dance, Philosophizing

The root of “I’m not doing this for myself”

So a couple of years ago I was at a Cuban/Canadian house party, and one of the hosts was leading everyone in some great dancing. As the evening wore on and the Canadians present were sitting out more and more, he grinned and half-exasperatedly said something in Spanish, following with “Come on, dance with me!” in English. I was told that the Spanish was something along the lines of “I’m not doing this for myself!”

Now, that might not have been precisely what he said. But it struck a chord with me. He was probably much more exhausted than we were, but he was not going to let that stop him from making sure everyone had FUN.

When I dance, when I do customer service, when I do most worthwhile things, I’m doing them to make other people happy. My goal in dance is to be the best partner I can be; through skill, being present, and bringing a joyful spirit. I take the same attitude at work and in my hobbies. If you don’t like what I’m doing, it’s less fun for me.

To some, this sounds like some sort of self-denial or low self esteem. That my work doesn’t matter to me, that I get no joy from it. That I only dance because it’s a way to please people, to curry favour. But that’s not true. If a client makes me miserable I’ll walk away. If I don’t enjoy dancing with someone or they disrespect me, I won’t dance with that person anymore. I have boundaries and I can be kind of fierce about them.

The thing I’ve come to realize is that you can bring a very healthy kind of people-pleasing to your life. The Buddhists call this “Joyful Effort”. It’s what drives the best teachers, performers, even your favorite sales person. It’s what I’ve noticed most about Cuban culture  (most Cubans I know are either performers, service industry workers, or teachers so I’m biased). We thrive on seeing others be happy. We are willing to work to make your day better.

I’m not doing this for myself, I’m doing it for us.

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