I have an addiction confession: I watch all episodes of So You Think You Can Dance that I can find on TV. What pulls me in time after time are the magical moments when the dancers pour themselves completely into their craft. In these instances, I don’t have to rely on the discerning eye of the judges to notice that something special has happened. Even I, who trained as a dancer only for a few months when I was 4, can tell the difference.
In these moments, the dancers, who are already noticeably amazing, find a sweet spot. Jean Marc Genereaux, one of the Canadian judges, refers to it as “the pocket”. Mary Murphy will put you on the coveted “hot tomale train”. L’il C will say that the performance was “buck”. Invariably, in these spectacular moments the judges are in awe of the commitment the dancers make. And from time to time, another descriptive word is used: “professional”. And in the context of all the other descriptions, we can see that professional performance has a little “extra”, it is a notch above the rest.
I have been exploring with two professions, city planners and educators, how we go about our work and what we notice when we our work is getting unexpected, wonderful results. They notice that their own behaviour is unusual in these cases – they seek and embrace challenges, they are aware of strenghths and weaknesses (own and others), they look for opportunities, and place trust in others. This sounds remarkably like the comments the judges make of the dancers. If they shy from what a choreographer is asking them to do, the performance will be flat. They, as well as their choreographer, builds on their strengths to make a wonderful performance. The dancers that stand out look for opportunities to add their own flavour to the choreography – they “make it their own.” Finally, the dancers that stand out fundamentally trust others for their own success: their choreographer, their partner(s), wardrobe and set design people, producers, judges, audience, etc.
So what does this offer those of us working in the “professions”, whether city planners, lawyers, health professionals, engineers, teachers, landscape architects, social workers or geologists? I offer some questions that I am exploring about professional practice:
- Do we seek the risks of new challenges?
- Do we willingly exposing ourselves to feedback, trusting its truth and value to our personal growth?
- Do we look for opportunities to inject our personal desires into our work?
- Do we know what it feels like to be in the pocket? Do we notice if we get different results when in the pocket?
- What is the commitment we are making to the work we are doing?
Embedded in all this is a chicken and egg scenario – do I/we become “professional” from learning, or do I/we learn from being “professional”? I look forward to exploring how the art of conversation will serve the art of professional practice.