Sometimes it’s Okay to Be Needy
Warning: I’m about to get kinda sappy. And philosophical. And I’m not even drinking.
Earlier this year, my partner-in-crime took leave of our tap company, The Lady Hoofers, in order to pursue other projects. A few days later, I found myself at a Young Adult Friends Retreat (i.e. a weekend-long Quaker slumber party) at Swarthmore Meeting wondering how the hell I was going to pick up the pieces and keep things running on my own.
The thing is I wasn’t quite as lost as I’d originally feared. Every job I’ve ever had, every boss I’ve dealt with, every company I’ve danced for has been a lesson in the way to do (or to not do) things. I didn’t realize it—in fact, I never really thought about it back in college when all of my friends were attaching “Dance” to their last names and forming their own “companies”—but my entire life has been a crash course in how to run a company.
At any event, during the retreat, I decided to attend a workshop led by Thomas Swain. The Quakers amongst you will know exactly who I’m talking about and if you don’t, you should totally get to know him because he is one of truly inspired people who can look you in the eyes, as you a simple question, and have you in tears three seconds later because he’s caused you realize something about yourself that you never knew before—something that’s going to make everything else seem possible all of the sudden.
At least that’s what happened to me.
The workshop was all about gifts: identifying gifts, cultivating gifts, nurturing gifts, and so on. The notion of “gifts” (meaning God-given talents, skills or abilities) is a popular one in Quaker circles, especially young adult Quaker circles when you put a bunch of eccentric, self-aware 20-somethings who went to small, private liberal arts schools in a room together.
Everybody sits around stressing about what they’re meant to do with their lives; if you haven’t quit your job and gone off to join the Peace Corps, you feel like you’re not doing enough and if you have joined the Peace Corps you’re wondering if you did it for the right reasons and trying to figure out what to do now.
It’s almost comical, but everyone is so damn sincere in their intentions and honest about their insecurities that you can’t help but feel a little better about the state of the world. Now that I’m one of the older “Young Adult Friends” I look at all of the poor undergrads who are freaking out about declaring their majors and the poor post-grads who are freaking out about what they’re meant to do with their lives and I just want to them to relax—the answers will come—but then I remember how I was a few years back (heck—how I was a few months back!) and I know that nothing I can say will convince them. They’ll have to come to these things on their own.
At any rate, during the course of the workshop, Thomas steered the conversation from gifts to needs. Needs, unlike gifts, aren’t something to be proud of. Needs aren’t something you want to admit to other people. Needs are something you’re meant to hide, to compensate for as best you can—at least that’s what I used to think.
“Needs aren’t signs of weakness” Thomas told us. “Needs are opportunities for other to utilize their gifts.”
I can’t remember if that’s exactly how he phrased it but I’m going to put it out there again because it’s important:
Needs aren’t signs of weakness. Needs are opportunities for other to utilize their gifts.
I don’t know about you but I had never, ever thought about it that way before.
And suddenly, asking for help didn’t seem like such a horrible prospect. So I talked to my friends who work in arts administration; I met my old boss for coffee to pick her brain; I scheduled a meeting with the director of Philadelphia’s DanceUSA office. “Talk to me about non-violent communication,” I asked one friend; “Can we swap marketing support for studio space?” I asked another.
I toyed with the idea of trying to adopt the Quaker business method to suit the company’s administrative needs but after further consideration, I realized that a spirit-led, consensus-driven decision making process wasn’t going to be the right course for us.
So I called my brother. “Tell me about the different types of leadership structures you learned about in your business courses.”
“The best businesses are run by a single, strong leader,” he told me. “But not just any leader: a leader who takes ideas from his or her employees.”
I could do that.
I know all directors think their dancers are awesome but mine really are. Most people don’t think very much of dancers—everyone assumes were rather dimwitted, albeit talented, and certainly not capable of doing anything beyond performing—but between the four dancers of our First Company and our four Apprentices, I’ve got “binders full” of smart, creative, multi-talented women.
I knew enough to survey our dancers about their “related skills” before last fall’s auditions even began so I really do have binders full of their qualifications: costuming, video editing, graphic design, social media—and that’s before you rope in the boyfriends/husbands! One dancer’s significant other made lunch for the entire company after our outdoor performance at the Headhouse Farmer’s Market last December; another’s took the morning off work to lend us his band’s sound system. TWD ran interference at last month’s Master Class and when I was complaining about my inability to glean any useful information from the surveys we’d distributed he got quiet for a moment then said, “About those surveys… I was going to tell you this sooner but you seemed so proud of them. They weren’t… well, Nena, you have to write the questions differently to get the kind of data you want.”
It never occurred to me to ask my boyfriend—who writes test questions and crunches numbers for a living—to help us with figure out how to ask the right kinds of questions. Duh.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve appointed a Rehearsal Assistant (who also serves as our secretary at business meetings and one half of our social media team), a Treasurer (who also serves as the other half) and an official Apprentice/Student Representative to make sure that the concerns of our Apprentice Dancers, most of whom are students and don’t have their own cars, are heard at our business meetings.
