Last night I interviewed the author Simon Brett on behalf of a fantastic literary charity in London called Poet in the City. My function was to record a ten-minute conversation with Simon, who was one of a panel of experts speaking at an event about PG Wodehouse. Apart from not dropping the microphone, my task consisted of doing some background research, formulating some appropriate questions and not making encouraging grunts over Simon’s answers (harder than it seems). Oh, and listening really carefully when he was talking, so that I might discover in his answer the seeds of my next question. None of these are things are very distant from the skills I use in my daily singing life, but it was interesting to direct them in this new way.
I spend quite a lot of time via The Singing Entrepreneur encouraging young singers to develop their skills in the broadest sense, even in directions that aren’t obviously leading to the next job. More important than whether it’s immediately useful is whether what you learn is interesting to you, because we reap enormous benefits simply by undertaking the process of acquiring new knowledge. It improves our confidence to discover that we can still learn new tricks. It introduces us to new people who may in fact turn out to be immensely important or, at the least, may be interested in what else we are doing and come along to support us. And, as creative people, it exposes us to new stories, new ideas and new sources of inspiration.
Developing a new skill is a good way of venturing outside our Comfort Zone, into what is often referred to as the Stretch Zone. This is where we can go exploring. The whole point is that we should not be entirely comfortable there, but that we are setting ourselves a challenge which is attainable and which, by its very achievement, develops us as performers or people. Venture too far away from what is realistic and we are in danger of passing through the Stretch Zone into the Panic Zone, where we may be overwhelmed by having bitten off more than we can chew and the accompanying fear that we can’t deliver what we have promised. As performers we may find ourselves passing through all of these Zones in the different stages of learning and performing a role or a concert, but we are not always conscious of where we are at any one time. Thinking in terms of these Zones can not only help us sometimes to adjust our thinking and actions, but also give us a greater sense of how time spent in the Stretch Zone accrues to expand our Comfort Zone and therefore make the benefit of our next Stretch experience even greater.
New skills don’t have to be big or useful – they just need to be interesting so that you are motivated to acquire them fully and work through whatever questions are raised by the learning process. Did I think I would be good at interviewing? I hoped so but I only knew I was doing ok when the interview was underway, at which point I realised that it’s something I really enjoy and want to develop further.
That’s the Stretch Zone at work.