I started running two years ago and in that time developed beyond all expectations. By this, I mean beyond my expectations. This got me thinking about the mind and its role in physical change. We all see the world and ourselves differently, how many times does a friend offer you perspective because you can’t step back and see the bigger picture? I was held back for years, because I perceived myself less talented than I was, which became a self fulfilling prophecy.
I am not referring to running, we are talking about my previous life as a professional Ballet Dancer. From a young age I hung a barrier above my head, ‘Darren can reach here’. A number of difficult experiences scarred me and permanently messed with how I perceived talent and development. My mind was very much fixed rather than growth orientated.
I think theres valuable lessons to be learnt from my experience, lessons I have applied to my running. I see now how my career as a Dancer failed due to my mind and lack of perspective and grit. I want to share this with you through the eyes of an 18 year old me so grab a cuppa and join me in 2005.
Flopped on the floor, I warm up with one eye on the competition. At least 80 Dancers congregate, sporting different coloured tights and leotards. One guy lifts a leg above his head, another jumps in the air turning 720 degrees before landing plum. Christ what am I doing here?
I am in Dusseldorf, trying to secure one of three spots within the Dusseldorf Ballet, but I feel totally inadequate and utterly out of place. Training 6 days a week for three years in London, I have learned a lot, changed a lot, but still I cannot alter what I was born with. The Dancers towering over me have long, stretchy limbs, subtle feet and elegant lines. I, well don’t! I can perform, I can jump and I can do tricks, but I lack raw talent, everything I have is trained while the bodies around me where born to Dance.
The audition process is simple, perform routines increasing in difficulty for 90 minutes. Throughout hopefuls are tapped on the shoulder, a gesture meaning your audition is over. The last three men are considered for a contract, certainly not your standard job interview!
A large mahogany door creeks open as the Ballet Master, a stern faced German strides through. “Zee audition vill start in 5 minuts!” My stomach rumbles and my hands turn clammy, we are lead to a studio in single file. Lines upon lines of wooden bars lay before me, mirrors on every wall and a long table to the front hosting eight pairs of peering eyes. I pick my place, crammed in a tight space trying to be seen. The Pianist makes his first note and as I begin my first plie the Ballet master makes his move. Within seconds he has made the first cut.
I started Dancing aged 12, quite late compared to most. At school I developed an inferiority complex; between bullying and a lack of natural Sporting ability I always saw myself as untalented. This perception carried over to Dance where I was told not to apply for colleges as I wouldn’t make it.
By the time I was 14 that all changed. My parents were told I should pursue a career in Dance and go for college after all. My body hadn’t changed much in those two years but I was doggedly determined to do what I loved. I suppose my hard work had paid off but it certainly hadn’t helped my self-assessment. I looked in the mirror and saw the same old lines, the lack of flexibility and general natural ability. I joined Ballet Central in London on a scholarship aged 15, it was here Ballet would turn from hobby to profession.
As I perform the room seems to grow in size, with each tap of a shoulder space opens up. Even the long limbed Dancer I envied during the warm up had gone. 40 minutes in and almost half the lads were dismissed, but not me. What is going on? Better Dancers have gone including a close friend, am I invisible?
Ten minutes later and ten more hopefuls leave the room, only 30 remain. I can see those piercing eyes watching, judging my every move but they decide to keep me in, they want to see more…
I learned my trade at Central School of Ballet, training full time, six days a week. My progression was rapid, by the end of year one my ability was unrecognizable. Teachers seemed to like me, trusting me with lead roles and putting me forward for professional performances. I always put this down to my attitude, but felt there were better Dancers around me.
No matter how much praise I received (including a magazine appearance) I couldn’t move past the views I developed as a child. I’m not worthy, I’m not talented, I don’t have the right body, I’ve just been lucky. My perception was so ingrained I literally couldn’t see what was in front of me every day, looking back in the mirror.
By my third year I was ready to audition for companies, I had little confidence but decided to go for it and not waste three years of hard work…and there I was, flying out to Dusseldorf and auditioning for a company above my ability.
I check the clock, only 30 minutes remain, just half an hour to avoid the dreaded tap. I am performing the big tricks now, pirouettes, tour en l’airs and landing each one a plum. Meanwhile more leave the room, tap, gone, tap, gone. The space feels bare and rightly so, only ten remain and I’m clinging on, riding the wave of a lifetime.
Then it happens, the Ballet Master makes a B line for me, with a strange smile he touches my shoulder, almost saying sorry. I perform the walk but not of shame, of shock, that I survived so long. I made the last ten, only nine other Dancers were preferred for one of the best Ballet companies in Germany.
Even in the years that followed my views remained the same. Eventually I accepted a job travelling the world, performing on cruise ships, a job which was beneath my ability. Sounds great, but the lack of a professional environment and training saw the end of any make it big ambitions.
Years later I realised just what had happened. I had grown, drastically, and transformed into a good Dancer. My old perceptions were wrong while all the teachers, the auditions, the affirmations which I wouldn’t heed were right. I held myself back, missed opportunities and failed to jump on every chance all due to a childhood perception I couldn’t shake.
When I found running the penny dropped. I started running with similar views, the lack of natural ability and assumption I could never take it anywhere. I have again proven myself wrong with my development and one performance in particular. Like in the audition, I raced the Hardmoors Wainstones marathon thinking those around me more worthy of a win…I went on to win and think it time I stop holding myself back.
To the point of this post; We are far more capable than we think. Often you are too close to see the real picture. With the right application and hard, hard work its truly amazing what you can achieve. But to truly make the most of it you must let go of restrictive thoughts and negative self-perceptions, often they simply aren’t true. You cannot see the future, so how can you know what isn’t achievable? This is probably the most personal post I’ve shared, so hope it helps.
PS For those who believe in fate and everything happens for a reason. If I had a growth mindset, as I do now, I would never have taken that cruise ship job and never met my wife. Happily married for 10 years, silver lining and all that 🙂