Once upon a time, I had a nickname.
My bosses called me “Smiley.” This was a nickname that was well earned and with great cost. It took a couple of years in my former government job for my bosses, who didn’t ever seem to like that I smiled so much, to finally accept that there was nothing they could really do about it. They could scold me or crack jokes or make me work late hours, but ultimately, my smile wasn’t going anywhere.
So imagine my surprise when a veteran of our Tap Ensemble came to me mid-way through an event we had this week and had to remind me to smile.
It was during an event to promote our Tap To Togetherness program, which is a pretty big deal. Let me be clear: she was absolutely right to get with me about it. She was right, I wasn’t smiling. What’s worse, there were cameras around from K-State’s Communications team to help promote us. Yet here I was earning the Academy Award for my performance as an eyesore.
In other words: I embarrassed myself, and even my group to a degree. I’m sorry for that.
That truth, and my failure there, haunted me for the next 24 hours or so and has been on my mind ever since. It caused a major fit of self-reflection in the day that followed.
I grew up smiling, it was one of the second thing I independently chose to start doing habitually in my life when I was a young boy (prayer was the first). Through all the miserable chaos that could sometimes occur within government work, I still was known for how constantly I smiled.
So why wasn’t I smiling while tap dancing? Why wasn’t I doing so in such a crucial time and while doing my favorite thing on this earth?
After much self-reflection, I realized it was probably a side effect of growing up.
That isn’t an excuse either, I’ll write about my opinion on excuses some other time but for the moment just know I don’t accept any on my behalf made by me or anyone else, period.
My mindset has started to shift in the last six to eight months. Certain mental tendencies I’ve always had have started to change.
I feel myself being less prone to impulsive decisions or comments. This is actually in accordance with what modern advances in psychology have discovered as well, specifically that the part of the human brain that controls impulsive decisions finishes developing at 26 years old, which I just turned in August. I also find I’m becoming far more prone to stand up for myself in situations where I know I’m right or when I know I have no obligation to back down on something.
Still, as I thought deeply about my life, I realized growing up wasn’t the whole answer. The real reason I wasn’t smiling that day was because I had been stressed. As I thought about others, I also realized everyone I knew was handling their stress way better than I was. For me, my first response once I actually became distracted by life was to forget to smile, even in dance classes or performances.
That doesn’t work for me. That isn’t acceptable and it never will be.
So! Since Wednesday, I’ve been diligently working to reignite my favorite part of my personality: my childlike joy and love of all that I do in this life, about writing and editing and, most particularly, dancing. It’s still there, I’ve just allowed myself to sheath it or let it become dull. So I’m pulling it out and sharpening it before forever carrying on my should like a heavy battle-axe.
Here’s what I’m getting at: I get to dance every week of my life. I get to come to class, come to rehearsal for Tap Ensemble, and most weeks I get to go out and work with little kids and their families as part of that Tap To Togetherness program I mentioned earlier.
What’s more, I get to come to school and work with some of the most heart-meltingly beautiful and powerful athletes in existence, whether it’s my Tap Ensemble peers/mentors (which each of them is to at least some degree), or my dancer friends in general. I get to come to school every day with people who, both in appearance and in the quality of their characters, are truly captivating on every level.
That’s friggin cool! In fact, it’s the coolest thing ever :). So there is no bloody reason I shouldn’t be smiling my face off every single second of every rehearsal. I don’t care how focused I am on getting the movement right, how tired I am, or how much the world around my life as a dancer is testing me. When I come in to dance, I must, and will, leave all of that far edge of the floor.
Ever since that veteran made that comment to me, I’ve refocused myself on remembering all of what I’ve written here today, each and every day. I’ve completely re-set my heart on letting it show, both in and out of the studio.
The world would have us believe we aren’t allowed to show emotion very often. It would have us believe that we aren’t allowed to be excited and fired up about every single day, and that only children have such attitudes. If that’s the case, then I’ll be a bit of a child forever.
I love these people entirely too much not to be excited just to be alive and in the same city as all of them, let alone to get to work with them.
I owe it to them, and to God who was graceful enough to put me here among them, not to show it loudly and proudly and ecstatically every single minute of every, single, day.
I can’t ever thank that veteran enough for inadvertently reminding me of that. 🙂