When my friend told me that “school felt ‘like navigating a river – sometimes the mouth of the Mississippi and sometimes the delta; but, after school it felt like you were spit out into the ocean and just told to paddle with your little oar until you couldn’t keep going,'” I immediately resonated with the statement. This career path is so often about “creating your own opportunities” and “determining your own metrics for success” that we can be left scrambling to take advantage of every single possibility that flits near our consciousness. Without a sense of progressive mastery in both our artistic work and our professional career, we can easily become overwhelmed and defeated by the process. Advancing through the expert and to authority stages of our creative careers is the ocean voyage we must ultimately navigate. 29 Days to Diva (#29DTD) is about developing more than just a flimsy paddle to assist you on your journey. Systematically employing micro-actions is how we will swap out the paddle for a gas turbine engine.
Your 29 Days to Diva Day 4 assignment is to make a list of micro-actions for expert and authority advancement in alignment with your goals.
Micro-Actions Are My Jam
If there is any one concept associated with my work as a blogger, consultant, and teacher it is likely my devotion and love of micro-actions when it comes to your music career. Micro-actions are the smallest possible actionable step in a process. Richard Smith wrote about micro-actions for a Psychology Today article,
Small, consistent actions are more reliable. We have the ability and resources to complete and continue small actions. Any form of success, even if trifling and incremental, is important at first. Momentum builds on any success; nothing succeeds like success, and it feels great, too. Disgust and its memory soon dissipate, as these positive changes spill over into other domains needing and waiting for growth…
When I asked the diva mentors for this season about the hard and soft skills they built over time, I asked them to think about their own micro-actions. I wrote to them, “rewrite your bio” is an example of a micro-action because you can complete it on one day. “Plan a music festival” is obviously not because there are so many tasks and actions within that goal that will likely take more than one day to complete. Inspiring vocalist, scholar, curator and deviser of work, Jessica Aszodi, summed it up perfectly,
I would answer by saying that everything I have done to help me ‘level up’ has been about incremental accrual and finessing of habits. These are not changes to be made in a day, but practices that require daily attention. I know I can’t ingrain 17 new habits tomorrow – but by being in ‘the habit of querying my habits’ and actioning change where there’s potential for action, I’ve found it possible to affect significant change in small increments.
TODAY’S THOUGHT LEADERS
This year, since I’ll have so many people to thank as we’re making our way through the series, you’ll see the names of people who have contributed their wisdom in this section.
- Jessica Aszodi is a vocalist, scholar, curator and deviser of work who is from Australia (via Chicago and freshly relocated to London.) She is devoted to new, unusual and experimental music, artistic research, improvisation, concert and festival production, devised theatre and interdisciplinary practice. To find out more and thank her, visit her website, or the site for the festivals she helps run: BIFEM and Resonant Bodies. If you love what they do consider supporting the Resonant Bodies Festival (there are many and easy ways to donate.)
- Burchard, Brendon. High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way. , 2017.
- Glass, Ira. “Ira Glass on Storytelling.” This American Life, https://www.thisamericanlife.org/extras/ira-glass-on-storytelling.
In yesterday’s post, the focus was on generalist and specialist advancement. Today, we turn our attention to expert and authority advancement. Actions for expert advancement include: performing with elite ensembles and organizations, headlining venues/series/performances/festivals, teaching to generalists within the field, delivering keynote addresses at conferences, and writing major articles/books. The overall idea is to become a go-to expert regarding industry- or specific domain-related issues.
When I work with younger performers and composers, they are eager to assume these activities. They want to know how they can start immediately performing with industry-leading organizations or ensembles. Anyone that has spent considerable time in the field will insert a knowing chuckle here. When we’re young and ambitious, we are likely unaware of the work beyond basic technical, interpretive, and professional skills necessary to be considered elite. I make sure to introduce them, if they haven’t encountered it yet, this quote from Ira Glass,
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
I don’t share this here to discourage you. In fact, I share it for the opposite reason. If the key to leveling-up is to do a lot of work, that should hearten us to figure out “what kind of work.” Brendon Burchard (you’ll likely see his name pop up regularly in this season of 29 Days to Diva) suggests in his book, High Performance Habits, finding your PQO — Prolific Quality Output. Our driving question here is, “what are the outputs that matter the most and move the needle the most in my career?”
Also, I’m hoping to encourage you to think about who the people are around you (ripple 1 or 2) that can help give you access to these kinds of opportunities. The opportunities are always changing, but you are likely able to suss out their value to your advancement. One of the important take-aways of this section is to stop chasing opportunities that are not aligned to the stage which you consider yourself to be in or that you want to telegraph to other gatekeepers.
Authorities in the field are considered to be people who author seminal books on industry-related topics, are invited to perform (or speak) at leading national and international festivals/conferences, are winning major (major means high in prestige or financial compensation) awards for their work, and have considerable influence over a large fan/supporter base. I hope that you notice that obtaining and maintaining authority status requires an incredible amount of external confirmation, support, and endorsement. There is a natural progression of visibility in your art-making. While we are in the generalist stage of our careers, we’re able to make artistic and musical choices that do not have as much riding on their success or failure. The more visible and influential we become in our work, the more stakeholders are lining up to participate and benefit from your work. There are inherent pros and cons to this level of authority.
The work that you do to reach authority status is often very different than the work you will do to maintain authority status. That is why it is important to do the work of discovering your current stage and which micro-actions are vital to maintaining your current level of achievement as well as advancing your work to the next stage.
Show Your Work
If I had to suggest a ‘one day activity’, I’d say: Make a list of habits in your daily life/vocal practice that serve you well, and another list for habits that don’t. Prioritize the ‘not serving me’ list in order of which habits need most urgent attention. Now make a plan for how you will take action on those three habits – being specific about which tasks you can tackle ‘this week’, ‘this month’, and where you hope the change will take you 6 months from now. I try to query and evaluate those new habits on an ongoing basis to see if they’re working.
What are the micro-actions that are currently filling up your day-to-day experience? Are they in service of where you want to be, the kind of narrative that you believe about yourself/the work you are doing, and helping you advance in your art-making practices? Please share your ah-ha’s with your Diva Buddy System! If you’re up to it, please feel free to share on the Sybaritic Singer Facebook page or connect with me directly on Twitter – I’m @mezzoihnen. I fills me with joy to know that you’re working on these topics and I learn so much from your specific journey. Don’t be shy!