I am a pretty do-it-myself type of person. I can figure things out on my own. I am reasonably smart, crafty, I learn by watching, reading, listening. I don’t ask for a lot of help and sometimes when I ask for guidance it is really to make sure that the direction that I am going is a reasonable one. But, all that said, there are times in my life I crave direction. These days are worst for my husband who occasionally gets the “I am tired and don’t know what to wear” or the “Just pick a restaurant, I can’t pick a restaurant because I can’t make any more decisions today.” Then there are other times I want direction. Or when I look back on my life and think “Why didn’t my parents provide me more direction? What were they thinking?”
And in those moments I can resent those who fail or failed to give direction. But sometimes it is a good thing. We need to remember that a lack of direction is freedom. I remember during one of my early freshman college projects I was freaking out because we had very little direction. My older brother told me “No direction is great, because you can do it however you want to do it.” I listened to him and did what I thought I should, but my little want-an-A-in-class brain was mega concerned with doing what the teacher wanted and if I didn’t know what the teacher wanted then I would explode. Aggghhhh!
I have (mostly) gotten over that mind set. I (mostly) do things the way I want to, when I want to, what I want to… But damn it, I still want to make everyone happy. And if I have actual direction it is so much easier to make sure that I am doing the “right thing.” (sigh).
But my brother was right – a lack of direction, for good or for ill, is a freedom. As such, we often need to remember to thank those people who didn’t direct us – or maybe I should say – didn’t over direct us. They let us choose our own paths, our own way, find our own voices. I complained to my husband at one point that I was making decisions in a play and I wasn’t sure that they were the right decisions because I hadn’t gotten direction. He said – “That is good – actor’s choice – making your own decisions.”
It can be super scary making your own decisions – in life as well as in art. But making your own decisions is the best way to learn, the best way to develop your own sense of self, and to gain experience, understanding, and confidence in yourself and what you can do. One of my favorite recent experiences in helping someone choreograph a number was to ask the performer – a lovely dancer – to improvise to the music. Then I watched her do things that were amazing. She could not remember what she had done, so I showed her the movements she had created, which she then incorporated into the dance. I helped her, certainly, but the biggest help from me was showing her that she could actually do it herself.
We all forget that sometimes. I was singing and I thought, I wish someone would give me direction on this. And I told myself – (yes, I have conversations with myself in my head. They are not out loud), “You take voice lessons. You know what to do. Breathe. Open your mouth. Make this shape when you make an E sound. Make your consonants heard. Breathe more. Really Breathe.” I knew all the things. I really didn’t need someone to make those decisions for me, even though I initially thought that I did.
More feedback is great. Are we doing it right or wrong? But getting (and giving) feedback is also scary. It is scary when you make the commitment on your own to do something or do it a certain way and then someone tells you it is wrong or not good enough. People get hurt. People get angry. People cry. People resent the fact that you didn’t give them more direction in the first place and if you had they wouldn’t have failed. Darn it, how dare you give someone feedback like that? So the getting feedback is vulnerable and can make you sad. But people often don’t give feedback (unless it is positive feedback) because they are scared of receiving the repercussions and negative emotions from that feedback. What a crazy, awful, feeling bad kind of loop does that create? As a director/teacher/whatever, sometimes the hardest thing you do is putting yourself out there to accept the emotional repercussions from the feedback you need to give.
Accepting feedback is important and getting feedback is a gift. Giving feedback can be crucial and should not be done rudely or insensitively, but with honest intent and assistance. Feedback is the process that helps people feel comfortable or not comfortable about making decisions in life. Feedback is better when it comes at small intervals throughout a process. For example, if you are writing a paper for a work project, it is much more helpful to provide feedback at intervals such as:
- Provide topic
- Give feedback
- Provide outline
- Give feedback
- Draft summary of project plans
- Give feedback
- Write paper
- Give feedback.
Sometimes feedback is so negatively overwhelming because we get all the negative feedback all at one time and we can’t correct it or even know where we went astray. If we have gone through the process and have no feedback until we get to the end then we tend to think everything is a failure, when maybe the idea and outline were great but the writing just sucks. Where did we go wrong? It is even more frustrating when you provide all of the items in the process but then don’t get any feedback on it until the very end. Awwwww… Bummer.
So, what is directing? Being a good director/supervisor/teacher/whatever is not always about telling a person what to do in intimate step-by-step detail. Maybe initially. Yes, learning your first algebra problem is going to be pretty step-by-step. But after you get it, you learn and process and do it on your own. (But show your work so we can see where you screw up and correct it, right?)
Directing should be about letting the person make decisions, challenges, trying things, expanding their boundaries. But there has to be feedback. Otherwise the direction is missing. Was the decision right or wrong? Why? In fourth grade a teacher told me I couldn’t do a book report on a book I wanted to read. He told me it was too easy for me. He let someone else in class read that book, but not me. I was not happy at the moment, but it was a great piece of direction. He let me pick (my choice, right?), he told me it was not acceptable, and he told me why it was not acceptable. He pushed me because he knew I could do more. He didn’t pick a new book for me but let me pick it for myself and the next time, he approved my new choice. The feedback was crucial in helping me grow as a student and meet what he thought was my potential. He didn’t make all the decisions, but he explained to me the reason for his rational so I could make a better choice.
And the feedback has to be the right feedback at the right time. When you first take the training wheels off the bicycle, you applaud and praise the child for being able to balance on the bike without them, you don’t start immediately criticizing them for not pedaling faster or not being able to do wheelies or bike tricks. The feedback and direction have to apply to the person and situation of the moment, not some other person in some other time in some other place.
So, at a certain point in life, in art, in everything, being a good director isn’t about making decisions for someone else, but it is about the director telling you when those decisions are the wrong ones or maybe just the not right for you ones, or the you can do more ones (and sometimes the you are doing too much ones). Directing is feedback: positive, negative, pushing, pulling, getting the most from what you have to give. Without the opportunity to make a decision – and then receiving the follow up direction, feedback, guidance – we can’t grow or change or improve ourselves. Directing is about the right feedback for the right person at the right time in the right place on the right project, not about telling you exactly how to do a thing you need to do.