I don't know if you know, but I sing. A lot. All the time. I've sung for grades, for money, for love, for spite. I can't stop singing. It's embarrassing sometimes. For other people, that is. It's fun for me! The picture to the left is an example of a time I sang for school. Pictures taken of someone while they're singing, especially opera, never look that flattering. I've gotten used to it.
This past year I've been teaching voice lessons. It's my first time teaching voice full-time. Teaching singing for a living is scary af. Everyday stuff aside, it's really, really scary to breathe on people for a living during a pandemic. It's hard to make a living, to say the least. Luckily I've been living in a rural area with few cases and, with distancing, in-person lessons have been possible the entire school year. But it's tough to be self-employed knowing you could wake up one day to an increase in cases and a job that could disappear very quickly.
But, aside from the occasional bout of abject terror in the middle of the night (#worrieralert), teaching voice is the literal best.
I applied for a job recently that is a normal day job. 8-5, Monday through Friday. Wouldn't it be nice to have guaranteed monthly income? Wouldn't it be nice to have evenings and weekends free? I could do stuff at the community theatre, which I can't really do now because I work when they have rehearsals.
But after a wonderful interview, I had to call and ask to be removed from consideration. I just love teaching too much to give it up. How could I say goodbye to all my students? They are all so lovely and bring me so much joy. I have worked some crap jobs (the job I interviewed for wouldn't fall in this category, I'm just saying I have worked crap jobs), jobs in which I felt like I might go insane from frustration and boredom. Jobs that I couldn't believe I went back to, day after day, and let my soul be sucked out through my customer service smile for a wage so low that 40hrs a week wouldn't support me. In stark contrast, teaching singing is one of the best jobs I have ever had. Teaching makes me feel energized and happy. It's interesting work where I'm constantly learning and problem-solving. And sometimes I even feel like maybe I'm making a difference in my students' lives, and that is a very fulfilling feeling.
During tax time this year, I measured my entire apartment to claim part of my rent on taxes, since I work at home. And part of the process involved stating how many hours I worked per week. When you're a voice teacher, that's a tricky question to answer. Sure, there's the actual lesson time. But then there's emailing, scheduling, social media marketing, graphic creation, professional development, learning new music, practicing the piano parts, finding karaoke tracks and sheet music, keeping my own singing voice in shape, invoicing and bookkeeping, immaculately maintaining 49% of the square footage of my apartment, and more!
As I was trying to figure out how many hours I worked per week, I realized something pretty important. It's hard for me to take my own work seriously sometimes. I think "Oh, I only work like 15 or 20 hours a week, lucky me!" but there's also this feeling of "I only work part-time... isn't that kinda lazy? And I'm not even that financially stable, soooo shouldn't I get another job?" But this whole tax thing made me realize I work a heck of a lot more than that. But it doesn't feel like work, which is why it's so hard to take it seriously.
Then I realized... work that doesn't feel like work... isn't that The Dream? Have I accidentally started living The Dream??! For my job, I listen to YouTube videos and look at sheet music. That's a real, honest part of my job and if I didn't do it I would not be successful as a voice teacher. Designing graphics in Canva, finding hilarious memes to post, scheming for my studio's "brand"... it's all so... fun... so... satisfying.... When I teach, I go into a flow state, and time seems to pass very quickly. It's hard for me to finish lessons on time because I don't realize time is passing. I love helping people realize new things about themselves, about their voices. I love creating a safe space for experimentation, squawking of all kinds, and to fail and succeed and work hard. I love making people laugh and providing an enjoyable half-hour each week in which they can just relax for a second, sing, and have fun. Voices are very personal, and I like helping people get to know their voices better, love their voices more, and feel more confident in their singing.
I love that part of my job is warming up every day and poking around at new music. I love that I read books and go to workshops about singing (one great thing about the pandemic is that I can do all these online workshops that would've been totally inaccessible to me because remember when nothing was online?). I went to this one workshop about women's voices through menopause, and I learned so much and it was so interesting! Next week I'm going to a workshop about neurodiversity in the voice studio. Doesn't that sound fascinating?
That's my job. When people pay for lessons, they're not just paying for me to spend 30mins warming them up and helping them sing "Rainbow Connection". They're paying for all that knowledge and continuous learning and cleaning and for me to keep doing all those things so their lessons keep being interesting and useful.
There are some less-than-awesome parts. It's hard to trust-fall into the arms of students every month for groceries. What if they get sick? Or move away? Or get a new job? Or? Or? Or? It's hard to set boundaries with my time because I kinda gotta teach when people are free to be taught. There's no guarantee that this will be a successful venture in the future. I can work hard and do everything you're supposed to do, but that is no guarantee of success. It's hard not to have benefits or paid vacation time or a company-subsidized RRSP. Sometimes the littlest students take the most energy, sometimes I just don't connect with adult students, sometimes I worry that I'm not helping my students at all, that I'm a fraud and I don't really know how to communicate all the things I've learned about singing in an effective way.
"I worry". Please put that on my gravestone. It should be the title of my memoir.
But it's funny that, with all the what-ifs and the worrying and the imposter syndrome, when I'm offered a perfectly acceptable employment alternative all I can think is, "If I work that job, even if it's a good job, every hour there will feel like work." When I'm working as a voice teacher I can hardly tell the difference between work and just doing something I love because, surprise! turns out it's the same thing.
With teaching, I feel like I'm making a difference. With teaching, I am the boss of me (I love being the boss of me). It's scary, but I'm doing okay so far! I haven't starved yet. Some people have even said I've helped them sing better! I've been able to take two months off work to recover from surgery. I know that in a few months I can take time off to go camping with my cousins, or take a day to drive to the city for physio, and I don't have to check with anyone or worry what my boss might think about requesting time off. It's weird to live the dream because it's doesn't feel like anything. Will it be the dream forever? I suspect not. I have other dreams, too. But I'm very happy and feel so lucky that it's the dream right now.
So here's to accidentally living The Dream. It's a bit stressful sometimes, but it's also so rewarding, so interesting, and so much fun!