Explaining success is very difficult – even dictionaries give multiple definitions. They will tell you that it’s acquiring money or respect, or the achievement of a specific result. They even rely on the cop out of defining “successful” as “someone who achieves success”. And that’s no wonder. Success is something that is personal, subjective, and is never one size fits all. One person might measure success in terms of always doing their best and doing everything within their power to achieve an aim, even if they don’t always get there. Another might gauge their own success through what they have – the house, the car, the diary full of prestigious and well-paid bookings. It’s difficult to answer who is more successful; the relatively anonymous chorister on a permanent contract who has a family, a mortgage, and gets to go home every night, or the international artist who is singing in big houses all over the world, but misses their loved ones, and has gaps in their diary which affect their financial stability. If they’re both happy, then they’re both successful, however their relative career paths might be perceived by their colleagues.
Whilst success might mean different things to different people, success is undoubtedly what you make it. Contentment and fulfilment can constitute a sense of achievement and ‘having arrived’ in themselves; it’s a personal journey. Breaking down some of the elements of what makes someone successful might help to answer the question.
If you feel you’re sailing towards burnout by trying to keep all your career plates spinning, then look at reframing your own personal definition of what success is. Strayer University is currently petitioning Merriam-Webster to change their dictionary definition from the classic “rich and famous” spiel to “happiness derived from good relationships and achieving personal goals”. Not only is that healthier for you, it’s healthier in terms of your work and personal relationships too. There’s a difference between need and want – very few of our career goals, however hard we work for them, ever fall under the banner of need.
You probably have some kind of career plan, even if it’s just vague ideas in your head of singing a medium to major role in an A house by a certain date. However, before doing that, pat yourself on the back for what you’ve already achieved (and those things might not just be singing or music-related). For example, they might be as mundane as being able to pay your bills (nearly) every month or getting to work on time every day. They’re a useful start in being able to organise yourself enough to take on that A house without feeling like an impostor, so don’t disregard them. If you feel positively about it, it’s an achievement.
It can also be helpful to identify a common theme to what you’re achieving, as that can give you clues about how you define your successes. For example, they might be personal, professional, or financial security achievements, and those might give you a clue as to what kind of singing career will bring you most fulfilment.
Look next at your list of professional successes; which ones meant the most? And why? That major debut you’ve already made might have brought great notices and opened doors elsewhere, but if it didn’t give you the thrill you thought it might, then it’s important to identify why that is. It’s a sad fact that not all successes make us happy.
Success usually implies goals and milestones. These can take months or even many years to come to fruition, but shorter-term goals are essential for immediate focus and indeed self-care. It’s a simple reframing of success, but those smaller goals can help you to feel more immediately successful and realise that ‘success’ isn’t some finite pot where there isn’t enough to go around. They’re also a significant step in terms of work-life balance – progress is achievement in itself and doesn’t represent an overnight end goal.
By Voice Alone was uniquely placed to be a catalyst for change. By throwing out conventions of CVs and face to face auditions, the voice could be placed front and centre. The participant’s pedigree, previous experience and background were irrelevant. It was their platform to succeed, and wasn’t influenced by previous achievements.
It’s time to reframe success for the industry as well as ourselves. Someone else’s achievements shouldn’t be used as a stick to beat yourself with, but as inspiration to achieve more yourself. Applauding and supporting someone else’s success is certainly less stifling than swallowing the bitter pill of envy. After all, no one else can live your life for you – your successes are yours and yours alone, and no one else can judge them as accurately as you can for yourself. Perhaps the final takeaway is that you can’t hang onto what you don’t pass on to others; help others to be successful, and the shift in your perception will significantly improve your own life and career.