When it comes to getting through the tough times in life, I used to think of myself as a survivor – bearing the pain and the suffering, and somehow coming through on the other side of it. Then I took regular singing lessons with a very pushy singing teacher, who challenged me big time and didn’t let me off the hook, no matter how much I cringed and writhed… This is the story of how I found my fighting spirit.
My singing teacher is a pushy guy.
He’s also a super-talented singer and musician, fun, excellent at teaching and great at giving warm hugs.
But he’ll push his students.
When I took my one-to-one lessons with him (yes – there’s nowhere to hide in a one-to-one lesson!), he would give me scales to sing. Or a musical phrase he’d made up. Or a chorus from a song.
It usually had some difficulty in it – a complex riff perhaps, a big jump from a low to a high note, or a long stretch that needed to be sung in one, big breath. At times it took me a while to fully get what he was throwing at me. That was ok with him – he was patient. But he never let me off the hook.
Then, just as I’d mastered the basic exercise, he would raise the bar:
He’d take the phrase up, to be sung higher and higher, one half note at a time. Or he would make it much faster, or reeeeeaaaaalllly slow. Or he would ask me to not just sing, but perform the exercise: “Sing it like you mean it, girl!”
Once I’d mastered that, he’d keep going, increasing the difficulty until I’d get to the very edge of what my voice could sing, and produce some rather croaky notes, or start sounding shaky with the effort of keeping up the exercise.
Pushed to the edge, and then some
He challenged me every single time, that teacher. I recall one lesson in particular, where he pushed me to the edge, and then some:
I’d been singing a challenging exercise: it had a lot of words for me to remember (he was always teaching me by ear). All notes were at the top of the range of my voice. And the phrases were fast and relentless, with hardly an opportunity to catch my breath.
Singing this exercise again and again was a physical and mental work-out. We’d been going for a while, until I was able to get it. I was sweating, getting tired and feeling self-conscious for not sounding that great. I couldn’t wait to stop.
But my teacher was unperturbed. “Great!” he said. “You got it. Now I want you to improvise. Vary the phrase. Make it your own. And dance, too!”
Now, it is one thing to sing and dance in a choir, or at a pop concert, where you blend in with others and no one is going to focus on you. It’s entirely another to do it in a room, singing a challenging song you’ve just learnt, with a mic amplifying your voice, and dancing, on your own, with your teacher’s eyes and ears on you.
I wanted to sink into the ground there and then…
…never to be seen again!
To my credit, I didn’t do that. I didn’t shrink. I didn’t crumple.
Somehow, I got over my mighty, mortifying cringes and did as my teacher had asked. Somehow, I decided not to listen to the defeated voice in me that wanted to give up, but to keep going instead. Somehow, I decided to fight.
My teacher made me go on and on.
Now, if you’ve ever improvised, in any discipline, you’ll know how difficult it is to come up with new variations if you have to go on and on. Never mind when you’re also trying to remember a ton of words you’ve just learnt, hang on to notes that are too high for you to sing, and dance at the same time!
I’m sure I must have hit some of the notes, sung my song well some of the time, found some cool moves every now and then, even perhaps enjoyed entertaining my teacher for a few fleeting moments.
But what I most remember was singing badly, making mistakes, forgetting the words, falling out of step with my dancing, then catching myself again but losing my song. I remember sweating, feeling unattractive, incapable and exhausted. All of that, and then some.
And yet, I kept going.
As I look back on that particular singing lesson, I’m thinking that maybe it wasn’t about singing at all – it was about testing and fostering my fighting spirit!
Because whenever I wanted to give up and stop – my body language must have spoken volumes – my teacher would shout over my singing:
“C’mon, Monica, you can do it! Keep going! Don’t let it beat you!”
Don’t let it beat you
My lessons with this teacher – which I took fortnightly without fail, for two years – made me think about how I respond when things get tough.
What do I do when I’m pushed with my back against the wall? How do I react when I’m given more than I think I can handle, and then some?
Not just in my singing class, but in life, as well.
Because life, too, gets pushy sometimes. It can knock you around well and proper: No matter how positive you are, how healthily you live, or how much kindness, generosity, or fairness you practice, sh*t can happen. To all of us. And suddenly, we find ourselves juggling more balls than it seems humanly possible to juggle.
I had my fair share of hardship in life. And I used to think of myself as a survivor – bearing what life chucked at me, living through the suffering, and somehow come out the other end. That’s certainly one way of making it through when life gets tough.
But since my singing lessons, I’ve become aware that I have another choice: I can fight. I can be a warrior, as well as a survivor.
I can actively decide to keep singing my phrases even when they’re waaaaay more than I can handle. Equally, I can actively decide to show up and do what I can even when life is tough and I feel like giving up. I can decide not to let it beat me!
I’ve since been able to consciously call upon my fighting spirit when I’ve needed it. It’s added to my resilience and self-reliance when life gets tough.
I’ve also found that this comes in handy when I want to make changes for the better in my life, but struggle with the unforeseen complexities of, or resistance to what I want to do.
I remember my singing teacher with love and gratitude – not only for what he taught me to improve my singing voice, but also for how he brought out the fighting spirit in me!
Let me know your thoughts
What are your experiences with finding your fight when life gets tough?
Please share your comments below!
Want to read more about this topic?
If you’d like some inspiration and practical ways to help you discover and cultivate your own fighting spirit, head over to the Tiny Buddha website to read my article about…