The Art of Saying "No"

The Art of Saying "No"
It's a two blog entry day!!!

Sunday EVENING musings...

Perhaps it would surprise some of you (or perhaps not) that I grew up being a "pleaser". It was a very interesting balance, as on one hand, I was hard-wired a seeker, a child who really wanted to know "why", clamoring for more knowledge and understanding; I wanted to know, and I wanted to know why; I was (and am) stubborn and strong-willed. AND I am a pleaser, and I STILL want to know why. Wow - my poor family!!!!! You never know what will fly and when do you???

So, how do we as artists, and artists and performers trying to make a living in this business, learn to make ourselves available, accessible and still be able to say "no", when it's necessary?

When work is often scarce, and we are often fearful of where that next paycheque will come from, we often feel obligated to take EVERYTHING that comes our way. When we are just beginning to build a resume, need experience and contacts, we often feel we can't say no to a project no matter what it is.

Often, when we are asked to do something in an audition that we know would be vocally damaging are we damaging our reputation if we say no? What about saying "no" to a director or conductor?

So many questions...and no real black and white answers.

Saying "no" is often the most difficult thing we have to learn as artists and performers. However, when we learn how to say "no" and why we say it, it will empower us immensely.

Part of the difficulty of being able to say "no" is that innate sense of wanting to please, wanting to be accepted, wanting to be liked. Let's face it, we live in a profession that is rejection-filled. When someone finally says "yes", why would we say "no"?

Sometimes saying "no" is ridiculous, and sometimes it will save your life!!! Learning what the "no" actually means will clear up the misconceptions you have about it.

The art of saying "no" isn't black and white either - quite literally!!! Come on now! You call yourself an artist which means there is a performer's spirit in you, which means you are an actor. Now is your opportunity to explore the facets of "no" and make it expressive, liquid, angled and couched so it is not a negative but rather a pondering!!! You can learn to please the process - not the person you are responding to!!

When do we say "no"? Of course, that's up to you. But again, there are always consequences to our decisions, and "no" does not immediately mean "negative", just as "yes" doesn't mean "positive"!!

You must weigh each enquiry/request, each role, each gig, each demand from the uniqueness of itself, and within the context of YOUR career. Ultimately, the role, the gig, the request, the demand, has no real affect on the one asking - but it will have long lasting affect on YOU!

SO - if you are a pleaser - please yourself FIRST. Please yourself to make sense to what is being asked of you - as a human being, as an artist!

Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself before saying yes or no:

1. Does it enhance my reputation or does it detract from it?
2. Does it add an important credit? How am I affected by that credit? Why is it important?
3. Does it put me at risk artistically? emotionally? physically? technically? vocally?
4. Can I actually DO what I am being asked to do, or do I just WANT to be able to do it?
5. Is this showing what I do as an artist, how I see myself, or does it dismiss me to make someone else feel comfortable?

These are just a few questions to consider...there are many MANY others given individual situations.

Sometimes the answer is neutral, and it really comes down to whether or not you want to be bothered!!! If it's something you WANT and you CAN, then DO it!! Or not...it is YOUR choice!

When we are first building a resume, saying "no" doesn't make sense! I have often heard singers/actors say they are turning down work because it doesn't pay. Well, if you haven't DONE anything yet, you aren't really in the position to call those shots yet!!

Do those of us who have a resume still do non-paying gigs? Again, the answer is grey. Sometimes. I might consider doing something for a good cause, and if it was perhaps something I would love to do - a piece of music/a role - that was new and I hadn't had a chance to chew into it yet; and if it wasn't going to take time away from my making a living.

When a conductor asks for a different sound or choice, or a director asks us to do something that may put us at risk technically, vocally or physically, or in any other way do we just do it? Here is where the art of saying "no" has to use all of your acting power!! The art of saying no in this situation may begin with asking "why" in a creative way and being able to offer another solution that doesn't put you at risk and still allows for the director's/conductor's input. Learn how to do this! Make it their idea!!! Figure it out and save your butt! You have learned how to say "no" and given a solution to a question that shouldn't have been asked of you.

Some of us say yes to everything - every gig big or small, every audition, every everything!! And what happens? We burn out; we are exhausted and cannot keep up and cannot deliver what we signed on to do. We become desperate; we look desperate; and we begin to be looked at as "the singer who can't say no". Our integrity begins to shred. Not good.

Our profession is so often feast or famine and when it is feasting we tend to overindulge knowing a lean time could come soon!! The problem with that is we can't store up! Saying yes constantly will wear us down and our work will not be at the level we want it. We have stopped saying "yes" to ourselves, and ironically our bodies and spirits have said "no"!

Saying "no" is not about giving attitude. It is not about lack of knowledge. It is not about rudeness. The art of saying "no" is about self-preservation, recognition of where we are - in our careers and in our abilities and talents and craft, and about how the decision will affect us ultimately in the pursuit of career and craft.

What would be the positive outcome of saying yes to a role you were unable to sing, and then ultimately wrecked your voice or pushed it so badly out of shape that you would have to do major rehabilitation to repair the damage? Why would saying "no" be a bad thing?

As we truly come to the truth and terms of WHO we are and WHERE we are on our journey in our career and WHAT we have to work with in talent, temperament and technical development, then "no" becomes clearer and the "yes" is brighter!

If you are truly a soubrette - why try to sing dramatic soprano literature? YOU HAVE TO KNOW YOUR INSTRUMENT!

If you are 22 years old and offered King Lear - saying "no" is obvious and clear. It is the right decision, not just the correct one!

Learning how to say "no" does not make people like you less!! Saying "no" requires a deep sense of self; a sense of what self needs; a sense of what self can do; Saying "no" requires guts and knowledge, intuition, reality and courage. Saying "no" requires self-respect, and demands respect from others.

You require nothing more from yourself than KNOWING. You are ONE. And there are only 24 hours in the day. And your craft is nurtured BY YOU AND YOU ALONE. No one else will do it ultimately.

Know where you are and act and decide accordingly. "No" is about preserving YOU and developing you and saving you. The art of saying "no" could save you for the possibility of saying "YES"!!!!


Susan Eichhorn Young covers all things voice—strong and sophisticated singing and speaking. 

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