“I felt like I wasn’t good enough, like I could never measure up and be at the same level. A team's only as great as its weakest link, and I felt like the weakest link.”
Maiya Patel (now 18) stood in the front and center of her high school's JV cheer team on the football field sidelines, shouting out cheers and hyping up the crowd in her sophomore year of high school. She shook her poms, jumped, and kicked her legs, energized by the people around her. As captain and one of the only members of the team with a dance background, she felt confident in her abilities.
“I have always been a people pleaser, so knowing that I was captain was a confidence boost for me because people trusted me to lead the team,” Maiya said. “I loved cheer because we were like a family and just enjoyed spending time with each other.”
Joining cheer was a straightforward decision in her freshman year because she was on the eighth grade cheer team and had many friends who were also trying out. Maiya enjoyed being on the team, but after two years, she felt like something was missing — she wanted to learn more complicated routines and experience a competitive atmosphere.
left to right: Maiya's cheer team, Maiya and her friend at a football game, the cheer team huddling during a football game (2018)
With encouragement from her friends and the dance team coach, she decided to try out for the dance team, which attends 4-5 competitions each year and performs at school events like football games and rallies. Going into auditions in April of her sophomore year, she felt optimistic and got accepted onto the team.
That summer, however, her initial enthusiasm fell apart. Even though she attended all three of the summer choreography days, she was repositioned in worse spots in the dance formation than members who didn’t show up to the practices. Maiya knew that her coaches felt no personal grudge against her and were simply trying to do the best for the team, yet she still felt disappointed — as though her efforts were pointless.
“Once school started and the stress of junior year began, I found myself comparing my value to others. This was especially prevalent in my dance life, Maiya said. “I started to doubt my worth as a dancer and team member, which ultimately began to damage my self-confidence.
Even though she had danced since she was three — ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop and bollywood in elementary school, ballet and jazz at an outside studio in seventh grade, and a dance elective class throughout middle school and high school — she felt like her dancing abilities were inferior to those of the dance team members. She felt a constant, urging need to prove herself, yet no matter how hard Maiya seemed to try, her movements never seemed as graceful or her motions as sharp as those of her teammates.
“All these girls were so talented and then I was kind of just put in there,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t good enough, like I could never measure up and be at the same level. A team's only as great as its weakest link and I felt like the weakest link.”
Maiya began to hate dance practices. Thoughts like “You shouldn’t even be on this team,” “I don’t know why you tried out,” and “You’re the worst one” kept circling her head, tearing down her self-esteem. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, she dreaded
3 o-clock when she would have
to enter the studio and force herself to mindlessly perform
the dance routines.
That year she also felt overwhelmed due to her heavy workload from five AP classes, an honors class, and a mandatory bible class. During the fall semester, she would go home after school or after dance practice, scroll through social media on her phone for about two hours, do her homework half-heartedly, and then go to sleep, sometimes oversleeping and showing up late to class the next morning. Often Maiya would cry while driving home from practice, finding momentary relief from the fake smile she would plaster on throughout the day.
“It was just so much information piled on and I was really worried because it was so much to handle,” Maiya said. “My brain was working 70 miles a minute and I felt no motivation to do anything.”
She started doubting herself, asking herself questions like “‘Can I really handle this? Am I really cut out for this? Is it worth it?” about schoolwork and dance. But while she was still pretty sure in herself as a student, outside of the classroom she no longer felt like she was giving her best effort. Rather than focusing on the small positives and joys of everyday life, she began obsessing over the opportunities she didn’t get and the mistakes she made.
“I would always look at all the negatives, at everything that was wrong with the situation rather than looking at how to fix it,” she said.
Maiya’s self-doubt reached an overarching peak in late October of 2018 and she could no longer contain the insecurity she had concealed for so long. While walking to her car with her best friend after a dance rehearsal, she confessed that she felt as though she had joined the team too late to make a worthwhile impression, adding in that, as one of the worst dancers, she thought she was dragging the entire team down.
“You can't really look at it that way,” her friend casually answered, according to Maiya. “Everyone brings something different to the team and you have to see what you can bring to make the team so special.”
Maiya and her dance teammates at dance nationals in Orlando, Florida (March, 2020)
Her friend’s comment completely altered Maiya’s mindset. Constant comparisons and negativity had consumed Maiya’s thoughts, and that bit of affirmation allowed her to escape their grip and look at her struggles and strengths from a different point of view.
“It may seem like such simple advice, but for me, it was so eye-opening,” Maiya said. “I realized I can't be so hung up on what other people do. I have to worry about putting myself out there in the best form that I can be.”
That conversation inspired Maiya to start thinking about how she could personally help the team. She realized that while she might not be the best technical dancer, she could assist with organizing performances and support the underclassman on the team by being someone they could come to for support. She began laughing and joking around with her teammates during practice, finally enjoying dance again.
“I started to focus more on what my strengths were and I started utilizing those and working at what I was not as good at,” she said. “Instead of spending so much time on the wrong in my life, I started focusing on how to make it right.”