Andi Stevenson believes in the importance of always being a rookie – of not always being good at everything. She describes herself as a type A, introverted, executive nerd who discovered her inner sequin-wearing ballroom dancer through the power of being a beginner.
Andi says that all the experiences in our lives push us away from trying new things, and toward being a “master.” We value being the star athlete, or an experienced leader in business. We want to be the ideal employee, the perfect parent, the community leader – we prize talent over courage.
“We can get trapped by the idea of expertise, and the fear of incompetence,” says Andi. We make fun of people who aren’t experts – i.e. the terrible American Idol auditions, the viral videos of bad dancing. This makes us miss the leap into the unknown, we miss the chance to be afraid and the chance to be brave.
That’s the price we pay for staying safely in our circle of competence. Andi is a self-proclaimed card-carrying over-achiever and rule-follower. “Being in an experience where I was unskilled at something always made me break out in hives.”
Going through a divorce changed her perspective. It made her walk into a ballroom dance class for the very first time, where she knew no one and had no experience. She feared she wouldn’t be able to keep up, or would embarrass herself. But she went in anyway, and fell in love with ballroom dance and the teamwork it takes to bring a dance to life. She went on to become committed to dance, and overcome her fears of performing in front of an audience.
Andi wasn’t used to being the worst one in the room, or on the stage – she had to ignore the voice in her head that said, “You look ridiculous being here.” The voice that tells us we shouldn’t do things that we aren’t good at is a very common one.
“Being a rookie kills perfectionism,” she says. She believes to be okay with imperfection to be willing to try new things, and turn off the critical voice in your head. And it was dance that helped Andi practice giving herself the leeway to be imperfect.
She also believes that being a rookie increases your empathy for others. Rookies know and understand what its like to be on a learning curve, and can recognize it in others.
Being a rookie also changes how you approach the new and difficult, by getting used to quieting the voice that tells us we can’t do things that are unfamiliar or frightening to us.
And rookie-dom also encourages you to view learning as a possibility to making personal discoveries. Andi says, “If I can dance, which I never thought I could do, what else can I do?” As an executive woman, Andi didn’t know she was allowed to be sexy in public – being a beginner provides a map for how to surprise yourself, and find yourself in new places.
She believes learning to be a rookie saves your soul, it helps you figure out where to invest your time and energy. You have to experiment by being a rookie, over and over again. “Don’t wait for a crisis or disaster to push you out of your comfort zone. Go be a rookie,” she says, “Go find what’s on the other side of your ‘I could never’ fence.”
About the Speaker…
Andi Stevenson is currently the executive director of the Lee Institute, which offers strategic consulting support to the nonprofit sector, government, community initiatives and foundations across the Carolinas. Prior to joining Lee in 2012, she was president of Charlotte’s Community School of the Arts, which teaches music and art to more than 3,500 students annually.
For the last twenty years, she has worked for artistic, charitable and creative organizations in Fort Worth, Dallas, Philadelphia and Charlotte, including art museums and major performing arts centers. She earned a BA from Texas A&M University and an MBA from the McColl School of Business at Queens University, and she volunteers, speaks, teaches and facilitates widely.
When not behaving like a respectable executive, she dances at Metropolitan Ballroom and competes in the International Latin dances. She dances with her instructor, Ranko Bogosavac, and has become an unapologetic connoisseur of sequins, beading and fringe.