In the motor trade we get sent on training courses quite a lot. No matter where we are, or what we are learning about, we always have to go through this embarrassing ritual of introducing ourselves and stating a fact that no one else knows. Of course no one knows anything about me so sometimes I just make something up. I once told the room I was once a page 3 model and then held in my laughter as they tried to stare at my chest with their peripheral vision. (The vast majority of men are not very good at this.)
Most of the time, however, I am aware that I am going to meet these people again. Like a lot of trades, the motor industry is a bit incestuous and someone always knows someone else, so I tend to go with the usual: I have a grade 8 in ballet.
After a little while, it got me thinking that actually my training to be a dancer stood me in good stead for the business world. So here are 10 things that ballet taught me about business.
1. There is no such thing as an over-night success.
Sometimes my generation needs to be cut a bit of slack. From a very young age we acknowledge that we can get “things” very, very quickly. Example: food. Fast food. Information, no need to sit in a library hiking through an encyclopaedia- just type it into Google. TV, X-Factor, even Strictly Come Dancing, turns people into stars ‘over night.’
No one sees the years and years of singing tuition, the hours at the gym to look like that, the sacrifices to social lives, the financial investments, etc. All we see is the product quickly put in front of us, so forgive us for thinking that building relationships and business aren’t the same as everything else in our lives. Training to be a dancer, I knew that I would perfect a triple pirouette only by practising, practising, practising. Showing up to every class. Watching others. Dedication to perfect it.
2. Practise, practise, practise.
Sometimes you’re just not very good. I went on stage once. Forgot the end of the routine. Made it up. I ended up sort of turning awkwardly in a circle… *backwards*…. and I distinctly remember that hot embarrassing feeling when your mind is totally blank. I hid in the toilets crying for a long time afterwards.
Anyway, it taught me that you need to be prepared. There is no point trying to wing it. Sometimes it works. My Mum still claims she didn’t know I’d forgotten the routine (I know she was just trying to protect my ego) but it’s back to that age old saying “fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” Dancing taught me that in a brutal way, but now I will show up to every meeting with everything I need, ready. I will make sure I can do everything possible not to let myself or anyone else down.
3. You will be a bit crap sometimes.
You could have prepared everything; you could have a million sequins on your head and hair sprayed your ballet ribbons to your ankles, (fact: they stick to your tights and never, ever come undone which is handy when you’re on stage but not so great when you want to go home!), but for some reason your balance is off that day. Try holding an arabesque on stage. The position you’ve practised over and over, but today it just isn’t going to happen. You wobble. You fail.
In business this happens too. You’ll have done everything right. But for some reason the account falls through, the customer suddenly hates your product, there’s a global recession. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Forgive it, let it go. Try and try again.
4. Give people your stuff and talent.
I showed up to a dress rehearsal once with basically nothing. (FYI a dress rehearsal is where you are doing a mock of the show, costume, make, up, etc). I had my outfit but no make up or hair accessories. I was stressed. Certain I would be shouted at and made an example of. However, an angel came to my rescue. A friend of mine had plenty of stuff to sort me out. She did my make up, with all her kit while I used all her hair clips and bun nets. Be nice to people and build up strong relationships.
Why don’t you bring extra pens to the meeting? Offer to help someone with something. Organise a charity event. When you give freely, the world has a magical way of bringing that back to you. Call it karma if you will, but believe me I’ve seen it.
5. Trust in your seniors.
Unless they are a douche of course. However, my dance training taught me to trust in authority and believe that they can see a bigger picture than I can. I might think that my routine was the absolute business but my teacher would always guide me into making it better. Once in ballet, we had to put hangers in the back of our leotard straps to learn how to pull our shoulders back and down. It was silly but it worked. I know now this was a technique called ‘muscle memory’ but the same discipline in ballet can be applied to work.
I understand that although senior staff members have asked me to do something that may not be clear to me, I trust that there is a good purpose for it. I trust their expertise and value the lesson.
For some unknown reason, smiles are infectious. Once, I didn’t get the part in an audition but the director called me back in and said he loved my smile so much he wrote me a new part.
In business, you are far more approachable if you are smiling. If you are having a really, really bad day or you are really anxious. Smile. I promise, you’ll feel better even if you are forcing it.
7. You are responsible for what happens.
I once read somewhere that “you can’t pay someone to do you press-ups for you.” This is exactly it. If I fail a ballet exam (which I never did *smug face*) this is not my dance teachers fault. It is mine. I should have practised more, I should have been more prepared, I should have paid off the examiner (joking!).
So many people blame other people or situations for their shortcomings and it is probably the most irritating trait I have found in the business world. No one made you take that job, no one made you come to work today, your boss isn’t to blame for you missing target; you are. Get over it, stop moaning, apply for a new job, or get better at your job. You decide.
8. Invest in yourself and face your fears.
We had this group dance once where we needed to do small jumps en pointe. My right ankle has always been a bit rubbish and I was worried about it collapsing on stage and making myself and my peers look bad. I avoided it for a while but in one rehearsal I realised that it wasn’t going to be taken out of the routine. I needed to get better at it. So I had extra classes working on that ankle and those jumps. It’s about investing properly. Call it tuition or whatever you will, book in for an extra class to get better at your weakest bit.
Go on a training course, read a book, watch a TED talk or attend a seminar that will inspire you or make you a bit better at what you do. You will grow exponentially in confidence and everything else will soar with you.
9. Dress the part and you will feel the part.
In our society, what we see dictates a lot of what happens and what doesn’t happen. This is as important for men as it is for women. If I wear a bad fitting tutu, (the page 3) *parts of my body* will fall out. I will not be perceived to be a professional at what I am doing.
The same applies for a suit, a handbag, a watch, your shoes, your hair. All these things are ‘seen’ and give off perceptions about your performing ability. Show off what you are inside. Let them judge you as a brilliant shiny, sexy book.
10. The obvious cliché one really… Believe in yourself.
If you went to see the ballet and the lead dancer was hanging her head, shrugging her shoulders and not performing properly would you be impressed by what you had paid to see? No.
All performers, whether on the stage or in business need to believe that they are the right person for this role. You absolutely NEED to believe that you are the best. You deserve this part. You deserve the glory.
Go out to the big bright world. Break a leg!