“What does a person’s life mean to the person?” asks William Todd Schultz in the Handbook of Psychobiography. He points to the growing number of social scientists who are adding research to the field on how individuals in modern society construct internalized narratives of the self to give their lives meaning and purpose. Schultz writes,
Integrative life stories tell how a person reconstructs the past and anticipates the future as a narrative identity complete with self-defining scenes, characters, plots, and themes. Like traits and adaptations, the internalized and evolving stories that modern people work on are integral aspects of their personality. To know a person well is to know his or her traits, adaptations, and stories, all set in a particular social, cultural, and historical context.
Along with dispositional traits, goals, and values, the stories that we tell about ourselves, our life stories, are important parts of our personality. They are drivers of our thoughts, behaviors, habits, and actions. The topic of imagos, the idealized mental image of someone — or the highly personalized and culturally shaped personifications of selfhood, is common fodder among psychobiographers and they have come to recognize that people’s life stories often contain more than one imago. It is as though, in modern society, the self is partitioned into multiple protagonists. This multiple imago issue leads us to feel the need to be many things and one thing at the same time. This can lead to internalized personal conflict. However, we are the ones who can change our life stories. We get to decide which protagonists in our life stories get the most attention and care.
Your 29 Days to Diva Day 4 objective is to refine your own personal diva narrative.
Determining Your Narrative
It is not my goal to be a relentless pollyanna with my mentees and coaching clients. However, our work takes an immediate focus on negative self-narratives because they can be so sneaky and destructive. What’s worse is that most of my clients are unaware of the narrative they’re constructing for themselves and performing for their professional colleagues and collaborators. My friend and musical adventurer, Misha Penton, put it particularly well when I asked her advice,
Watch your inner and outer narrative (what you say to yourself and what you say out loud) Do not use self-depreciating or self-effacing language. Do not make jokes about your work or skillsets. Check this language in your thought patterns. Cultivate your inner narrative awareness and honor your work.
Oftentimes this misaligned narrative is a tricky outgrowth of wrestling with the difference between what J. L. Tracy and R. W. Robins defined as authentic pride and hubristic pride. My clients feel like they’re honoring their work and their artistic intentions by being overly self-effacing in their language. But, that type of talk is in direct opposition to actually honoring your work. Authentic pride is related more to a focus on competence and mastery and hubristic pride is the type that is driven to dominate. Hubristic pride fears and avoids actual or seeming incompetence. In fact, we are all aware of how this shows up in classical singing: the negative connotation of “diva.” As the impressive Juliet Fraser mentions in her advice, “don’t be a diva (in the sense of someone who is self-obsessed and possibly rather unprepared…) — just behave properly! Don’t take this ride for granted.” That negative diva stereotype comes from the place of hubristic pride run amok. We want to avoid that! We’re trying to life our best diva lives in the most positive sense of the word.
Watch Your Language
How do you describe your current relationship with your artistic practices and creative career? Start listening carefully to the language you use. Do you hear yourself saying, “nobody makes it in music” or “this career is killing me”? Maybe you’ve said, “Oh, I definitely won’t get in – just another PFO for the pile.” Are you letting, “nobody knows I exist” take over your consciousness too often? When you change your words, you change your thoughts. Your thoughts impact the actions you’re going to take. If nothing else, please hear me when I say that this career feels so much better when you ardently believe “Good things are happening to me too” over “I’m going to keep doing this until I can’t take the rejection anymore.” I have a friend that says, “shut that shit down, girlfriend” every single time she hears herself or the people around her engage in unaware negative narrative statements. Hearing her say that phrase in her Australian accent always makes me giggle so it has, over time, become the recurring voice in my head whenever I come into contact with destructive personal statements.
Developing a Positive Diva Narrative
In my research and my interviews with the diva mentors for this series, this point came up over and over. It turned up in slightly different guises such as “know thyself”, “believe you can”, and my personal favorite “the art of not giving a f***.” Pamela Stein Lynde shared this fantastic story with me,
When I was in California doing Ann Baltz’s OperaWorks program, we were actually discussing the making of a three year plan, and she told us that you have to believe that the opportunities you want are something you could actually have, something you deserve to have. I realized that I had gone into tons of auditions and not actually believed I could have the role or opportunity for which I was auditioning. That mindset affected everything I did, including my preparation. It’s a subconscious form of self-sabotage. So much of this career is in the mind. We all have past failures or rejections that make us feel inadequate or undeserving, but we have to come to understand that the universe has a plan, and everything that has happened to us was a part of it. It doesn’t mean we don’t deserve things in the future. Make sure your head is in the right place.
