The Hardest, Least Pressing, Seemingly Unimportant Thing I’ve Persevered Through, and Why

I think it’s fair to say most of us had a COVID project. You might’ve been baking your way through your favourite cookbook, doing your own home version of the movie Julie and Julia. Perhaps you knitted more crochet scarves than you know what to do with. My husband decided to embrace his inner 89-year-old and built a miniature train room, and it’s almost finished. (Let’s say he is way ahead of schedule – he will be a very experienced and successful senior one day!)

For me, I decided that I wanted to dance again. Did I tell you I was a dancer?

image of Sarah McVanel in her first ballet class as a childBefore you start thinking National Ballet of Canada, thinking I can walk around in pointe shoes or even touch my toes, let’s manage your expectations. I used to dance around my living room, and I literally wore out my Flashdance cassette tape. (If you don’t know what a cassette tape is, my dear Gen Zs, Google it and be amazed at the technology we suffered through!) I was the kid who would go to school dances and actually wanted to dance. And I took jazz dance, donning every single one of those weird sparkly costumes they would force you into for the recital, just to be able to include a one-hour class of dance lessons in my week.

I even applied and got into a performing arts high school for dance. Again, I feel it necessary to manage your expectations. I got in, and within weeks, I realized I was underqualified compared to all the other students who had studied multiple forms of dance. I decided quitting would be safer (to my ego, not my body). Technically, I switched majors to drama (if you know me or seen me speak, you probably saw that one coming). I loved it. Although I must say, I mourned dance a little.

Fast forward a few years, and as luck would have it, when I was 17 in grade 12, the primary dance production for the year was Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation. Now, this I could do. With jazz as the foundation, I gladly tried out and got the lead role. I talked all my friends into learning the dances with me, many of whom had never taken a dance class, which spoke volumes to the patience and perseverance of our grade 13 choreographer and Student Director. We had two months of an absolute blast learning all of the routines. It was for fun. It was so great to get back to dance being about fun and not grades.

When Greatness Gets Lost

image of Janet Jackson from Rhythm NationLet’s think that through for a second. I said two months to learn all of the complicated routines. And this was while juggling a part-time job, a full course load, teenage angst (and perhaps a few hormonal fits…you know, a teenager’s life.) In other words, it’s pretty easy to learn. Just have fun with it!

So I figured, being locked down in COVID, having a bit of time on my hands and needing a heavy dose of joy, I would relearn the main song, Rhythm Nation, again. I’d cue it up on Spotify, take a few hours, and have at it. Boom! Bucket list item – to relearn the choreography – check!

Unfortunately, knowing something 30 years ago and recalling it today are very different. I know what you’re thinking, everybody knows that! Well, this was very inconvenient to me. A very inconvenient reality check, indeed!

So, not to be deterred, I decided to turn on a YouTube tutorial. I thought if I watched all the steps one time, I’d be doing them within the hour. Not so much.

I thought, well, maybe I need some inspiration! I’ll watch the original Rhythm Nation video and channel my inner Janet.

It turns out my inner Janet is very very very deep down, so much so it’s possible she had left the building (ahem, body.)

Can you see where this is going?

Perseverance…Our Under-Appreciated Joy Muscle

Feeling thoroughly disheartened, having invested an entire hour of my life at this point, I was contemplating if filleting that duck like Julia Child inspired Julie to do in Julie and Julia might be a preferable bucket list item than relearning this song. (Desperate times call for desperate measures. I don’t even like duck!)

Then, I just happened to be speaking with a fellow professional speaker, Natalie Plamondon-Thomas, who loves to dance. It turns out she was a professional dancer in her 20s, and her dance troupe toured Europe performing, you guessed it, Rhythm Nation! So we figured, together, being the motivational speakers that we are, previously knowing the choreography and adoring each other, surely we could relearn this in no time flat! We’d motivate each other! We’d have girl time! Heck, it would be girl power!

Remember how I said knowing something 30 years ago and knowing it today are two very different things? Turns out that’s still true with two.

Perseverance Times Two

Guess how long it took us to learn that four-minute dance, start to finish?

Pause. Pause. Pause.

Have I given you enough time to guess?

Sarah McVanel and Nathalie Plamondon-Thomas practicing their Rhythm Nation DanceNot 20 minutes. Not 20 sessions. Not 20 weeks. 20 months! Let me say that again. 20 months!

Do you know how humbling it is to have learned something right down to your bones, being able to eat, breathe and sleep it, only to have completely lost all access to the muscle and mental memory for it? Have you ever had that?

That old adage, “It’s the journey and not the destination,” is so true regarding perseverance. If something matters enough to you, even if it doesn’t make any sense to someone else (and sometimes to you even), there is a reason why it matters enough to keep going.

The fact you keep going might be more important than what you are doing. Said another way, you start something for one reason and keep doing it for more profound reasons.

It was about fulfilling a commitment to myself. Dance was the medium for reconnecting to my greatness at a time when I was low.

Next week, I will tell you about what we did to keep going as those lessons transcend dance, me, COVID and all of the other nuisances to this story. For now, can I share a secret?

The prize of perseverance was this: I was able to share this with an audience last month.

The Spark Women’s Leadership Conference gave me the gift of a forum to share this journey.

Join me next week for lessons on persevering in your greatness pursuits. In the meantime, I’d love it if you would share what you’ve persevered through from a place of passion and focus!

Looking for more ways to practice perseverance? Here are more scrumptious ideas:

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– Mother Teresa

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Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

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