Throughout my personal life and my career, the #1 question that I am always asked is - ‘How did you ______’.
The same question would be posed in regards to my career as a dancer, my social media presence, creative direction, entrepreneurship, parenting, and even now as I’m challenged with navigating my mental health during a global pandemic.
It can sound like a lot but I have realized that I’ve had the same answer over the past 16 years:
What is that answer? What is that key element that pushed me from childhood to now?
Humility - a modest or low view of one's own importance; humbleness.
I grew up quiet, insecure, and scared of the world. To this day, I’m convinced my vulnerability and sensitivity perpetuated a cycle of being bullied. At a young age, I shrank into my own little bubble.
I am very thankful for those painful moments because it led me to join a program in elementary school that tutored the younger class. In that environment, I thrived the most. Taking care of younger folks taught me that I can learn from ANYONE.
I was born to make mistakes, not to be fake perfection.’ -Drake
Was I Ever Prepared?
The lessons I learned growing up helped serve as the foundation of my entrepreneurship goals. I carried the lessons from my youth church group where I experienced immense support from counselors who taught me in humility, support, understanding and love.
I took my learnings to my very first job, the great ol’ Kentucky Fried Chicken! I loved serving my customers so much that I wanted to provide the best experience possible. I would memorize regular customers' orders and I’d pack their food with care. I gained humility each time I made a mistake. I learned quite fast on how to recover (the food industry is pretty scary because hangry people are scary people lol.) I learned how to raise my head high during mistakes with respect and the openness to take constructive criticisms from customers and/or managers.
I will never forget this one night when I was working at this fast paced Italian restaurant that served the SF locals and UCSF students. There was a line outside the door, the whole place was buzzing with customers, food going in and out with ‘Queen’ blasting out the jukebox. I was clearing out the table I was serving for their deserts so I stacked all their plates and stood up. I thought I could juggle all my responsibilities… until all the plates fell to the floor. I had at least 200 eyeballs staring at me. In that moment, I acknowledged my mistake quickly, took ownership, and took a cute bow LOL. The whole restaurant including my managers had a moment of shock from the broken plates then started to laugh and applaud at my mistake. My managers knew I always tried hard so they weren’t harsh, but I still offered to pay for the costs of their plates.
‘Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.’ -Proverbs 11:2 (My Man 🙏)
It’s More Than My Career
Fast-forward to my career in Los Angeles as a professional choreographer, dancer and creative director, I found that the amount of time between the ‘fail fast to learn fast’ was crucial. Time is money and money is time. In this city, I learned that preparation was critical from other people I met in the industry. I wanted to learn how to be part of a production set. I asked questions to people in front and behind the camera without any pride - just a pure drive to learn.
‘Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.’ -C.S Lewis
I wanted to know EVERYTHING. I was genuinely curious about their journey to their answer. People’s stories kept me on my toes and I followed my culture's strict mantra of 눈치 (‘nunchi’).
- Nunchi is the “art of understanding what people are thinking and feeling” -Euny Hong, The Guardian
After some time in LA, I started to understand and recognize all the lingo on a production set. I would then go home and keep researching the ones I didn’t know. This process was so helpful because it prepared me to know what to do and how to act. Knowledge is power. Humility with preparation always motivated me to become the best I could be for the ultimate goal. Not only does that lead to success, it builds trusts in relationships.
Humility also comes with honesty (which I found helped build my integrity.)
Applying My Lessons to Work
I was aware that I wasn’t the best at everything. I had great confidence in the way I danced and performed (I was always so FULL OUT lol!) This is something I learned in SF and Oakland - to be authentic and raw to the culture of Hip Hop.
This is how I booked a job for Zayn Malik for his iHeartRadio Solo breakout performance. There were two choreographers, one that specializes in precision and the other exude raw elements of Hip Hop. We were in groups of two in front of the two choreographers and production crew to showcase what we just learned. I did what came naturally for me... to go FULL OUT. I definitely went full the heck out which hindered my precision within the choreography. My notes that were said out loud was, ‘Everyone, Ellen messed up several times but I want you to see that she is going for it. Ellen, work on making sure you get your placements correctly. Good job on your energy and performance.’
For that particular performance, we learned more than 10 different sets of choreography to finalize the overall vision. Instead of getting frustrated at that comment and the rehearsals, I completely understood their position and their notes. There was immense pressure on them to get the perfect curated choreography for the set so I made sure that I was 110% on my A game. To soothe some of the pressure, I was all ears to their notes and trusted them to guide me to becoming the best on that stage. I had to fail fast to learn fast. I always made sure to ask for feedback when appropriate and rehearsed more on my off-times. After the show, I then took it upon myself to take classes to work on precision then immediately would choreograph to see my growth in taking in the information then putting out to see my progress.
This is also how I work as a choreographer. I always want to position myself as a leader who genuinely wants the best for everybody. This includes to get the best product for the company/artist, teach and learn from my talents, trust everyone in the process and build a lasting relationship that we are all in this to experience, grow and learn.
Another example, when I was in Korea to choreograph the live show for the Riot Games 2018 League of Legends Championship, a dancer got sick from the piercing cold weather. I could have easily not cared and continuously pushed her, but that didn’t align with my key elements (my core values). I asked the production company to take care of her, told her that I acknowledged her hard work and trusted her abilities to perform. While the production crew was taking care of her, all I asked was for her to observe and rehearse the routine and her blocking by watching. In my experiences, I have always learned just as much as watching then physically going for it. The amount of pressure to create a magical moment for over 200 million viewers weighed on my shoulders, but I knew I wanted to lead with empathy.
With this approach, the agency contacted me and told me that they have never experienced that type of care for their dancers. I believe this encouraged her to work even harder. Everyone will make mistakes, we are not robots. I trusted her capabilities to fail fast to learn fast from observing her during rehearsals. My heart was in it. Her heart was in it.
We delivered one of the most memorable experiences and performances of that year. Relationships are everything. Finding humility in every conversation, in every job, in every leadership, in parenting… Will change your life.
It’s never too late to learn, change, adapt & apply. Treat others how you want to be treated goes further than you think. Do you want quick rewards or leave a legacy of love in all that you do with the people around you?
What drives YOU? Are there experiences you want to speak about? How do you want to express that? What are your core values?
I want to help YOU figure you out so you can create from a place of honesty without boundaries. I believe everyone is a character in this story we call life. Everyone is so unique and has something so specific to help someone else. Live it. Define it. Let me help you create it.
If you’ve ever had questions like above and or are curious to learn more, I offer one-on-one mentorship and group mentorship. With a simple click, you can reserve your FREE 15 minute consultation and we can discuss how to create your career path as a:
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