Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘learning experiences

Johnny Weir, Individuality, and You

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Recently, I’ve been watching the American version of “Dancing with the Stars.” I had stopped watching regularly a few years ago (though I would catch it if I happened to be near a TV and someone else was watching), mostly because all the storylines seemed the same.

But not this year.

Nope. This year had my favorite figure skater, Johnny Weir, partnered with a new pro, Britt Stewart (who’s Black, dignified, and quite talented). And the two of them danced like nobody’s business; they were a dynamic, engaging, and energetic pair that did more interesting things in ten weeks than I’d seen in the previous five or six years on the show.

Now, why do you think that was?

(I know I’ve been asking myself this question, anyway, ever since Johnny and his partner Britt were eliminated earlier this week.)

My view is this: Johnny Weir knows who he is, as an individual. And Britt obviously knows who she is, too. They both understood each other, down to the ground, and because of that, were able to work together and create some truly amazing dance routines. (Johnny and Britt’s tribute to Amy Winehouse, for example, was simply stunning. And that’s only one of the fine dances the two of them created together.)

“But Barb,” you say. “What’s this about being an individual, and how does that apply to me?”

It’s simple. The better you know yourself, the better work you can do. And Johnny and Britt showed that, over and over again, during this season on “Dancing with the Stars.”

You know, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, that I am a firm believer in being your authentic self. I think it wastes time and energy that most of us don’t have to keep up a front. I also think the better you know yourself, the easier it is to get things done.

If you use Johnny and Britt as examples — and I think you should — you can extrapolate a little. For example, the two of them, together, were able to bring a certain style and verve into the ballroom. Johnny is more of an extrovert when he performs, while Britt has a quiet dignity to her. The two, together, were more than the sum of their parts.

And it all started because Britt apparently decided, when meeting Johnny for the first time, to use that uniqueness of his — not to mention hers (though she probably takes that for granted, as she can’t see herself from the outside anymore than any of the rest of us) — to create movement and magic.

Granted, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Johnny’s been a figure skater since the age of twelve. He knows about movement. He studied some dance (though I think it was ballet) because that helped him express himself through movement on the ice.

And knowing about movement helped him a great deal, I think. It meant Britt did not have to teach him from Ground Zero.

However, it also may have hampered him a bit, because ballet — and the associated movements of that dance — are nothing like either ballroom dance or Latin dance. They’re not even that close to “freestyle” contemporary dance.

What that meant for Johnny was, he had to unlearn at the same time as he learned. And that’s tough to do.

How do I know this? Well, Johnny once said, about learning a new technique for one of his jumps, that he was “old.” At the age of twenty-five or twenty-six, he said this. (Chronologically, of course, that was just silly. But with the wear and tear of figure skating, I’m sure he did feel old.) And he admitted, at the time, it was not easy to unlearn the previous technique.

(I probably should say “jettison,” but learning is not like that. It stays with you. It can’t truly be jettisoned. You can only use it, or not, or get past it, or not. But I digress.)

So, Britt taught Johnny, as well as helped him correct various issues, and worked with him and his uniqueness from the get-go. (Maybe all of the pro dancers do this, but it seems to me as a longtime viewer of “Dancing with the Stars” that it was far more pronounced in Johnny’s case.)

Being an individual, see, has its charms as well as its quirks. You can do more, if you know exactly who you are. (Again, I think it has something to do with refusing to waste your energy on non-essentials.) Add in the fact that when you’re doing more, you are giving your all to it rather than holding some back to “save face.” And top it off with a good, healthy dose of self-skepticism, for that matter, as that will keep you from getting too arrogant to be borne. (That last has nothing to do with Johnny Weir or his partner, Britt, but it certainly should be factored in by the rest of us.)

Anyway, the points of this blog are simple:

  1. Be yourself. Be unique.
  2. Don’t put on fronts, as they waste your time and energy.

That’s the way to “win” at life, you know. Because that’s the way you will be remembered: as the unique, powerful individual you are, who touched many lives and did many things and knew many people and tried your level best.

Anything less than that just isn’t worth bothering about.

Meditations on Failure

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Folks, I thought long and hard about what to blog about today. There are so many subjects in the news, including Donald Trump’s odd and nonsensical comments about a past Miss Universe contestant (why Trump should care about anyone else’s weight but his own is beyond me), but I decided on this one. I hope you enjoy it.


What does it mean, and can we learn anything from it?

Of course, we all know what failure means, roughly. We tried something, and it didn’t work out. That could’ve been anything — a job, a relationship, a creative pursuit, whatever. But some failures hurt more than others, and that’s why I wanted to talk about it today.

Can we learn anything from failure? Can we improve ourselves, and how we move on about our daily business, a little better because we’ve failed at something? Does it make us more empathetic toward others, as it’s a universal condition?

I’d like to think the answer to all of the above questions is yes.

Look. We’ve all done something, said something, or failed to do something or say something that has hurt someone else — or ourselves. We’ve all had days where we didn’t live up to our highest standards; we’ve had days where we couldn’t get anything done; we’ve had days where the only thing that seems constant is the pressure all around us, mocking us, telling us that what we’ve done and said and been has not been enough.

In other words, failure seems like it’s a reinforcement of negative thoughts. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’d rather look at failure in a different way, if you don’t mind. Failure is where you tried something that just did not work, for whatever reason. You learned something, probably, even if you don’t realize exactly what that thing was, and you’re going to move forward with a greater knowledge of yourself and others…which, if you think about it from a more healing direction, is a win/win.

“But Barb,” you say. “What about just feeling like a failure, when you’ve not done anything wrong? What about that?”

Hm. That’s a tougher one to talk about, but I’ll try anyway.

Those of us who deal with a great deal of stress every day are going to have times where we can’t do that much. That’s just the way life is. That does not make you a failure, for understanding that you’re going to have a bad day or three here and there.

So, even if you have a bad day, or a whole series of them, please do not think that makes you a permanent failure.

All it means is that you’ve had a bad day (or a series of them).

“But how can I turn that to my advantage, Barb?” you ask, pulling worriedly at your hair. (Yes, I can see you from here. I know you’re doing that. Or some other nervous tic.)

Well, if you can keep it in mind that we all have bad days, and we all have endured them, that might allow you to be more understanding and empathetic…and also give you an appreciation for the good days you previously took for granted.

Why is it that we don’t appreciate good days that much, hm? Why don’t we say to ourselves, “I wrote two thousand words today,” and be as pleased about that as we are for someone else when he or she does it? Why is it we don’t say to ourselves, “Hey, you managed to walk a mile today when your back was out, and it actually made your back feel a little better even though it was exhausting,” when we’d gladly say that to anyone else we know?

In short, I think failure is meant to remind us of two things.

  1. We’re human.
  2. No one’s perfect all the time, no matter how hard we try.

So, just for today, be gentle to yourself — as gentle as you’d be with your best friend.

Maybe that way, you’ll be able to have a better day, and do more. (And even if you don’t have either one, it certainly can’t hurt.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 30, 2016 at 3:11 am