I remember in the 12th grade, during my last year in high school, I had step aerobics for a gym class. Step aerobics involves coordination where you have to step up and down off a platform to the rhythm of a song or choreography. More advanced levels mean that platform is raised higher and higher so that the steps you need to take require more effort.
Anyway, I was embarrassed to say that I really liked the class. I was good at it which is the basis for liking anything – competence breeds confidence. In our last week of the class, we always have a ‘final test’ and this was to recite the choreography for one song in which we would be graded. Since it was a big class, the instructor had students performance in groups of 5 or 6, so she would be able to grade us based on how synchronized we were.
I always had a good performance throughout the semester, so I was never concerned about final exams or tests. My philosophy was, if I didn’t learn the materials or whatever “it” was after 12 weeks of instruction, trying to CRAM the information overnight or in several days wasn’t going to make up for it.
I remember this class to this day, ten years later, because of what happened.
It was my turn to perform during the test with a handful of other students – my peers. I knew the song, I knew the steps. I was in the zone. At one point however, maybe a third of the way through, the REST of the cohort missed a step. And for a SPLIT second, I was suddenly off sync with the rest of the group. BUT. I was doing the right choreography and EVERYONE ELSE was off.
But the instructor didn’t know what happened. All she saw was four other students doing the same thing and ONE STUDENT (ie. ME) doing something else. So she said, [my name], get back in rhythm with everyone else!
And I remember that split second where time froze. Knowing that I was right, but that it didn’t matter now because I knew she wouldn’t know and that the time it took to explain would mean completely stopping my performance and choreography. So in that split second, I made a decision, and just skipped a step to be back in rhythm with the rest of the cohort.
And the amazing thing, and the reason why this memory stands out to me, is because it wasn’t just the instructor who was watching us but also the rest of the class. When the instructor told me that I was out of rhythm, a chorus of my peers corrected her and said, no actually [my name] is doing it right and everyone else missed a step. And even the students who did the performance with me, after our performance, they admitted that they were following the person to their left and missed a step. I happened to be the person to the furthest left and thus wasn’t paying attention to anyone else.
The teacher gave me full marks and acknowledged her mistake…. to the pressure and observation of the entire class of course, I don’t know if she would have admitted so otherwise.
But I remember feeling so shell shocked that day. I knew I had learned an important lesson about choosing my battles and when just being in synchrony with your peers was easier than fighting to be right. It was the first time that I was painfully aware, that I could be perfect and have it not matter if the person who’s opinion mattered didn’t see that perfection. Or worse, in this case, that my perfection was seen as being incorrect. It absolutely blew my seventeen year old mind.
I will forever be thankful to my classmates in that gym class for speaking the truth (as only young kids know how to do, they speak honestly unabashedly, without reserve) and in that case, for helping reinforce MY truth. My life would have been so different if nobody saw that my performance was fine and that everyone else messed up.
But there are so many moments in my adult and professional life where I am gaslighted into thinking that I am wrong, that my decision making cannot be trusted. Do not let yourself be fooled – you are competent, you can trust your own decisions.
This lesson comes at a bold moment, as I leave my interns this week with advice on how to continue on forward. I tell one guy to trust his judgement, it afterall got him so far and it will be his own judgement to rely on moving forward.
Make your own decisions. High school me had little option but to change course to fit in. But adult me (and you) won’t have to. So I say to you – keep going. Don’t stop or change course because what you are doing doesn’t look like what everyone else is doing. If you want the same life as everyone else, do what they do. But if you want a life for yourself, a life you will be proud of because the decisions were yours alone, your failures and disappointments were yours alone, you have no one else to blame but you? – keep going. You are the master of your own destiny.