An Open Letter to My Graduating Seniors, Vol. 3

This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com.

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For the last couple years, I’ve publicly shared my final letter to my graduating seniors. This year, I’m losing four of my lieblings: Alex, Angelo, Kyle and Sean. Rilke I’m not, but I hope you find something meaningful in the below words.

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My Dear Seniors,

Our time together is coming to an end – at least in an academic setting. I know each of you is excited to get out into the world and lasso the moon (“It’s A Wonderful Life” reference intended, Mary). But before I make trite comparisons to you spreading your wings like a butterfly (which, incidentally, is how the student orator chose to start her speech at my college graduation. Blurg.), might I give you some friendly words of advice? I’ll be done by the time you’ve put on your cap and gown.

Never Stop Learning.

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”

This is probably the last thing you want to hear right now, but your education has just begun. Marymount has focused your talents through training in many ways, but as we say to high school students auditioning for us: college is only four years (usually). Learning is forever.

There may be some courses you weren’t able to take because of required gen-eds like Advanced Geometry and Ark Building 101. Now you get to choose what YOU want to do. Hopefully college has helped solidify your interests in such a way that you have a short list of things you’re chomping at the bit to try.

As you know, about a month ago I took my first class in 15 years. I wrote about it here. I’m sad it took me so long to do because it was such a wonderful growth experience for me. I more clearly saw what was going well and where I was trying to hide in my work. I don’t think there’s anything more challenging than getting up and putting yourself out there in front of a class. You well know, being fresh off that boat. Take it from an old-timer: stay on the boat! You will continue to grow as a result.

Study with different kinds of teachers and see who challenges you. And remember that taking class is just as much about networking as it is about learning. And now that you’re your own highway billboard, that’s important.

Payment Comes in Many Forms.

“I don’t want to earn my living. I want to live”

This is something I’ve talked about before, but it’s very important. Especially when you’re starting out, there will be times when you’ll be asked to do something for free, or for very little pay. Sadly, many people think they can get actors for free (often times because they do).

Yes, you have bills to pay and should be compensated for your good work, but before you say no to an opportunity, take a good look at it and consider ways you might be paid beyond dollars and cents: a great contact with a musical director you respect, an experience you couldn’t get anywhere else, a writer you think you can get behind, etc… You know I’m fond of saying “Take the long view of a phrase” when you sing. Similarly, take the long view of an opportunity when it presents itself.

Sometimes you won’t know if sharing your gifts will be worth it. Sometimes it won’t be. But if you bring integrity to everything you do, you will have already succeeded. Follow your intuition – when we’re grounded in who we are, it almost never leads us astray.

Know Thyself. Be Thyself.

“‘Know Thyself’ was written over the portal of the antique world. 
Over the portal of the new world, ‘Be Thyself’ shall be written.”

If you were to ask me what my goals were when I finished grad school, I would not have said to teach and run an online business. I thought I was going to be some hybrid of an opera and musical theatre performer and write on the side.

Like many others, my life has taken some wonderful, unexpected turns, which have imperceptibly led to where I am today.

In his stirring book, “Let Your Life Speak,” Parker Palmer talks about finding his authentic vocation. After wrestling with a debilitating depression – stemming from being disconnected from his passion – he spent several years in quiet reflection in a Quaker community. During this time, he reconnected with his true self and began to get a clearer picture of who the universe was calling him to be.

I’m not suggesting you need to go to an ashram to find yourself. But hey, then again, why not? Or meditate for a couple minutes every day. Your passions will change with you, so you must stay open to that still small voice inside that asks you to pay attention.

Do you know Mark Fischer, owner of Mark Fischer Fitness? I’ve had the pleasure of talking to him on a couple occasions. He’s an amazing guy who is so clearly in his purpose and is wildly successful because of it. How about Sheri Sanders and Rock the Audition? Same thing: ridiculously talented, she let her passion find her…. the rest is herstory!

And just one more thought…

Surround Yourself with Good People.

“A good friend will always stab you in the front.”

If I were to make a blanket statement about myself, I’d say my 20’s were about having tons of awesome friends while my 30’s have been about finding out which of my friends are truly awesome. This will sound incredibly cynical, but I believe there are three kinds of friends, which have corresponding responsibilities in our lives:

  • Casual Friend (Facebook friend, Twitter follower): someone you met in passing and with whom you might exchange witty repartee on a social media venue nearest you.
  • Friend (Facebook friend, Twitter follower; has your cell phone number or maybe your e-mail address): someone you hang out with socially – a great theatre companion, sidekick or accomplice.
  • Inner Circle (they don’t care about social media but they “like” and follow you anyway; they know your apartment number by heart): someone who knows when and when not to reach you, calls you on your shit and acts as an angel more than once in your life.

There’s plenty of room in our lives for these different kinds of friends, but I have found having a clear sense of who’s who in your life is very important, especially as you become more clear about who you are and what you want. You don’t go to a mechanic to groom your dog. Don’t go to a casual friend during a life crisis.

Remember: who you choose to surround yourself with says a lot about your own self worth. In my 20’s, I selected an inner circle with some people who believed in me just about as much as I did. And that’s not flattering anyone! After a lot of inner work and some personal weeding, I now have a core group of people I can really rely upon. And that makes me a very rich person, as far as I’m concerned.

OK, that’s it!

Now, here’s what I know: each of you is supremely talented and worthy of success. I expect to hear you’re up to great things (hopefully first-hand – do stay in touch). I leave you with one final quote from our wise poet, which I offer to you as a challenge:

“To most of us the real life is the life we do not lead.”

Lead your real life. Start today. Right now. You can do it. And I’ll be on the sidelines, wide-eyed with tears in my eyes, cheering you on!

With much love,
David 
 

All quotes were fashioned by the brilliant mind of Oscar Wilde.

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