I stand on the edge of the dance floor watching couples glide, spin, and groove as they dance the West Coast Swing. The tempo of the music is fast, but the beating of my heart is faster. I want to dance, but I'm afraid I'm not good enough.
The song ends, and as another begins, a white-haired gentleman with a rakish smile offers me his hand and pulls me onto the floor, waving away my protests that I'm only a beginner.
Okay. If he can do this, so can I.
I manage to find a respectable groove, but whenever he tries to lead me in anything other than the basic steps, I stumble. All I can do is smile a lot and apologize even more.
After I've mumbled sorry for the tenth time, he laughs and says, "It's okay. You're blonde."
Huh? It's delivered like a compliment, and I decide to take it as one; if I can't be graceful, I can at least be gracious. But later, after the shoes have come off and I'm in my own quiet room, his words keep dancing through my head. They start wearing a different kind of groove, leading to questions like:
Do I act blonde? If you believe the stereotype, blondes are assumed to be helpless, shallow, unambitious or naive. Now I know these traits have nothing to do with hair color. Still, something in this idea strikes a nerve.
Why do I apologize so much? In what ways do I minimize myself and my efforts?
How seriously do I take myself?
In an effort to answer these questions, I promptly dye my hair brown and begin collecting data. I discover that I feel plainer, duller, and more average with darker hair. I also feel more thoughtful, more discerning, more earnest. In the words of Oscar Wilde, "Life is too important to be taken seriously."
I suspect that what I want is not to be taken seriously, but to feel important. I forget about my hair color and focus instead on the ways I matter. And I define which things matter most to me.
As a result of my burgeoning self-importance, I am better able to recognize those around me who sincerely support me.
Based on my (admittedly unscientific) findings, here’s how you too can identify the people in your life who believe you are important:
They listen when you talk.
They don't laugh when you tell them a wild idea.
They seek you out for advice.
When they introduce you to someone, they make a point of saying what you do or mentioning your passion.
They understand that we're all learning, so they patiently encourage you to begin again, and again, and again.
They don't mind when you occasionally step on their toes.
They love you no matter what you look like.
Back on the dance floor, the same man grabs me again. Three months have passed and I have advanced. I finally know the steps and can hold my own.
"Okay, now you've got to work it," he says. "Give me some attitude."
I smile, not missing a beat. He's right. This is seriously fun.