I was sitting on those wretched metal folding chairs, in the very back of four rows that encircled the mirrored dance room.
And I was transfixed.
The woman speaking was tall, chemically blond, and perfect in appearance. Her hair was coiffed, her makeup was flawless, her outfit—perfectly pressed slacks the color of champagne, and a soft white turtleneck that held her head upon its ledges like a museum pedestal holds a portrait.
She held in her hands, or rather, clutched in her hands, a trophy. It was one of the many that she had received in her career as a ballroom dancer.
Off in the BYU engineering departments students were working through math problems. In the business building they were comparing laptops while scheming about financial figures. In the science laps they were staring at petri dishes trying to grow bacteria that they could just have easily found in any dorm room fridge.
But in room 237 of the Richards Building we were hosting people so famous they could have been Elvis. (Had I written this the year it happened, you may not have ever heard nor cared. Now you would probably recognize them from TV reality dance shows.)
Her topic for us that evening, we supposed, was about how to be as successful as her. For the first time in Dance Major history, dancers were taking notes. (As opposed to just mimicking teacher’s directions through movement)
The trophy in her hands; clutched–remember?–was the article of interest.
“When you win, when you hear the crowds roar, when they take your picture, and you shake hands with your competitors, you will know that all your hard work has paid of and you are completely satisfied, ” she began.
Almost nervously, she set the trophy on the podium.
“Time fades that satisfaction. Not in years, but in days and weeks.”
She pushed the trophy farther away from her.
“Before you know it, you have forgotten what it feels like to be the hero. The accolades of your peers never seem heartfelt enough. You start to miss that feeling, you crave it! “
People were nodding like they understood, but I was getting the impression this speech wasn’t really for us. Well, maybe for some, but I only had a few lousy ribbons, and they were flukes to say the least. I could not nod my head like I understood.
“Success,” she finished, “cannot be measured by the awards that you receive or you will spend your lifetime as a collector of shiny tributes to your excellence, rather than finding the experience as the true trophy.”
She clutched the trophy again and sat down.
I walked home to my dorm with dreams waltzing in my head. The imagination, as you can imagine, of a dancer is not just vivid–its dizzying!
And under the lantern of the Provo stars, I climbed the stairs of the Richard building, crossed the quiet campus, and then ascended the hill to my dorm.
Physically, I was there, breathing and seeing, finding my way. But mentally I was tall and blond and full of reason’s to hold a trophy. I saw myself dancing, I imaged the relief, the surprise, to hear an applause. I felt the freedom of my body moving perfectly, and how that movement and the music could make others feel.
I climbed in the elevator and pressed some buttons. It stopped on the fifth floor and opened. The first thing I saw was my friend Gina Maria, a natural almond blond with a Norwegian accent so cute she could make the word “grasshoppers” taste as good as Nutella.
She was sitting on her bed, knitting red mittens.
I sat down next to her to keep her company, and noticed, for the first time, that there wasn’t much that adorned her walls except for a calender, shelves with books, and one sheet of paper taped to the wall with scotch tape.
Gina saw me looking at it. “Its my favorite poem,” She told me.
I read it to be polite:
Rudyard Kipling’s Verse
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or being hated, don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise: If you can dream-and not make dreams your master; If you can think-and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two imposters just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools: If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!" If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And-which is more-you'll be a Man, my son.
I stumbled on the sentence, “If you can meet with triumph an disaster and you can treat the two imposters the same.”
I didn’t like that idea at all. For someone who felt as if their dreams were in a constant cycle of disasters, it was cruel to ask them to treat them as triumphs!
I thought of the three times I had tried out for that silly dance team, and how I was clearly good enough but continued to not make it. I thought of the embarrassing modern dance classes where I was the only one who struggled interpreting “peanut butter” into movement. I thought of the long list of crazy dance partners that I had rehearsed long early morning hours with only to find, on the day of competition that they were going to show up in a suit with shoulder pads, and hemmed for Hurricane Katrina.
How was it fair, to treat those as triumphs?
And the one time. That one fluke when I actually placed seventh in Latin Youth open (any ballroom dancer will scoff at this, but anyone else should be impressed) AND my parents were there to see it, AND I beat a whole bunch of kids who were on that little ballroom dance team I wasn’t good enough for…How could it be fair to treat that as a disaster?
Rudyard, I thought, you’ve got some nerve.
And he did. Enough that I printed out the poem and hung it on my wall with scotch tape. And then, in later years I memorized it. And now, I share it with you.
You will fail.
You will succeed.
At the most trivial things.
At the most important things.
And in that process, you will be numbered among many who have also succeeded and failed. The greater lesson is if you can go through these experiences with humility and perseverance, and if you can forget the trophy’s, the accolades, the applause, and judge yourself by an internal standard that is not calibrated to your peers view of you, but to your actual progress and determination in life.
Most importantly, you have to realize that treating a disaster like a triumph, is really, looking for the alternate path that has been made clear since the path you are standing at is full of debris. Who knows what great places disaster can take you.
At least, that’s what I think Rudyard and the Blond Lady were trying to tell me.
Lindsey Maughan is a mango enthusiast with a degree in modern and ballroom dance from BYU. She believes that when you read books you should take notes in the margins, that sandwiches taste better when cut on the diagonal, and that most mundane tasks can be improved upon with the right background music.
She lives with her tall, dark, and logical husband, and her almond eyed, airplane loving daughter in Hawaii. In April of this year they will welcome a second child, a boy, into the family. Both parents hope he will grow to love hiking, vacuuming, and Indian food.
Lindsey loves her jogging stroller, her ipod, good books, her journal, music, writing, dancing, cooking, yoga, and going on dates with her husband.