Entering through a side door near the parking lot, we found ourselves in the hall with a smattering of confident instructors and tentative students. I wanted to run. I wanted to turn back the clock. I wanted to be invisible. As I anxiously evaluated my realistic options, the instructors briefly explained how to organize ourselves on the dance floor. I stood motionless.
“Are you going to lead or follow?”
I did not hesitate. “Follow.”
How did I get myself into this?
It started out as a harmless text with a novel invitation: Linda and I are going to a swing dance lesson. Do you want to go? When accepting, I imagined a carefree evening of missteps, laughter and twirls among friends. (And the chance to preemptively cross off an item from my bucket list.) Of course I would go!
When I learned that the lesson was going to be in a church, however, a mild uneasiness began to dampen my carefree attitude. What about the distraction of other people? What about the ambient noise to muffle my step counting? What about the alcohol?
See, I had been pretending that this was no big deal, but that’s because I didn’t plan on really participating. As that realization became clearer, so did my fear.
What was going on?
With some long days of work following a long weekend of play, I had been “on” to the point of feeling depleted. When our emotional, intellectual, spiritual or physical energy runs low, anything that requires effort is harder than normal.
I also felt uncomfortable. I am not a good dancer. I am neither graceful nor rhythmic. Skill development includes an early stage of awkwardness and, ugh, that sounded like the opposite of fun.
So, why did I go?
The leadership lesson
Leaders need to be their best selves to help others be their best selves. (This is exponentially true for leadership coaches.) As with most things change related this is easier to imagine than to do. Reassuringly, as with most things dance related, it gets easier with practice.
What’s a leader to do?
Demonstrate self care. One way to examine ourselves when we feel depleted is in terms of deposits and withdrawals. When we’re especially tired, impatient or surly, it can be helpful to calculate the energy “withdrawals” that got us there so we can plan some “deposits”. If trying new things and socializing tend to fill up your energy reserves, an open dance lesson could be the influx you need. However, if your physiological worth tends to rise most through alone time, you may choose to trade your dance shoes for spa socks or hiking boots. By attending to our needs, we restore our leadership worth.
Get clear about who we want to be. Sometimes, we may have conflicting desires or be unable to categorize our attention in terms of net positives or negatives. And that can be okay too. Consider my swing dance night: friend time versus family time; activity versus inactivity; new versus routine. Honestly examining who we want to be in that moment can help us prioritize.
Having intentionally outgrown the days of saying yes just to make others happy, I rarely do something without vetting it. On this swing dancing night, I wanted to connect with a friend. I knew I needed some physical activity. And I value being someone who says yes to new opportunities even when they’re scary.
Being our best selves sometimes requires stretching outside of our comfort zones. When we do, we find ourselves having experiences that build our skills and enrich our lives. My swing dance lesson was no exception. Yes it can be scary. But, to me, it’s worth it.

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