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When was the last time you chose to walk the plank into something unknown, something that really challenged you?

My twenty something daughter asked me to join her at a beginner’s hip hop dance class. Focussed on the word ‘beginner’ and wanting to share this experience with her, I said yes. Besides, I was up for some fun and light exercise on a Sunday morning.

I should have sensed the impending challenge when we pulled up not to a rec centre, but a premier downtown dance studio where professionals train. Clue #1 – missed

Still, I had taken a hip hop class for 50+ a few years back so I was still feeling ok. Enter the other thirty class attendees, all who were 25 years or more younger than I am. Clue #2 – comfort level reducing

In walks the instructor, a young guy, with his motorcycle helmet. He proceeds to show us a sequence of moves and then yells, ‘five, six, seven, eight’ as he expects us to mimic his moves, in motion and energy. Yeah, right! (thanks, Wayne) Clue #3 – I could be in the wrong place!

My mind is struggling to keep up memorizing the sequence of moves, and my body is like the Bill Murray movie, Lost in Translation – it further bastardizes my mind’s confused instructions, resulting in a whirl of body motion that has little to do with the sequence I have been shown. I see the instructor looking at me as he then proceeds to tell the class, ‘don’t let your arms be wet noodles, punch to kill.’ Clue #4 – I struggle to not bolt from the floor, not wanting to embarrass myself or my daughter.

Over the next few minutes, another 8 counts of moves are added to our routine, culminating in a triplet squat pelvic thrust. My mind makes a decision –I am done with this nonsense. I can’t keep up – and I am getting angry and embarrassed. Ego protecting brain is taking over from curious brain. I begin to walk out of my class position. But instead of leaving, I grab my water bottle, take a couple of big gulps, wipe the perspiration off my forehead, take a deep breath and, surprisingly, re-join the class.

Why join the class again? Because I remembered this experience was for me, and my daughter, and neither of us really cared about how well or crappy I did the routine. It was meant to be fun. And once I shifted my perspective, I did have more fun and I stopped worrying about the accuracy of my moves. Funny enough, by the end of the class, I would have given myself a passing grade, barely;)

My point? Ego protection keeps us from trying many new things we may not be good at yet, while at the same time robbing us of many incredible future opportunities. When you feel yourself struggling with something new, hang in there and put your discomfort in perspective. Take a break if you want. Frequent learning helps us keep those neural networks we call our brain open and more vital. If we always do things we are already good at then auto-pilot kicks in and we don’t expand the number of connections in our brain – and connections are very, very important to long term mental health.

Will I go back to another hip hop class? Absolutely! I managed to struggle across my ego protective wall and re-defined what success looks like for me at the age of sixty. It is not about winning the game anymore; it is staying in it, and enjoying it.

Scott helps individuals transition to a vital and fulfilling work-optional life.

Photo credit: Wall Street Journal