A couple years ago, a friend of mine from Paris taught me the phrase, “je ne sais quoi” in French. I repeated it. He giggled (because my accent was terrible) and said I was cute for trying. “What does it mean,” I asked. “I don’t know what,” he said with a coy smile.
Confused, I did a quick Google search on my phone and found (according to the good ole’ internet) that it meant, “a pleasant quality that is hard to describe.” Vague, right? I asked him again. He said, “it meant something special. A woman with je ne sais quoi stands out. Not because of what she’s wearing or how pretty she is but because of her personality. Her presence. Her wit. Her confidence. Her style and sophistication.”
From then on whenever someone would ask if I knew how to speak French, I would shrug my shoulders and respond with “je ne sais quoi.” Smile. Wink. Awkward pause. It was the only phrase (aside from simple ballet terms) in French that I knew.
Recently, this happened again. A friend asked if I knew French. I said what I said. He paused. Looked down. Giggled. And said, “that’s you my dear.”
I went home that night and thought, I get that it means a special quality and blah, blah, blah, but it can also refer to anything… aside from the way a woman walks and talks, right? Not quite, according to my research.
Let’s flashback like eight years ago when I was dancing professionally for a small ballet company. At the time, there were 6 trainees (the equivalent of an apprentice) in the company. I was one of them. Every quarter we would have these stupid evaluations where they would pull in management and critique us – one by one. It was awful. We all dreaded these evaluations. Every time I would walk into mine, I would nearly pass out from anxiety. Why? Because only 2 trainees would be promoted at the end of the season. The rest – laid off.
I walked into my last critique knowing that this was it. This was the day I would find out what would happen next in my ballet career. (For those of you who are having a hard time following, just watch the movie Center Stage and this will all make sense.) Management said, (I’ll never forget it because it stung), “Stephanie. Your technique is… OK. Your body… still needs work. But you have something special. We can’t put our finger on it. There’s something special about you.”
I’ll spare you the details of what happened next because it’s painful. I’m happy to report that I did, in fact, get laid off. No contract for me. Which, in hindsight was a good thing. At the time, it sucked. Bad. Like really bad. SPECIAL?! I’m special?!!! Obviously not special enough to get a contract! as I cried myself to sleep for days not knowing what to do next. My life was over.
It took many years for me to fully understand what was said in that evaluation that day. I frequently look back at it. A turning point in my life. The end of my ballet career and the start of something incredible. In hindsight, a moment I’m forever grateful for because it taught me an important lesson.
You do not need to be perfect. Pretty. Have the best body. The best feet. Turnout. Extension. Hair. Or whatever you think you lack in order to stand out. You just need to be different. I don’t know… have a special trait about you that makes you unforgettable. A je ne sais quoi quality.
And that alone, will take you further in life.
P.S. I’m taking my first ballet class (it’s been years) this week. I’ve been taking hip hop to get back into dancing. But no ballet. This week, that’s changing. 🙂 Hello 2017.