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Learning how to dance taught me these 17 lessons...
Lessons that made me a better designer, a more effective professional, and a kinder friend
Last year, feeling unfulfilled and disconnected, I went on the hunt for new social opportunities. Especially ones where I could meet new people, learn a skill, and commune in a setting that didn't revolve around drinking. Here's what I learned after picking up swing at my local dancehall...
1) Receive help from others
The first time I showed up for swing dancing, I got half way through the lesson and bolted for the doors out of embarrassment. But the doorman wouldn't let me leave. He stuck two regulars on me who helped me stumble my way through a few dances.
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2) Encourage others
One of the most fulfilling moments of my dancing was being paired with a beginner and realizing that I knew enough to share some help and encouragement. I saw a reflection of my earlier self and remembered all the encouragement I received along the way.
3) Confront your fears
The first three months of taking lessons and going dancing, I was terrified and would look for excuses to bail. But I persevered. Expose yourself to fears gradually and in manageable doses. Resist the urge to run. Understand and learn from fears.
4) There are no shortcuts
Want to get good at something? Practice, put in the time, get repetitions, and be consistent. There's no easy way around it. Taking the long road makes it that much more fulfilling once you master something.
5) Smile and introduce yourself
Exchanging names is the first step towards building a connection. And if you're socially anxious, it's the most basic thing you can do to ease the tension.
6) Community is a biological necessity
Treat socialization the same way you would exercise. Make it part of your regimen. Get the in-person face time. Don't let your social muscles atrophy; keep working them out.
7) Progress is not linear
You're going to fail. Sometimes you're on your game. Other days it feels like you're missing a beat. But if you show up and stick with it, things trend up.
8) We're equal in hope and desire, not skill and ambition
Some people are born with natural gifts. Others are dealt a raw hand. Some have spent decades of hard work to become who they are. There's no utility in coveting what you don't have. The most effective thing you can do is create a vision of who you want to be and work towards it.
9) Experiment and try something new
If you only stick to what you know, you'll never grow. Try a new move and see what happens. And if you mess up...
10) Laugh off your mistakes and learn from them
You can't always expect to nail it on the first try. Pick yourself up, see where you went wrong, and try again.
11) Learn from elders
In our hubris it seems like we declared that new is better, old is irrelevant, we reached the pinnacle of understanding, and technology is the solution to everything. But the problems and desires of today are the same as yesterday and tomorrow: human and timeless.
12) Be humble
What do a blind octogenarian and I have in common? We both want to laugh with our friends, make new connections, feel like we belong, and let loose dancing on Wednesday nights. Have fun and embrace the beginner mindset.
13) Everything is connected
Learn one type of dance and the next one is easier to pick up. Skills don't live in a vacuum; they are applicable across domains.
14) Be vulnerable
Don't try to cover up your weaknesses. Let people know that you are still learning, but that you are committed.
15) Get back on beat when you fall out of sync
Sometimes we get tripped up. That's no reason to stop what you're doing and apologize. Shrug it off and get back on beat, even if it means taking a second to get your bearings.
16) Default to sobriety
I'm not a teetotaler. I like to get loose from time to time. But if intoxication is typically the centerpiece in social situations, try flipping the paradigm on its head: default to sobriety and make inebriation an occasional treat, not the standard rule.
17) Be adaptable
Sometimes the music or dance partner isn't what you expected. Don't let it trip you up; go with the flow.
I originally shared this Feb 21, 2023 as a Twitter thread, but decided to reshare as an article. Check me out on Twitter @philipmacd to learn more about my professional journey as a UX designer in the insurtech industry, building Wunderite.
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