Friday, September 22, 2017

Don't Mind Me - Anxiety Sidebar

It seems that many of us “out-front” people share a certain personality trait which seems like it shouldn’t be an issue for us, since we spend so much time in front of groups of people, speaking, teaching and performing.

How many times have you told someone that you are an introvert and been informed that that can’t be, because you’re a performer and you seem so comfortable in front of people?

How many times have you been told “but you don’t seem shy”?

I have, many, many times! And guess what? I am not shy! I have never been shy. Shyness is not a thing with me.

Being introverted is not the same thing as being shy, and being shy is not the same thing as having social anxiety.

Let me explain.

Shyness, introversion and anxiety are three different things. You can have all three (if you’re REALLY lucky!) but they are not to be confused with one another.

I think Introversion is the most different from the other two in that an introvert feels energized by alone time and can get completely drained from social interaction. Introverts crave solitude. I am an introvert (who also suffers from FOMO but I am dealing with that).

Shyness, I believe, is mostly characterized by fear of drawing attention to yourself. I am not shy. Pay me all the attention you want. Look at all the selfies I post, for heaven’s sake! Do I seem like I am not desperate for attention? I think shy people quite often crave the company of others but don’t know how to approach it. I like…nay, I NEED to be alone.

Anxiety comes in many shapes and forms, and it can be debilitating. It manifests itself in many different ways. Mentally, it can be constantly overthinking everything, always assuming the worst, not being able to stop expecting the worst possible scenario. It can be physical – shaking, shortness of breath, hyperventilating, sweating, blurred vision, uncontrollable crying, etc.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and social anxiety. Moderate to severe. I sometimes even have to take an actual Chill Pill!

In the middle of writing this, I had to stop. Because now there is an issue with people knowing this. People I will meet at all these different events. Maybe they will treat me differently now that I have said this. Maybe they won’t invite me to things. Which is OK because I like to be alone anyway but I still want to be invited you know and I like being alone but not lonely. Maybe they will talk to me differently now or try to be careful and feel concerned and oh god I don’t want people to be concerned and I should probably not publish this blog because they will think I am WEIRD THEY PROBABLY ALREADY THINK I AM WEIRD AND THAT’S WHY I AM ALL ALONE IN THE WORLD AND NOBODY WILL TALK TO ME AND WHEN THEY DO THEY WILL HAVE A CONCERNED LOOK IN THEIR EYES


Once the heart palpitations (yes, really) had subsided, I decided to keep writing and to go ahead and publish (pause for new inner drama here) because I know I am not the only person dealing with this.

I know for a fact that I am not the only director dealing with this. Most of us have an analytical nature and while not everyone constantly falls into a rabbit hole of overthinking every time they try to make a decision, being analytical serves us well. It helps us evaluate what we hear and see on our risers. It helps us formulate what kind of sound we want (Eventually. I was shocked to find out that not everyone hears shapes), and it can be a very helpful leadership tool.

It’s a strange dichotomy, the ease with which we can speak in front of crowds and perform on stage, and the bumbling awkwardness we navigate in small, social situations. Other people have a hard time reconciling the two, but to us it’s just how it is. I think it’s a lot more common with female directors – most of the guy directors I have met seem quite confident in all situations. Men do have a little bit more space in society to be sure of their confidence – they don’t have to worry about what people will think if they put their skills on display.

(I feel like I have just broached a subject that might need its very own blog.)

My point, and I do have one, is that if I were shy, I wouldn’t be a director, and I probably wouldn’t even have been a performer. My point is that being an introvert isn’t a bad thing, but you might have to learn ways of breaking out of it from time to time if you ever want to network. And my point is that anxiety of any kind can be a huge obstacle, but you find the areas of your life where it isn’t able to take up space – such as when you are in front of your chorus – and make those areas big enough to push out any potential rabbit holes, and you’ll find that you can feel calm and confident a large portion of the time. And should an unexpected social event occur for which you don’t have time to plan and evaluate, learn to be comfortable being an observer. Learn to know when you have had enough interaction and politely say goodnight and go home. People might think you’re a bit weird, but aren’t we all, really?

-M.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Becoming A Director - Part III

“CRIPPLING SELF-DOUBT”
In which I discover that I have no idea what I am doing and everybody knows I am a fraud.

So, you’ve been the director for a while now. A year, maybe? You’ve been through a contest cycle and your chorus is not yet wearing any medals and you have not received a blue director pin and nobody is hiring you for your coaching services.

