The biggest challenge of attempting anything new is that when you first begin, you are pretty much guaranteed to be inept, clumsy and just plain-old terrible at whatever it is.
Take for instance, me, this morning.
This morning I tried something completely new – I took my very first Cuban Salsa class.
(This, FYI, is not a picture of me. Dagnabbit.)
I confidently took my place in the front row of class, fully expecting to be able to pick up the moves with relative ease.
I mean, come, on, how hard could it be?
Answer – Pretty Freakin’ Hard!
And this was not a casual just-do-the-best-you-can dance class.
This was a full-on, real deal, you-better-know-your-shit dance class.
We hit the ground running and it wasn’t six minutes into class before Meany-Pants Teacher Lady was pointing at me from the other side of the room and gesturing vigorously for me to move my Beginner’s Ass to the back line.
Yeah, I got straight-up demoted.
I wanted to walk out to go and have a good cry in the parking lot but, paralyzed by self-consciousness, I stood there in my new spot in the back of class, teetering on the brink of a shame spiral…
Oh my god, I am the worst one in here! How did all these freakin’ MILFs get so good at Salsa anyway?? I am literally tripping over my own feet.. My Jewish Ass should stick to something simple like Polka – clearly it does not have the necessary rhythm for this latin groove!! What am I even doing here??? I suck I suck I suck I suck I suck I suck…I should just quietly sneak out the back and never speak of this again…I suck suck I suck…
I rode the wave of embarrassment and sure enough, it passed.
Emotions do that, you know. You’ll notice that after about 90 seconds the physiological content of an emotional reaction (sweaty palms, pit in the stomach, wanting to hurl, etc.) is gone. After that, it’s our brain on replay, telling us stories that keep the emotion going.
And once it passed, the most amazing thing happened. The embarrassment wave somehow extinguished my I Should Be Good at This story and I was able to step into the freedom of the truth, that I was a newbie who had no idea what the fuck I was doing so my being terrible at it was 100% appropriate.
I gave myself permission to be the wildly inexperienced novice Cuban Salsa Dancer that I am!
And that, my friends, made all the difference in the world.
When I no longer had anything to prove, class got really fun. I shook it, I grooved it, I bonded with the MILFS against our common enemy, Meany-Pants Teacher Lady as it turned out that no one was safe from her fierce feedback….
I had a blast at exactly the level I was at – Beginner.
And by the end of class I can proudly report that my Cuban Salsa skills progressed one nano-notch, from a complete shit show to a slightly-less complete shit show.
Even Meany-Pants Teacher was a little less cunty by the end.
Growth has many faces, ya’ll.
So what did I learn this morning?
I was reminded that staying on the road to getting even reasonably good at anything new, requires us to first learn to endure the highly challenging step of Being Incompetent.
Incompetence is the first part of any learning process, despite what some parts of our own psyche would have us believe.
Let us remember the 4 Stages of Learning:
1. Unconscious Incompetence – I don’t know what I don’t know.
2. Conscious Incompetence – Holy shit, there is so much I don’t know!
3. Conscious Competence – I know how to do this, I just need to pay very close attention. I’m doing it, I’m doing it…stop distracting me so I can do this!
4. Unconscious Competence – What, this old thing I’m doing? No problem. I’ve got this so dialed, I don’t even need to think about it… You were saying?
It’s in those middle steps (2 & 3) that our brains start panicking and try to protect us by spouting off nonsense.
Brain: Okay, we’ve tried this new thing a couple times and we are not instantly brilliant at it, so clearly, we should just stop. Obviously we are not meant to do it. Let’s bail and go do something we are already good at. And on the way there I’ll tell you again how you will never be loved with those thighs…
Here’s a general word to the wise, ya’ll:
And while expertise is a beautiful thing and a worthwhile goal, let us not forget that it can also be limiting.
Once we have become excellent at something, we lose the glorious freedom to fail and flail at it with impunity.
I know more than a few amazing improvisers who have made it big and as a result, they no longer improvise. The possibility of having a shitty show feels like too big of a risk to take, given their reputation as an expert.
Now that, my friends, sucks.
So, my dears, to sum it up..
Let us count on incompetency as it is inevitable,
Let us honor incompetency as it is a place of great courage and vulnerability,
Let us celebrate incompetency for what it is – evidence that we are bravely stepping out of what is familiar and comfortable, aka: growing.
Like all of us experts have done many times before.
Now go out there and suck at something!!
Loved this Rachel! Phew, I feel better already.