a business. I made plans and schedules and everything and when the first obstacle came along, I dropped everything.