Learning to say NO

Well, maybe not NO, just no — but clearly and without hesitation, and not in a panic at the last minute.

Lillian Nordica, a famous American opera singer of the Gilded Age, wrote in her “Hints to Singers” (appended posthumously to her biography, Yankee Diva, written by Ira Glackens in 1963), that a career is built more upon the “no’s” than the “yes’s”.  And I have long pondered that dictum, even if I didn’t put it into practice. For years, as I worked day and night to build my singing career, if someone asked, I said yes. 

Lillian Nordica
Lillian Nordica

But several years ago, I started to observe a new behavior pattern — I would say yes, and then, as the date came, I would panic and after the event I would realize I should have listened to the panic — I should have said no.  And then, at least in regard to auditions (not performances, that would be too flaky), I would work hard to get the audition, and then the day of or the day before, I would realize what a mistake it was, and I would cancel.

Or, I would be absolutely convinced in my deepest soul that I should do something, I would move heaven and earth to make it happen, and then…it would be a collosal disaster.

Truly, I realized that my sense of discernment was totally broken, but why?  And with that knowledge, it became almost impossible for me to decide what to do next.  I was frozen, unable to hear my voice or God’s, and so very afraid of making more errors in judgement.

It has taken a while, but I now understand that a lot of those “yes’s” were offered up by my logical mind, influenced by the voices and dreams of other, by need to please and to be accepted — that true discernment springs from the heart and the soul, not from the intellect.  It’s not that the voice of my deepest calling cannot come through another person’s voice (yes, we all know the row boat and the flood joke), but it might be a while before I can be sure of that one. 

And so I struggle on, working to clear the channels and see the way to my next right step.  And, while I still make mistakes, I have a few victories, too.  I recently auditioned for a local theatre company doing a Gilbert & Sullivan production, and got called back for the final audition, only to panic and withdraw.  But, if I hadn’t withdrawn, I would have been unable to accept the offer to sing a piece of Haydn with a local choral group that came just this week, a much better and more welcome offer. 

So hear I sit, facing big decisions about what offers to accept or decline over the next few months, and I’ll admit that I don’t have a clue.  But, this time, I will sit here until I do have a clue, and without that, the answer will be NO.

How’s that, Lillian?

1 thought on “Learning to say NO

  1. Wow, that’s a really big step. The logic and intellect bit can be so good at convincing us away from what the heart says, can’t they? I certainly don’t wait for discernment nearly often enough, but I can say that, when it comes, for me it’s a completely different kind of certainty than what comes from the logical reasoning – I may not yet recognize when it *isn’t* there, but I know when it *is*. I hope you are able to have many of those moments in the months ahead, and that you are also blessed with the patience that waiting for that discernment requires. 🙂

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