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How to Be Successful by NOT Being a Diva

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

Merriam-Webster defines a diva as being "a usually glamorous and successful female performer or personality." Those of us who have spent anytime behind the scenes in the arts world know it by its Google dictionary definition: "a self-important person who is temperamental and difficult to please." This person has a knack for making everyone else around them completely miserable. Let's be honest. If a person is difficult to deal with, is anyone going to want to work with them a second time?

Before I go any further, let's get one thing straight. For the purpose of this post, a diva does not have to be female. There are plenty of male divas out there. However, there is no real masculine equivalent for this word in the English language. Go figure. If you know of one, let me know in the comments.

So, if you still believe that divas are "glamorous" and "successful", here is a list of ways that you can be a diva. I prefer to call it a list of what not to do so that you are not a pain in the ass to your fellow creative artists.:

1. Be better than everyone else. More accomplished. More talented. More everything. No one can teach you anything because there is nothing in your field of expertise that you don't know. In fact, treat fellow artists as your students. You have a lot of knowledge that you can impart to them.

2. Expect more of others than you expect of yourself. They need a lot of practice. A lot. But you can sight read, improvise, or create a masterpiece in 30 minutes flat. No problem.

3. Insist that your way is the best and make sure that others follow. If they don't want to do it your way, well then, they can do it somewhere else.

4. Make sure you get exactly 36 green M&M's in the trail mix. Okay, that's a metaphor for all the crazy things we've heard about in big recording artists' contracts. The point is, point out everyone else's mistakes or shortcomings. Doesn't matter if it is in a rehearsal or not. They need the criticism so they can improve.

5. Take total artistic control. You are the one with all the great ideas. No collaboration is needed and no creative process except the one in your head is required. You know how you want it to go and you already have everything you need. Everyone else is secondary.

All of that sounds really snarky, but if you look carefully back over the list, you may find that all of those qualities in a milder form can be parts of a very confident personality. You can strive to excel, gain a level of experience that makes improvisation easy, be a strong leader, give constructive criticism, and create a strong vision. So when does confidence cross over into total obnoxiousness?

I would like to suggest that all those things that we traditional think of as qualities of a great artist are not really great qualities at all. The corporate world has already figured this out. The new business model is collaboration. The importance is the project, not the person. Managers that do not encourage their staff to innovate generally do not last long. Employees who try to hijack the spotlight may do well for a while, but as a friend once told me, "Don't step on the toes of someone whose butt you may have to kiss later."

Here's a very important question to ask yourself if you are a creative artist: What is more important to you, your work or your fame? If it is your fame, you are in the wrong business.

Here are some statistics to think about:

75% of US artists make less than $10,000 per year

91% of musicians are "unknowns"

80% of actors are unemployed in their field, 19% are in low-paying, low-visibility gigs

Only 3% of trained dancers become professional dancers

So if you are going to be successful, you are going to have to be diverse. This might mean teaching, working for a non-profit arts group, working at a church or a music store, or even (gasp) booking other artists for a venue. Regardless, you're going to have to be willing to step out of the spotlight.

Now, ask yourself this: If there are so few opportunities in this industry, do you really have the liberty to be a pain in the ass to your fellow artists? Do you really have the time to be difficult?

No, you don't.

So if you are ready to succeed, you need to learn to play nice with others. How do you do that? Learn to collaborate. Use what you learned in preschool - Be kind. Share. Build blocks together. If you're not sure where to start, try speaking to successful business leaders. They will tell you how important this is. Take a class to hone your collaboration skills. Read a good book on the subject. I recommend Radical Collaboration by James Tamm. If you are not sure if you're playing nice, look at your fellow artists. Are they your friends? Do they want to work with you more than once? If not, become a collaborator.

I've seen my share of divas and it is ugly. I bet you have a funny story and an alternative behavior plan. What do you do when you encounter one? You can discuss this on the forum post for this article. The forum is for members, but you can join for free if you're not already one.

CATT Center is a free social media format designed specifically for creative artists to collaborate and share knowledge for the benefit of the arts in all of our communities.

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