The phrase “level up” has been popping up in my vocabulary lately. Ironically, it’s one I feel unworthy of using since it seems to belong to a way of speaking that seems foreign to me, and something I vaguely associate with prosperity gospel nonsense.
Now, seeking excellence or improving oneself or circumstances need not involve striving after riches. Thank goodness, for I’ve found that it’s not something I do well. I absolutely cannot pursue things solely for the money – at least not in any long term fashion. Admittedly, it is tempting to imagine being in some parallel universe where I am famous and can charge exorbitant rates to people who have hitherto left me out in the cold professionally. Mwah ha ha.
Yes, I’ve worked boring, well paid gigs, but too long in those and I would start to go insane. I had one desk job with no window and whose staff refused the only creative initiative I could take within my purview: to change our coffee supply to fair trade. I would occasionally go dance in the bathroom as a form of desperate rebellion.
Another sales job required me to demo a highly priced item, surrounded by other beauty products to which I would have never given the slightest bit of attention, but devoid of intellectual challenge, I started becoming overly preoccupied with looking at my face and wondering if $80 serums really would make a difference. Finances required that I ignore the deprivation of my face (real or imagined), but I could not ignore that my brain seemed to be melting. And thus I concluded that an excess of mindless things or people in my life result in my being restless or resentful.
Ah, but there is the problem. Life doesn’t always match you up perfectly with jobs or people or situations or salaries that reflect your preferences or abilities or allow you to reach your fullest potential. Either you stay put and suffer from stagnation, a feeling that you are settling for mediocrity, or, you spend a great deal of money/energy/time in order to access a better situation. In the latter situation, one can come up short or simply not achieve the desired results. For me, the mere thought of trying to change my situation, even if it is for the better, can trigger all sorts of negative emotions as I remember the cost of previous attempts. All that to say that I have a complicated relationship with levelling up.
How to balance the desire for simplicity and humility with the sense of obligation to seek excellence and the desire to do more than merely survive? How to recognize and live from one’s identity as both royalty and a beggar in front of God? How to store up riches in heaven while going about the business of life and the life of business on earth?
I don’t have a blueprint for building either a worldly empire, or my own particular corner of the Kingdom of God. It all seems very overwhelming most days and I am grateful if I can just manage to pray morning prayer, eat more vegetables than carbs, and have pairs for all the socks after a cycle of laundry.
What I do know is that thoughtful consideration of what is Good, True, and Beautiful in the context of every day decisions, is paramount. Asking oneself whether or not one is being fair, honest, generous, and responsible with one’s time and gifts cannot be optional. Here are some such questions to consider:
- Is my hesitation to grow as an artist coming from fear of failure, as opposed to a genuine concern for my energy levels or uncertainty about my focus?
- Am I making a change merely for unnecessary material gain (notoriety or money)?
- If making a change for financial reasons, have I thought about how I will allocate these additional resources, including how I can serve those less fortunate? How can I ensure that I don’t just default to spending more on things that aren’t ultimately service oriented?
- Have I reflected on how my comfort zone – even if well chosen, humble and reasonable – may not be the extent of where I am called to serve?
- Have I spoken honestly to those I trust, and to God about what I want and need? Have I asked them what they are seeking and listened to see where there might be a convergence, an echo of a similar direction…or perhaps something new I haven’t considered?
- Am I trying to put old wine into new wineskins? That is, am I trying to shrink to fit places I have outgrown?
- Where is the love in what I am doing and saying? For example, I now have a tiny bit of guilt about my above picture of Joel Osteen. After all, God loves him and I’m sure he’s a nice man. But, as any musical theatre fan knows:
In the meantime, check out my calendar to keep up with me in the next couple of months! This week I sing in a concert version of West Side Story with l’Orchestre de la Francophonie; at the end of August I will be performing in the Côte St Luc Dramatic Society’s remount of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the Segal Centre, and in the fall I will be increasing my voice studio AND I hope to have a special event to announce in November, soon!