Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Upgrade Your Mindset: Making the Mental Switch From Student to Professional

By Sara Duchovnay

During my first year in the real world, aka life after grad school, I struggled with taking ownership of the term professional. Professional companies began to hire me, but I was not quite sure what category I fell into. In our field, it can be difficult to know when we are ready. After many long years of school and training programs the industry still labels us young artists. So when does the switch from student to professional really happen?

For me the major turning point came when I decided that I wanted to take control over the way my career made me feel. I had been waiting for some sort of cosmic sign to tell me that I was old enough, good enough or professional enough – all the while consistently working side by side with high-level performers and feeling like I didn’t belong with them! I felt like a fraud because in my mind they were professionals and I was still stuck in post-student limbo. I wanted to talk about my work with poise and confidence, feel comfortable seeking out opportunities on my own, and feel the freedom to take risks in my work without being impeded by the need to prove myself. For me the crucial step in becoming a professional was changing my mindset and learning to view myself as one.

You are a professional. Every professional had to start somewhere. Are you being paid to sing? A church job, opera, concert, nightclub? Yes? Then you are a professional singer. Own it! T
here are infinite ways to build a career! It doesn't matter what you were told in school or the path your peers have taken. Don’t judge your path. Follow it for a while and see where it leads you! If the outcome isn’t what you wanted, try a different approach. Don't compare your path to that of your colleagues, (easier said than done, I know). 

There is a huge difference between being confident and being conceited. You deserve to feel confident! No one will hold that against you or think badly of you because of it. You are not misrepresenting yourself or your level of experience. You are simply comfortable with what you have to offer right now. Being confident doesn’t mean that you think you’re perfect or superior in any way. In fact, the most confident people are usually the most humble.

The choices are yours to make. There are a lot of rules accepted in our industry. The truth is, once your training is in place those rules are just guidelines. You are under no obligation to follow any of them! Your career choices are yours alone. Never feel the need to apologize for the decisions you make and the path you choose!

The money is important. Ok, so if we were really in it for the money we’d all probably have chosen a more lucrative career, but we are professionals and money is an important part of that equation. Run your career like a business. Know what’s coming in and what’s going out. Know what you are willing to accept from every gig and never apologize for asking for what you are worth. Knowledge is power. Talk with your colleagues about what they are getting paid and what they have been paid from companies in the past. This will give you an idea of the pay structure within the industry. It probably goes without saying, but feel the situation out on a case-by-case basis and usually wait until you know someone fairly well before asking questions about their financial situation. 

Owning your professional status and feeling confident. Feelings of insecurity regarding yourself, your performance, and your place in the industry take up a lot of energy! They not only take energy away from your performance, but create negative energy in the work environment and is exhausting to others around you. I am able to feel a greater connection to my art when I feel confident. I’m able to joke with my colleagues, laugh at my mistakes, and make corrections without feeling the need to apologize.

Now, I’ve accomplished my professional goals without conforming to how others think I should be. The sense of freedom and control of my career enables me to be a better artist every day. 

Sara Duchovnay is a San Francisco Bay Area based soprano and a recent addition to the roster of Mirshak Artist Management. Passionate about offering support to her fellow artists, she is a team member with Creating with Confidence. You can read more from Sara on her blog:

Image courtesy of  jscreationzs at