Today I took my first salsa lesson and boy did I learn. I still have no idea how to dance salsa (I’m not even comfortable with the basic three steps forward three steps backward) but I learned so much just by trying.
See, I had wanted to dance salsa for years. And I mean years! I always told myself I just didn’t have enough time or energy to do it. But the truth is, I was deeply terrified of doing it! I had never danced salsa before in my life and, although I confess I dreamt of moving swiftly across a dance floor with ease every time I heard a song from Marc Anthony on the radio, I was terrified of making a fool out of myself.
And a fool of myself I made! But you know what was truly incredible? That once I overcame that dreadful fear (I literally thought I would run out of that studio and never look back) I realized how liberating it was! I remembered the thrill of learning something new and enjoying the process for what it actually was. An adventure of sorts to get out of my regular routine and become daring, bold, and free spirited even if just for one hour.
Two months ago I was about to start a leadership development program aimed at helping school leaders develop into their full potential. This is something I had aspired to do for a while (do you see a pattern here?) and my chance was finally here.
Me? Trying to educate a group of education experts? Who did I think I was?! I felt like an absolute impostor who had no idea what she was doing, even when I had been preparing myself for years. But the truth is that, regardless of how prepared I was (or not), I would have never felt I was ready to do it anyway. Because we usually never do.
If we don’t push ourselves to try new (scare-the-crap-out-of-you type of) challenges, we’ll never dare try anything new. If we think we need to wait to feel good about it to actually do it, we’ll most likely be waiting forever.
We need to get past the point of hesitation, unease, anxiety, fear and even dread to get to the good part of it all. The liberating, exciting, if-I-can-do-this-I-can-do-anything magical phase. The moment when we realize the power within ourselves and how we can use it to create an enriched life that excites us and fulfills us in many different ways.
So back to the leadership development program I had the honor to implement for those fantastic leaders (despite my heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and nerve-inducing mental haze!). We kicked off the program with a module on the “growth mindset” from Carol Dweck, as we wanted our leaders to start off this learning challenge with the right frame of mind. If you’ve never heard of her before, Carol Dweck has found, through much research, that people with a growth mindset (vs a fixed mindset) never stop growing because they look at every challenge as an opportunity to learn something new.
Rather than relying on their talents and abilities to succeed, people with a growth mindset rely on their efforts. They realize their potential is truly unknown (and unknowable!) and are ever curious to find out how far they can develop it. Whereas people with a fixed mindset rely on the skills that come natural to them, people with a growth mindset challenge themselves to not only improve the talents they already possess but discover others they didn’t even know they had. They realize true growth comes from getting out of their comfort zone, and so they constantly do!
In the world of growth-mindset individuals, every situation encountered is an adventure to discover and learn! There are no limits or real failures, just trials that make the road to success more interesting and challenge them to try even harder. They don’t ask themselves “what would I do if I knew I could not fail” but rather “what would I do EVEN if I failed”?! Because for them it’s not about where they end up but what they learn along the way. It’s all about the journey.
So I decided to apply the growth mindset when teaching these leaders about the growth mindset. I made it clear that approaching life with a growth mindset didn’t always feel good (it actually felt like crap if you asked me!). But that once we got past that part, embarking on daring and fascinating adventures was well worth it. Learning, making mistakes, trying again, failing, and then learning some more. That it was ok to be scared as long as we didn’t allow our fear to get in our way. Because if we didn’t learn to fail we would fail to learn. And isn’t that what life is all about?
I kept showing up to every leadership session with my fear on one shoulder and my growth mindset on the other. Just as I showed up tonight to write this post despite my suspicions that I may have entered a permanent writer’s block stage in my life. And just the same as I showed up at that salsa dance studio with no clue whatsoever on how to move my body to rhythms so unnatural to me.
Yet here I am. Not a leadership development expert. Not a professional writer. Not a real salsa dancer. Just a passionate and relentless student permanently invested in this marvelous school of life. A school that never ceases to teach and never fails to amaze.