One of the best pieces of life advice I’ve overheard my kids receiving came from Mr. Obi. If you went to my kids’ elementary school, you know Mr. Obi. His positive attitude and smile are contagious. If there was a party, he was the DJ. If there was a dance, he was leading the moves on the dance floor. I feel like he knew and greeted every single child and parent that walked into the school. He made every single child, wallflower or class clown, feel seen.
When my son was finishing fifth grade, there was a graduation party at which Mr. Obi was the DJ and party-starter. Shortly after the party was the graduation, and after the graduation ceremony, all the kids, parents and teachers went to the playground to say thank you and good-bye and how did we get here so fast.
On the playground, I overheard my son talking to Mr. Obi, who told my son he was showing off some amazing dance moves at the party. My son answered, “Nah, I’m pretty stiff with my dance moves.” Mr. Obi then brought out this gem that he probably doesn’t even remember saying: “Mr. Obi used to be a stiff dancer, too, but I just kept dancin’. Here’s the thing: you just gotta keep on dancin’ until you’re not stiff anymore.”
What he provided in that moment was such a pearl of wisdom for my child, and such a pearl of wisdom for me, too. Despite being on the drill team in high school (and a current jazzerciser), I’ve always been a fairly self conscious free-style dancer. But why? I can keep the beat. I can feel the music. Who cares what people think of my dance moves, as long as I’m moving and happy? I see people on dance floors with reckless abandon and ridiculous moves, not a care in the world as they’re cheered on by the crowd.
Thinking back on my life, there were so many times when I felt stiff in what I was doing. I remember feeling out of sync at times in adolescence. I remember being up to bat in a high school charity softball game, praying that I would just strike out so I could get off the plate. I literally trembled with fear the first time I had to speak to a high school debate class.
Then there were all the times I stiffly started new relationships. Went to college. Started medical school and then residency. Stiff, stiff, stiff. Then I started practicing pediatrics one day and my signature no longer required a co-signer, when the day before I had needed a more senior physician to sign with me. All of these times, I was stiff and had to just keep dancing until I wasn’t stiff anymore.
Almost three years ago, I started writing this blog. I can still remember the first article I put out there. I hit “send” or “post” or whatever and then started crying. My husband said something like “what are you crying about?” and I didn’t know. Maybe a fear of being rejected? Maybe just a stiffness of putting my words out there unsure if anyone would care to read them? I was, well, stiff.
The lesson for my child is this. Whenever you try something in life, you’re not going to feel comfortable in the beginning. It’s not going to feel natural to you. But if you just keep showing up, it’ll get easier. Just keep dancing until you’re not stiff anymore. I have to encourage my kids to stay in their stiffness until they work past it, and I have to model the same thing myself.
This year some of us are starting new traditions after death or divorce. Some of us will have newly blended families to juggle, or new roles as parents or mother-in-laws. Some of us will be quitting our jobs or starting new ones, heading out into new adventures. Our kids will be graduating and leaving or returning home, and we will feel stiff.
And so in 2023 I wish you the same lesson that Mr. Obi taught my son. If there are new things you want to pursue this year, with your parenting or your life, I wish you persistence to stick with it until the stiffness goes away. I wish the same for my kids and myself. Whatever we want to accomplish this year, let’s just keep dancing until we’re not stiff anymore.
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