Julie Learner, LCSW



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This summer, I decided it was time to learn how to tap dance. I love to dance, and I’m not sure whether it was watching Singing in the Rain or a Michael Jackson documentary, but I got it in my head, and I set out to do it. It seemed like it would be fun and pretty easy to get started. After all, I had a taken a few classes when I was…… maybe 6?

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tap dancing is brutally difficult and often feels like you are trying to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time. It requires a crazy amount of coordination and mental focus. Needless to say, my first 3 lessons were disasters. I felt like I should get a courage award for having to perform some improv tap in front of my whole class. I actually laughed so hard I was practically crying when I showed my family what that “improv” looked like. Truly, if you have seen the Peanuts characters dance, that is what I did.

You see, I didn’t know how to tap dance yet. Ridiculously, I had expected something more from myself.   Somehow, I had imagined that I would begin this art form with grace and ease. When that didn’t happen, I was surprised. I stopped and thought for a moment. Maybe this just wasn’t my “thing”? Despite the money I had spent on shoes, the time commitment I had dedicated to taking lessons weekly, and my passionate desire to excel, I thought maybe it was a “no go”. Then I thought about all the inspirational and outstanding athletes I am privileged to work with and I had a realization….. No one starts out accomplished at anything!

This is basic stuff, but quite honestly, I bet you can have a little chuckle with yourself in admitting that when you take on a new physical challenge, a new skill at your sport or even an attempt to rework a current skill, the hard work is often as surprising as a jump into a freezing cold lake. Hard work is necessary for every human being who takes on a challenge and wishes to succeed. There is no way around it. Angela Duckworth, in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, notes, “it is the combination of passion and perseverance that makes high achievers special. In a word, they gave grit.” The indicator of success is not talent, but seems to be born from commitment, dedication and old-fashioned hard work. This is easy to forget when you are at the starting line. It can also be a way to allow oneself to give up.

So, I dug in deeper. I practiced and I committed to get past the thoughts in my head of embarrassment, shame, and just plain thinking that I am a terrible dancer.  Lo and behold, I am improving. I have come to see that the art of tap dance is not just a physical challenge but also a mental one, and I am excited to watch myself grow. As Kurt Taylor Sr., who is the father of Kurt Taylor Jr, a current player on the Michigan football team taught his son: “Hard work is undefeated.”   I believe that.



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