7.13.2013

The One-Year Focus of Dancer Karen X. Cheng: You'll Get It If You Really Want It


by Brother Jesse Muhammad

I recently came across the story of Karen X. Cheng while reading an article online. I found it to be very timely since I was just having conversations with a few people this past week about how there really is no excuse for us to leave things undone that we really want, if that is what we really want to do. That's myself included. I have some unfinished business on a few things as well from 2012 and at this midpoint of 2013.

Cheng successfully taught herself how to dance and how to be a graphic designer, in one year and in six months respectively. Regarding dancing, on her blog she writes:
People who watch me dance today sometimes assume I've been dancing for many years. I made this video so you could see the awkward body that started just one year ago. 
Here's my secret: I practiced everywhere. At bus stops. In line at the grocery store. At work — Using the mouse with my right hand and practicing drills with my left hand. You don't have to train hardcore for years to become a dancer. But you must be willing to practice and you better be hungry.


This isn't a story about dancing, though. It's about having a dream and not knowing how to get there — but starting anyway. Maybe you're a musician dreaming of writing an original song. You're an entrepreneur dying to start your first venture. You're an athlete but you just haven't left the chair yet. 
When you watch someone perform, you're seeing them at the top of their game. When they score the winning point or sell their company for millions — you're seeing them in their moment of glory. What you don't see is the thousands of hours of preparation. You don't see the self doubt, the lost sleep, the lonely nights spent working. You don't see the moment they started. The moment they were just like you, wondering how they could ever be good.
And after securing her "dream job," she felt unhappy with it and pursued a career in graphic designing, ahem, without going to design school. She writes in another blog:
I got my job as a designer without going to design school. I had hacked together my own design education in 6 months while working a full-time job. I didn’t think I was ready but started applying for jobs anyway – and got a job at a great startup, Exec. 
To be clear, I’m nowhere near as good as those design prodigies that come out of a 4-year education at an elite school like RISD. But I’m definitely good enough to do my job well. I’m the only designer at Exec, so I do a pretty wide range of things – visual and interaction design, print, web, and mobile app design.
Cheng further says on the site DanceInAYear.com:
"I don't practice every day because I'm disciplined. I practice every day because I'm obsessed. I love dancing and my body craves it. If I didn't have this raw hunger, there's no way I would've had the discipline to practice every day. 
When Jerry Seinfeld was trying to make it as a comedian, he used a simple trick. Every day he wrote jokes, he marked an "X" in his calendar. Pretty soon he had a streak he didn't want to break. Practice every day, even if it's only for 5 minutes. No exceptions. If I'm not feeling well, I'll practice exercises that use only my fingers or arms. If I'm really sick, I'll close my eyes, listen to music, and visualize myself dancing. I use Lift to help keep myself accountable. If you practice something every day, you're guaranteed to get good at it."
See, it's all about wanting it bad enough! Inspiration can come from anywhere. Dance on Karen Cheng, dance on!