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“Most self help books are a bit irritating but this one is different…. Anything I Can Do You Can Do Better
is brilliant for creative types losing sight of their big dream. So if you want a kick of inspiration to begin writing that epic love story, while still paying the bills and looking after your family, this is for you.” Reveal
“Inspiring… reading this book is like listening to a very wise friend.” Prima magazine
“This is absolutely not the standard ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ personal development book. But she doesn’t just tell you how she did it, but also tells you how you can do ‘it’ too – whatever your own personal ‘it’ is.” Mark Forster, author of Do It Tomorrow
“Tessa’s wit, determination, guts and advice will inspire anyone who wants to go for their dreams.” Sarah Litvinoff, author of Starting Again
“Tessa Souter is a gem of a person. Her story will inspire you and teach you and bring you to tears as you feel awe in the presence of her humanity.” Laura Berman Fortgang, life coach and author of Take Yourself to the Top: The Secrets of America’s #1 Career Coach
So today I decided why not start at the very beginning of the book. Yesterday was an answer to a specific question from a singer. But the original plan was to excerpt bits of the book and then comment on them with the benefit of hindsight gained from the three years or so since the book came out. As well as (hopefully) receive comments and tips from YOU.
The point of the blog, I realize, is to get you started in your chosen career, if you haven’t started already, and (if you have) to help you (and me) keep going when you (and me) are flagging. And I have to confess, I am going through a bit of a flagging stage right now — for no good reason, because when I think about it, I have been utterly blessed in many things, including my careers, first as a successful journalist — writing features for Vogue, Elle, the Times, Guardian, South China Morning Post, Sydney Morning Herald (oh, tons of places) — and, now, as a jazz singer with three CDs out (two recorded for real life labels) who has headlined and sold out major clubs in New York and around the world. On my good days.
Some things before we begin.
1. All book excerpts will be in italics so you can tell the difference between the book and the blog.
2. If I make comments within the book excerpts that weren’t there originally they will be in different color.
3. Ellipses mean I have taken out chunks of the book for the sake of brevity.
4. I want to be honest and not have to be all rah rah rah if I don’t feel rah rah rah that day. And free to be rah rah rah if I do.
5. I welcome any helpful tips and comments and questions you may have. Please feel free to leave your URL along with your comments.
So here is the Table of Contents so you know what kind of things we will be covering.
1: All You Have To Do Is Dream: Getting Started
2. Walk This Way: What To Do and How To Do It
3. I Will Survive: Supporting Yourself
4. The Long and Winding Road: Keeping the Faith
5. Love Me Or Leave Me: Negotiating Your Intimate Relationships
6. Help I Need Somebody: Agents, Managers and Mentors
7. Helter Skelter: Handling the Emotional Roller Coaster of the Artist’s Life
8. I’m Just a Jealous Guy: Competition, Envy and the Green-eyed Monster
9. Blues for Junior: Taking Care of the Children
10. Up Up and Away: Success at Last
11. Go You Own Way: You Know Where You’re Going
Reading and Resources
“You shall go to the ball!” The Good Fairy to Cinderella
Since I decided to actively pursue my dream to be a singer, I have never been so happy — or so miserable. It’s not so much an emotional roller coaster ride as like being picked up in the hands of a huge giant and carried around tenderly for a brief period of respite, and then dashed to the ground. Over and over again. A few months (or years) of that will turn anyone into a bloody pulp, which means you need guts to spare. So the first thing you should truly understand and acknowledge about following a creative dream is that — contrary to what you might imagine — it’s not all elation and joy, it hurts, even when you “make it”. Why else would so many rock gods and movie stars implode once they get there?
Yes, there are a lucky few who are born or married to the rich and famous, or who are well connected, or both. But even they have to prove themselves. Think of Sophia Coppola’s ten-year transition from critically panned actress in her father’s The Godfather Part III to Oscar-nominated director and Oscar-winning screenwriter for Lost In Translation. I think it safe to say that no singer was discovered by someone who overheard them singing in the shower. No writer was discovered by a literary agent accidentally coming across their private journals hidden under the bed.
Paul Auster sent his first manuscript to nineteen publishers or more before one of them picked it up and made it into a best seller. In 2000, only a year into singing professionally, my voice was described as “The most deeply and profoundly moving voice I have heard in the past ten years” by Columbia Records. Another major label (Blue Note) said: “I don’t hear anything special in her voice.” [Ouch!] Both were talking about the exact same demo CD.
There’s a reason so many great artists commit suicide. It isn’t only that they are “sensitive” souls — although that doesn’t help. The hard fact is, if you are chasing a dream, it takes over your life. It becomes an obsession. And it tests you continually. No matter how brilliant you are, you are going to lose confidence. You are going to face rejection. As many people will want to pull you down as lift you up. It takes supreme faith — in your ability, in the universe, in God, in whatever it takes — to keep you going. Once you reach the point of no return [Oh. My. God. I didn’t even register that phrase when I wrote it!] you will not even know why you are continuing, but you won’t be able to help it. “I am working,” wrote Frida Kahlo to a friend. “But even that, I don’t know how or why.”
You are going to have to prove yourself to yourself, your family, your friends, the world, the universe, prove your staying power, prove your worth it, prove your belief in yourself. And you are going to have to do it over and over (and over) again. There’s a long list of people who didn’t stay the course. Judy Garland, Vincent Van Gogh, Diane Arbus, Virginia Woolf, Spalding Gray, Susannah McCorkle, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton … all killed themselves. Many others drank themselves to death. Or died of the effects of drug abuse. Because pursuing your dream is such a painful endeavor at times, a significant percentage of people can’t do it without medicating themselves, even if nowadays that means anti-depressants (the modern artist’s laudanum).
You will struggle with money, relationships, envy (other people’s and — even worse! — your own), self-confidence, ego, faith in yourself, in God, in your very soul). Pianist Keith Jarrett put it brilliantly in the The Man And His Music by Ian Carr, talking about one of his albums. “Spirit was born of drowning in a certain place so I could come up to the surface in another — without forgetting the drowning and without dying.”
Still want to do it? Okay then. Because in spite of everything, I can safely say that just pursuing my dream — let alone achieving it — has been the best thing I have ever given myself. I hope this book will be your good giant that will catch you before you fall. But most of all, I hope it helps you realize that (as my literary agent kept saying to me over and over again when I was writing this book): “You can do it, Tessa. I believe in you, and I know you can do this.”
This book [and blog] is dedicated to you.