How do I find a mentor?

The word Mentor in magazine letters on a notice boardI got such a great question a few weeks ago in response to the invitation to Ask Me Anything:

How do I go about finding a spiritual mentor if I don’t really know any wonderful Christian women locally to ask?

I’ve been mulling it over. Looking back, I have been mentored by a number of different women over the years, and been a mentor to a handful too. Each of these relationships began differently, seemed to be for a slightly different purpose, and in each of them I had a different feeling of whether it was particularly beneficial. It is hard to pin down a ‘method’ for finding a mentor or establishing a good mentoring relationship. As frustrating as it may be, my answer is “it depends”.

That being said, here are the few thoughts I have on seeking out a mentor.

1. I believe mentoring relationships need to be treated as relationships. In other words, there’s something organic and almost mystical about “clicking” with someone.Even when there is an office or church program which seeks to pair people up in mentoring relationships, in my experience the success of those depends on whether those people would naturally have been drawn to each other as friends. In other words – you have to LIKE each other.

2. What distinguishes mentoring relationships from other friendships, then, is that there is an advisor-advisee dynamic at work. The mentee (for want of a better word) has specifically opened herself up to be a learner in the relationship and the mentor knows that she is free to speak openly without being regarded as offering unwanted advice.

3. Some relationships have been more formal (as in, “will you mentor me?”), whereas many of the mentoring relationships I have been in have developed out of a friendship. Sometimes I didn’t even know I was looking for a mentor, but in retrospect God used the life and words of an older woman to “do the work of mentoring” in a particular season.If you are praying for a mentor, the answer might be in a relationship you already have more informally, and God might surprise you by allowing that relationship to take on a new significance.

4. Where I have been mentored by women who are older than me, I have often found it important to specifically tell them that I welcome their stories, input and insights. Our generation has a habit of coming across as know-it-alls and unteachable. It has taken some persistence to assure older women that I really am interested in what they have to say, and to hold my tongue long enough to wait for an honor their stories. I think the default position of many potential older mentors is to assume that we aren’t interested in them or their opinions, and so they naturally draw back.

5. Ask around: if you haven’t already, ask your pastor or ministry leaders or other friends if they can recommend older women for you to befriend. They might know someone who is afraid of the label “mentor”, but would welcome getting to know you!

I have appreciated the wisdom of two online mentors who have written extensively about mentoring: Natasha Robinson has written a number of excellent articles on mentoring (including considerations about spiritual, professional, cross-cultural and inter-generational mentoring), and Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs Darcy ran a fantastic series on mentoring with easy-to-read bite-sized wisdom on the topic. In particular, I appreciated her suggestions from her Mentoring Cheat-Sheet, where she suggested three things to discuss with your mentor:

 1. Here’s what I’m working on right now. Tell them where your gaze is resting and where your priorities lie at the moment, what your big picture looks like and where you see yourself in it.

2. These are my next steps. What current projects are you giving the most attention? What’s your plan for moving forward? How have you decided to deploy your resources–time, money, energy–to accomplish these things.

3. Where can you help? Tell your mentor what you’re looking for. Do you want encouragement, or critical feedback? Do you want them to introduce you to someone who can help your career, or review your essay before you submit it to the magazine? Do you need granular advice about making it through the witching hour?

I hope that helps! I remember many times feeling that I really would love some wisdom from a mentor during particular seasons, and in retrospect it is wonderful to remember how God met those needs in very surprising ways! I hope He delights and surprises you with some new and enriching friendships very soon.

Got a question you’d like to ask? I don’t have all the answers, but you’re free to ask me anything – let’s talk! Click over to the Ask Bronwyn page and drop me a note. I’ll put a virtual pot of tea on and get ready 🙂

photo credit: Laura Kronen

Never mind good vs evil, the real battle is good vs best.

We all face analysis paralysis, but maybe the 'best' choice is sometimes the

A very wise man once said: “the Good is the greatest enemy of the Best.”

