Friday, 1 November 2013

On being a good colleague...

In my last post, I touched on how lonely this profession can be.  And it's true - as a soloist, especially a freelance soloist, it can feel like you're the only person looking out for yourself.  But life doesn't have to be so lonely.  There are millions of colleagues out there going through all of the same things.  People who can be an invaluable source of information, help, and support.  This is why it's important to reach out to others and form alliances within the music profession.  This is why it's important to be a good colleague.

What does it mean to be a good colleague?  A good colleague is helpful: they offer advice, give recommendations for good teachers and coaches, or endorse you to someone for future work.  A good colleague is sympathetic: they listen when you're having a hard time, and they understand what you're going through.  And finally, a good colleague is considerate: they consider how their words and actions affect other people.  In other words, they aren't an asshole.

Surprisingly difficult advice to follow.
Now, that is a lot to expect from one person.  And you probably shouldn't expect everyone to be all of these things for you all of the time.  After all, singers are very busy people working in a very difficult and competitive field.  But I believe that if you want to be a happy singer, you should seek out and befriend other singers who have these qualities.  And the more that you emulate these qualities yourself, the easier you will find it to surround yourself with like-minded people.

There are, of course, certain types of colleagues that you should avoid.  Some of them are more dangerous than others, but none of them are particularly helpful.  So try not to spend too much time with these people - and try not to become one of them yourself.

The Apathetic Colleague is the honey badger of colleagues.  They don't give a shit.  They don't wish you ill, but they don't particularly wish you any good either.  If you get in touch with the Apathetic Colleague and ask for help or advice, don't expect an answer.  The Apathetic Colleague doesn't have time for you - they only want to look out for number one.  You can sort of understand where the Apathetic Colleague is coming from.  After all, their life is busy, and they can't be expected to drop everything whenever someone needs their help.  But the Apathetic Colleague tends to ignore everyone all the time.  And what goes around comes around: when they need help, they're usually met with a taste of their own apathetic medicine.

If you honey badger someone, they will honey badger you right back.
The Negative Colleague is a total downer, man.  Always feeling sorry for their self for bombing that audition or not winning that job.  Always speaking doom and gloom about how it's impossible to get anywhere in the industry these days.  The Negative Colleague likes to play the victim - they don't take responsibility for anything that happens in their life.  Instead they choose to believe that for some reason, bad things are always happening *to* them.

Everything happens to Eeyore...
The Negative Colleague has absolutely nothing good to say about anyone or anything.  It's amazing really -you can almost feel the positivity seeping out of you as you speak to them.  Everyone goes through phases where they feel bad about life.  But the Negative Colleague isn't going through a phase - they're like this all the time.  And nobody wants to hang around a person who's always bringing them down.

The Selfish Colleague might act very friendly and pleasant toward you, but make no mistake - they don't actually care.  The Selfish Colleague will use you for all you're worth, and give nothing back.  They can be extremely needy.  They will call at any hour to ask for advice, or whine about their terrible lesson.  But the minute you ask them for a bit of help, they will suddenly become very busy.  Beware of the Selfish Colleague: they are a constant drain on your energy.

The Toxic Colleague is the most dangerous kind of colleague.  Like the Selfish Colleague, they will act like they're your BFF.  But the minute you turn your back, you can guarantee that they will be gossiping about you to someone else.   They will find ways to make subtle little comments that poke at your insecurities and chip away your confidence, all the while pretending to be on your side.  The Toxic Colleague is insidious and extremely clever - they know just how to get under your skin.

"Did you hear that Cindy got the role?  Omigod that is like, sooo sad for you."
Don't be fooled by the Toxic Colleague's tough exterior.  Chances are, they behave this way because they are incredibly, painfully insecure.  They see life as a competition with only one winner.  And they think they have to play dirty to win.  The reason the Toxic Colleague plays so many mind games is that deep down inside, they don't believe they can get ahead on their merit alone.  They think they have to sabotage their rivals in order to succeed.  When you look at it this way, it's actually pretty sad.  There's no need to be mean to the Toxic Colleague, but there's no reason to let them mistreat you either.  Just stay friendly and try not to get sucked in.

I'm often shocked by the way some singers behave toward each other.  But then again, I'm not really shocked at all.  If I'm being completely honest, I have been guilty of all of these types of behaviour at some point in my life.  And I bet that you have too.  Why?  Because we work in a difficult and competitive industry, and these are all various (admittedly unhealthy) ways of coping with it.  It's hard to separate the personal from the professional.  It's hard to be friendly with people who you consider to be your rivals.  And it's hard not to let your setbacks bring you down.

But like I said, what goes around comes around.  The music industry is a small world, and when you behave badly word spreads pretty fast.  You'll find that people are less likely to hire you back, or help you out, or even answer your calls.

More importantly, all of this kind of behaviour sucks up a lot of energy.  Energy which could be spent improving your singing, or your stagecraft, or your knowledge of the repertoire.  You have a lot of work to do!  So why waste yourself on negativity?

There is really no need to be dishonest or unkind towards our colleagues.  It makes life more difficult and unpleasant for everyone.  We all learned the same Golden Rule in Kindergarten: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Why do so many of us forget it when we grow up?

Being a good colleague just makes good sense.  We are the only ones who truly understand this career and what it entails.  So why not help each other out?  Why not lend a bit of help and support to a comrade-in-arms?  This industry is hard enough without making it harder for each other!  I know I might sound a bit naive here, but I really do believe the world will be a better place if we are kind to our fellow singers.

In the end, you have two choices: you can keep your toys to yourself, or you can share them.  If you keep them to yourself, nobody wins.  If you share them around, there's more for everyone.  We can all accomplish so much more if we pool our resources.  There are millions of fantastic websites, blogs, and online communities which demonstrate just how much singers can do when they get together.

But on a smaller, more personal scale, life is so much easier when you have friends in the industry who you can trust.  Friends who can give you an honest opinion, or a valuable recommendation.  Friends who will meet you for a beer when you're in town, or even let you crash on their couch.  True friends, with no ulterior motives, who have your back and know you have theirs.  These kinds of friends are invaluable in our profession.  And you will only get as much as you give.

I have met some people in this profession who are unhelpful or just downright nasty.  But I have also had the pleasure knowing some fantastic colleagues who have helped me in countless ways.  I am extremely grateful for everything I've received from these thoughtful and generous people.  And knowing how much their kindness has meant to me, I see how important it is to do the same for others.  Because every time we are helpful, generous, and considerate to our colleagues, we are changing this profession for the better.  We are making the music world a friendlier place.  And isn't that something we all should want?

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