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how to start a fire

January 19, 2010

On Sunday afternoon I was privileged to have seven amazing people come to a place that I had nominated and stand before me and ask for my approval. My first thought is that that doesn’t often happen in life but on reflection I suppose that it does. At some point in our lives we all have applied for a job and gone through an interview process. A process where we are basically asking for a stranger’s approval of who we are. It can be a very stressful thing to do and speaking from personal experience it can be very difficult not to take rejection very, very personally.

Some of us, as we progress through our lives, find ourselves in the position of being the person who gives that approval. We wade through mountains of applications looking for a reason to narrow down the field to a manageable number of candidates. We interview them and start trying to imagine if they will fit into the role. Do they have the sort of experience we are looking for? What previous roles have they had? How will they fit with the rest of the team?

That was the position I found myself in on a very hot Sunday afternoon in Brisbane. I was running auditions for a show I am Directing with the Sunnybank Theatre Group ( later this year. It just so happens that it is a show that calls for an all female cast between the ages or 50 and 70.

Now, when you do your workplace fire safety training they tell you that before you can have a fire you need the three elements shown below

Oxygen - Fuel - Energy

Without any one of the three elements you cannot have a fire. We live in a world full of wood and breathe oxygen all the time but without the heat, the energy source, there is (gladly) no chance that that wood is going to burst into flame. To start a fire you need to add that energy. Conversely, you can have a lighter but if you cannot find any wood to provide the fuel you are going to be in for a long cold night.

I think there is an equivalent set of elements that are necessary for people to start a fire in their own lives and I have summarized it as follows:

Ability - Belief - Showing Up

I am reading a fair bit of material on NLP at the moment and one of the ‘presuppositions’ is that if one person can do something, anyone can learn to do it. To me the message is that we all have the ability to achieve great things – it is fundamentally part of  our nature like the oxygen is part of the air that surrounds us. I like that view because it aligns with how I see the world but consistent with my model I don’t think it is enough.

The second element requires you to show up – to bring your wood to the fireplace. In the lead up to the auditions somebody asked me “Is it even worth me turning up?” to which I replied “I can guarantee that if you show up you will have a much better chance of being in the show than if you don’t!” Despite that, a couple of people didn’t show up for the auditions and they are not in the show.

What struck me the most about the experience and prompted me to write was just how critical the third element is. Without the belief in yourself it doesn’t matter how much you have developed your ability or that you have shown up – you are just not going to be able to light the fire.

One of the seven who auditioned for me on Sunday was doing so for the first time. An experienced presenter at workshops and a person who heals with her voice there was no question she had the ability to read the audition piece in an expressive and interesting way. She ticked the second box by showing up – she brought her wood to the BBQ. But when she walked into the audition space for the first time she had left the belief in herself behind. (Now, lest you think this only happens to first timers, on the same day I was blessed to have another wonderful woman audition for me – the same woman who almost 20 years ago ran my very first audition and gave me my very first part in a show. She is experienced and skilled and she generously came to along to audition for me. Just like the first timer, her belief in herself fled. It is a terrible moment and when it happens to me as it often does I wish the earth would open and swallow me whole.)

Now being an Australian male there is one thing that I know for certain. If you are having  BBQ and you forget to bring matches there will always be someone there to lend you a lighter – just for a moment until you get the fire going. Maybe it will just take a single match but before long everybody is enjoying the warm glow of the flames.

And that is all it took.

A little bit of belief offered and borrowed. A moment to gather thoughts and wipe away the tears that were threatening, a wisp of smoke and before long we were all enjoying the warm smile of someone who (I hope) had just started a new fire in her heart. I saw the same thing happen the day before when giving two little people who I love dearly the confidence to try something new resulted in the launch of Brisbane’s newest cupcake tycoons. But that is a story for another day!

I believe we all have talents beyond our wildest imaginings. I know it often takes so much of my energy just to convince myself just to show up I often often lack the spark of belief that I need. I am grateful for the many people whose belief in me is what gets the fire started – some are near and others are halfway around the world.

I think it is time to pay it forward and start some fires. You have the ability just show up and be prepared to give it a go. You can borrow my matches because I believe in you.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Megan permalink
    February 24, 2010 1:47 pm

    hey Paul,

    You told me about this one, and to be honest I skimmed over it last time I visited because you kinda told me the “punch line”.

    The story is lovelier than simply the punch line. Thanks 🙂

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