Jealousy (in Singers). It Happens.

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Yes, yes, I know, I’m late. I’m late. I committed to do these podcasts every two weeks but the usually difficult month of December turned out to be more challenging than usual so I needed to concentrate on my own self-care.  And now I’m springing with the spring and feeling clear, lighter and encouraged by all the covid restrictions being lifted in Vancouver. And as if to reward us for bearing the dark winter, the cherry blossoms are serving us their bountiful glory. I’m surrounded in beauty, mild weather (for Canada), a stunning view of the North shore mountains, and a peaceful neighbourhood…so much to be grateful for - and well, I can imagine that could make colder provinces hmmm…a little jealous….a little envious. 

Well. Jealousy happens. Whether we are the perpetrators or the receivers, the emotions of jealousy and envy have a deep impact on our voices and our expression. And this is what we’re going to explore in this podcast, Jealousy Happens. 

First, let’s make the distinction between jealousy & envy - they are not that dissimilar. Merriam-Webster’s website explains that “Envy means discontented longing for someone else's advantages. Jealousy means unpleasant suspicion, or apprehension of rivalship... Envy is most often used to refer to a covetous feeling toward another person's attributes, possessions, or stature in life. Many people use the word jealous to mean the same thing….. ” The article goes on to say “There are indeed some semantic distinctions that may be made between these words, but it should also be noted that many educated people use them interchangeably.” 

Clear as mud?  Yeah. Mud Indeed. Let me tell you a dirty story about one of my most potent experiences with jealousy.  And just for some background on the story, let me set the scene a bit. 

Long story short - When I was 11 years old, I was miserable living in my grandmother’s foster home so when my mother married and had a house on the next street, I asked to move in with her and her new husband.  Much to my surprise, I got what I wanted and I was adopted soon into my new family where my youngest brother already lived since he was a baby. 

It was an awkward adjustment on many levels but I didn’t know anything different. I felt pretty lucky to have my own room instead of sharing a chaotic house with 15 people. 

As I matured a bit my mother would take me out visiting, and introduce me to new friends with the words “we’re more like friends, not mother & daughter.”  Well, you can derive whatever you like from that. I began to have a vague idea that I was a threat to her somehow… but I couldn’t fathom WHY so I took it as a comment on my “quote” maturity “unquote”. 

One Sunday afternoon some people came over from the local bar for a kitchen table party and the centre of this was a local singer named Tom who also played guitar. Tom was a really good singer and I remember him  noticing me, hearing me sing along, encouraging me, so I did. I could tell he liked my voice, like they did at school. He was smiling at me as I sang along with others and he wanted me to try a song by myself, so I did. As I was singing, I turned to look at my mother. 

And the look in her eyes was something I’ll never forget. It felt like pure hatred. Her eyes were so narrow — it was as if she was trying to laser-beam obliteration into my soul with her stare. 

I was too young to understand what was happening and well, it completely broke my heart. I was too young to know that this wasn’t about me and like all children in these situations, I internalized it.  Even though I eventually worked through my fear of seeing this face, whenever I see this face in others, it still hurts so very deeply. It’s only in recent years that I realize this as one of the many events that conditioned me to diminish my using my voice. 

This moment produced such a deep shame in my singing in front of certain family members who I do not feel safe with.  It was so confusing for me at the time. It’s difficult to defend yourself when you’ve never had the foundation of encouragement or anyone telling you that you’ve done something good in your entire life. Young minds become conditioned to criticism and will do anything to avoid being a disappointment to those who are supposed to love them the most. And, to admit that someone is jealous or envious of you, makes you look like some kind of narcissistic ego-monster. So with these choices, what do you do? 

You believe their judgement is the right one. You believe your voice has the power to hurt others. And their needs are more important because you are young, you have no job, you have to go to school, you cannot pay rent, and you need food, you need survival. If your family doesn’t like your voice, or withholds praise or positive feedback, you can come to believe they are the benchmark for your talent. Even though you may have flashes of confidence from the admiration of strangers or friends. 

If you’ve ever seen the movie Rocket Man, just note that even though millions and millions of people loved Elton John, only the rejection of one man - his father - could break his heart for not accepting him as he was and send him spiralling into addiction. 

The truth was that my mother was too emotionally damaged and immature to handle seeing her daughter in the spotlight. And it took me decades to understand this and that I wasn’t a bad person for hurting my mother. It took me decades to realize the responsibility, at that young age, was not mine at all. 

I coped by living a double life where the outside world saw me differently to how those at home did. Thankfully, I had an awareness that my outside world experience was the reality and that my home was - again - something to endure.  What I didn’t know was how deep this wound had set.  I just learned to hide my talent from my parents and to sing whenever they left the house. There was no way I could hurt my mother like that again. There was no way I could ever show these people who I really was. 

