I was at a wedding and dancing with my fiancee, and a couple of days later, her father texted her and said “you guys need to take dance lessons…Ryan needs A LOT of lessons.”
Well, since we’re also getting married in the next year, I can’t humiliate myself by being at my own wedding, not knowing how to dance. I didn’t have any rhythm. So even with our busy schedules as teachers in inner-city environments, my fiancee and I made time for couple’s dances.
Three-quarters of the way through our dance lessons, I will say my fiancee and I are both a lot better. We’ve come a long way. We’ve done pretty well learning the basics of the tango, merengue, swing, rumba, and more.
I thought I had no rhythm. But a long time ago, I used to play the violin. I got pretty good at it, but the problem was I started playing violin when I was in eighth grade, and a bunch of Asian friends were really good at the violin had been playing since they were four years old. It was way too much work to catch up, but yes, I learned rhythm playing music and didn’t realize dancing was the same kind of rhythm.
Being horrible at dancing has been a lot of fun because I’m not afraid of taking risks. I’m not afraid of looking like a completely incompetent fool out there. I embrace the fact that I’m a beginner and I know nothing, and when you’re a beginner and have absolutely no expertise, you go a lot easier on yourself than vice versa.
Right now, my fiancee is also taking swimming lessons. She started from not knowing how to swim to progressing and being as good of a swimmer as me (I’m still not great, but I can swim laps and survive). She’s come a really long way and is proud of it, but our experiences with dancing and swimming have taught us a valuable lesson.
It’s really fun to do something you suck at
Sometimes, when you perceive yourself to be skilled at something and have expertise in that subject, it isn’t as fun as it used to be. You start to aim toward perfection rather than just having fun and finding joy.
Minda Zetlin at Inc uses the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy socialite who sang at performances even though she was an awful singer. Jenkins, towards the end of her life, would sell-out concerts at Carnegie Hall despite being a laughably horrible singer.
At the end of the day, she remarked people could say she was a horrible singer, but no one could say she didn’t sing.
From Jenkins’s story, Zetlin remarks doing something you’re really bad at helps you learn a lot more, makes you leave your comfort zone, makes you accept embarrassment, and teaches you how to fail.
All of these things have been remarkably true to my experience dancing. I have certainly left my comfort zone to make a fool of myself at dance sessions. I have learned a lot, and I have accepted being an embarrassing failure.
I accept I will never quite perform at dance competitions or be a professional dancer.
But being awful at dancing and doing it anyway with my fiancee has taught me the lost art of just having fun and not worrying about how well you’re doing. Somewhere down the line, I lose that in almost everything else I do as I improve: teaching, writing, running, and more.
Sometimes the fear of not being good enough stops you from getting out there and just having fun. As a beginner in a field where you have zero competence, you don’t have that.
When suck at something, you don’t have to worry about perfection. You can worry about growth
In terms of self-improvement, which feels good for almost anyone, being atrociously bad at something is especially beneficial for perfectionists as a whole.
As a beginner, you’re open to feedback and new ideas because, well, you know nothing. And as an expert on something, sometimes you can have a closed mind and think you know everything. As much as we may deny it, we’ve all been there.
It can also be exhausting to hold yourself to such a strict and regimented standard all the time as well.
Doing something you suck at puts you in that beginner’s mindset, which is a Japanese concept known as shoshin, the “beginner’s mind.”
In a way, being a beginner and then experiencing rapid improvement reminds you of how you became an expert in another subject, to begin with. As a runner, I know it’s much easier to improve your mile time from a 10-minute mile to a 6-minute mile than it is to improve from a 4:40 mile to a 4:30 mile.
Of course, the degree of difficulty grows as you improve, but as a beginner, you listen to people who know better. You’re open to new ideas and possibilities.
And somewhere down the line, we lose that mindset. I’m not saying we should never lean into our expertise. But doing something you’re really bad at can re-teach you the joys and benefits of being a beginner.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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