Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others

It is often said that opera singers are selfish, self-obsessed, greedy little divas. While diva used to be (and still is) a term symbolizing top performance ability in the operatic world, the negative connotation and stereotype associated with the word adds a bitter taste to attaining the billing of la prima donna. While I have known my fair share of singers who live up to the stigma of “diva-dom,” I know 20 times as many singers who are kind, caring, generous, giving, and, most importantly, humble. Humility and generosity are the true signs of a diva. Ours is a giving art form. We perform live: giving and sharing with our audience. This is what makes opera, or any live performance for that matter, stand out against the multitudes of recorded media. We performers connect directly with the audience. We have to be completely open and vulnerable in every note we utter, sharing our complete life history in one meaningful glance.  To do this, however, the diva must not only be comfortable in her own skin, but also be comfortable with her own life history. For how can you give your life to others when you haven’t even given it to yourself yet? It is like the oft-uttered flight attendant direction: secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. No matter how selfless your intentions, you are no good to your fellow passengers if you pass out. The same applies to our own lives. How can we expect to help others if we don’t first help ourselves? If we are depressed, frazzled, exhausted, and at wit’s end, how well will we be able to cheer up a friend or assist a person in need? As a performer, I’ve seen the direct effects of too much stress, tension, sleep-deprivation, and sorrow. No matter how much you attempt to rally and give to your audience, your energy will have a tough time getting passed the apron of the stage. Even this small exertion will leave you more drained than when you first began. You cannot give more than you have; however, the more you have, the more you can give. You must first figure out what you need to find your bliss, feed your soul, and even just pay your bills. Only then can you assist others. Some may call this selfish, but I call it self-preservation. Any good diva would know the difference.

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