To provide some context, our group is made up of approximately 125 dancers. Each week of the year, Reba J, our instructor, organizes smaller groups from this large group to perform at seniors’ facilities around the city and surrounding area. It is colourful, lively entertainment for the seniors. For the dancers, Reba J has cleverly created these performing events so we will be comfortable for our big performances during the Calgary Stampede, and at other key events in the city. Each small performance, while low stakes in terms of crowd critics, is actually made much more challenging for the dancers in two ways; we dress in new, different themed outfits each time and, as if that wasn’t enough of a distraction for us, Reba J replaces our familiar tunes with music to match the theme. The steps are the same, but the music is completely different. It’s enough to force even a seasoned dancer to have to concentrate.
For a sideliner like me, I thought it might be career ending.
In fairness to myself, I handled some of the songs like an old pro, smiling and engaging with the audience. But at other times, long, slow, painful, slow-motion times, it seemed as though when I was toe-heeling right, everyone else was heel-toeing left. Many times, I proudly twirled around only to find myself face to face with the rest of the girls who clearly were not following me in my self-assigned solo.
I recovered from most of my mis-steps and while I eventually found my feet, it was often only a few seconds before the song ended. Luckily, the music and the other dancers were entertaining enough to lessen the spectacle I was creating. When we finished our set, as per our usual routine, everyone kindly and enthusiastically complimented each other, including letting me know I had done fine. But I, and my Inner Critic, knew better.
I, who know all about Inner Critics, had opened the door for mine, and she had waltzed right through it like a long-lost friend. She had no trouble keeping up with me and my mis-steps. As I would find myself face to face with the other dancers she would whisper, ‘I knew you weren’t ready.’
On the drive home she rode shotgun and continued her commentary, ‘You have less than eight weeks until it’s really show time. You cannot possibly learn all the new dances.’ By the time I drove into our garage she dealt her final blow:
‘You need to quit. Just for this year. You are not quite ready…. yet.’
My Inner Critic, like that of everyone else’s on this planet is a clever one. If she had said, ‘You’re a loser. You can’t dance.’, I would never have believed her. I have good solid proof to the contrary.
But she didn’t say that. Instead she used the clever little phrase that has stopped many a strong woman from taking brave steps. ‘You’re not quite ready… yet’.
You see, this we can believe. The ‘yet’ word causes us to think she is really on our side, cheering us on, and gosh, darn, she would never, ever want to see us fail so she just suggests we wait… a bit. It sounds so logical. It sounds truthful, even kind. She didn’t say I couldn’t perform. Just not yet. The trouble is, she will always think ‘You’re not quite ready…. yet’. She detests it when we get out of our comfort zone.
The more I listened to her, the more she tried to convince me I should talk to Reba J about the upcoming performing season. Luckily, hers is not the only voice in my head. I recalled a phrase told to me by Tara Mohr, founder, coach and author of Playing Big:
‘That is too big a solution for your problem.’
In Tara’s story, a little boy was worried about an upcoming swim meet, knowing he had to swim a full length of the pool without stopping. He came up with every possible reason to not go the meet, believing skipping the entire swim meet was the only solution. When he finally revealed his true reason for not wanting to go, his mom wisely responded with, ‘Sweetie, that is too big a solution for your problem.’ This wonderful little story has stuck with me.
The sorrow I had been feeling about thinking I might not be able to perform this season began to lift. This solution of ‘I’m not ready to dance… yet… not this year’, was too big for my problem. My problem is, in fact, that I have only been back to dance class for a few weeks and there is a lot to learn. This happens to be a manageable problem for which there are reasonable solutions. There are extra classes I can attend, I have classmates who will help me and there are PDF instructions I can use at home.
All of us face challenges and setbacks. Each of us can think of a time when we created a solution that was far too big for our problem. When we do this, we take ourselves right out of the game. We do this when we speak up at a meeting, get criticized, and decide never to offer our opinion again. We do this when we are driving and have a mishap, or get lost, and decide we can’t drive on busy roads any more. We do this when we plan a special event that doesn’t go according to plan so we determine never to put ourselves out there again. We do this when we are told we aren’t good at something when we are in grade one and we never try to do it again. These are all solutions far too big for their problems.
I plan to perform this season. I plan to know the steps. I plan to add to the positive image of the group. I’ll likely make a mistake or two. Or three. So will the other dancers. Even the really good ones. But the performing mistakes I make will be far, far less damaging than the mistake I would make if I let myself believe I cannot dance.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What is a right size solution for this problem?’
Elizabeth is a certified, professional Life and Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is also the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership and personal coaching for individuals and teams. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She dances with the Chinook Country Dancers. Contact Elizabeth and allow her to help you right-size your solutions.