So You Think You Can Dance In The Work World

I admit, I was one of the millions of viewers anxiously awaiting the season finale of Fox’s hit TV show, So You Think You Can Dance. The night finally came and, true to my workaholic nature, I took advantage of commercial time to review survey results from a recent career presentation I gave to a group of promising high school students. If you can believe it, some of these amazing youngsters voluntarily attend summer school in an effort to learn about the exciting career options our job market has to offer.



The feedback was overwhelmingly positive – that is, until I got to the last question. Like most surveys, it read, “In what ways can the speaker improve the presentation?” Mrs. Graci should be nicer about the reality of the work world. Mrs. Graci should say that, even if I choose an occupation that doesn’t pay six figures, I’ve made a good decision. It seemed like poetic justice that, while I read those words, I was watching these incredibly talented dancers, who week after week had to endure a grueling training schedule, tough criticism, and an unfathomable amount of pressure. Seems kind of like high school, I thought.

But the bigger message was something applicable to all of us. Like the dancers, these high school students have found a passion outside of the classroom, something they’re good at and invest years of their precious free time in. Most of them are encouraged and supported by loved ones and taught to never give up on their dreams. I can’t even imagine how many aspiring dancers audition for SYTYCD only to be told by judges that their moves must be unique in order to be considered, that talent isn’t enough to win the game. There’s a mental strength that ultimately carries contestants through each round. And if they’re lucky enough to make the cut, they get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with the best choreographers in the country who act as their coaches and mentors with the sole purpose of shaping their abilities.

Each person is unique, with a different specialty – tap, jazz, modern, salsa, etc. But despite their differences, they form a bond with their partners and lean on each other for support. Without the support from their colleagues and teachers, they wouldn’t survive the harsh rulings from the judges, respected leaders who don’t sugarcoat their opinions. As successful professionals themselves, they know better than anyone how competitive the field is, and, because of it, they stick to a policy of brutal honesty rather than handholding. Dancers can’t get by with great technique alone. They need to have an innate stage presence and passion that captures a crowd. And the judges won’t hold back if they simply don’t have the “it” factor.

Towards the end of the show, there was a line that stuck with me – “Never believe a few caring people can’t change the world.” As tough as it was for my students to hear the cold, hard truth about the unforgiving world of employment, isn’t it better to prepare them now rather than have them waste time later trying to figure it out? We need to teach our kids to seek out help early on, to start the journey of self-discovery before they’re handed a bachelor’s degree without a clue in the world what to do with it. Millennials, there are so many people willing to help – the question is, are you brave enough to ask for it?

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