So, this is an extreme version on how damaging envy can be and how this emotion can twist the minds of others. And when emotions are twisted, we have to work to understand the reality. And the reality is this. 

We often do not know WHY another person has what they have. We don’t know the criteria out of their control. We don’t know their privilege and we don’t know their disadvantages.  Criteria such as lung capacity, body shape, genes, motivation, inspirations, sufferings, hard work. By focussing on what others have, we are already comparing to ourselves to be less than the other person by putting them first, as if we are comparing bad exhibit A to good exhibit A, when in reality, you’re comparing a Pumpkin to an Apple and judging on the apple’s merits. These are two different seeds, planted in two different fields and so, it stands the reason that the fruit will be different.  By comparing ourselves to others, we are diminishing what we have AND forgetting what we have whenever we are thinking that another person’s light makes our light smaller or even non-existent. 

Two things can be true and good at the same time. This is called reconciliation. And it takes work to build this reality into your body and mind’s understanding. 

Now, to experience someone jealous of you?  That can trigger a super cringe-fest for me but I’m getting better. I’m getting better.  Because I began to understand that  jealousy and envy is a betrayal of the covenant we are supposed have with our family and friends - that they are supposed to be on your side and want good things for you. 

And as we grow up, we start to understand that what is supposed to be, isn’t always what is to be. Yet the soul needs what it needs. 

We all want love. We all want acceptance. 

We all have different gifts to offer and different gifts presents different outcomes. There are different audiences for the different gifts that we have. We will never know the sacrifices and personal challenges that other singers go through. All we see is the result. All we see is PERFORMANCE. 

This is important for singers to know because, as artists, we are driven to refine our gifts in the hopes that they are broadly accepted by mastery of our skill. 

Despite narrowed eyes of hate, despite the pleasure of the one guitar man who liked my voice, despite the apathy of others there; I still had to find my way to finish that song as this was all going through my mind. I had to learn focus on the moment and stay with the light, the light of the one person there who wanted me to sing. 

As an aside, I highly recommend the movie: Little Voice starring the amazing Jane Horricks. Jane’s character was in a world that didn’t see her value but she tuned into the memory of her father loving her music was the guiding light for all of the magic that came out of her. 

So, now we know how damaging our envy can be to others, let’s talk about how the envy we feel. 

I’m no angel and yes, I also experience flashes of envy that truly shock me in weaker moments.  I have that convenient amnesia that we all have, where we forget who we truly are and our ego is triggered by a threat - that someone will take away our brilliance with their own brilliance. We always forget that the ego is a liar, a deceiver, and justifier for all we dislike in ourselves. 

We have to be vigilant in facing our own darkness and remember that child that was shut down by another. That the innocence that was in us also exists in others. 

Every flash of envy can be an opportunity - yes, it’s an opportunity to find out what exactly what we desire. We need to look at those we envy in the face, listen closely to them, find out what we covet.  We need to learn two things; One: What do we want from them? And two: how can I attain what I want? If you want to explore this further, I encourage you to check out my course, Sing with Soul in Seven Weeks, we really go deep into these concepts. 

We can always shape the vocal qualities we want into our own bodies. We can distill the essence of what our mentors teach us and apply this to our own unique gifts. 

As an example, you may envy how Christina Aguilera riffs but let’s analyze that.  Is this something that you really want and does this suit your personal style? Is it the acrobatic hundred notes per phrase? Is it the control? Is it the power? Is it the fame that this talent offers her? 

It’s really important to break this down, write it out. Explore the raw feelings without editing. 

Anyone who could ever be envious of me has absolutely no idea how I suffered to be able to use my voice in this way. They have no idea how difficult it is for me to get through a day sometimes because of childhood PTSD. All they see and hear is the result of a lot of hard work. It’s so hard because it sends me down a well worn path of memory  but eventually, when I come to my right mind, I remember they really do not know any better. And most importantly, I remember that my human experience is one most likely shared by other humans. 

As a singer, you can choose to see the truth - that those you envy are not your enemies, they are a gift. We can lift ourselves out of the shadow of envy and use the glaring, uncomfortable light to expose what we really desire. And if we’re smart, we’ll commit to exploring these teachable moments.  To really examine our desires and admit that we have deeply embedded roots to tend to, to prune, to weed out.  To commit to the work we need to do to make our dreams come true. 

You can sing with soul when you embrace all of who you are and especially embrace the gifts that other singers can offer you.  You don’t need to protect your ego or pretend that you’ll never get jealous of others -  you can observe it and reflect because now you know this function has a purpose. 

You CAN hold two truths at the same time.  You CAN sing & teach.... and you CAN open your heart to listen & learn.

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