Today’s article was written by Change Coach Becky Gagnon
I realized something lately: I don’t have to think about the outcome of the things I do.
I can see now that it’s that simple, but it didn’t look that way to me until very recently. So if this notion sounds crazy to you, I get it. Let me explain…
Until about a year ago, I was working full-time as an engineer. At that point I was also coaching, and dancing/choreographing, on the side. I was living this engineer/dancer/coach life in Seattle, and then had one of those “decision” moments that felt more like a magnetic inner knowing… it was time to move to LA.
Moving to LA was an idea I had toyed with for a long time. In case you aren’t familiar with the dance world, LA is widely considered the best place in the world for commercial dance. The entertainment industry has been centered in LA for so long, so the whole infrastructure is set up for choreographers and dancers and entertainers of all sorts to live there, because that’s where you audition and perform roles in films and TV. Many of the world’s top choreographers live in the area and teach regular public dance classes. Professional and aspiring-professional dancers move there to pursue careers in dance.
Dance has never been my sole source of income, but I’ve usually trained in pre-professional or professional atmospheres. This really just means I’ve been training with people that take it very seriously… which meant, I learned to take it very seriously. Before moving to LA, I would visit whenever I could, to train with my favorite choreographers.
I first heard about Millennium Dance Complex and the LA dance scene when I was 15, watching viral YouTube videos. I didn’t pursue dance as a career when I was 18 because I was afraid of the instability. The way it looked to me was that engineering would be a more stable job; dance is competitive and intense, and dance careers are notoriously short-lived. I was also in a constant struggle to lose weight and was very insecure in my body, which led to some pretty painful and exhausting eating behaviors, as well as what the psychology world would call depression and anxiety. So I thought, at 18, the smart thing would be to take the safe route and stick to engineering.
By the time it hit me that it was time to move to LA, ten years later, I felt quite free from all of those past eating behaviors and fear stories… and more free from my mind in general. Big “decisions” looked like less of a big deal. So, I moved. I ended up quitting my Seattle engineering job. It was one of the scariest and most awesome “decision” moments ever.
While I was living in LA, I loved the consistent inspiration and challenge, but I also felt a seriousness around dance that made it a lot less fun than it ever was before. I fought the “fun-less-ness” and pushed through anyway, just like us dancers (and humans, in general) are taught to. But after about a year, being in LA felt less worth-it. I was dreading dance every day. What was the point? I was still coaching a lot, and loving that, but I could do that from anywhere. I also knew I had always wanted to travel the world long-term, and now was the perfect time for it. So when it came time to decide whether I would renew my lease, I made an even scarier decision to ditch dance, at least for a little while, and travel abroad for six months.
I traveled in Australia and New Zealand, and did a month-long yoga teacher training in Bali. While in Bali, about three months into my travels, I got to take a class with Nicole Kirkland, one of my favorite choreographers who is based in LA but was vacationing. That class made me realize how much I simply missed dance. Training with one of my favorite choreographers in a no-stress environment seemed to make me understand what had felt “off” all that time in LA the previous year.
Something clicked and I realized… I could have the best of both worlds, if I wanted to. I could live in LA, dance as much as I want, enjoy the heightened energy of being there with all of those people who are so passionate about it, but I could leave the ego behind. It didn’t have to come to dance sessions with me. I could take inspiration and leave the rest.
… kind of.
It’s not like I can just choose to not have certain thoughts. I still have a mind, and it still tells ego-centered fear stories. But I felt, at a deep level that I hadn’t felt it before, that a stressful environment, and my stressed thinking about that environment, are not inherently linked. The environment looks stressful because something in me sees it that way.
At that point, I hadn’t booked my next flight anywhere. So I decided, on the last day of the Bali trip, to book a flight to LA and dance for a while, before the rest of my travel plans.
That decision to come back felt so good. It felt like… relief. It felt like coming home, which was ironic, because LA has never felt like home… even when it literally was home. Something about having that clarity about coming back… the whole time looking forward to it, and then finally landing on the ground here and Ubering back to North Hollywood, I was just bubbling with excitement.
Here’s what seems to have changed: I don’t really care anymore about outcomes that come from dancing.
The insight I had was this: I want to dance. In some capacity. For right now. That’s it. I don’t care what comes from it. I don’t worry about my progress. I don’t care about being the best. I don’t care about choreographers or artists liking me. I don’t care about what the other people in the class think. I don’t care about anything other than how good it feels to get inspired by what’s in front of me and follow along.
It looks externally like I care a lot… because… obviously, I’m dancing a lot right now. Something is having me show up to class even in some moments when I’m tired and sore and sometimes frustrated. Someone could look at that and think, “oh, she’s taking this seriously.” But internally, that is not really my experience. My only agenda, if there even is one (and I don’t really think there is), is to enjoy and explore. All that really seems to be happening is, this organism that we’ve all learned to call Becky is, in many moments, existing in dance studios and exploring again. And in other moments, that organism is doing other things. I’m just watching it happen. It’s that simple, and that impersonal. And it feels so, sooooo good.
In yogic philosophy, specifically in the Bhagavad Gita, there’s the concept of “action without attachment.” In other words, you can do stuff and not worry about the outcome. Krishna says, in that story, “Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the result of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction.”
That didn’t really make sense to me the first time I heard it. I understood the words, but I didn’t really think it made sense. How can you act with absolutely no agenda whatsoever? How would you get anywhere? What’s wrong with having a goal? Why would you act in the first place if there’s no expected outcome?