Let me backtrack for a second.

Here’s the thing. I can’t write a series of blogs that are geared towards Master Directors and Faculty because I don’t know anything about that. And let’s face it, those people have each other. These articles are for The Rest Of Us. But don’t worry, Master Directors – you are still allowed to read!

I will elaborate on The Rest Of Us in a future chapter. Today, we are going to talk about the fact that I am a failure and a fraud, and everybody knows I have no idea what I am doing. Especially me.

They call it Impostor Syndrome and it’s a real thing. From Wikipedia:

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud". The term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes.[1] Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. An essay by a psychology professor suggests that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women.[2]”


Can you have impostor syndrome even if you're not a high-achieving woman?

When you first take on the director job, you think it’s going to be much easier. You do know that there is a lot of work involved but you assume that everyone will immediately understand your way of thinking, and success will be swift and tangible! But that is not always the case. As your scores may reflect. What if you take over, and you go to contest and…*GASP*...your scores go down?

THE HORROR.

Clearly, this is all your fault. You have no idea how to be a director. You don’t know how to teach anybody anything. You don’t know how to pick the right music and you certainly don’t inspire anyone.

What if you go to contest again the following year…and your scores go down even more?

Well, boo-fricking-hoo.

You now have a choice. You can mope about it and spend all your time thinking about all the things you have done wrong over the past few years, or you can pull up your pantaloons and find new ways to be awesome.

It’s time to take stock.

There are many music-related things you can be good at and they aren't the same for every director. I really wish I was good at identifying exactly what the issue is in bar 22 and why that chord isn't quite tuning and be able to say "hey, baritones, it's your fault, sing that Eb a bit higher!"(Just kidding, I don't ever want to tell a whole section it's their fault!) But I am not. I am getting better and better at it, but it is not going as fast as I would like. And in the meantime, I have to be able to identify the things I am good at, and do those things...a lot. I am getting pretty good at surviving Tuesday nights and not make everyone quit! PROGRESS.

If you had set some goals for yourself and the chorus at the time you took over, now is the time to look at those goals and be honest – are they realistic? Are they too lofty? Are they even tangible goals?

If you didn’t set goals at the beginning, you are actually in a better position because you won’t have to change your mind. But it is time to set some goals, and the first thing you need to do is look at your singers and find out who they are. You have to make the decision to either work with what you have, or try to change what you have. I believe in working with what you have, and I believe that the most important thing to do in order to attract new members (which we are always trying to do), is to make sure that your current members are doing well, and that they are on board with you. If that means you are not going to win contests soon, that’s fine. Our organization is full of choruses who don’t win contests, but whose members come to rehearsals every week, pay their dues and put in the time. Think those members contribute to the survival of SAI?

YUP.

We are important. We are really, really important.

Set a goal. A simple goal. A doable, realistic goal. Make a plan for how to achieve it. Keep repeating it to your members, because it is important that they know exactly what the goal is and that it is not going to change. This leaves them with a decision – they either get on board and take the steps necessary to help reaching it, or they have to step down.

For some, making this decision will be a long process. Be patient, but insist. Repeat the goal and the work you are asking for every week. Eventually, they will make their decision.

Make sure that you only pick songs that they can sing, songs YOU believe THEY can sing, and that fits their personality. It’s tempting to pick songs that YOU would want to sing, but you don’t get to sing much these days, do you?

And you, my dear, fake, impostor person? Learn things. Read books, go to classes, attend every educational event you can. Watch other groups being coached. Take notes. You know more than you think, and it’s time you started focusing on the things you are good at, and work on those skills even more. There will be many directors out there who are much better than you and who know lots of things that you don’t, and that’s OK.

You can inspire people to always want to do their best. You can make them laugh. You can teach them how to work with learning tracks. You can point them to resources that can teach them to read music if they don't already. You can pass on information you received from directors with blue pins. You can insist. You can persist. You can praise. And sometimes, you can get a little cramp in your shoulders from waving your arms too hard.

Happens to the best of 'em (or so I am told).

Those other, amazing directors, are not you. YOU were asked to become the director of your group because they saw something in you that they wanted in a leader. Remember that. Be you.

You’re awesome.

-M.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Becoming A Director - Part Deux

“LIGHTBULBS”

In which I wonder why They aren’t learning the songs I am throwing at them randomly, and reluctantly agree that Having A Plan is important and that it isn’t ALL about me.