I took his advice to heart, and thought about how I had filled my life and schedule up with things… GOOD things. I said yes to oh-so-many opportunities to do good here, to be a good friend there, to invest in a good cause now, and my life was crammed with Good. So much good, in fact, that I had no space for the Best things. I began the slow process of learning that just because something was good didn’t mean I had to do it. I could say no to a good opportunity, even a great one, if it meant I was protecting the space for the Best.

Learning that the Good is the greatest enemy of the Best has been a help and comfort. It has given clarity where I was confused, courage to say no when guilt and wanting-to-be-liked pressured me to say yes.

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking that perhaps I’ve over-stretched that little phrase. Because sometimes, it’s okay to just do the good. Sometimes, the good really is “good enough”. It doesn’t have to be the best.

When we’re deciding what to do on a Saturday, we don’t have to scour every possible option, consider every possible weather forecast, weigh every possible outcome. Spending an hour online to find the “best” thing to do is an hour we didn’t spend doing a good thing – like snuggling on the couch with a book. Or talking a walk down to the park with our squirming little ones. Or playing twister.

My Genius-With-Numbers husband has a name for this: optimization functions. It is his job to calculate all the possible permutations of a problem, and work out which is THE best, the MOST efficient, the MOST productive of the array of solutions. For engineers, it works well. For us at home, I’m beginning to find it a little crippling. It is just about impossible for me to find the time or the energy to find the BEST gift, the BEST dump-truck shaped birthday cake, the BEST recipe for Spinach. I cannot optimize every part of my children’s existence. When it comes to day to day decisions, the Best has become the enemy of the Good.

In our over-photographed and Pinteresty age, we are terrorized by the Best. What if there was something better, and we missed it? What if there was a cheaper deal? A more highly rated hotel? A dance class with a better student-to-teacher ratio? What if??

But what if, in my desire to find the best, I missed out on a world of good? What if my lop-sided cake, served with my full attention and a dose of laughter, is good enough?

I’m rethinking the Good and the Best. I’ve learned that I sometimes need to say no to good things to leave room for the best. But now I’m learning that I need to say no to my need for things to be the “best”, so that I can love that which is good.

And that, dear friends, is good enough. In fact, I’m thinking this might be the best decision I’ve made for a while.

photo credit: coachdayne.com

When you’re married to a grad student

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My husband started his PhD program 8 months after we married. We thought it would take 3 years, max. It took 5 years, and then some. We thought it would be a low-stress environment in which to start our married lives (what with flexi-time, and all that). It wasn’t. We thought we’d finish up grad school before we had kids. We didn’t.

And so, when I was asked: “Do you have any advice to give young married grad students?”, I flinched a little. Those five years of early marriage in grad school were intense, and it is hard to distil the things I learned which were true of sharing-grad-school as opposed to the steep-learning-curve-called-marriage; because we did them simultaneously. However, if you’ll forgive me smooshing things together, here are some of the things I’d want to whisper to other spouses of a grad student…

1. Grad School is more than a 9-5 job.

Grad students don’t come home from a long day on campus and get to sit down, grab the remote and “switch off” for the evening. They feel tremendous pressure to come home, eat a little, and keep working. After all, their lab mates are working, their professor expects them to be working, there are papers to be published, papers to be graded, books to be read, funding opportunities to research, and that’s just for starters. They are competing with motivated, mostly single, grad students who have room mates with whom they share responsibilities and bills; not a spouse with whom they share life. I, on the other hand, expected his “work life” to stay at work, and for him to be present when he was home.

My grad student spouse needed me to acknowledge the pressure he was under, and we needed to agree on when we would spend time together, and also allow time when he could work at night or on weekends without feeling guilty.

…but… Grad School is easier to manage if you treat like a job

Our youthful selves can all handle 24 hours of intense work, or even a week or two of 16 hour work days. Exam season, or mid-term season sometimes calls forth extra bursts of energy. But grad school is a LONG-TERM commitment: it requires YEARS of sustained effort, and no-one can work around the clock for years and stay healthy.