These are all valid questions. But they also don’t really make sense…. because in truth, the closer you look, all there is is this moment, and a story about a future and a past. The truth is we know very little about what will come from any of our actions. For example, maybe in one moment, we think we want a smoothie… but along the drive there we see something that reminds us to call our mom. Or you think you’re taking that job for one reason, but when you move there you meet your best friend or life partner. Or, sometimes, we do stuff that looks meaningless to us, but only because we are never informed of the impact that that thing has on another person. We’re simply in the dark most of the time when it comes to the effect of our actions, but we have a mind trying to convince us otherwise.
When we think we know what’s going to come from an action, we get overwhelmed. We focus on fifty steps ahead of where we are right now. We start trying to drive the car from the backseat. We start trying to control the uncontrollable. And all of that attempted control and analysis is fruitless, so we get frustrated, and feel burnt out.
Something about coming back to this moment, right here– zoomed in so close that we don’t even know there’s a moment or a “me” anymore – continually doing the next tiny little thing that makes sense to us, is so freeing. And the awesome part is, that’s all that we ever really need to do. It’s all we can do, actually. It’s all we’ve ever done. We can’t do anything other than what we’re doing in this moment right now. It’s physically impossible.
We’re so used to thinking that everything we do needs to have a reason. There needs to be an intended consequence. We go to school and study that thing so we can get that job. We do that job so we can make money. We make art so we can decompress. Or we make art so we can get good at it and impress people, or make money from it. If we spend a lot of time on something, eventually our “responsible” adult mind comes in and says, “Okay, you’re using a lot of time and money here. What are you getting from it?” Every investment needs a return. And that return on investment needs to be analyzed so we can optimize it. We need to win. Or so the mind says.
But what if we don’t?
What if we can do things because we want to, without a reason or outcome in mind?
What if, even if we think we’re doing things for a particular reason, we’re not even right about that?
What if stuff leads to other stuff just because it does… and we don’t have to control it?
What if you do stuff regardless of whether you actively think about it? What if you can do stuff without thinking about the meaning of it?
What if stuff happens because life is made of happenings and it can’t be any other way?
When we don’t have the agenda on things, they’re way more fun. When we enjoy doing things, the stuff we used to think we had to “track” happens naturally. Improvement, advancement, and progress naturally happen. We’re just wired for that. That processing seems to happen under our radar. Improvement can’t not happen if you do stuff over and over again.
That being said, I’m not here to tell you how to improve, or get “good” at things. I don’t even know what that means anymore, if I’m being completely honest.
What is “good”? What even is improvement? What is progress? Two minds will have different opinions about what qualifies as “progress.” Different scopes of analysis will have different metrics.
But, I do see a common thread when I talk to just about everyone who is supposedly “good” at something: they all say it took a lot of practice. And there’s no better motivation to practice than letting practice be freeing and fun.
I’ve noticed this with coaching too. When we go into a session with an agenda, or a goal, or if I go into the session thinking, “okay I need to solve their problem.” … good luck. It doesn’t go well. But if the client and I go in with curiosity, openness, and a genuine recognition that neither of our minds really know the truth of things, incredible change and freedom can take place. And the whole process is more enjoyable. It’s very ironic and hilarious.
The same is true with this article. I can watch words spill out, and notice what my mind says about them. It’s also true with other things in life… something like caring for a friend or loved one, for example. I can show up in whatever way makes sense, and simply be present with them. The rest- what it means, what it leads to, any apparent result- is a story. I can notice that agenda, and often, nowadays, know it’s not so real. Just because a mind says it, doesn’t make it true.
I noticed this as an engineer too. When my ego was out of the way, and I wasn’t trying to prove to people that I was smart, I just asked questions and made things happen, tiny step by tiny step. It wasn’t always perfect, but things usually got done, and it was much more enjoyable for everyone involved.
It can be hard sometimes to let go of agenda when it looks like the entire world is operating with an agenda. Even just with this dance example, sometimes I go into class, and there will be a choreographer who’s having a rough day, or in perfectionist mode, or ranting a lot of things on a power-trip-soap-box. I notice what they’re saying, and I notice whatever effect it has on me. I feel myself contract. I feel myself get nervous. I feel my brain speed up and a little voice in my head saying, “don’t mess up or they won’t like you and you’ll be sad,” or “just give up, this class isn’t for you.” I notice what stories my mind is telling about that, and about me. Sometimes that noticing seems to ground me in a way, and sometimes it doesn’t. But often, nowadays, it occurs to me to zoom out. I’m simply… there. Their opinion doesn’t matter. My opinion doesn’t matter. There’s not really a me, and there’s not really a them. There are two energy beings, wiggling in a room. That’s all dance is. It’s playtime. Get out there and mess up. Who cares?
When people are mean and demanding, they’re simply confused and suffering a little bit. When I experience people as mean and demanding, I’m simply confused and suffering a little bit. We all are confused and suffering a little bit. It’s the human experience.
But it is possible to exist, share, express, and feel, with no real attachment to an outcome. We can simply just do what occurs to us right now, and watch the rest unfold however it’s going to, without the heavy layers of meaning about “me” and “my life.” That “me” and that “life” don’t really exist outside of thought, anyway.
See more about Becky here: https://bekaelle.com/