What makes someone seem special? What makes them come out of the numbers? As I selected a few students from my NY Studio to give the full extent of my experience, I had to decide who was truly ready for it. Who was ready for hard criticism and would take it positively, as intended? Who could withstand my constant: “that is not enough! You can do better!” or my “there are no excuses! Do it or don’t do it!” Who thrives when confronted by a great fellow competitor and who gets scared? Who rejoices in a colleagues success and is inspired by it and who thinks “maybe I am not good enough!”
I have a dear dramatic soprano friend, who often has fears. Before an audition she is visibly nervous. But when she walks into the audition room, it is as if the winner had just arrived and everyone looking on knows it. I asked her why that is. “First of all”, said I, “why do you get scared before an audition when you seem otherwise so confident?”
“I am always afraid I am not good enough,” said she, “But God forbid anyone should ever know that and got forbid I should ever truly give in to that fear. In the moment I enter that room, I am committed to the thought that I am the only choice for them. If they do not realize it, they don’t have their head screwed on right.”
“Are you tricking yourself into believing a lie that you are that good?” I asked.
“No!” She replied categorically. “I am that good, otherwise I would not get hired as often as I am. The trick is not to believe the lie that I am not good enough! I am good enough because my singing is my business and I work on it every day, whether it is keeping up with my contacts by sending a friendly email, or that I go to my coach and we rehash some Wagnerian phrase that I did not like last time, or that I ask a knowledgeable friend like you whether my middle range has improved since last you heard it!”
“How do you deal with criticism? What if someone tells you you are not talented enough for your goals?”
“Many have over the years! You’ve heard it too, haven’t you?” She shot back at me. “Who do you believe? Those who help you to see your potential or those who are too blind by their own biases to see what is possible?”
“So in the end it is a choice!” I affirmed.
She smiled and said coyly: “You know it is a choice. Are you just looking for someone to agree with you?”
I smiled back and said: “No! I don’t need your agreement. But it is good when someone you respect sees it the way you do.”
“My friend,” she continued, “you, more than most, understand what this is about! When someone asks me what is the It Factor, I tell them what you told me when we first met a long time ago: It is a vision that you are here to accomplish something special in your chosen field. And so, the negatives that some people bring to the discussion are not helpful. So you simply decide to let them roll off of you like water off of a duck’s back. Only give worth to what furthers your vision!”
“So you don’t accept criticism,” I wagered just to play the Devil’s Advocate.
“You know that is not what I am saying!” She countered. “If someone said to me, as you have for example: ‘Darling, your middle range needs work. It is noticeably weaker han your magnificent top and rich low!’ I will consider that statement because it is balanced, informative and I consider the source. You want me to improve! As you know, I have continuously worked since you told me this on the middle and it is better. My agent noticed it and some of my colleagues have commented on it. But if some self-absorbed coach, conductor, director, agent, colleague or whatever says to me: ‘your talent is just limited!’ I will simply ignore it because it is a blanket statement that undermines everything I have done to get here. How does that help? Admittedly, we can find valuable information even in the most negative statement, but sometimes we are not ready to deal with such assaults and so temporarily, I might decide to ignore a statement or shelf it somewhere until I am more equipped to deal with it. Nevertheless, whatever I occupy my time with must be to further my vision of how I want this to work out!”
“What if your vision never works out?” I asked dryly.
“You’re just being provocative, Jean-Ronald! It is not a question you ever personally consider. Let me ask you then! Why do you never give worth to that question?”
“First of all I find that to consider that possibility is paralyzing. It does nothing to help my cause. I can only concentrate on what I can do right now to further my goals. What happens may fall short of my goals, fall far beyond them or end up resulting in something completely different. In the end, the journey toward a possible end game is the prize!”
She looked at me for a few seconds, somewhat amused: “Would you say then that the it factor is an absolute concentration on the ‘positive’ of the now?”
“I have more than once used that very definition!” I replied.
“What does it mean concretely?” She asked knowing my answer.
“It means that people are attracted to someone who seems positive in the moment! To be truly convinced that your future is in your own hands is a powerful statement and it fills you with an intense energy that others see as inspiring and enlightening. All of my heroes have this energy! You have it!”
“Then we are heroes to each other!”