Even though grad school often required my spouse to work nights and weekends, he did better – WE did better – when we still aimed to treat school work as a job. We allowed for weekends away. We cherished vacations. We knew there had to be time for other things: hobbies, friends, dinners and the general shenanigans that make life fun.

2. You will not understand much/most of what your spouse is studying

My husband liked to joke that a specialist is defined as “someone who knows more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing.” PhD’s are by definition in a field of study which no-one else has ever thought to think or write about before… i.e. it is NOT in the “public interest” (yet). I spent more hours than anyone in the world trying to understand what my husband was doing – but I just didn’t get it (and I didn’t really want to, and I had to beg him to stop trying to explain: “honey, the likelihood that I will understand it better if you explain it just one more time is exceedingly slim… so please can we get some sleep?”)

…but… You need to understand enough to give an elevator pitch answer about their studies

My spouse thought about his thesis topic in a great amount of complexity and detail, and anyone who asked him what he was studying was likely to get a complex, detailed answer. My role as president-of-his-fanclub and first-line-of-social-defense was to jump in with a 30 second layman’s explanation. I may not have understood it all, but I understood it better than anyone else not in his field.

3. Your spouse needs your encouragement more than your (constructive) criticism

Five years (or even two years) is a l-o-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g time to keep going in an intense grad school program. At times it may have seemed like it was falling on deaf ears, but my spouse needed to hear that I believed in him, that his work was making a difference, that I was proud of him, that he was conquering the world. He needed to hear that when he was ‘succeeding’, but especially when he was discouraged. At times of discouragement, an “I love you, and you can conquer the world” did more to help him than “now let me help fix your schedule for you.”

4. Try not to hate their advisor

In our case, my hubby’s supervising prof was a particularly awesome guy; but the issue of “hating on the boss” came up often in our little grad school community. A frustrated grad student would share the frustrations of the day with their spouse, and the spouse would then fume or mentally “fix” the situation for days… long after the grad student had returned to the office in relative peace. Try to remember that the supervising professors really WANT their grad students to succeed – they’re on your spouse’s side, so try to forgive and forget.

5. Life after grad school is more like grad school than you realize

One of the surprises of finishing grad school was how much our routine stayed the same post-grad-school as it had been in-grad-school. The bad habits we had developed thinking “oh, this is just while we’re under pressure now – it will be different when grad school is over,” turned out to be bad habits we had to face later. The priorities we set, the way we managed our time, the way we shared household responsibilities, the way we volunteered at church, the way we communicated remained substantially the same after grad school as it was during.

So my advice is this: create the marriage and life you want DURING grad school, because it’s the marriage and life you are likely to have after grad school. Love each other well, work hard, play well… and on the day when your loved one gets capped, know that you as the spouse got an award too: Spouse cum laude.

Do you have any tips to share? Leave them in the comment section below!

And do you have a question? Click over to the “Ask Bronwyn” page 🙂

Pick of the Clicks 2/1/2014

I’m back! (Did you miss me?) As lovely as it was to be unplugged and on vacation, it is also great to be back and reading/writing again. Here are some fabulous clicks for you!

Breathtakingly brave: Halee Gray Scott’s How I beat back the darkness after being raped. The rapist was her pastor. This piece is so important to read.

A fabulous read for the story and the insight: A toast story, by John Gravois.

Inspirational: 7 lessons for creatives from the life of JRR Tolkein, by Trevor McMaken.

Timely and wise: Lesa Engelthaler over at Faith Village with The Superbowl and One Sheep.

Putting justice-into-action-in-your-own-home: Dorothy Greco’s suggestions on tackling the problem of wasted food (#Firstworldproblems) . This is one to bookmark/pin.

A Must-Read on marriage (really, you MUST read it): Daniel Jones of the NY Times with Good Enough? That’s Great. After more than 50,000 articles on marriage have crossed his path, this is what he has to say: sneak, quash, or restore.

Wisdom on money: Yes to this by Sam Polk – For the Love on Money.

