When Peter Shankman told me to get out of my comfort zone, he told me this:

“Can you take a few days and get the hell out of town and do totally different things? Things that have NOTHING to do with your professional life? The goal is to try something new – Learn new things about yourself – You’d be surprised where those might lead…”

Now, I’m pretty sure he meant to take a weekend trip out of my area, maybe a few hours drive, settle into a nice hotel or bread and breakfast, and think, write, draw – do whatever.  What happened was a several month challenge doing something completely foreign to me:

Dancing in The Nutcracker.

I had been threatening to audition for years, but I always talked myself out of it.  This year I missed auditions, but due to a recommendation by a friend, I was cast in the role of “party guest.”  I accepted.  So, I immediately took to YouTube and found previous years’ performances in the city, and watched the opening scene a couple hundred times before the first rehearsal.

It didn’t help that much.

I was awkward on my feet and had no idea what I was doing.  In terms of instruction, we pretty much learned by doing since the majority of the cast knew the steps already and had been doing it for years.  I became frustrated.  In fact, the 2nd rehearsal I popped my achilles tendon and was out for a week and a half.

My problem: I wasn’t an expert.

I realized the frustration that comes with learning a new skill.  I had become so comfortable with where I was and what I knew, that I actually forgot what it was like to start completely from scratch and learn.  And more importantly – that I wasn’t going to become an expert in a few days, weeks, or even months.  It wil be a continual process even after the production is over if I decide to do it again. (and it’s almost a certainty)
As adults, when we start a new activity, or hobby, we strive for “perfection.”  We become upset if things aren’t going at the pace we want them to.  We marvel at all the “technical” knowledge we gleaned from googling or watching eHow or YouTube videos.

But while we may “technically” know WHAT to do – there is that piece of getting better by actually doing it.
I forgot what it was like to learn a completely new skill, especially one that required different motor skills.  I have learned to code HTML, Perl, PHP, WordPress, etc little by little, but doing something as simple as an 8 second polka eluded me.

I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.  Besides the lesson I can’t be an expert in a day, I learned a lot from watching the people who ARE experts, and marveled in the way everybody in the production controlled their movements across the stage, to the delight of thousands of people in attendance.

And I was part of it.

So thank you Peter for suggesting I get out of my comfort zone.  It really did change my perspective on a lot of things.

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