In my practice, I work with a number of Broadway dancers who think that they can’t sing or act. Which poses a real problem in an industry where being a ‘triple threat’– having all three skills– is valuable. There are certainly plenty of dancing roles in theater, yet dancers who sing work a great deal more.
The same is true of many singers. Their focus is on their voices, with dancing an afterthought and occasional requirement. And it’s not always a pleasant one; I hear the constant woes of auditions not attended and roles not landed thanks to the dreaded ‘singers who dance’ casting specification.
The problem isn’t limited to the theater. I recently worked with a spoken word artist who, about to record her next record, would like to sing on a song or two. Trouble is, she was convinced she couldn’t.
Certainly, we all have our specific, cherished talents. And things like experience, comfort, and accomplishment reinforce what comes to each of us more naturally.
But there’s more to it than that. In many of these cases, contrary to desire and even results, it’s not that these men and women can’t be as great at other things. Rather, they don’t necessarily feel that they have a right to be. To have their cake and eat it too, while desirable, just doesn’t seem possible.
Gay Hendricks calls this way of thinking an ‘upper limits problem’. He proposes that we each have an internal thermostat that is set to a certain amount of joy, love, success, and intimacy. When we go above that, even in the most positive of ways, fear and familiarity cause us to do something to pull ourselves back down to where we’re comfortable, even if we’re not happy or thriving there.
This problem shows up for singers this way: “I’m good enough to sing on Broadway, but who am I to assume that I can also dance and act that well?”
To that question, I ask another: “Why do you automatically assume that you can’t?” The idea that you can only be great at one thing is simply untrue. Does it make sense to say you can’t be a great listener and a great cook? A great friend and a great parent? Nonsense!
Yet when it comes to certain things, particularly what we call ‘talents’, our culture tells us– in subtle and not so subtle ways– that you really only get one great gift, one great shot. And that to want or aspire to anything more is arrogant and foolhardy. “Jack of all trades, master of none” is as much as a warning as it is a description.
The fear of failure arises anytime we strive to achieve something… particularly something new, something at which we haven’t always considered ourselves talented. It takes courage to put ourselves out there in the world, and even more, to risk a reputation of greatness by attempting something at which we might not be as fantastic.
The men and women I coach have worked very hard to be the best in the performance field. Often, it’s been a long time since they were anywhere other than at the top of their games, and at the peak of their learning curves. And the thought of going back to any other spot isn’t attractive.
Yet on the curve is where the magic is. Humility isn’t avoiding something at which you’re not an expert, something you believe that others do better. Real humility is about embracing opportunities that excite you with a commitment to learn and grow.
The next time you’re presented with such an opportunity in your life, I encourage you to grab it and give it your all. Stretch and challenge yourself, do your best, and enjoy the ride.
Jennifer Hamady is the author of The Art of Singing series, which explores the psychology of self-expression.