Food for thought: Why we need to read more women, by Marta Oti sears for Relevant magazine. This made me think: how many male authors do I read as opposed to female authors? And does it matter? I think it matters more than we realize.

And if, by chance, you are one of the gazillion people on the internet who have not yet read this, READ THIS from Glennon Melton AND SHARE IT: Share this with all schools, Please. At first I didn’t click on the links because the title didn’t grab me, but when it appeared for the 30th time on my feed, I gave in…. Don’t let the title deceive you. This is one of those rare gems on the internet.

Top of my blog this week: in fact, the most popular post I’ve written in a while! How to win at parenting….

And finally: one to make you laugh: Two brothers recreate their childhood photos and the result is priceless. (You’re welcome 🙂

Happy clicking!! (and please, leave your recommendations on things you loved reading or writing in the comments below!)

On making new friends

Dear Bronwyn,

I finished college, got married and moved to a new community two years ago. We’d heard that making friends after college is hard, so we found a church, joined a small group, and said “yes” to as many engagements as we could. We have met some wonderful people, I would even call them friends.

That being said, Friday nights roll around, or my husband has work when I don’t, and I (or we) find ourselves at home wondering what to do. The college answer of “call your friends and see what they’re up to” doesn’t seem to work. We have one couple we feel we could just call up, but their schedules often differ. Many have kids, and others I am hesitant to call because I feel like they already have their friends and we are just an obligation as part of being “welcoming”.

Is this just the slow reality of developing friendships after college, or am I missing something? Do I need to push harder? How do I do so without being obnoxious?

– Need Friendly Advice

dinner party Dear NFA,

My hubby and I had been married for 6 months when we moved half way across the world so he could start his PhD. Six. Months. And for this gal, who had led a rich, friend-filled, socially-hectic life in Cape Town – those were some of the hardest months of my life. I was lonely, I was bored, I was newly married and trying to figure out so many new things: a new identity, a new community, a new routine, a new room mate (!). Sounds like you are going through a similar set of changes; and I remember praying tear-filled prayers that I would find friends too.

You have two big challenges facing you.

The first is the challenge of making friends after college. College, for all its challenges and existential angst, is still a relatively easy place to find friends as there are a few thousand people of exactly the same age around,and they have similar interests, similar availability, and a similar need to make new friends. Added to that – there are a host of on-campus communities that always make it their sole ambition to find the “new people” and get them “plugged in”. Really, you get the opportunity to just shop for the community you feel most comfortable in, and then the rest is a little like Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate: with a little bit of action on your part, everything gets mixed up and sweet pretty quickly.

Post-college has none of those guaranteed points of similarity: ages vary, schedules vary, interests vary, and there aren’t as many people around who are as desperate to make friends as you are. It takes longer. You have to try harder. In many ways, making friends post college feels a little like dating: you have to take risks, arrange meetings, start conversations. I remember wanting to make friends with my daughter’s pediatrician after we’d met a few times, but feeling like I didn’t know whether I was allowed to make friends in what was, for her, a professional context. Broaching the subject of “would you like to get together?” felt like I was asking her on a date. (For the record, she said yes, and we are still friends). But it was terrifying and it felt risky.

It sounds like you are doing so many healthy things for this life stage: saying “Yes” to invitations, joining a church, and finding a small group. Keep it up. Say yes to opportunities to be with others, and even better – to serve alongside others. And take people at their word: if they say they’d love you to come, don’t second guess whether this is a “politeness” offer. If you like them and would like to be friends, act on it. You have so much to offer as a friend, and they need good friends in their life as much as you do.

Inviting people around and saying yes is not being “obnoxious”: it’s relationally healthy. Keep up your efforts, and as time goes out you will find that the fatigue of always-having-to-explain-the-back-story will fade away: you’ll be able to tell your new friend that “John called and he said he’s coming home for the holidays”, without having to explain that John is your wayward brother, or that his coming home for the Holidays means Walking On Eggshells around him. In time your new friends will know your back stories, and your shared experiences as meals, adventures and service together will build a new web of shared community.

