Friday, February 5, 2010


There is something I have noticed that happens to people as they grow older, specifically at that point that they get a career. They tend to settle down, routine becomes the norm, getting up at the same time every morning, eating the same breakfast, going to the same job, coming home to the same house, and going to bed at the same time every night. Let me start by saying there is nothing wrong with routine, having structure allows for efficiency in completing daily tasks, you know what to expect day in and day out and therefore alleviates unneeded stress. However, there is a problem with excessive amounts of routine. I eventually see people so entrenched in going through the same motions every day that they forget how to break routine. They get so used to the same patterns that an observer could watch and swear that they were following some sort of sacred ritual. They will even continue to do things they dislike simply to keep to the routine they have created. You see this when people stay in the same job that they hate 1 year, 2 years, even a decade too long because of an inability to change. It keeps people in relationships that should be ended. It keeps people from trying new things, continuing learning, and ultimately staying young, mentally.

The solution to this little problem is a simple one. You must occasionally challenge yourself; try something new, something scary, something you have never done before; the more unfamiliar the task, and the more stress you feel in attempting it, the better.

I am no stranger to trying something new, it comes easily for me, however I usually don’t stray too far out of my comfort zone, but two nights ago that changed. I really went for it, tried something that had been at the back of my mind for some time. I went to a ballet class. That’s right, BALLET. Now I had multiple reasons for doing this; it was (and is) a new challenge; it improve fitness; the movements are unusual and foreign, so learning them will help keep the brain young; I still have muscle atrophy and movement issues in my left leg as a result of a knee injury, so ballet would likely have a therapeutic effect as well (and it’s cheaper than Physical Therapy)…The list goes on...

Anyway let me continue. Not only had I never taken a dance class before, I had never even danced before; or nothing a respectable person would call dancing, and definitely not sober. I was the guy who would hang out on the sidelines at weddings, smoking cigars and sipping whiskey with the guys to avoid going on the dance floor. So to participate in a ballet class was far out of my comfort zone. In addition being a heterosexual male I was way out of the usual demographic as well (* See Disclaimer Below); so far out that you pretty much have to shut the mind off, there is no room for self-conscious thoughts or I would be enveloped by them and fail, and failure is not an option. It actually brought out a sense of freedom, a sense of carelessness, and dare I say it relaxation. It was a much different experience than I had expected. I really thought it was going to be an anxiety riddled cluster-F*&# similar to giving a long technical presentation in front of a highly critical group of people; But it wasn’t, it ended up being quite the opposite, thank god.

In the past I don’t know if I would have mentally been capable of attempting ballet, it would have simply been too much, too uncomfortable, I wouldn’t have been caught dead attempting it. I don’t know what allowed me to just go for it this time, perhaps it was the mental training I went through when climbing this past summer; I was on the northwest face of Liberty Bell on lead, 40 feet from my last piece of protection. I was fatigued from 12 pitches of difficult climbing prior, and it was getting dark as my hands were slowly losing hold of a flaring crack while performing a lie back maneuver. My options were dwindling quickly; my back was up against the wall (figuratively). No protection, far too technical to down climb, arms were pumped up to the moon, and as I previously stated my grip was failing. My choice became simple, the fear left my conscious thought, it was do or die, nothing mattered anymore. It is funny how a tough situation can get so simple when you only have 1 option; if you attempt it successfully you live, if not you die. What goes through your head at this point is very interesting, it’s a survival mechanism, you throw out all thoughts fear and self preservation, and you proceed to complete the task at hand, with no regard for the situation around you. In hindsight you remember every detail, but at that exact moment you notice nothing but those things that matter. The arm burnout is irrelevant, they either have the strength or they don’t, you don’t care because you have no control over it. The darkness creeping up on you, that goes unnoticed, as again you have no ability to change the fact that you are short on time. The cold, it too goes unnoticed, you can’t stop to put on another layer, it’s impossible in that position. The only thing that gets remembered is every hand placement, every foot placement, and the knowledge of what it will take for your shoe rubber to stick. The line is set, and you climb.

I needed a similar mindset to attempt Ballet, being so far out of my comfort zone I needed to mentally let go. It is like putting yourself in a state of careless vulnerability. You have risk, whether it is falling to your death, or just looking like an idiot trying to get proper turnout to perform a simple tendu, you must not care, because ultimately your goal is to complete what you started; just as climbing without protection was my only option on Liberty Bell, finishing this Ballet class was my only option Tuesday night (Or at least I mentally made up my mind that I was going to finish it no matter what).

This control of mind is a skill, and can be developed. Of course in hindsight one can think more logically about trying something new and uncomfortable. What did I really have to lose by going to a ballet class? The answer is nothing, with the exception of some possible short term embarrassment, I had nothing to lose. I had put myself in a perfect situation; if I failed I was simply back where I started, still with the option of trying again and improving; the only direction to go was forward. This is no different when trying anything that is completely new. So here is my logical advice to everyone. If you find yourself in a rut, doing the same thing every day, getting bored with life with nothing to look forward too, then go out and try something completely new. Think about it, why wouldn’t you? If trying something new can only result in progress and not failure, then why not choose progress? It is good for your psyche on so many levels that I feel everyone who reads this should make it a point to try something new every now and again; in part to keep mentally stimulated (hell it may even be helpful for Alzheimer’s) , and also in part to see what you have to gain.

Lastly, build up the skill of going outside of your comfort zone. If you feel self conscious about going to the gym, go anyway. If you feel uncomfortable about going to a spin class because of fear you won’t do well; who cares? Nobody will fault you if your goal is improvement. If you are avoiding anything that can bring benefit to your life simply because you fear failure, do it anyway; you have nothing to lose. And finally, if you need a little motivation, a tidbit to inspire you, a little morsel to help you get off your ass and try something new, just remember this: Brian went to a Ballet class.

* Disclaimer – By no means did I write this with the intent that all Male Ballet Dancers are homosexual, or that it is even a bad thing to be homosexual, because it’s not. I was simply stating that there are very few male ballet dancers, and ballet dancers that are male do have higher tendency to be gay ( than that of the normal male population, and thus being heterosexual I was far out of the normal demographic that would be found in a ballet studio.

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