Anti-Goals for Singers

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!

If you can imagine yourself doing anything else with your life than performing, do that instead, you’re not cut out for this!

How many of these maxims have you heard as a young singer considering majoring in voice or musical theatre? Young singers focus so much on what we want to do: spend our days in school, spend our nights in rehearsals, followed by a limited run of wonderful performances, that we miss the sometimes grueling aspects of life as a professional singer. 

For many new music majors, the realities of long days of music theory, music history, choral rehearsals, opera or musical rehearsals, required core classes, ensembles for zero credits, homework, a job, plus practicing…and don’t forget, you also need to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthy and exercise and maintain your living space. It can be daunting at best and overwhelming to the point of burnout at worst. 

This is not what I wanted my days to look like, you might think. Many students initially choose their major in performance arts because of their passion for it, and because during high school, it’s an extracurricular activity they enjoy. When that changes from a fun extra to the daily grind, it often takes the joy out of it. For some students, this leads to them changing their major to something else entirely, leaving music as a hobby they can take joy in. This is not a bad thing, but an important realization, and, given the expense of college tuition, one better made before entering a program. 

The corporate world has a solution that can help us in the arts: anti-goals. Part of why a career in the arts has been right for me from the start is that the idea of working in an office for eight hours a day and being still and quiet sounds like an existence of incredible torture, devoid of meaning to me. Is that melodramatic? Yes. But it’s also an honest assessment that helped drive me forward in my chosen career path.

Instead of creating goals for what you want: a lifetime of teaching music, starring in a Broadway show, etc., list your anti-goals. We’re often exhorted to put our attention on the positive and ignore the negative, but I’m suggesting to focus on what you really don’t want–briefly! Spend about half an hour thinking about what you really don’t want: what is the worst possible life and the worst possible day to day existence for you? Think this through both for your future college life and future professional life.

Imagine your worst possible day. For me that looks like:

  1. Doing the same thing, every day, all day. 
  2. A packed calendar with no breaks and feeling rushed.
  3. Not being in control of my time.
  4. Feeling that I have no time or limited time for practice and experimentation.
  5. No time for daydreaming or reflecting on my learning or activities.
  6. Being in classes, rehearsals, or extracurricular activities where everything is stressful and the person in charge is mean or cruel.

From this, I could make my anti-goals:

  1. Only choosing to participate in some of the scheduled musicals or shows at my school and so I have the opportunity to explore extracurricular activities unrelated to music. 
  2. No overscheduling myself and participating in more activities than is realistic to keep time for homework, rest, and daydreaming.  
  3. Do not take so many difficult academic courses that I have difficulty keeping up with my schoolwork and memorizing my lines and music. 
  4. Don’t fill every day to the brim with activity.
  5. Do not participate in activities where the director, teacher, or coach are disrespectful of my time and goals ((for example, starting rehearsals late, ending late, creating situations of stress and pressure that are untenable, or belittling those who are new and growing in their knowledge). 
  6. Don’t say yes to everything, and refuse to make a decision for 24-48 before committing to a “yes.”

I’m at a later stage as a performer and educator, and these decisions can be intimidating for a high school student. Know that nothing is set in stone for you, and you can change your mind, and correct your course as you go along. Knowing your “can’ts” and “won’ts” early on helps you to make a better decision, both for declaring a major, engaging in your studies, and embarking on a professional singing career.

Joanie Brittingham

Joanie Brittingham is a soprano and writer living in New York City. She can be reached at Visit her blog, Cure for the Common Crazy, at or see her column, Big Apple Sauce, on the arts scene of New York, at the website