When I was young, I was asked to really think about how I was using my voice. I was musical from my earliest days and liked to sing, perhaps due to being the daughter of a renowned piano accompanist. But I also had a tendency to be pushy and act like a know-it-all. My mother encouraged me to consider: did I express myself in a way that was self-righteous, strident and harsh, attached to being “right”? Or was I being humble, soft and kind? As a kid, I hated being asked this, but gradually over time I’ve grown into the question. I have slowly learned the real power my voice has to serve either my ego or the good of all. At the same time, I’ve come to understand that there are far more important things in life than being “right.” Today, by grace, I’ve found an environment in the Parvati Foundation that keeps me awake to these truths. But getting there has been a journey.
When I made the choice at 18 to do a degree in voice performance, I did not have a clear sense of what I wanted to do with my life. But I had been raised in the world of classical music, so it felt comfortable for me. There was a safety in it, a feeling that I could get it “right.” I didn’t yet understand that my idea of getting life “right” was not sustainable, and the world I thought I knew would be shaken repeatedly until I reconsidered.
First, I lost my singing voice for an entire academic year, due to chronic sinusitis. Unable to soar through the operatic arias that were my ambition for glory, I felt that life was treating me unfairly. Sinus surgery eventually helped me recover my voice. Then I rebuilt my instrument carefully, with a compassionate and gifted teacher who helped me discover greater joy in singing. I wanted to help others experience that joy too, but my ego was in the driver’s seat. I was still seeking the validation of getting life “right.” I had not come to terms with how I related to the world, the impact of my voice on others, or whether I was in touch with my soul.
Then my applications for graduate study in voice performance, which I saw as a necessary stepping stone in my career as a singer, were rejected. My lifelong pattern of always succeeding, of being the golden child who gets it “right,” had suddenly failed, and I could not see what had gone wrong. Wasn’t I a good student? Wasn’t I musical? Didn’t my extra-high notes make me special? Why was I not worthy? With no idea what else to do, I kept knocking on the door of graduate school for three more years. I took more lessons, reapplied, did an artist diploma, and reapplied again. Finally, after the third round of rejections, including from the school where my mother had done her own graduate degree in music, I was heartbroken and had to admit that this dream clearly was not for me. Yet it would take more years still for me to gain the self-awareness to understand why.
Letting go of my musical ambitions, I joined the work force. In retrospect, I see how telling it is that I stopped practicing or taking lessons soon after I realized I wouldn’t get into graduate school. There are many other career paths for singers, but in my mind, they didn’t count if I couldn’t succeed in the way that I wanted. Without external validation, I felt little internal motivation to sing.
Eventually, I came to see that instead of using singing to express my soul or support that in others, I had appropriated it as a way to be “right” in the eyes of those around me. Lacking confidence in my own worth, I needed recognition and credentials in order to feel safe and welcome in the world.
Gradually, however, I found myself on a whole new career path that was not about a degree. I discovered I had a talent for communications, in which I took on increasingly key roles even though I had no academic background in it. I was helping to shape and clarify the information of others. There was an immediate zing in this for me, an effervescent quickness of mind. Communications challenges were something to embrace as opportunities for fun and growth, to see what I was capable of. I didn’t need to be personally heard. But I could help others do so, and I loved it.
That was when I came to Parvati Magazine and, later, to Parvati Foundation, where the volunteer opportunities gave an immensely welcoming and supportive home for this new talent. I finally began to really consider the questions: what am I doing in this life? What is the impact of my voice, or the voice of others which I assist? How do the choices I make give voice to something meaningful, and how do I get in the way when I give voice to a desire to be “right”? And why do I need so much to be “right” anyway? Am I not within a loving, interconnected whole?
Those whose soul purpose it is to sing have something to communicate from both the core of their being and beyond themselves, something that requires them to stand courageously and share with absolute vulnerability so that they may serve the good of all. It has been my privilege to meet a few people like that, in particular Parvati, who has clearly and humbly embodied all the soul teachings of singing that I glossed over in my own life. I am happy and at peace today in the knowing that my purpose lies elsewhere.
The Sanskrit scripture the “Bhagavad Gita” says that it’s better to do your own dharma (purpose or duty), even imperfectly, than to try to do someone else’s, even if you get it “right.” My dharma around voice is not to take centre stage, but to join with gratitude into the universal chorus and support the voices that benefit all life. Serving MAPS has transformed my understanding of communication. With every article I write, with every sentence I tweak (whether it’s in my own name or in the name of Parvati Magazine or Parvati Foundation), I support the voice of something greater than myself. I am within the song of the whole. And for me, that’s infinitely more rewarding than any career in opera could ever have been.
Pranada McBurnie is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Editor for Parvati Foundation, including Parvati’s forthcoming self-help and fiction books under GEM: Global Education for MAPS.
Click here to learn how MAPS Ambassadors around the world are using their voice for good.