What does it take for you to feel completely and totally accepted? I don’t know about you, but I hold a pretty high bar for myself most of the time, and feeling good enough can often be a stretch. For me, it takes self-focus and constant reminders about why I’m here. And what I’m doing.
A few years ago, I took dance training from a high-level ballroom coach. I attended lessons three times a week and practiced 2-3 days on my own. My commitment level was high and I was becoming a very good dancer. Learning was like a drug. I looked forward to every opportunity to dance with this coach because he made me feel capable.
But over time, during our lessons, he would talk about his other students, making comparisons about what they could and couldn’t do. It bothered me that he would share this information and it bothered me even more that he was comparing me to them, even if they were dancing at a different level.
He would often say, “So-and-so has her moments of brilliance, but…”
My teacher was an excellent critic of other people’s dancing. He taught by the book and could point out what professional dancers were doing wrong and what they should do instead. It didn’t take me long to realize he made comparisons to and about all of his students. It was a conversation during the lessons and how he kept people organized.
Newsflash: I was just one of the many who had her moments of brilliance, but…
This realization stung at first. I thought I was better than that – brilliant with only small (very small) moments of error. I wanted to be top-notch in his opinion. In the lessons, I wanted praise and appreciation. I longed to be his best student.
But in reality, I was one of many. I was probably one of his better students, but not the best.
Coming to this understanding, I began to question what I was doing and why. Was I dancing merely for the praise? For the chance to be on top? Was I caught up in a game of good, better, best?
In the beginning, I wanted to learn how to be a better partner, to be a skilled follower. I wanted to be able to dance with anyone. I longed to know this other language that seemed essential to my soul. My body craved connection with others. It was both grounding and freeing at the same time. Dancing was so much me!
But somewhere along the way, the comparisons began and I reacted. Sadly, I’d made my coach’s opinion of my ability and skill level far more important than my own. You see, dance, like anything else, has a certain metric for learning. Over time you move from beginner to intermediate to advanced. And somewhere in there, you might attain brilliance. The harder you work, the better you become, leaving your less accomplished self behind. Sometimes you go so far in, you forget why you came.
So there I was, standing at a crossroads. I could either put myself in the ring and fight for the top spot, or I could focus on loving where I am and what I’m doing with my dancing. Thankfully I chose the latter because if I hadn’t, I would forever be scratching and clawing to be seen and approved of. I would’ve never been satisfied.
One day, I walked into my lesson and asked him to stop talking about what other students were doing, or not. It was so habitual I had to remind him a few times, but finally, he quit – at least with me. I’m sure he still talked about me with other students, but I couldn’t change that.
It took nearly half my life to realize that I’ll never live up to my expectations of myself. I know that I’ve always set the bar higher than I can reach because it gives me something to aspire to. It opens me up to be more of what I can imagine, even if I don’t get to be the best at anything. I know I can be the best ME if I accept myself as is before I climb any ladders. I had to learn to love the rungs more than the top.
When my focus shifts from shining my light to trying to be the best, I’ll make choices that aren’t always good for me. I’ll fall into comparing and analyzing myself, two things I can’t afford to do. My relationship with others becomes strained because I can’t see their beauty: I’m too busy projecting my fears onto them. Trying to be the best is a surefire way to see yourself always in second place.
No matter what you’re doing, or how good you are, there will always be those who are better. No matter how high you climb the ladder, there will always be more rungs to reach for. As ambitious humans, we’re constantly raising the bar on ourselves. So go for it. Climb as high as you like, just don’t use that bar to determine your lovability, acceptability, or deservedness. There’s too many of us here on Earth to make fair comparisons.
Instead, do what you do for the love of it.
So in a way, I guess what I’m saying is that the most we can ever really hope for are moments of brilliance. Moments when something beyond our flesh and bones moves through us and makes us shine brightly. Moments when love takes over and teaches us something. To conduct that kind of light, we have to be fully ourselves, to stretch ourselves to our highest heights. We have to run and fall and get back up again. Reach out into the dark unknown and take risks.
We have to swoop and swirl and laugh out loud, opening our hearts to loving something enough to let it break us down and make space…just enough for the light to shine through.
Let that kind of love lead you onward toward brilliance!
~A Girl on Her Own, Tracy