I have a friend who thinks she is musically talented but has the musical talent of a cat screeching after its tail has been stepped on. How do I tell this friend she is not musically talented and to hang it up? She really thinks she has a voice. And she does, it just sounds like a cartoon screech. How do I tell her she needs HELP?
How? You don’t. You don’t; you don’t; you don’t. Now, you may be thinking of many reasons why you should tell your friend her singing is awful, even why you need to tell her, why you have a responsibility to her as a friend. But you are mistaken. Let’s deconstruct the apologia I suspect you’re writing in your head.
First, you’re possibly thinking, “Her voice is terrible and she needs to know.” This is not strictly true. All we know is you think her voice is terrible. She may have a style or talent you don’t recognize or appreciate. Or she may need time and experience to improve, neither of which she’ll get if she “hangs it up.”
Now you’re thinking, “No, she really needs to know.” I’m here to tell you, no, she really doesn’t. Her enjoyment of singing, her sense of identity as a vocalist and what she gets from music are not necessarily tied to her ability. Being an expert at something is not a prerequisite for enjoying it. And if she does end up learning that other people don’t value her voice, that information doesn’t need to come from you. You are not the appointed arbiter and messenger of musical ability.
“Rhonda, I’m her friend, and a good friend would keep her from embarrassing herself.” Sorry, friend, you’re wrong here. Your role is to be encouraging in a realistic way, not to make cruel metaphors about her voice. A good friend might say something like, “Have you considered formal voice lessons to help you get a leg up in your field?”
I encourage you, as a friend, to be as positive as possible, while not being dishonest. Unless she asks your opinion directly, you don’t have to say a thing about it. If she does ask you directly, you can surely find something positive to say—about song choice or dedication to singing or enthusiasm or something.
Resolution 2014 was to become a hermit. I had determined that I was not a people person. I never was very outgoing and only had a few friends. I retired, so it was all too easy to distance myself more and more. I went on with my daily routines, such as shopping and taking my kids to school, but still managing to not be in life, just skirting by. I realized as I didn't talk to people just to be polite that I was becoming more outgoing. I realized not trying to make people remember meeting me was so freeing. I found myself liking people, all people. Blew my resolution out of the water. Resolution 2015 is to laugh more at myself and realize the people we meet are only in our lives for five minutes; I can put up with a total dip for five minutes.
Hermit No More
I love your resolution, HNM, and the way it played out. There’s a loud and persistent cultural message telling us that being with people and being outgoing is important. There’s a strong suggestion that it’s natural, and that any moment not filled with chatter and interaction is wasted. But so many people prefer, even need, more solitude than life usually provides. I love hearing that you acknowledged you wanted to interact with people less and embraced it. (In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain covers a lot of this ground.)
THEN! After you gave yourself permission to act and live the way you want, you found that that took a lot of the pressure off. And that, ultimately, made some interactions less problematic.
I think there’s a lesson in that: Good things happen when you stop trying to force yourself to do something counter to your nature. The trick to making this work is to truly give yourself permission to live how you want to live. You can’t halfheartedly give yourself that permission while secretly hoping that doing so turns you into a different person. You have to really, really allow yourself to do what you want. If you end up feeling differently, fine. If not, that’s fine too. That’s the permission you gave yourself in the first place.
You may remember Baby in Waiting, who wrote in January 2014 about her hesitation to try to get pregnant with a second child while her sister was still struggling to conceive her first baby. Happily, she sent the following update:
“My sister had a healthy baby girl in October! They didn't know if they were having a boy or a girl, and up until a week before, my sister was absolutely convinced it was a boy. Then one day she just had a feeling that it was a girl! I found out I was pregnant again in September, so we had a month of overlap, which was fun.”
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