This doesn’t mean that things don’t fall through the cracks once in a while. I forgot to tell the students, for example, that they have an official representative now, and even though I proofread the flyer for our next Master Class about a hundred times, I still transposed the numbers in the studio address. But this is the great thing about working with people who are passionate about what they do. One of our First Company dancers realized it right away; she texted me to let me know about the mistake and I fired off an email to all of the dancers, asking them to correct the typo before distributing the flyers. Problem solved.
The year got off to a rocky start, but we’re building momentum. Yesterday, we performed at a festival in Chestnut Hill and next month, I’ll be getting interviewed by a local student who wants to write a report on the company for one of her classes. We’re expanding our repertoire, buying new costumes, recycling old ones and moving into a new studio. And—not to brag, but I’m so damn proud of us that I can’t help it—we’ve made it to Broad Street! I just signed a contract for a performance at The Wilma Theater. We’ll be featured during BalletX’s home season this coming April.
I doubt any of my dancers will read this (probably better if they don’t—I think most of them still view me as fairly sane individual…) but if they do, can I just say how inspired I am by everyone’s willingness to step up?
Amazing what can happen when you ask for help.
16 Responses to “Sometimes it’s Okay to Be Needy”
One of my former bosses told me that the toughest thing to do in leadership is to delegate – looks like you’ve succeeded! Congrats on making it to Broad Street!
Yes… I never was terribly fond of “group projects” back in school 😦 Delegating is an art!
That’s a really great attitude to have. It is something that I’ve s-l-o-w-l-y come to realize myself, that it is in fact ok to ask for help when you need it. It is something that Adam especially pushes me at and as much as I complain about him he really is right about almost everything.
Even just simple stuff…like I had a small party at my house this weekend and I’m running around trying to get everything done and my friends ask if they can help. My inital reaction is to do everything myself and then I think, why?? So I accept the offered help and things go so much more smoothly.
While I haven’t started my own company, I have finally broken into the writing/editing world through my own merits which is something that I’m very proud of. I volunteered to edit a novel for a company and the Owner/Director was so impressed he offered me a job. Now I have my own clients and three people reporting to me. Very cool.
Keep up the good work and let me know when you’ll be performing!!
p.s. Do you know any ballet companies in the East Falls/Roxborough/Manayunk area? Koresh is great but I can’t deal with being in the city until 10 at night, especially after arriving just after 8am.
Good for you, Becky! PhiladelphiaDance.org has a pretty comprehensive listing of classes and companies– you might be able to find something on there that works better for you.
Thanks, Kat, great post! Here’s the language I use to convey the message that Thomas did so eloquently.
When I refuse to ask for help, I deny my friends the opportunity to have that wonderful feeling that goes with being able to help.
I didn’t learn that until I was several decades older than you are now, so I have even higher hopes for your rich, rewarding, successful life.
Yes! Thank you, Maia. I feel like I need to post that on a very LARGE sticky tab somewhere in my room (actually several places would probably be best). His workshop was soooo incredible. There were actually several on offer at the same time that looked interesting and I was having a really hard time deciding which one to attend but once I got there, I knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be.
call me and let me explain my ‘implanting new ideas into the psyche’ strategy. I’ll email you my number
Just yesterday I heard one of the dancers saying (to no one in particular, just to say it out loud) “I love The Lady Hoofers.” Good things are happening. 🙂 Glad to have you as our fearless leader!
Oh snap– you found me! (Not that you didn’t already know how crazy I am, LOL!) We absolutely couldn’t do it without you and I am so excited about your piece!!!
BRAVO!!! I am so proud of you! What is so inspiring for me to read about, is the finding and growing INTO your passions. The building blocks of your life are coming together so beautifully. That’s not to say that there aren’t bumps in the road, we all have bumps…it’s a part of that growth thing, but you are taking the bumps in stride and continuing to move forward. You know that I would never deny you the opportunity of help and I look forward to being of service to your many passions for a long time to come.
Aww shucks, why you gotta go making me get all teary eyed, Debbie? 😉 But yes… this year has been pretty crazy. Last spring, I was sitting at the kitchen counter feeling completely depressed about everything and thinking I should just give up and go get myself a decent 9-5 job like a normal person but then I said to myself– NO! You’re not giving up yet! I called TWD after my first Anthro class on Friday night and was like, “OMG! I’m doing like everything I have ever wanted to do right now!” There are bumps aplenty but at least the bumps are on a pretty damn interesting road 🙂
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THIS POST!!!!!!!!! SO PROUD OF YOU!….gotta go back to the pool, cause now I”m weepy…
What a wonderful post. Not just because it is your specific journey, but because you have provided so much wonderful information and ideas on how to achieve things! I have always said that it’s only a weak person who cannot ask for help but you’ve taken the strength of asking for help to a whole new level. Well done with your accomplishments. 🙂
I can really tell dancing is your passion because you can tell that you love it when you are trying to figure out everything for you might possibly need for it to run smoothly. I think, from what I’ve read, you are doing an awesome job! Things will fall through the cracks but I was lucky enough to have an awesome leader with my last job, and she was great because she did care so much and tried to listen when things could be done better. I’m excited for you and it is important to ask for help when you need it, I’m still trying to teach myself that. 😉
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