Raising the Barre


I am on Christmas break. Just saying that feels like a luxury after a year of constant working and more work and more work. But I have had some victories.

I became a freelancer with regular clients. I started working as a full time software developer, first in QA and now in DevOps. I started my second masters, interdisciplinary in computer science and math, and got a 4.0 this semester. I joined a startup as a co-founder. I got my thesis published into a book and started a blog for it. So naturally I am ready for my next challenge ( not to say that I have mastered what was already listed).

Since I am on a break, I have had a chance to do a bit of reading, for pleasure. I choose, Raising The Barre by Lauren Kessler because I have a dream that somewhere inside of me lives and artist that will come out if I just keep reading about it. I approached this book as a light read, and a catalyst to get me thinking about dancing for fun and fitness. What I found was a great metaphor for what I am going through now on my journey to become a better developer.

This book is unique because it is not just about dance. It is about a mid-lifer wanting to fulfill her dream of dancing professionally in The Nutcracker, and succeeding. Lauren is already an accomplished writer, journalist and university professor. And yet she pursues this dream that she has harbored since childhood and indulged in all of her adult life. It was inspiring to read her adjustments to being a beginner again and having to balance the dichotomy of being great at things in her comfort zone, and being a complete idiot at the thing she is pursuing.

I know that feeling.

At one point she starts a ballet book club with her friend to learn more about ballet and keep her spirits high while going through tough times. While going through a stack of dancer biographies, Lauren drills down on 12 life lessons that can be distilled from their shared experiences. The funny thing–these ballet lessons can be so easily applied to a data analyzing anthropologist that is trying to be an awesome systems engineer.

These lessons apply to anyone who steps outside their strength and tries their hand at something new

Lauren’s Life Lessons from the BBC(ballet book club)

1. Turn down the volume on the inner critic
“To joylessly compare ourselves to an unattainable ideal; to forever focus on flaws; to starve ourselves…” these things spell out failure and frankly are dangerous.

2. The life of the mind is as important as the life of the body
Dancers “…give themselves over and lose themselves in dance…The live in your body life is chronicled in these books and is a message worth listening to…” Instead of living like your body is a meat suit to cart around your brain, be open to being immersed in what you are doing for the joy of it, and not for the analytical attainment only.

3. Appreciate focus while widening horizons
Lauren writes about how this is different than being well-rounded. “Being excellent at one thing is an enormous accomplishment…” but it doesn’t replace the importance of broadening your scope. It is too easy to get comfortable when you have become all consumed by what you know.

4. Hard work is the answer
“Its all about blood, sweat, and tears…Yes there is talent. Yest there are the genetically blessed. But achieving greatness… is a matter of discipline and hard work..”

5.Constructive criticism is not just a catch phrase
“…its is about opening oneself up to –inviting–correction and criticism…How many of us invite correction and criticism and consider them an important part, an essential part, a never-ending part, of the path to mastery or achievement or just plain old competence?”

6. Fear of failing stunts growth
“…Suzanne Farrell [famous American Ballerina] loved it when dancers fell. It showed exuberance. it showed a willingness to take risks.”

7. Find the ease in effort
“…its about that place where you acknowledge the intensity and then allow yourself to almost relax into it. You find a deep calm even as you are also in the midst of the turmoil of creation. It is finding the being in the act of doing.”

8. There’s sacrifice, and then there’s sacrifice
“What are you really willing to give up to achieve what you say what to achieve?”

9. Humility in the face of talent
“How can you keep a head on your shoulders when everyone says you’re great, and everyone say they love you?…Being humble, I think, is one of the most underrated character traits around.”

10. Take the timely exit
“It’s understanding and coming to terms with one’s own limits–before others see those limits. It’s not defeat….Its a triumph of self-examination, a successful struggle with the ego, a purposeful closing of one door while it is still wide open so that other doors may present themselves…”

11. Reinvention keeps us young
This is a companion to the lesson above. Don’t stick around too long, but…its not over til its over. “There is a phenomenon called ‘environmental aging’…[it] is the documented biological aging of those who surround themselves with older people–that is ‘old’ people defined not by their birth dates but by their lack of vigor and vitality, their lack of excitement about the challenges of the future.”

12. Love is all you need
“The love of the activity…should trump everything…if you are truly passionate about and committed to what you do…”

How is that for some commandments to start the new year?


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