04/29/2013 06:56 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2013

You Are Not Your Talent

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To my performing arts students
No one asked you to get on stage. You want to "show" your business to the world. You want the adulation, you want the praise. Who gave you the idea that all the attention you want so desperately will be positive? Don't you know that if you put yourself out there, people will make fun of you, gossip about you, and tear you and your talent down? It comes with the territory, a gift with purchase.

Do you think your talent makes you special? It doesn't. Behind every door in Manhattan there is someone more talented than you are. If you driving a fabulous Jaguar across the desert and it conks out, who do you need in the seat beside you? An opera singer, a brain surgeon or a good mechanic? Is it only talent that makes you greater than someone else, and allows you to leave a mark on this world? No. Mental toughness is the only thing that will get you where you want to go. Determination, discipline and focus will achieve goals, not ego and entitlement. Compassion and civility will set you apart on this planet.

The University is a relatively safe arena for you to spread your wet wings and practice flying. If we professors protect you from your negative experiences, we are doing you a disservice. Life is composed of good and bad, positive and negative, light and dark. We must as educators, create safe space, stop bullying and inspire you to be all you can be -- not swaddle you in bubble wrap.

The world is not kind. Gossip is a cancer, but it needs a host to survive. Stop it now! Walk away. Stop criticizing others and as my father used to say, "Monkey, look at your own tail."

Walk into your strength. Your desperation for approval is an Achilles' heel. You will be dragged around by that need if you don't face it now. Get your needs met elsewhere. Don't put it all on your job, it can't bear the weight. If you're a singer, two little vocal cords can't bear all that responsibility!

So you have talent -- fine -- now get to work and make something of your life. Don't back down from your challenges, embrace them. I promise if you do, you will grow.

Constructive, honest criticism vs. flattery

Don't believe for a minute when someone says you were great. Were you? Did you do a magnificent job? A good job? A fair job? You know whether you did or didn't. There will always be someone better than you, and always someone worse than you. Fame is ephemeral; stars come and go. Fill in your name in place of Adria Firestone.

• Who is Adria Firestone?
• Get me Adria Firestone.
• Get me a young Adria Firestone.
• Who is Adria Firestone?

Get it?

Refine, build, polish and hone your gifts but don't forget to work on who you are, not just what you do. In the end, it's all you've got. When there's nothing left on stage just a solitary work light, when the makeup is off, the lights are gone, the scenery stored and the people in the dark have left the theater, all you have is you. Who you are as a human is all you have: your integrity, your word, your compassion -- not your talent. Your talent is a part of who you are, not all you are.

I would like to think that you are inspired and moved by my words, but I'm a very practical idealist. You may change your behavior for five minutes or five days and then go right back to your old habits. You may love what I said or hate it. It doesn't matter. I'm on purpose with my life, my actions and my words. I strive to be all I can be every day. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, but I always try. I wish the same for you.

For those of you who get this, take this message to heart and look long and hard at yourselves and realize you have choice. You have the power to create your life as you want. Use your precious energy to build yourself and your skills, not tear others down. Use your power of choice every moment of every day to make your life a magnificent work of art. Your life is the most important work of art you will ever create. You are the artist of your life!

From Adria Firestone's upcoming book, You Are the Artist of Your Life.

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