Things I Learned This Year Part 2 (Ongoing Growth and Stuff)

I usually wrap up the arbitrary time interval of the Gregorian calendar with some “Things I Learned post(s) (like thisthisthis, or this). This is the second chunk of Things from this year (catch up on Part 1).

We all have thoughts in our head that we didn’t put there ourselves. But it’s our responsibility to decide which of those guide our actions.

Empty mandates to “love yourself” are pretty useless, especially when they don’t address the real world environments and systems that contribute to self-hate. You don’t need need to meta-berate yourself for having insecurities. While you’re working through them, you can have a healthy, functional (if not quite loving) working relationship with yourself that allows you to live and love your life.

Don’t assume you don’t have something to teach someone with more status than you. Don’t assume you don’t have something to learn from someone with less status than you.

I don’t need a clearly articulated “good reason” for leaving a situation I don’t feel good about (personally or professionally). The good reasons become clear with a little distance.

Originality isn’t everything. Some of the most potent ideas are the ones that lots of people are thinking and not enough people are saying out loud.

Don’t underestimate how far you can get by reaching out to people with genuine excitement.

The work-in-progress version of myself can be worth sharing. I can be performing professionally and also beginning new phases of training. I can write about topics as I continue to learn about them. I can offer help with personal problems I’m also still working through. You don’t have to stay silent until you’re “finished” growing, or become stagnant once you’ve started speaking.

When you start getting real, some people will get closer, and others will back away. I’ve been lucky this year to have some wonderful humans in the former category, whose presence more than outweighs any superficial relationships I’ve lost.

The competition of who has the most correct/radical sociopolitical opinions can be a trap. Being critical is important, but I’m more interested in supporting and joining people putting something positive (and inevitably imperfect) into practice.

Being late to the (metaphorical) party isn’t a reason not to show up. Chances are once you’re there, you’ll realize lots of people are still arriving.

Don’t put people on pedestals.
People who are experts in one area might be terribly ignorant in another. Artists who have made brilliant work can also make crap. People who have done important social justice work can also be assholes or abusers.

It’s not fair to demand infallibility from people we respect, or to dispose of them as soon as they slip up. It’s dangerous to unconditionally accept ideas coming from people we respect. And it’s ironically dehumanizing to see people we respect as superheroes, overlooking the possibility that they struggle or need support themselves.

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Things I Learned This Year Part 1 (Spaces)

I usually wrap up the arbitrary time interval of the Gregorian calendar with some “Things I Learned post(s) (like this, this, this, or this). This year, I’m feeling splainy, so I’m gonna break it into a few chunks. starting with some loosely tied reflections on spaces. 

The same work/idea can read tremendously differently in different contexts.
What is considered “funny,” “novel,” “intense,” or “radical,” is so defined by the venue and audience.

The environment and people I’m working with matter more to me than I previously thought.
This applies both to artistic and non-artistic work. But in particular, I expected that I would be so eager (and desperate) for dance jobs that I would tolerate any toxicity surrounding them. On the contrary, as I’ve gotten more professional experience, I’m realizing how much the people, practices, and values surrounding me influence both my happiness and quality of work, and this really affects how I choose projects.

Dance performances can be more fun, interesting, and effective outside of the usual dance concerts.
Many of the performances I’ve been doing lately have involved performing contemporary dance in non-dance venues, including art galleries, music concerts, theater festivals, and open mics. I’ve found refreshingly un-jaded audiences, taken feedback from new perspectives, absorbed some useful creative and business practices from different types of artists, and met lots of cool people outside the concert dance bubble.

Don’t mistake comfort for familiarity. Your comfort zone might be something you haven’t stepped into.
Turns out I enjoy acrobatics, drag, spoken word poetry, and talking on podcasts. I’ve also been reevaluating the social spaces I’ve been in for the last few years–which ones was I actually at home in and which ones was I just competent at navigating?

Identity-specific spaces can be freeing in ways I didn’t know I needed.
I didn’t use to seek out identity-specific spaces, with a variety of excuses: because I felt I didn’t “need” them, because I didn’t want to be exclusively defined by identity markers, or because I assumed I wasn’t the perfect prototype of someone who would belong in that community. I was wrong.

Some of my favorite experiences and relationships this year have come through identity-centric communities. Ironically, I suddenly felt less defined by those identities (since they were the least distinctive thing about me in context). However, I was also free to reflect on parts of my life I often censor, downplay, or have to over-explain and “represent positively.” With fewer walls up, I found myself becoming a more open, relaxed, creative version of myself, that I hope to bring into more aspects of my life.

 

16 Things I Learned in 2016

Remember how I learned something in 2013, 2014, 2015? Well guess what–I did it again.

