Twenty promotional kits had been sliding around in the back seat of my car for weeks. Knowing I should drop them off at bars and restaurants, I was instead paralyzed -- unable to walk in the door and "cold call." My winter depression was seriously kicking in, and all I really wanted to do was crawl into bed and forget this pipe dream of being a jazz singer.
I had been singing as a hobby my whole life, first in high school, then in a rock band and, in midlife, as an acoustic singer-songwriter, producing two CDs of original music. I studied voice for years under wonderful classical teachers, then switched to jazz, found an arranger/pianist, chose a repertoire, hired a vocal and acting coach, and had charts written for over 50 songs in my key. It was my dream to go professional, and I was stalled at the starting line.
To intensify the pressure, I broke the 11th commandment and "quit my day job," announced grand intentions to anyone who would listen, and, at the age of 50, risked failing publicly and spectacularly. I felt as crazy as it sounded.
One day, my sister Linda called, and immediately sensed my malaise: "What's going on? You sound really low." It was no use hiding from her. She grew up observing my moods, tracking my triumphs and failures, and could read my voice in a nanosecond. I described my inertia with the promo kits, which she airily summed up in one succinct phrase: "You're afraid of rejection."
Was it that simple? Was I just afraid of rejection? And did success lie on the other side of hearing a lot of no's? As it turns out, it did.
Linda's offhand comment kicked me into gear. I gave myself a goal of delivering the kits to 20 restaurants or bars, including the many Wegmans Market Cafes in Western New York. It took about two weeks, and I did get a lot of rejections -- quizzical, stressed-out bar and restaurant owners fielding yet another unfamiliar musician who wanted to play their establishment and drain their thin resources. But I remained cheerful, upbeat and optimistic as I collected my rejections, "maybes" and "We'll sees."
Two weeks after the promo kit drop, my gig calendar was still empty as I headed off to Pennsylvania to help out in a family emergency. Halfway there, I got a call from one of the Market Cafes. Would I like to play the Alberta Drive Wegmans on May 25? Two days later; another Wegmans. Soon after that, an art opening, then a birthday party at a private club, three benefits and two more Wegmans. It was happening, and no one was more surprised than I was.
There is a game online called Rejection Therapy (rejectiontherapy.com). The game has one rule: You must be rejected by another person at least once, every single day. In this game, rejection is success, because you "permit yourself to fail." You actually collect rejections to win. Terrifying.
In my old life, I avoided rejection like poison ivy. I gravitated to fields I knew well, was talented in, that ensured, if not easy, at least eventual success. Jazz was a journey for which there was no roadmap. And like jazz, it required improvising.
Embracing rejection is still a powerful piece in the puzzle of seriously following my passion and believing in my art. So, I tirelessly promote and connect with club owners, and those who know club owners. Some call me back, some don't.
I apply to every festival this area offers and haven't heard back from any of them yet; however, rejection has become, if not a friend, a fellow traveler on this journey to deep career satisfaction. Lately, he's been a little quiet.