Don’t be a stage hog

Or: Nobody likes a diva

Love art in yourself, and not yourself in art.
Constantin Stanislavski, My Life In Art

In my lifetime I’ve performed in over 40 theatrical productions, directed more than a dozen, and have participated as a member of an improvisational comedy troupe off and on for the past 20+ years.

Let me tell you: I know what a diva is. I’m not talking about the traditional dictionary definition of diva (very talented female singer). I’m talking about someone who loves themselves above all others and will take credit for ideas and work that anyone praises them for, whether or not they are the appropriate benefactors of that praise. People who want the spotlight all to themselves and go to great pains to ensure attention is paid to them.

You learn quickly in a theater community who the divas (be they men or women) are. For some reason, they often get cast in the lead roles. Maybe because they exude a kind of over confidence.

But I’ve known these people up close and personal, both in theater and in life, and have admittedly had my own diva moments. And I can tell you that what is at the heart of a diva is not confidence. It’s insecurity, lack of trust and fear of losing control.

Think about people in your life who insist that they do everything themselves. The people who don’t or won’t delegate. They’re not bad people. What they are is people who need help to establish trust.

I think about the people like this that I’ve met in my career in user experience design — the ‘design divas’. They work in a vacuum. They don’t delegate or share projects. They don’t collaborate. They isolate themselves and hoard away their work. They feel responsible for every single design they lay eyes on and feel like it’s their calling to make it better.

This is fear operating. Fear of not having control. Fear of not being useful. Fear of not being the best at what they do. And it’s this fear at work that keeps them at arms length from their colleagues. The ones who don’t understand them despise them. And how often do we bother to try to understand those we despise?

These people can end up very isolated. They alienate themselves often without realizing it or understanding why.

If there’s a work diva in your life, I challenge you to ask them to lunch. Ask them about their family, their dog, their cat, their house, their life. Don’t talk about work. Just get to know the person. Build a trust between you.

When you share a personal trust with someone, it goes miles towards breaking down the barriers they’ve put in place. You’d be surprised at how receptive that person will be to collaborating with someone they trust personally.

Remember, they’re not bad people. Their intentions are good. They just need your help in letting go of control and trusting someone.

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