Are you defined by your performance or your process?

This has been a journey for me in my professional career, and a lesson brought home to me in my dance class last night. It appears I have come a long way since I was 12. :)

It was an adult jazz class. It started off well. Warm up, tick. Isolations and body rolls, tick. Stretching and limbering, tick. Then, on to the performance part of the class – the routine. We learn it section by section. Section one goes well. The moves are easy, funky, and I’m loving it. Section two, the pace picks up but I keep up. I’m connected to the music and my body. I am at one with the routine. And then, slowly but surely it begins to go downhill from there. Section three and four are not beyond my technical ability but the pace increases and I fall behind. I can’t remember the steps, I start to miss bits, then I become confused. I’m officially lost. 

At the end of every dance class, the group splits in two, so we can ‘perform’ the dance we just learnt in that class. “Group 1 – you’re up!” I shuffle forward with my group whilst the other half watch on, waiting for their turn. I begin the routine, I know I can do this part, then I start to fumble. I lose my steps and I start marking through what I remember instead of performing what I’m supposed to already know. I’m aware that most of the other dancers are nailing the routine. They’ve got the steps, now they are really bringing their full selves to the dance. They are smashing it, I am struggling to keep up.

When I was young, I used to get really anxious about why I could never pick up the routines as quickly as the others could. I thought this made me a ‘bad dancer.' I judged myself on my performance at the end of each class, and felt like I was out of my league. But every year when concert time came around, I realised that I could do all the routines just as well as the others, when I had time to repeat the steps over and over, week after week. At concert time, we worked on the same routine for about 8 weeks and I could practice in between classes. I learnt that I wasn't a ‘bad dancer,’ but that I just needed more repetition to get the moves into my muscle memory than everyone else. To produce the same performance as others, I needed to follow a different process.

And so as an adult dancer (yes, older than most of the students in the dance class by 20 years and shorter by 20 cms!), I have made peace with the discomfort I feel at the end of each casual class when the performance time comes. I know I wont remember the whole routine the way the others do. I know I will look like a less competent dancer than they are, but I also know that if I work hard and have more time, I can do what they do. I know what I need to do to perform at my best. I know if I judge myself on my performance when I haven’t been able to follow my own process, I’ll fall short. But when I’m able to follow my process, I know I can deliver. This gives me the comfort and the courage to do a dance in a class full of strangers, and not care that I might look like a beginner… when I know I’m not.

What about you? Where does your process of achieving an outcome differ to others? How do you stay the course even if it feels uncomfortable along the way?