However, you have a second challenge in making friends: you are a newly wed.

The first year of marriage has many challenges, and making friends with a newly wed couple can be challenging because people fear that newlyweds are pretty much constantly in bed, that they would NEVER call you on a Friday evening for fear that they might be “interrupting” something. For sure, the number of “just dropped in to say Hi”, or “just phoned to see what you were doing” calls PLUMMETED once we got married. People assumed we were “busy”, and they wanted to give us “space”.

To counter that – you have to figure out as a couple whether you want an open house/open calendar mood to your marriage, and you will have to work hard to persuade your friends that you still really want them around (and that you don’t spend every minute at home wearing skanky lingerie. Seriously – I had friends that thought that.)  Many single friends fear that their newly married friends won’t want them around (wrongly assuming they only want to be friends with couples now), and so they need extra encouragement that they have a welcome place in your life.

Also, there are the new challenges of figuring out his friends vs my friends vs OUR friends. If someone befriends you, are you available to be their friend, or are you and your new hubby a “package deal”? These kinds of questions are tricky for you as a couple to figure out, and tricky too for those in your community who want to approach you.

Again – this takes a little persistence on your part. There are some couples who prefer to hibernate at home together in the evenings, but if you and your hubby are wanting to extend your circles and deepen your fledgling friendships – encourage your new friends to come round, tell them you are thankful for them, use your words and your invitations to communicate that even though you’re a young-couple-in-love, you also two people who want to make friends and be friends… and you want to be their friend.

Being a newly wed and being freshly out of college requires some new habits in making friends, and is also means some new expectations. This is the “new normal”, and it DOES take more time to make friends. But you will.

And in fact, it sounds as if you already are.

One-Minute Marriage Maintenance

We just bought an ancient old older gently-used car. The car has over 140,000 miles on it, which ordinarily might have made us fear that it would soon have something very terrible (and very expensive) go wrong with it. However, the car was regularly and carefully maintained: it had its scheduled services, regular oil changes, minor issues addressed as they came up. 140k later, and it’s humming along smoothly. Regular, small maintenance does a lot to avert big mechanical crises.

Done... In 60 Seconds

Done… In 60 Seconds

This got me thinking about our getting older gently-used marriage. We have not had the money or much time over the years to do big, radical relationship-repairing things: we have taken very few vacations, and probably have an average of less than two “date nights” a year. However, with nearly 4000 days of marriage under our belt, we’re humming along smoothly. Even in marriage, regular, small acts of marital maintenance can do a lot to avert crises.

Marital maintenance doesn’t require any money, and often takes less than a minute. Here are some 60-second habits which we have found make a difference:

One Minute of Listening

Life gets busy and there are lots of competing noises in our house. It is often easy to ask a question and half-listen to the answer. However, one minute of dedicated LISTENING to my spouse’s answer when I ask “how was your day?” goes a long way.

One Minute of Eye Contact

We spent so much time looking at things together (our kids, our dinner, our screens), that sometimes we forget to take time to look at each other long enough to read one another’s facial expressions, see the laughter or tiredness in their eyes. Taking the time to SEE each other is so important for feeling, well, SEEN.

One Minute of Restraint

When angry, my instincts are often to speak quickly, and my first instincts are seldom my best ones. If we are facing something and I find myself feeling particularly angry or frustrated, sometimes just a few moments of restraint before answering saves me hours of regret.

One Minute of Prayer

I confess I am not a very faithful pray-er. I know I should devote serious time and attention to lifting my spouse before God, and when I don’t have a chunk of time, I often don’t pray at all. However, just one minute of prayer that he would be encouraged, helped, grown, useful, and fruitful in life goes a long way.

One Minute of Touch

We are at a stage where we have more children than limbs, and usually my arms are engaged in elasto-girl type endeavours to restrain my children from certain death in the road/on a counter/in the bath tub. However, when we remember to hold hands for just a minute, to extend our greeting hug and kiss just slightly longer (with no expectation of it Going Somewhere, although sometimes that happens), it does a lot to keep us feeling connected. Literally. The few moments my husband holds my hand just before I drift off to sleep are often the most contented of my day.

