April 02. 2012 9:00AM

Don't be afraid to fall: Humility is a virtue in business and life


By Susan K. Wehrley

I recently attended the American Heart Association's Heart Ball, and asked my ballroom dance partner to be my guest. I thought with the Eddie Butts Band playing, how much more fun could it be than to dance all night long?

When the first song began, I turned to him and said, "Let's get this party started!" As we stood up to be the first to the dance floor, I reminded him I had a train on my long dress and that I didn't have my ballroom dance shoes on so he would have to be more careful than usual.

One minute into the song, as we did our solo debut, I felt a tug on the back of my dress, which sent me falling to the ground in front of nearly 400 people.

I looked up at my partner in disbelief. We had both won awards in state ballroom dance competition and never had a fall like this before. Within seconds I did what any professional would do: I got back on my feet, put a smile on my face and kept dancing!

Interestingly, the dance floor filled up in seconds. I'm not quite sure why: Perhaps everyone got over their fear of dancing thinking, "nothing could be worse than what she experienced." Whatever the reason, as the night went on, something did seem to shift. There was a relaxed and connected feeling in the room with everyone just letting loose and having fun.

After the American Heart Ball, I thought about how often I applied these principles of "falling and picking myself up" to business.

I remembered what one of my dance coaches said when I was younger: "Practice makes for a great performance, but when you mess up or fall down, and you will, just pick yourself back up, keep smiling and keep going."

Five lessons in resilience and humility, as they apply to dance, business and life:

1. Be conscious of mistakes, but don't take yourself too seriously.

So what, you fell down? That's OK. Just pick yourself back up and try again. As a toddler, you learned that lesson when you took your first steps. We all still fall … and the same childhood lesson applies: Pick yourself up and keep walking … or dancing … whatever it might be … don't give up.

2. Avoid the blame game.

While it is our tendency to want to find fault for "the fall," it is a waste of energy to do so. Let's be honest. We do that to cover our own sense of insecurity. What if we just picked our selves up instead and asked, "How might we keep on going?"

3. Give grace to yourself and others.

Letting go of blame, means living by grace. It is an acceptance that stuff happens and it is all small stuff. (Isn't that a book? Yes, let's take the advice and not sweat it!) Creating an environment of risk-tolerance helps people to stretch their comfort zone and try things they otherwise wouldn't try.

4. Move forward with a process improvement mindset.

We are now free to focus on, "How might we improve?" This question leads us to a more empowered decision. For example, if someone is stepping on your dress and you are not comfortable in your shoes, lift your train off the floor and take your shoes off. Do what it takes to be your best.

5. Humility connects us.

What we think about we bring about, so if you are still struggling with your fear of failure, change your mindset. Be humble. Don't worry about what others will think. Take a step out on the dance floor and use the experience to connect.

Where in your life do you need to get over the fear of falling?


Susan K. Wehrley is the president and CEO of Susan K. Wehrley & Associates Inc. (www.solutionsbysusan.com). She can be reached at Susan@solutionsbysusan.com and (414) 581-0449.


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