06/10/2013 05:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Third Metric: Just Breathe


With the force of nature that is Arianna Huffington at her home for the first-ever Huffington Post Women's Summit: "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money and Power"

Last week, I had the surreal pleasure of attending the first-ever Huffington Post women's conference hosted by Arianna Huffington and Mika Brzezinski at Arianna's as-divine-as-you'd-expect-it-to-be home in Soho. Guests included Katie Couric, Ali Wentworth, Valerie Jarrett, Barbara Walters, George Stephanopoulos, Dean Ornish and Joe Scarborough (a few good men punctuating the girl power), and conversation centered on the theme of "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money and Power." What follows are my continued musings on questions posed during our heady day of idea-sharing; specifically, how we define "success" and what advice we would share with other women and/or with our own younger selves.

What were you doing when you were 25 years old?
I was living in NYC in a two-bedroom apartment with five opera singers, working as a nanny and wondering when the bucking bronco of my young soprano voice would start to behave and allow me to sing Mozart the way I heard it in my head. I spent a fair amount of time worrying that the last thing the world needed was another entry-level soprano, and that maybe I hadn't done the right thing in selling all of my earthly belongings and moving from Texas to NYC in pursuit of an opera career. And I wondered if I would ever find a way to reconcile my passion for this beautiful, ancient art form of opera with my passion for social justice work...

How did that experience shape or influence who you are now?
In the simplest of terms, that time in my life toughened me. It taught me to concentrate, via the exercise of memorizing an aria while my roommate was practicing a different aria with ear-shattering brilliance in the same room. It taught me to enjoy simple pleasures. And it taught me to generate my own light in the darkest of spaces. Literally. The apartment we shared was one of those desperately depressing, low-floor apartments with only a few small windows, all of which opened onto airshafts, making it impossible to tell whether it was noon or midnight. One of my roommates, a headstrong German soprano, countered the gloom via her tradition of candlelit breakfasts: dark German bread and strong coffee accompanied by flickering tea-lights and laughter and conversation. It was a tradition that we all soon adopted -- some of the brightest breakfasts ever, and in the dimmest possible space.

If you could write a letter to your younger self, what advice might you share with her?

Dearest (younger) Camille,

Hello from the future!

I write to you -- my smaller, more nervous younger self -- to remind you that in life, as in opera, the key thing is to pause for a moment to take a good, deep breath.

You may feel right now that "success" is defined by how many accolades you receive. But I'm going to tell you that it's not about the accolades at all, but about authenticity. And a direct line to your most authentic self comes, as parents tell their toddlers mid-tantrum, when you just stop and take a deep breath.

Yep. Simple as that. Just breathe.

A deep breath will connect you to your core, to who you really are, and to what you really want to do, share and communicate. With your lungs re-filled and your blood re-oxygenated, you'll be able to project your voice with firm understanding and clarity of intent. You'll find that your respiration (from Latin "spiritus," meaning both breath and soul) allows for inspiration. You will be freed you up to take risks, to try various tunes until you find the one that you really love. And if your singing brings occasional tears -- of joy or sorrow or both -- then you'll know you've chosen the right song.

So please, girl, just breathe. Gently, with joy and compassion and the sheer sensual pleasure of feeling your body alive, vibrant and centered. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Yes. Just like that.

With love,
(The future version of yourself) Camille

P.S. You don't know it yet, but your TX-to-NYC transplant will indeed work out, and you'll go on to sing great music with great colleagues in great spots from Italy to England to Africa, and together with your beloved pal Monica Yunus, you'll found Sing for Hope. Oh, and incidentally, when you graduate from Juilliard, there will be a little baby in your belly graduating with you, and that will definitely require some deep breaths. But that's enough information for you for today. I don't want to spoil all your future surprises ;)


Intended recipient of the above "letter to my younger self," with make-up artist Ashley Hanson and baritone Weston Hurt backstage preparing for our 2003 Juilliard Opera production of Handel's "Oreste" (Photo by Hiro Ito)

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.