Our marriages need maintenance, but life is demanding and our schedules are hectic. And I will get to that to-do list… in a minute. Those little investments in maintenance are needed if we are to go the distance.

A New Page

Every so often, I get a message in my inbox which reads something like this: “I was wondering if I could talk to you about something… I have a question.”  Usually, the email also says something like: “I know you’re busy and I hope it is okay to ask, but I didn’t know who else to talk to.”

ask-question-1-ca45a12e5206bae44014e11cd3ced9f1My heart always expands when I get emails like this. I want to invite them over, get comfy, make tea, and have a chat. Shared troubles are often halved troubles. A listening ear has done my soul much good in the past, and where I am able to offer it to others, I am thankful. If part of my story or the lessons I’ve learned as God has helped me hobble and wobble through life are of encouragement or help, I’m grateful.

And so I never mind being asked questions. It is not inconvenient, and it is not a bother. If I am able to comfort with some of the comfort I have received (2 Corinthians 1:3-7), then that’s a ministry I’m thankful for. At the very worst, I can say “I don’t know, but I’ll pray.” And I believe even that helps.

So today unveils a new chapter on this blog: an “Ask Bronwyn” page. It’s up on the tabs at the top of the page. If you have a question, or know someone has a question, and perhaps I can help – then drop me a note. I’ll answer some of them in (anonymous) blog posts, and perhaps some of them in private emails – but I’ll do my best to be faithful. And I know that God is faithful.

So here goes. A new page. Feel free to click over and check it out, and to share it with others.

Photo credit: en.hdyo.org

One little word that radically changed my prayers

One Little Word pin

I got that lead-balloon feeling on Sunday when our pastor pointed out all the things Paul didn’t pray for in his letters: people with cancer, busy schedules, promotions at work, successful ventures, hard pressed finances, strained relationships…. Not that those things don’t matter, or that we shouldn’t pray for them, or that God doesn’t care about the minutiae of our lives, but they weren’t on the apostles regular prayer card.

It raised the old question for me again: why do I always find my prayer list filled with immediate needs, when I know that matters like the Kingdom come, His will be done, missions, justice, global worship etc are weightier and worthy of prayer? Why is it that when I do sit down to pray (and my struggles with that are lengthy and complex) I pray for the “light and momentary afflictions”, and so seldom for the eternal things?

I don’t have an answer for that, but this weekend I found one little word which is helping me close the gap between the daily-needs-prayer and the weightier-matters-prayer.

Here it is: instead of praying “God, make it better”, I need to pray “God, make it count.”

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God, my friend is dying. Don’t just make it better, make it COUNT. If she can be better, let it be so, but don’t let this suffering have been wasted. Work it for good. Please show up and show your grace. Make it count.

God, I’m so busy and so tired. I so badly want to pray “make it better! Make it stop!”, but I’m going to pray “make it count, please,” instead. Let me learn grace under fire. Let me learn to say no to the bad and even the good so that there is time enough to say yes to the best. Show your strength in my weakness. Make it count.

God, thanks for a lovely, sweet season in my marriage. Rather than saying “thanks, keep it up, make it better”, please Father, make it count. Help us to be thankful and still work hard at our marriage, not leaving prayer for the tough times alone. Let this good season count.

God, money is tight for so many dear ones. Everything in me wants to ask for more, to make it better. But please Lord, make these tight days count. Teach us to be wise stewards, teach us to give generously now while we feel hard pressed, teach us to pray for daily bread, and to learn the secret of contentment whether we have plenty or little. Make these days of economic hardship count.

God, I’m at my wits end with my kids. They won’t eat, sleep, poop or obey as I’d hoped they would. I want it to be better, please Lord… I know you can make it better, but instead I will pray “make it count”. Help me to be patient with my slow to learn kids, as you are patient with slow to learn me. Help me to show love to them in their immaturity, as you show love to me in mine. Lord, make these trials in parenting count: let them teach me and my children what YOU are like as a parent. Make these long days of relentless loving discipline count.

