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You Will Never Come Across A Greater Adversary Than Your Own Potential

Shelley Irish Dance Workshop

“You will never come across a greater adversary than your own potential.”

I heard this quote on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Laugh all you want at the source, but there is so much truth to this statement. Every Irish dancer who’s ever been told how much potential they have knows just how difficult it is to become everything others say you can be. Every Irish dancer who has experienced a small amount of success knows that the pressure to succeed again can be a little overwhelming.

Just after the Western US Region Oireachtas in 2010, I started to feel the pressure to succeed more than ever before. I finally received a recall and now that another Oireachtas was approaching, I wanted more than anything to prove I could do it again. I worked my butt off in class for months. By the time North American Nationals arrived I had worked so hard that my left foot started to hurt every time I danced. It was frustrating to work hard for 6 months, then have to hold back at Nationals, to keep from getting a serious injury.

After giving my feet a couple weeks to rest, I started training for the Oireachtas again. Every time I danced however, I never felt it was good enough. I was putting in hours of practice, yet I was still making mistakes all the time. It didn’t help my confidence when I received last place in Open championship at almost every feis I attended.

A couple weeks before the Oireachtas I was really feeling the pressure and actually started questioning just how much I liked Irish dance. I kept thinking of how the teachers and other students at my school used to tell me how much potential I had and how I was going to be an amazing dancer someday. It was so frustrating to know that after many years of dancing I was honestly doing my best and it wasn’t good enough.

I’m sure you can predict what happened next, I competed at the Oireachtas and did not recall. I had worked harder than ever before and somehow performed worse than the year before. The one thing they never tell you about success is just how much pressure there is to succeed again. And when you fail to surpass your previous success it can make you question just how much potential you really have.

I was discovering just how big an adversary my own potential had become. The pressure to become great even made me consider quitting Irish dance simply because I hadn’t succeeded in the same way I had the year before. It was as if I had created an imaginary ladder of success in my mind. Every single year I would climb another step. If I succeeded once, I had to do even better the next time around, and even better the next time.

After the Oireachtas, I realized that I was looking at success in completely the wrong way. Yes, I had failed… a lot. But I was measuring my success by comparing it to huge accomplishments that I’d made in the past. It was like every time I danced I was putting pressure on myself to prove I deserved it. Therefore, every single mistake, every slip, every forgotten step was a huge failure that made me question whether I deserved to be 19th in the whole Western US Region. Every time I competed in Open Championship and failed to place, a part of me questioned whether I was actually good enough to be at this level.

Shelley Irish Dance Company 2012 Photo ShootI think a lot of us make the mistake of allowing our desire to reach our full potential get in the way of celebrating what we have already accomplished. After taking some time to think about why I actually started Irish dancing, I realized that over the past year I was putting all my energy into reaching my full potential and not putting any energy into enjoying what I had already accomplished. Without knowing it, I had created a time-table of how long it would take for me to reach my full potential. Was it actually important that I start placing in Open Championship within 3 years? I love Irish dance and don’t plan to stop anytime soon, so how long it takes for me to become the best I can be really isn’t important. Someday I will be good enough to recall at the Oireachtas every time I try, but I’m not that great yet. I can’t possibly guess just how long it while take to reach my full potential, so the smartest thing to do is just enjoy the ride.

For the past few months, since I stopped focusing on beating my own previous success, I’ve started enjoying Irish dance more than ever before. I’m dancing simply because I love it. I’ve stopped trying to prove I’m better than I was last year. I’m learning other dancer’s steps, just for fun. I’m making up my own choreography, sharing dance videos with family and friends on my website. More than anything I’ve accepted that I’m only human so my road to success is going to have bumps, sometimes huge ones. I may not be the best I can be today, but I know I’ll get there someday. I still plan to one day reach my full potential, but I’m not going to allow it be my adversary anymore.

Have you ever felt the pressure to reach your full potential?

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  1. I love your story and I can totally relate to it, I have started to feel this way last year and it was frustrating. My situation is completely different and I haven’t endured the pain to your extent at all, but I can still relate to it. It is actually true for any situation in life and I come across this a lot in my job as well, but the most important thing is confidence. With confidence you will be able to achieve so much more and reach over your limits. It’s just so hard when it is not there. And if you enjoy what you’re doing your confidence is automatically higher, and you don’t pressure yourself so much. You are doing it right and its admirable.

    My dance story is very different. I’m old and just started dancing 1.5 years ago for fun. I have a busy job and can’t spend much time on the dancing, and my body probably wouldn’t allow it either. After some time I got really hooked and attended my first feis after 1 year of dancing (category adults) and it was a big success, I moved up to Novice in 5 dances and I was very proud about my accomplishments. After my 2nd feis I was all novice and already prizewinner in slip jig. I felt on cloud 7, but after that it was almost to be expected to be going downhill, nobody can have so much success forever. My next feis shortly afterwards felt very disappointing in comparison. I still have to keep telling myself that I actually didn’t do so bad, afterall I moved up another dance into prizewinner, but I had much less bling around my neck than before. Nobody expects anything from me, I’m the hardest on myself.

    I want to tell you a story from this particular feis. I wasn’t feeling too well (I was sick before) and I just didn’t have this special feeling I had at the other feises before, not sure how to describe, like excitement and joy. I felt like nothing and probably danced like this, so no wonder it wasn’t any good. In addition or maybe because of that I made mistakes in my simple soft shoe routines which I know in and out since many months which really shocked me, and hit my confidence which impacted other dances as well, like a snow ball effect. I don’t know why it was like that, but for some reason I was not focused when I was dancing. All the soft shoe dances were screwed up and I wasn’t happy about any placement. Thankfully the hard shoes saved my day and I even moved up another dance into prizewinner. I had also signed up for my very first trophy special which was a slip jig. I was already prizewinner but obviously I couldn’t compete with any of them and hadn’t placed. I was so angry about myself and the mistakes I made during all the competition, and in general there was not a good mood in my team as well, so I was even debating if I should do that special afterall. But I am not a quitter and had paid for it, so I participated. However, I knew I had to change my attitude, because clearly what I had done so far was not working very well. So I thought, who cares about winning, I am an adult and it also doesn’t count anything, If I dance with the feeling I want to win, I don’t think I would. So I started telling myself that I love the dance and I am going to dance this slip jig step only for myself, because I love to dance and I love the music and I want to move to the music. I told myself I am going to fly. I did exactly the same steps as in the competition before, no real difference I would say, only my mindset was different, and it worked, I got second which made me really really proud. I didn’t think I would win.

    It tought me the same lesson that you learned: you have to dance because you love it and not because you want to win. There will always be a feis with some bad luck and disappointments and it’s hard to get over it, Sometimes we are just in a phase also to not make much progress and are frustrated about that. But we have to keep moving forward and not to loose the good spirit!

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