Knowing which questions to ask

ANT012I got a message late on Friday night asking whether I would consider jumping into a production that starts rehearsing on Monday morning. It’s a new opera performing in an ‘alternative’ space – just the sort of thing I like doing and want to support if possible. But the process of deciding whether to say yes at such short notice is a complex one. It’s flattering to be asked but do any of us just want to be the singer people come to when they are desperate? Squealing egos aside, it’s also about doing ourselves the favour of accepting roles that we have time to sing in and sing well. That means being vocally healthy and having sufficient physical energy and mental space to do the work in an unusually short and intense burst.

I started with the usual questions to myself to draw up the list of pros and cons:

  • Who else is working on the project? Do I know, like, admire and – important if I will be leaning heavily on them for the first week – trust them?
  • What’s the money like? Is it enough for the effort and extra pressure of the learn?
  • How hard is it? The musical language makes a huge difference to memorability and stamina. Having perfect pitch is always helpful for contemporary music. For those (like me) who don’t have it, broadly tonal musical language means we stand a much better chance of success in the time available.
  • How do I feel about the potential stress of those moments where I am holding everyone else back?
  • Do I like working this way? Personally, I like rising to a challenge and enjoy the sense of achievement gained by making it work, to say nothing of the pleasure of helping out my colleagues in a fix. But it’s also going to dominate my next three weeks to the exclusion of everything else.
  • Do I have other work that I would be giving up and is that trade-off worthwhile?
  • How is my health? Right now I am recovering from a chest infection that claimed a number of solo gigs last week so ‘replacement’ work is, at one level, very welcome. However I am nowhere near 100% so is getting better more important? If it’s not vocally too challenging then I can certainly sing it but should I?

I am currently training as a coach and this is the first time I have found myself needing to make a decision like this since beginning my studies. I decided to approach the issue by asking myself some additional ‘coaching’ questions to help my decision-making. I found these four particularly useful:

what will happen if I accept this contract?
what will not happen if I accept this contract?
what will happen if I don’t accept this contract?
what will not happen if I don’t accept this contract?

Such questions are unusually phrased but that’s why they work – the brain can’t resist trying to come up with an answer and that often brings forth information that was half-buried in awareness.

At The Singing Entrepreneur we encourage singers to examine (among other things) why they sing, where they are now and where they think they are going. Taking a moment to consider whether we are serving these larger issues would ideally feature in any employment decision but such things tend to get overlooked in the excitement of being offered a contract. If we only go from job to job, without pausing to look at our longer-term career (or life) trajectory we can often stray a long way from the path which we think we are (or should be) on before we realise it.

The four questions above may strike you as a little odd, but try using them next time you need to make an important decision. You might be surprised at what you discover.