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Eating Humble Pie: Getting Ok with Mediocrity

I’ve been reflecting a lot on humility lately. And how often the lack of it emphasizes the hubris (and lack of empathy) that we see leading to horrific decisions.

I wonder how more of us can cultivate more humility in our lives? Humility that comes from being fairly incompetent in something, but not giving up until finally, you’re incrementally better.

Here’s how I’ve been trying.

In early October, I performed a Bollywood dance medley with the amazing Afsaana Dance Company, for the Asian Counseling and Referral Service 50th anniversary gala. (Side note, both, Afsaana and ACRS are amazing organizations and I encourage you to look them up!)

With the Afsaana Dance troupe

I was once really into Bollywood dancing and would spend much of my time choreographing, rehearsing and performing, all through school and college. Then…life happened. I've been out of practice for over 11 years. So getting back to dance was more humbling than (for example) learning something brand new, especially because I know what “good” looks like. And in this iteration of returning to dance after over a decade, I was so far from “good,” it was painful. I realized my brain is so overwhelmed, I couldn’t remember basic choreography. The brain-to-body connection was even harder to make. I've discovered so much about myself in these last few months of learning, rehearsing, failing and trying again. Basically, I don’t like to be “bad” at something. And the growth mindset I once had as a young professional and early entrepreneur has been replaced by…dareIsay….overconfidence? I realized that I mostly don’t throw my hat into the ring unless I have a fairly high chance of success. There are many reasons for this, including how I was socialized and the higher expectations on women of color professionally (and less room to fail!) But I think it’s so necessary to seek out experiences to be a beginner, or beginner again, as in my case.

It required so much humility to be a beginner again in something that once came naturally to me. I had to be humble about what my body could (and in many more cases, couldn’t!) do. And I really, really had to let go of the idea that I could be great at it. As a perfectionist and a highly self-critical person, I had to let a lot of my old habits fall away and make room for a lot of humility and mediocrity. There were so many times I thought I should give up, and times I pushed my body beyond what I thought it was capable of. We often celebrate marathons and triathlons and "Iron Mans" but learning the nuances of Indian dance mudras (hand gestures) gracefully and cultivating the strength it takes to be fully energized for even a 5-minute-dance is also worth celebrating.

In adulthood, many of us shy away from challenges we don't "have" to take on. But by being really incompetent at the start and pushing through my ego and humiliation, I was able to grow in ways I couldn't have imagined. Having an amazing guru (our choreographer, Geeta) and an amazing and patient troupe of dancers was also key to keep me on track. You need cheerleaders when you’re going to fail. I realized that in having a few sleepless nights about getting on stage and freezing or tripping, I was hitting a growth curve. I was about to do something I wasn’t that good at, the weakest link among a team of professionals, and I had to be ok with being the underdog. Once I let go of any aspirations of being “great” or delusions of grandeur of being “the best,” I could set small, tangible goals. Like the fact that I needed to practice daily, so I could go from “terrible” to “mediocre.” And that meant making time, actively and consistently. As regular readers will know, I’m constantly struggling with time management. I had to step away from other commitments to focus on rehearsing. I also deliberately rehearsed in front of my seven-year-old. Having him witness me forgetting, failing and getting frustrated with myself was an important teachable moment. As leaders (whether of a team or little humans!), we are told we always need to be unflappable. But it is in the humility of owning up to not knowing or not being great at something, that we can make the biggest impact. Nothing makes me trust a leader more than seeing them commit to getting better and finding the right answers, rather than faking their way through it. That’s when we truly practice leadership. And that’s how we make it ok for those around us to also keep learning. The good news is that the performance went really well and I didn't forget any steps! I had a wonderful time…and I realized I need to get back to being at the beginner level more often. Humility isn’t the most comfortable feeling to navigate in a world that tells us all that we need to be great at everything ALL THE TIME. Social media makes it look like everyone can do everything perfectly well. But the real growth comes from leaning hard into challenges you know you’re going to fail at (safely–both for yourself and others, if I needed to clarify this), and growing from them. I’ll be hanging up my dancing skirt for right now, but can’t wait to get back to it soon! For now, I’m still savoring humble pie. :) What's a new challenge you've taken on recently?


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