Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"So What Can You Do With A Music Degree?”: Surviving Your Family During the Holidays

By Lily Guerrero

As artists, our lives are full of choices. One thing we don’t get to choose in this world is our family, and sometimes they are not always supportive of our career path. Here are a few tips for surviving the holiday season without throwing the gravy in Uncle Adam the Accountant’s face.

Step 1: Answer questions vaguely but politely.

As singers, we don’t know a lot about our futures. Our lives are planned from month to month with each gig determining where we’ll be and how much money we’ll have to spend and save. Instead of trying to explain this to someone who doesn’t understand the business, just tell Sister Susie the Surgeon that you are a self-employed classical singer and that your job is to perform. Smile and go back to eating your mashed potatoes, or change the subject.

Step 2: Ask for clarification.

“What are you planning on doing with your life?” is a broad question that spans from “I want to get married and have five kids” to  “I am going to the grocery store after this meal.” If a vague answer doesn’t work, try asking what they specifically mean. Do they want to know your career aspirations? Family aspirations? Hobbies and interests? Do they want to know what brand of deodorant you use? If it’s just to be nosy, continue being vague. If they are truly interested in your career, as many who don’t understand this business are, try to explain things in a simple way. After all, we can often be defensive when Grandma Susan really just wants to know how often she’s going to get to spend time with you in the next year.

Step 3: Ask the same question in return.

This is a bit passive aggressive, but sometimes people do not understand that the question leaving their mouth is ludicrous because they themselves have not thought of what they would say if someone asked them the same thing. If Aunt Nancy the Nurse asks you what your goals are in life, ask her the same thing back. Say it with a smile and under a veil of genuine interest, of course. When she responds that it is silly for you to ask her if she’s achieving her dreams as a nurse, tell her that you felt a little silly answering her question as well. Hopefully, the light bulb will go off and everyone can move on to dessert.

Step 4: Have a one-on-one conversation with Brother Evan the Engineer in private.

Express your feelings using “I” statements, such as “I feel uncomfortable when you ask me what I’m going to do with my music degree, because it seems like you don’t respect my career choice. Can you help me understand your concerns?” Never accuse someone of anything, which puts them in defense mode. Brene Brown, the author of bestselling books like The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, suggests that telling the person what the perceived intent was and asking for clarification creates a safe, non-hostile environment for an open conversation.

The holidays are stressful enough between coordinating church gigs, planning travel, and spending time in a home that isn’t your own. Use these tips to diffuse any potential dinner showdowns and remember to always smile and believe that your family has your best interests at heart. If not, remember that people who look down on you only do it to make themselves feel tall. You do what you love for a living! Let that joy carry you through every holiday party!