And I’m addicted to pole dancing.
This is what I have learned.
In regards to pole dancing: if you are not making progress, you are losing strength. It's frustrating to take a week off from class or real practice and see a marked change in your technical abilities. Recently I was unable to take class or really push myself in a practice for 2 weeks and it was incredibly frustrating to come back to such a quick and obvious degradation.
If I want to see continued progress in my physical abilities, I can’t hit pause. I have to continue to invest time and resources towards improving myself and even more time in tracking my progress and researching how to best proceed. I need to have directed practices with lists of things to work on; intermediate and my lists of “today” goals that are baby steps towards larger ones.
If you’re not moving forward, you are moving backwards. So simple, right? How many other things in life are this cut and dry? I feel like my life has become inordinately complex in the past decade or so, and it’s almost a relief to have such a clear relationship between effort expended and rewards reaped. Almost linear. And how can you say that about anything in life anymore?
Being a student means continuing to challenge oneself. Whether that is in learning new skills, or perfecting old ones, this is a humbling reminder.
It’s also an interesting learning point for me, in that in most of my life, I have gravitated towards working on what comes easily to me. I found an early affinity to running, and was good at hurdles the first time I tried. So, I joined the track team. Throughout my life I can trace an exhibition of natural talent to development of that ability into a hobby or a career. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I have found that taking the wussy route to develop oneself leads to amplified frustration when a roadblock eventually presents itself. Having stick-to-it-ness is not something that comes easily to me, and is something that I have had to really stop and face as I come to understand myself better. I have to shake off and work through the bad practices, where I’m slipping and sliding or too grippy or hungover or just not feeling 100% and think always about tomorrow. And Tomorrow. And Tomorrow.
Being a student is life long. It is a commitment to the very act of accumulating knowledge and skills, whether or not the learner succeeds in mastering them.
The difficulty, of course, when the focus is on the future, and the present, is that your time-orientation prohibits your ability to remember where you’ve come from. It’s tough to have perspective on everything you’ve managed to accomplish and to properly celebrate that when it’s always about: what’s next? I think of myself as having a healthy amount of self-confidence, but it’s tough to not get caught up in what you can’t do when the focus is on reducing the list of the “can’t”s one at a time.
I had an awakening not too long ago. I went to a pole convention (yes, they have those) and found that the focus of the event was not on celebrating each pole dancer as an individual, but as a part of the industry. The majority of the performers, while undoubtedly technically advanced, were doing the same (very very difficult) tricks and after a while it seemed to all blend in together. I found myself wishing that instead of focusing on the technical, we were asked to focus, as observers, on the artistic- maybe it would have changed the quality of the performances. It seemed like the performers felt obligated to whip out the big guns and hardest tricks that they could, rather than entertaining us. Where was the individuality? Where was the focus on personality?
Sitting in the audience on that weekend, I remembered: I am not here to be as good as anyone else. I am here because I love this hobby of mine, and passionate about it. Not because I want to be like anyone else, but because I love what it makes me feel when I free my mind and body to react to a piece of music in a way that is true to my movement. My list of “can’t”s is my own, and no one else’s. And I don’t have to put anyone’s “can”s on my list, if I don’t want to. I am not here to be better than anyone, except who I was a month ago.
Being a student is also appreciating what you have come to learn. And not losing sight of the reason why you are in love with your learning.
Part of the process of learning, for me, has been learning how to learn. Not just consuming the new but recognizing what role the past has in shaping my understanding of my own learning processes. I have been self-taught for the majority of my serious pole “career” and all the mistakes I have made and corrections I have discovered have been invaluable, it turns out, in teaching others. By setting out on the journey of teaching I have discovered, in turn, how to be a better learner.
By using trial and error to discover how to make a position more stable, or how to make a specific transition, I can explain to someone: you want to do this, because if you do that instead, then this does or does not happen. And when someone asks me a question that has me stumped, something that I need to figure out for myself, it leads to a more nuanced awareness of what it is that really works. It changes the perspective you have in moving forward, because you want to not only be able to accomplish something—you want to internalize. You want to understand the reasons why.
It’s funny to me that I have gone through pretty much all of my life to date without really focusing my energies on something so whole-heartedly and passionately. Only now am I realizing how much more I could have accomplished, in general, if I had been so dedicated to the process behind the learning and not just winning, or taking that test, or landing that job, or writing that paper.
“True humility is intelligent self respect which keeps us from thinking too highly or too meanly of ourselves. It makes us modest by reminding us how far we have come short of what we can be.” Ralph W. Sockman