I couldn’t agree with Pam more when she wrote, “That mindset affected everything I did.” When I and my clients have done the work of unearthing the subtle stories we tell about what we’re allowed to have in life, I have been blown away by the myriad ways these sabotages present themselves. These sabotages will be your default behavior when things are tough or when you’re advancing to the next stage in your career. That’s another sneaky way that these sabotages slow us down. Our personal narratives are omnipresent in our work. It’s there when things are hard AND when they’re good.
TODAY’S THOUGHT LEADERS
This year, since I’ll have so many people to thank as we’re making our way through the series, you’ll see the names of people who have contributed their wisdom in this section.
- Misha Penton is a soprano, experimental vocal composer, director, and media artist based in Houston, Texas. Her creative endeavors include experimental vocal pieces, postopera works and new music videos. To thank her and cheer her on you can visit her website and hop onto her mailing list: mishapenton.com
- Juliet Fraser is a soprano based in London. Her research areas and work are devoted to championing contemporary vocal repertoire and trying to move beyond the idea of ‘extended vocal techniques’ to develop an approach that is rigorous, integrated, embodied and personal. To thank her and cheer her on you can read about her work at www.julietfraser.co.uk. Juliet also recently started a series in London which culminates mid-March in a weekend-long symposium exploring female creativity and the future and legacy of women in new music: https://www.eavesdropping.london/symposium/
- Pamela Stein Lynde is a soprano, composer, and Founder & Director of Stone Mason Projects based in New York, New York. Her work includes writing and performing new music with a special interest in music for the voice. To thank her and cheer her on you can check out her work in the upcoming American Opera Projects Composers & the Voice workshop. The First Glimpse program happens on May 18th and 19th and September 28th & 29th will feature 20 minute mini operas/opera scenes performed.
- Odeya Nini is an interdisciplinary vocalist and composer, vocal coach, leader of workshops, retreats, and vocal sound baths. She is a resident of Los Angeles, CA and a forever student and teacher of embodying the voice. She is also a resonator and seeker of resonance. Follow her and cheer her on over on IG – @odeyanini.
The fabulous and inspiring Odeya Nini also shared part of her confrontation with her personal narrative,
I often struggled with how long I was able to concentrate when I was practicing in my early undergrad years. I would keep asking teachers what the norm was and seeing others practice for hours on their instrument, I often felt I was lacking in concentration and energy when I only lasted 20 minutes singing scales. I was hard on myself when I scheduled time to work and then found myself laying on the floor of the practice room for an hour just staring at the ceiling, followed by a nap maybe, followed by reading a book maybe, definitely followed by writing in my journal and going out to see a show, maybe a massage. I felt like something was wrong with me and maybe I wasn’t serious enough. Little did I know that tendency to dream would become central to my life, career, teaching.
First of all, through yoga and meditation I learned the power of affirmations, and repeated mantras saying ‘I am exactly where I need to be’. This mantra never ends. I had to recognize who I was, and in that space of laying on the ground and staring, I was brewing the vast creativity I have today and imagining the seemingly unimaginable ‘what if’s.
This sentiment of “I had to recognize who I was” is a regularly occurring statement from the diva mentors in the series. Odeya discovered that the tendency to dream was a central aspect of her creative life and not some moral or personal failing. That is the difference between a positive and negative personal diva narrative. I want you to take time today and recognize and further define your own personal diva narrative.
Show Your Work
Here are some prompts to help you commit to your positive narrative.
- The best things happening in my musical life are:
- I have overcome challenges in the past by:
- Three positive words I use to describe myself as an artist:
- Three positive words I use to describe myself as a creative professional:
- The most unique skills I bring to my art-making practices are:
- My biggest musical accomplishment has been:
- I’m proud of these creative professional accomplishments:
- Three reasons I’m capable of achieving my biggest artistic goals are:
- A phrase I use to encourage myself when I’m bumping up against unfamiliar concepts and challenges is:
- My colleagues seem to like this most about working with me:
- I regularly make good first impressions by:
- The things that I like most about pursuing an artistic and creative life are:
- Three negative personal statements that I could reframe into positive statements are:
Divas, part of any version of “making it” is believing that you can and deserve to “make it.” If you don’t believe that you can have your dreams, you won’t even allow yourself to have them if they show up on a silver platter. Please take today’s post seriously and commit to changing your personal narrative to a positive one. Self-awareness around your words and your diva narrative is going to change your reality. Your words have power – use them wisely. Don’t wait to do this exercise! Try it immediately. Then, share with your Diva Buddy System! This is one exercise that I want you to share only with people you trust. Do not feel pressured to take feedback from people you don’t trust on your personal narrative. What affirmations can you develop from the self-awareness work you’ve done today? Write them in your practice journal! Put them on your bathroom mirror in dry erase marker. Reinforce your narrative to yourself until you see it reflected in the world around you. You absolutely must believe that you can be the diva you wish to see in the world.