When to give up on your dreams


For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a singer. As a child I discovered I could sing, which was something of a revelation for a quiet, shy child who always struggled to find the courage to raise her voice in school. In my early teens I wanted to be in musical theatre, and then somewhere around university I discovered that my voice was far more suited to opera.


Singing opera is a time intensive craft that requires years of technical training, of building the required muscles and training them to work in the way that you want. Years of working out what your voice type should be – a difficult task when, as a woman, your voice undergoes so much change throughout your twenties.


I dedicated huge chunks of my life to performing in various operas, trekking across London for weekly rehearsals, and consider myself lucky to have been able to perform leading roles in productions that I’m really proud of. I loved the sensation of my voice filling the theatre, sailing over the orchestra – it’s like pouring out the depths of your soul. It was how I defined myself – when people asked what I did, I would always answer ‘I work in admin, but I’m a singer’.


But somewhere around my late twenties I realised that there was a fundamental issue that was preventing me from progressing a career in opera. I couldn’t audition. I could turn up and sing, sure, but the standard of singing that I could produce in an audition was not in any way a representation of the standard that I was capable of in performance. The pressure and the judgement of the audition panel had such an impact on me, and then there was the constant rejection. I think there is a statistic that as a singer, you probably need to do 20 auditions to win one role. As a ratio, that’s an awful lot of rejection to undergo. Although I did win roles, these tended to not come through auditions – they would be from a director seeing me in performance, or through being cast in a smaller role and then a cast change meant that I would then win the bigger role, having impressed in rehearsals.


I realised that my lack of confidence in auditioning would be a major career blocker, but also that as a person, I was not cut out for the rejection involved. I have a fragile ego and after losing two roles in a row that I’d really wanted I decided to give singing a break for a while. And on top of that there was the unpredictability of working in the arts – I’m not a risk taker, I like to know where and when my next paycheque is coming from.


I made the decision to take a step back around a year ago now, and I’ve been pondering on this a lot lately. Although I sing occasionally, I’ve not done any performing for a long time.


My sense of self used to be so wrapped up in singing, but I’ve found that there are other things that I get the same sense of enjoyment from now. Getting my hands dirty in the garden; creating a beautiful home; cuddles with my little boy.


And yet… and yet…


There is still that part of me that feels amazing when I sing. That yearns to express myself in that way. I went for a lesson this week which was intended to be my final lesson – a goodbye to my teacher who I’ve been seeing for 10 years. In fact, I had a blog post all prepared and written up on this. But despite not having sung properly in a long time, it came as easily as ever – there was no noticeable drop in technique, and I still had the fantastic feeling that always comes with hearing my voice fill the room. And my teacher said some very wise and perceptive words to me that made me realise that chasing your dream doesn’t have to consume you 100%, that it’s perfectly possible to put your dream on hold for a period of time, to focus on other things, other dreams, that are rightly more of a priority at that moment in time. And for me, that feels right at this time in my life. Things are changing for me at the moment – family life is taking over, and with that, I’m feeling in a good place with my self confidence and feeling settled and comfortable with where I am and who I am. And that all makes me feel that it may be possible to return to singing in a few years time with a more positive attitude.


  • Fionnuala Zinnecker
    March 16, 2016

    What a wonderful talent to have. I am always amazed when I go to the opera at the singing voices of the performers, the range they possess and how a voice can be the difference between a good performance and an outstanding performance.
    Don’t give up on your dream! Take confidence in the words of your teacher.

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