One of the great challenges of our lives is to find a way to be ourselves, to accept ourselves, and yet also expect more from ourselves.
Sometimes it can be very hard to know whether I should push myself out of my comfort zone and persist in endeavors that seem uncomfortable and difficult, and when I should accept, “Hey, that’s not me, that’s not my thing,” and turn away from some goal or activity.
I was reminded of this tension when I was reading the terrific young-adult novel K-Pop Confidential by Stephan Lee (Amazon, Bookshop). The main character of this book is Candace Park, a Korean-American teenager from Fort Lee, New Jersey, who, in a thrilling and unexpected turn of events, qualifies to train to audition for a new K-Pop girls group that’s being formed.
This is such an opportunity that she and her mother move to Seoul, Korea, for intense training with a bunch of other candidates. She’s placed in a group with handful of other girls, and they work incredibly hard every day to master everything that will be required of the final K-Pop new group. If any of them makes it into the final group, they’ll have instant stardom.
As part of the training, she and her group learn a complicated song and dance number. They have to do all the fancy moves that previous groups have done, and more and better. Here’s a lightly edited account of one of the moves that Candace describes:
There’s a part where we have to lean over, grab our knees, and whip our hair extremely fast. The real Blackpink only does four hair whips, but to show that we can do more than top idol groups, we’re supposed to whip twice as fast, eight times in the same four count…Me, whipping my head as fast as I can, I can only do five turns with my neck…and afterward, I’m so dizzy that I’m stumbling around, too disoriented to go directly into the sexy floor-slapping move.
So Candace keeps working on it, but never quite manages to do the move. Then they’re up on stage for a crucial audition. The audience is huge. The competition and anxiety is enormous. Candace explains what happens:
We’re getting closer to the eight head whips, which I know I won’t be able to do. Time slows down and an idea jumps into my brain: Every time I’ve stood out as a trainee, it’s because I followed my instincts in the moment…When the other girls grab their knees and whip their hair as if their necks are meant to spin like tops, I shrug and make a face at the audience as if to say, “I can’t do that!” Instead, I twirl my ponytail a few times with my hand.
The crowd bursts into laughter. I wink at the right camera and then jump back into the parts of the choreo that I can handle.
Candace knew what she could do, and what she couldn’t, and instead of persisting in the face of failure, she found a different solution.
This reminded me of something from my daughter Eleanor’s childhood—a sweet moment that I’ve never forgotten.
Jamie and I were visiting her school for a parents’ meeting, and after we met with her teacher, we were invited to visit the playground.
There was a big climbing structure with monkey bars, and Eleanor said to us excitedly, “Come see, come watch!” We were surprised, because Eleanor had never been much of a climber, and while several girls in her class did gymnastics and were doing all sorts of fancy tricks on the equipment, I knew that Eleanor couldn’t pull off those moves.
When we got in place, Eleanor took a position with three other girls. At her signal, they all started a complicated, choreographed set of swings, drops, and pullovers. While they did that, Eleanor did a few simple moves, and in the final dramatic moment, they all swung together, and she dropped through their arms and stood on the ground, arms raised in a wide, noble, final posture, with all of them striking a bow around her.
Here’s Eleanor, just as the final moment approaches:
Jamie and I clapped, and they all looked very pleased with themselves. The other girls scampered away, and I said to Eleanor, “What was that?” She said, “I did that, that was my idea. It’s called Joining Flower. I told everyone what we should do.”
So Eleanor had realized that she couldn’t do the tricky gymnastics moves that her friends could do—so she choreographed a routine that gave her a part that she could do, and that put her in the very center.
Sometimes we should expect more from ourselves, and sometimes we should accept ourselves—our own gifts, our own limitations, and our own way to achieve an aim.