God, now that I think about it, please don’t just make it better. Not if it doesn’t count.

Please make it count, so that these light and momentary afflictions do the work of preparing us for a weight of glory that outweighs then all.

God, this is my life: in all it’s gritty, knotted and messy glory.

These are my loved ones.

These are my tears.

Please, please, please… Make it count.

You may also like these posts: The first year of marriage… And overheard… and letter to a hurting friend…

10 life lessons from SYTYCD

I have been a devoted fan of Fox’s show So You Think You Can Dance from the very beginning. Cat Deeley had me at “jidges”. SYTYCD is a tapestry of talent, dreams, creativity, teamwork and story telling. But it is also a show about people: what makes us tick, what makes us vote, what makes us cry, what makes us love. So in honor of its 10th season, here are 10 life lessons from SYTYCD.

1. Everyone loves an encourager.

There’s always something kind you can say. Always. Cat Deeley is the consummate encourager and deserves the devotion of every season’s worth of contestants. Everyone loves an encourager.

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2. No matter how much natural talent we have, we’ll do better if we take time to learn from others.

Dancers often show what they believe to be their very best skills in their solos and dance-for-your-life moments; but often their true greatness is not seen in their freestyle performances, but in how they flourish in choreography.

A skilled teacher (like Sonya Tahey) who sees your talent and spends time with you can stretch you, challenge you, hone your beautiful into breathtaking.

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3. People skills often trump technical skill.

Season 7’s Jose Ruiz and Season 9’s Cyrus were great examples of this: despite other dancers being technically and artistically better than they were, Jose and Cyrus stayed on the show week after week because people liked them. As Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe frequently says: its’ not about being the BEST dancer, its about being America’s FAVORITE.

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This rings true in the workplace-dance too: employees who add value to their environment with the quality of their personal interactions are much easier to keep around (and promote) than brilliant people with mediocre people skills.

4. Hard work makes it look easy.

Sometimes we have to work HARD at a thing before we start to get great enjoyment out of it. No-one loves a beginner violinist, but every great violinist was once a beginner – and now they make it look easy. The very best compliment paid to dancers on SYTYCD is that they made it look “effortless”. It is a great tribute to years and years of effort to achieve that.

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5. Connect with your audience.

One of the golden rules of communication is this: the message RECEIVED is the message communicated. It doesn’t matter if you FELT you were communicating well. What matters is whether people understood your communication. Eye-contact. Authenticity. Story-telling. Connection. Season 8’s winner Melanie was a master communicator this way.

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6. Passion is contagious.

We love to see people love what they do. We enjoy seeing people enjoy themselves. How can you not smile when you see Twitch smiling at his own hilarious routines?

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Love what you do. People will love your loving it.

7. Injuries happen. It’s awful. But eventually, you’ll dance again.

Injuries sometimes take you out of the running. But SYTYCD is a great illustration of the truth that you don’t have to win to be an All-Star. You can shine even after great injuries. Just look at Alex Wong.

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8. Try something different – you might even like it.

I would never had made time to listen to or learn to appreciate hip hop were it not for SYTYCD. But it has become one of my favorite genres, thanks to the storytelling genius of Tabitha and Napooleon. Think you don’t like hip hop? or sushi? or backpacking? or something else you’ve never tried? Try it. You might even like it.

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And then, two great lessons for couples:

9. The secret of great partnerships is to make your partner look good.

You have nothing to gain and everything to lose by criticizing your partner in public. Every couple has different strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes it is tempting to think that one is really “carrying” the other. But carry each other you must. Use your skills to bring out the very best in them, and it will show the very best in you.

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10. Be there for your partner.

No matter what else you bring to the partnership in terms of skill, the most important thing is to be THERE for your partner. If one falls, you both are going down. But if you know your partner will catch you…. you can FLY.

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