For a short while there, right when I first started out as a director, I thought I knew what I was doing. This didn’t last long and the problem was that I was basing every decision on what I thought I would have liked from a new director. I chose music based on what I wanted to sing and assumed everyone would just go ahead and learn it and we would have instant success. No, really. I really thought this.

It didn’t happen that way.

If you have been singing for a while, and you have watched other choruses and their directors, chances are you have a pretty good idea of what kind of director you would want to be. You see all these groups with their different personalities and eclectic repertoires and a dynamic arm-waver out front, and you can easily put yourself in that spot and dream of all the success your chorus will have with you at the helm, doing those same things.

The problem is, you don’t see all the work that went into it beforehand. You don’t know how long it probably took to get to that point where it looks and sounds so natural and effortless. You don’t know if there was struggle and conflict, and you don’t know how much sleep that director lost trying to figure out how she could be the best leader for her chorus.

I have heard of new directors coming in and turning everything upside down – getting rid of the entire repertoire and starting anew, and to be quite honest, that is what I should have done...but at that point, I was still a singer first and foremost, and I liked the songs we were singing. I knew the chorus did too, and while I toyed with the idea, I was too worried about how they would react if I took away all the songs. That, plus I didn’t really know what I wanted them to sing instead. AND we had performances coming up and we needed songs for those. So, we kept the same songs, and the songs we were singing at that time didn’t really have much in common. Some of them had been sung by the chorus for a long time, and many mistakes and bad habits had crept in over the years – in hindsight, starting over would have been the smart thing to do, but I never said I was smart.

I picked new songs quite randomly. A couple were suggested to me and I just said YES LET’S DO IT because I really wanted to give new music to my singers, and some I picked based solely on the fact that I liked them, not thinking about whether the chorus would be able to connect to them or tell their story. I didn’t know what the chorus story was, really, and I didn’t understand how it had changed once I came down from the risers and became their new, somewhat fearful leader.

Remember the part of the previous post where I told you I needed to make my own mistakes so I could learn from them? Well, here it is – a mistake I made right as I started out, which I have now learned from and am in the process of turning around and steering onto The Right Track!

There are times in a person’s life where one realises that one made a mistake, and then one realises WHY they made that mistake, and then one almost feels like there is a literal lightbulb over one’s head that comes on and thinking about one’s mistake becomes almost celebratory.


Just Like That.

Here’s what I missed when I was brand new: I WAS THE LEADER. These were, in fact, my decisions to make, but I was too worried about what people might think and what if their feelings got hurt? But remember – they picked you! They picked you because they believed that you could take them further, and because they wanted to see how you would do that. You are the boss now. You don’t have to be a dictator, but the fact is, you DO get to make decisions – and not everyone is going to like the decisions you make!

That’s OK. Yes, I know you want everyone to love you and think you are a wonderful person of great substance, but let me assure you; not everyone will agree with everything you do. And you have to figure out a way to be OK with that. Took me a couple of years.

Here is something else I missed at the beginning: IT WASN’T ALL ABOUT ME. While I could make The Decisions, I had to learn how to make them based upon the needs of the chorus…and at the time, I really didn’t know what those needs were. Hallelujah, another mistake to learn from!

In our case, and in my defense, the chorus didn’t really know what they needed at the time either – they just wanted to keep singing, because we had had some rough times in the not too distant past and we were all feeling a little tired and a little discouraged.

Now, a few years later, I am finally learning how to see the singers I have and what they can and cannot do, and from that, a new purpose emerges for having taken on this role in the first place.

So, if you are brand new, or perhaps you have been around for a few years but you still FEEL new and you don’t know what direction in which to steer your chorus, do this: TALK TO YOUR SINGERS. Sit down and discuss where the group is now, where they want to go, make sure they know what YOU want, and find a way to come together. You may want to consider bringing in a facilitator to help you with this – this could be another director or coach, or even a professional from outside your organization.

And, depending on the level and capability of your chorus, and based on how the current songs are sounding, I highly recommend getting rid of all of it and start building your own, new repertoire. It’s like the clothes in your closet – some things you just love but at some point, you may have to face the fact that they don’t fit you anymore and it’s time to go shopping for new stuff that you can wear NOW. You will be happier, feel a lot more comfortable, and damn it, you will look good!

-M.