4 Simple Steps to Diversify Your Skills
Words by Kara Chamberlain
The old adage "jack of all trades, master of none" definitely applies to me, and it has been the key to my career so far. Collecting skills and knowledge over the past 10 years has made me half-decent at tech, design, directing, writing, marketing, accounting, production management, contract writing, applying for programming...the list goes on. Yes, this sounds like a bit of a brag, but to be honest these skills have developed over time thanks to a lot of mistakes and a dash of curiosity.
Here is a guide to starting your journey towards knowing a little bit about a lot of stuff.
1. Be Curious.
I cannot emphasise enough how important this first point is. If you are not interested in learning new skills, then maybe this path isn't for you (and that is okay! all the other freelancers who you hire in the future will thank you). A keen sense of curiosity is the key to connecting with the people who can teach you. Sometimes it is as simple as asking a few extra questions during a tech run, or taking a friend out for coffee and picking their brain. You don't know what you don't know, so develop your curiosity and see where that leads you.
2. Say Yes.
A lot of my random skills developed because I had no choice but to say yes. I learned sound editing in Garage Band when my final project for a university dance class was hanging in the balance, my excel spreadsheet skills (useful for budgeting) came about when my aunt's secretary went on holiday and I covered her job for a few weeks over a summer, and my minimal knowledge of how to connect a microphone to a sound system are from that day the theatre I worked Front of House for didn't have a technician. Trying something that you might fail at is often one of the best learning opportunities you'll ever get, so say yes when opportunities come your way.
3. Ask for Advice.
When we were first starting to work as Crossline Theatre, I took one of my friends out for coffee and asked him to help me learn about finances. He has a degree in business and experience as a production manager, and the hour he spent talking me through different tools and systems laid the foundation for all our future projects. A good starting point is to make a list of people in your life who have experience doing things that you want to know more about, then spend time talking to them about what they do. People are often very happy to talk about their interests and offer advice. And if you really aren't a people-person, I've also found some great online courses (check out FutureLearn for some good ones).
4. Trial and Error.
This may seem obvious, but the best way to learn something new is to give it a try. When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone? Trying new things is scary, because you have to face the idea of failure. But making mistakes is part of the process of developing your skills and yourself, so embracing the errors as part of the learning process takes away the fear and can even add some fun. If you can't laugh at yourself who can you laugh at, right? So whether it's learning a new language, writing your first poem, trying out the guitar, or making cookies for your cast-mates, go out there and give it a go. The worst that can happen is you learn how to do it better next time.
A lot of the tools in my virtual toolkit didn't come from specific courses or workshops, they came through trial and error, asking for help, and blind determination (aka stubbornness). Not everyone wants to be their own one-person-band, and it is definitely not a necessity if you want to make art, but it can be very empowering to have a broad skill-set. For me, having a basic knowledge of so many elements in the theatre-making process has helped me communicate a vision to technicians and designers, navigate the world of funding, and tell the stories I want to tell.
**COVID-19 EDIT: With so many artists out of work, now is a great time to build new skills. You may not be able to invite someone for coffee, but sending a message to an artist you think is doing interesting work or reconnecting with an old colleague or classmate could lead to new opportunities for skill development. This is a great time to try out new things, such as film editing (iMovie or Movie Maker are great places to start playing around), sound recording (again, Garage Band for Mac users is a fun skill to learn), writing a script, doing your taxes yourself, learning photoshop or website design...there are so many free resources to help you along the way. Check out The Skills Toolkit campaign for inspiration.
Hopefully this has inspired you to try out some new skills. As artists we are always growing, seeking new sources of inspiration, and connecting with new people. But sometimes we can get stuck in our own corner of the world. Branching out and learning new skills is an incredible way to learn about your art and yourself, not to mention you might find a new passion along the way.