By Rhiannon Vivian
Do you ever feel you’ve cheated somehow if you find certain stuff easy and fun? Whatever that thing is, do you tend to judge it as being less valuable and not worth as much as things you really labour over? Have you even actively thrown yourself a curve ball to try and make things harder for no reason?
I have. I’d like to stop. We tend to assume if we can do something, it must be universally easy, but that’s not the case. Your fun and easy (whatever that may be – writing, improv, pure mathematics, characters, singing, cooking, mechanical engineering) may well be someone else’s nightmare. An introverted painter may decide you couldn’t pay him enough NOT to do or try and make a living from performing.
I’m just stunned that without struggle, value is so often diminished in our own eyes. I say it with personal experience. There have been gigs that have often felt ‘too good’ or ‘too fun,’ to possibly warrant any financial reward. But then you realise that’s essentially crazy, because not everyone can or wants to do what we do. And yes we’ve trained and worked hard, but it somehow feels different. I remember having a similar conversation with my parents about writing. I sometimes felt peculiar as a freelance writer for expecting a particular rate of pay. And they said, ‘not everyone can write.’
We all have skills that come more easily than others, or at least we practice and pursue them because we love them. And instead of looking at someone else’s skills and thinking they must be better, we should start valuing what we bring to the party. And despite the fact it goes against every self-deprecating British bone in my body, I really want to do that. I want to celebrate the things that feel good. And if it earns me reward – fantastic, that makes sense.
I promise I’m not advocating not trying. But I think there is a difference between struggle and working at something you love. You can have a natural aptitude while still putting the hours in. When The Maydays took our Quantum Leap show to Edinburgh, we worked hard at the different elements within the show. We spent days with Katy, our director, unpicking tropes and studying the nuances of characters and their relationships. So it was ‘work’ in a sense as we were learning and challenging ourselves but it was never, ever effortful. If it were a job in the traditional sense, we wouldn’t have even noticed the ‘overtime’.
Interestingly, I had a conversation with a friend with Southeast Asian heritage (her mother is Malaysian) about this very subject and she said that this way of thinking is the norm for her mum’s side of her family. That an optimum state to be in is ‘ease’ – which the dictionary defines as having ‘comfort of body and mind.’ Mmm, sounds great, doesn’t it? She also pointed out the opposite to easy or ‘ease’ – which is dis-ease – where your mind and body are struggling. Which of course also means to be sick or unwell. And who on earth would actively seek that? She said no one in her family would feel bad or guilty about pursuing things they find easy because it makes no sense.
Joe Samuel from The Maydays says as a youngster, he found himself feeling guilty for having perfect pitch. ‘It allows me to hear music and identify the actual notes being played, without any conscious effort,’ he says. ‘Much like most people can do with light frequency or colour, I can do with sound frequency. I felt guilty about my abilities as I progressed through schools, as my peers made their grumblings more vocal. However hard I tried to be supportive, I just appeared smug. Now as a professional improviser I still feel like a bit of a cheat but have learnt to celebrate rather than feel embarrassed about having perfect pitch. I owe my career and happiness to it.’
If you can attribute your happiness to something how can it conceivably be anything but a good thing? When it comes to improv we all have to study and practice but that doesn’t mean there are some aspects we find easier than others. I think that’s what makes a team awesome – everyone is bringing not just core skills to the party, but extra individual flourishes, each one as valuable as the next.
Hard work at something you love is not the same as struggle and stress. So keep doing what makes your soul sing and if it feels easy, or starts to feel easier, be happy. Never feel guilty.