  1. “Doing it all” is kind of an overrated goal. “Doing some of it really well at a reasonable pace, and also having time to sleep, socialize, and be a person” is kind of an underrated one.
  2. Being interested in the ideas behind a field is different than enjoying the daily practice of it. Both are important if you want to be happy doing it.
    • Personally, I encounter this tension whenever I find an area of academic research super important and compelling, but realize that sitting alone in a library or in front of a computer all day makes me want to smash things. Ideally, I’d like to find ways to engage with ideas I’m interested in through practices I enjoy.
  3. Don’t trust people who always say it’s gonna be okay—it’s statistically unlikely. (Cheerleaders have a pretty bad accuracy record. So do some pollitical pundits.)
  4. Lots of people manage to have impressive careers without actually doing their jobs very well. My working theory is that whoever is mediocre the loudest and most confidently wins.
    • Or in the long-term, maybe whoever sticks around the longest wins.
  5. There is a such thing as trying too hard.
  6. Dealing with uncertainty is a skill. One that I’m going to need next year on several levels.
    • I did a lot of improv this semester, including a 15 minute piece of semistructured group improvisation on stage. In the process, I got pretty used to not knowing what situation I’m going to find myself in, but knowing that I can rely on the tools and skills I’ve developed to deal with it. And if I’m out of ideas, sometimes the best choice is to stop and look to the people around me.
  7. Ironic understatement is one of the overlooked love languages.
  8. Lots of companies/organizations project a positive/progressive image, but if you take a look at their internal practices, you might get a different picture.
  9. You know how some people gain so much academic knowledge but loose the ability to use common sense or talk in straightforward language? Or some dancers gain so much technical and performance training but loose the ability to walk naturally or dance at a party? Especially as I’m coming out of school, my goal is to make sure that whatever new/fancy/advanced skills I gain are supplementing, not replacing, whatever I had before.
  10. Half of knowing how to have a good conversation is knowing how to listen.
  11. Theories and frameworks can be useful ways to organize and understand reality. But if reality isn’t fitting your theory, you should probably rethink the theory, not the reality.
  12. People are always interpreting what they learn–news, history, other people–through the lens of narratives they already know. Sometimes that makes us ignore the people and events that don’t fit the pre-established narratives.
    • And if your reality doesn’t fit the dominant narrative, it’s a good opportunity to get an alternative narrative out into the world.
  13. One way to deal with feeling misunderstood is to get better at explaining yourself.
  14. Multiple famous/cool people died this year, but there are also lots of cool people still alive. We can appreciate those people too.
  15. Most things described as “it’s complicated” and “it’s a long story” can actually be summed up in one sentence.
  16. It’s been three years, and I’m still not sure what this blog is about.

15 Things I Learned in 2015

Well, since I made lists for 2013 and 2014, I guess I should make another one for this year (or at least everything since my last semester-ly list).

  1. A one-month trial of Microsoft Office can last forever if you never restart your computer.
  2. Cooking sounds a lot more appealing at the beginning of the semester.
  3. Don’t underestimate how much people can change (in all the best and worst ways).
  4. Don’t underestimate how much the world can change (in all the best and worst ways).
  5. Professional success is sometimes more about making friends than being the “best.” I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse.
  6. You don’t have to be everything that you admire in other people.
  7. I need prioritize taking care of my body or this “young and invincible” thing is gonna run out fast (i.e. sleep and adequate warm-ups are not optional).
  8. Yoga is awesome.
  9. Perceiving things categorically (starting with sounds and colors) is neurologically efficient, but that doesn’t mean it reflects reality.
  10. Those who don’t learn history are destined to make up their own version of it.
  11. The person grading your paper actually does want you to do well–it’s so much easier and less of a downer to grade.
  12. Things which may actually be a contest to see who avoids quitting the longest: dance, blogging.
  13. If you can make five-year-olds learn something, adults are a breeze.
  14. If you want to see our society’s sexist and racist assumptions spelled out without the usual coding or denial, listen to kids. And sometimes presidential candidates.
  15. Comedy is really a nuanced, powerful, and generally underrated art. No joke.

Happy New Year y’all! Have fun and don’t make too many resolutions!

14 Things I Learned in 2014

Last year I did a 13 Things I Learned in 2013 list, so surprise, I’m back with 14 more for this year (mostly from this semester, since I already made a first year of college list).

  1. Better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.
  2. You don’t get bonus points for making yourself miserable while you do it.
  3. Very rarely will will my regrets include “I wish I had stayed home and studied more.”
  4. Wikipedia surfing may teach you as much as college. If you do it way too long.
  5. Accusing people of “oversensitivity” makes no sense when you realize the guts it takes to call people out. (This applies even if you think that person is wrong and even if they are.) Why is the alternative (fearful, uncomfortable silence) equated to “toughness,” whatever that means?
  6. 5 dining swipes a week can take you surprisingly far if you milk them for all they’re worth (and by that I mean taking out cups filled with milk. And cereal. And bread. And peanut butter. I think you get the idea.)
  7. If you let people see you at your worst once, you’ll have nothing to hide (this applies to pirouettes and emotions and sweatpants).
  8. Who knows what “being yourself” really means, but stopping-being-what-you-know-you’re-really-not is a good step.
  9. Actually doing all the reading for class may not be the most time-efficient approach, but it certainly has its charm.
  10. Spotify.
  11. Opposites can attract, but that doesn’t mean they won’t blow up at each other when they meet.
  12. It’s okay to make space for the people who make space for you, instead of leaving empty holes for those who won’t.
  13. Events that don’t advertise the free food have the best free food.
  14. It’s okay to act like you care.

Things I Learned in 2013

  1. College admissions are not controlled by some magical, divine force. No matter what they tell you about ending up where you’re “meant to be,” it’s really just people and numbers on the other side of the process.
  2. That said, most people don’t need a flawlessly-matched college to have a positive experience.
  3. Moving, distance, semi-independent living, urban navigation, and time management are not nearly as hard as people make them out to be.
  4. It’s one thing to hear older artists talk about how they don’t care about success or external validation and like the idea, but it’s another to genuinely feel this way about myself. I need some distance from the constant panic and uncertainty of young adulthood before I can get to that place, and that’s okay.
  5. There is more than one way to be social.
  6. You know how people slightly older than you seem to have it all figured out. They don’t.
  7. Everyone’s life looks way more exciting/perfect on Facebook.
  8. It’s totally okay to feel lots of different things simultaneously. Acknowledging this make every one-word answer to “How are you?” feel painfully dishonest.
  9. Everyone is shamefully ignorant about something. Google helps.
  10. Not all snow is adequate for snowman building.
  11. I don’t actually know what my parents are thinking.
  12. People have no idea what I’m thinking either. Explaining is important.
  13. Java and JavaScript are actually not the same thing.

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Have a great new year, people. Or an average one. No pressure.