In her wonderful blog, Ordinary Courage, Brene Brown wrote:
“It takes courage to be awkward, goofy, and silly.”
This made me think of so many things at once. I remembered that when I was directing theater, I would challenge actors in auditions to do something that felt out of character, that put them at risk of looking uncool. I found myself casting only those who were willing to take that risk because it showed me that they were willing to push themselves to get the best performance, to prioritize what the character needed over what they themselves needed. To me it meant that they were really actors who were committed to their craft and their art.
I thought about the process of learning something new, of the awkward stage that inevitably shows up when you haven’t quite mastered a skill but have passed the forgiveness allowed to true beginners. It’s so easy to quit at that point. Indeed, I have talked to so many who don’t even start learning some things because that awkwardness is so painful they’ll do whatever we can to avoid it – including not learning something that they’d like to do.*
And I thought about a beautiful night years ago at Burning Man – well, a night that turned out beautifully. It started off hard. I had become separated from my friends and couldn’t find them. I desperately wanted to be connected with someone or something. I cried melancholy, self-pitying tears. I started walking just to try to distract myself and heard some beautiful music come out of the HookahDome. I got into the line, excited to start dancing, knowing that dance always lifts my mood. When I finally made it inside, my heart sank again. No one was dancing. Everyone was seated on cushions around the perimeter, smoking hookahs and talking quietly. For a moment, I considered joining the crowd even though every part of my being was straining to move, to express that music. And then I swallowed my fear and walked into the open area between the tables near the DJ and started dancing. I tried to block out the knowledge that people were watching me and just let the music in. I felt like a fool and I also felt brave. After a few songs, a couple of people joined me on the dance floor. Then a few more and a few more. I danced until that DJ, Kaminanda, finished playing, thanked him and then re-emerged into the night air, filled with a sense of my own power and the lightness that I had been craving. It was a beautiful night.
*Side thought: Imagine if we decided as toddlers to give up learning how to use utensils when it got totally awkward and we kept ending up with more applesauce on our cheeks than in our mouths? Even in the face of our parents’ and siblings’ laughter, we persevered. Where did we lose that courage?