I’m taking a break from my usual recipe category to share some thoughts on my journey this past year of realizing I have more than one dream job–and it’s time for a new adventure.
This post is my own reflection and does not reflect the views of Lumerit Education (or anyone else). This has been my personal journey and the conclusions below are mine alone.
This is the longest post I’ve ever written, however, when you change your goals from something you have been working towards for 20 years, it can end up quite wordy. I took my final bow with my ballet company yesterday and I have decided that to transition to working full-time as a Success Coach for Lumerit Education. This post is written in a spirit of honesty and authenticity and with the greatest respect and gratitude for ballet and everything (and everyone) it has given me.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND…
I have seriously considered not continuing dancing professionally multiple times in my career and training. I have always felt a pull towards non-ballet interests and activities. While I was dancing in my first second company, I earned 84 credits toward my Bachelor’s degree within one year through Lumerit Education. I was able to finish my Bachelor’s degree in Communications the following year, still while dancing full-time with another second company. I never thought this pulled away from ballet, rather, by embracing another part of myself it enabled me to live a fuller life. I found that when I had other things in my life, I was able to be a more confident, stable employee because everything wasn’t dependent on a good or bad pirouette day.
I began working for Lumerit Education about a year and a half ago, while still continuing to dance full-time. I coach students through their Bachelor’s degrees, functioning as both a mentor and detail, degree-expert while also coaching them to achieve their full potential.
Working in a non-ballet environment has been eye-opening for me in many, many ways. First of all, coaching itself has been very reflective and revealing to me. Without going into too much detail, coaching uses questions to help people understand what motivates them, what drives them, what their true goals and passions are, and what it will take to get there. In training, there is quite a bit of practicing this deeper level of self-awareness. I had to figure out quickly what my strengths and weaknesses were, what my five year vision was, and what my life purpose was as well as what I was doing to achieve it. It was addicting, empowering, and inspiring to me to think through living life so intentionally. It was during this training a year ago that I started to question whether or not “ballet dancer” as my full-time profession was 1- the best use of my skills, and 2- would ever truly make me happy.
THE TIPPING POINT…
As my time went on with Lumerit, I battled every single day this past season if I wanted to keep dancing. It was manageable to do both (sort of). Except I never had a moment not working. I woke up early before ballet and called my students, I went to ballet all day, then came home and called my students. On Sundays and Mondays off of ballet…I called my students. I was working 70-80 hours in 7 day weeks. It was insane and unsustainable. Perhaps I started to hold ballet up to an unachievable standard that it had to “be worth it”–worth the constant struggle, little sleep, no days off, no time for fun, etc. I love being busy, but I also love little things like working out, reading, blogging, cooking, spending time with friends, traveling, Pilates, making crafts, making Kombucha–and I did not have any time for any of it this past year. In this way, I think I created a time bomb on my time left as a dancer.
In December, I had a ballet evaluation with the staff. Although it was overall positive, I still felt like I was just making the cut, not exceeding expectations. In ballet, it is incredibly difficult just to “make the cut”, and for many years that alone seemed like such an accomplishment to me. However, working another job alongside this past year where I could see tangible progress, led me to questioning my career path.
I no longer wanted to “have potential” in ballet. I had sacrificed a lot and finally just at the end of my 6 years of dancing professionally was getting to dance more featured roles. These more featured roles were tantalizing, but fleeting. Perhaps I could be more consistently excellent in another area of life, or at least do my darn best to be. I know that life as a dancer is short and I certainly don’t want to regret not making the most of it. However, this year I wasn’t worried about regretting my decision. I became more worried about staying in the dance world and regretting not embracing a life that maybe I could live fully, instead of feeling like I was just trying not to fail.
(some baby Naomi dancing photos for your entertainment…)
THE BOOK THAT STARTED THE FURY…
As I began to question my career and identity, I read the book, Designing Your Life (Burnett and Evans), around the start of the new year. This book was one of the most influential parts in my decision and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to design a new life path. In the book, they remind readers that “there are multiple great lives within you.” The book is build on the philosophy that perhaps there isn’t just one right path to “find.” I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps there are a multitude of options to build your way forward for a well-lived, joyful life that aligns with your strengths and values. Perhaps there isn’t a “soulmate life plan” to find. Maybe we have to create it. Some of the questions that they explore in the book, I will attempt to answer in this post as reasons behind my decision to not return my contract for next season:
1- Who am I?
2- What are my skills and strengths?
3- What are my priorities?
4- What are my values?
5- Who do I want to be?
WHO AM I?
In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” Brené Brown writes, “However afraid we are of change, the question that we must ultimately answer is this: What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?” A few months ago, a fellow dancer friend said to me, “It’s easier to be happy than to pretend to be.”
When I first started thinking about this change (a year and a half ago), I felt like I had failed in some way. I certainly did not dance all the ballets I wanted to dance or achieve the level of technique or artistry that I dreamed of as a little girl. However, in this past year, I have realized that without ballet taking so much time and mental space, I will be able to be honestly, truly fully myself. I want to be free to explore who else I am other than “ballet dancer.” It doesn’t feel like I’m revoking my identity to “do something else.” I don’t know if that is entirely ever possible for dancers and dance will always be a part of my identity. I love to dance and I hope that is obvious even through this transition. I still plan on taking class, ballroom dancing with Kevin, and maybe doing some projects or a guesting here or there. I’m not ready to totally hang up the pointe shoes yet, and I think there will be different and new dancing opportunities in the future. I’m honestly still trying to figure out what ballet will mean to me in this new phase–and I think that is okay to not be sure yet.
However, I’m no longer going to have a contract as a professional ballet dancer…and I feel free and excited about this new adventure! I desire so much to be in charge of my life and to be all that I can be in order to do all I can do to make a difference in the world. Rather than viewing this as a starting anew, I am simply wanting to better embrace all that I am, and I believe I need a life path change to do so. I am choosing to focus on a different part of myself that has been there all along.
For the record…I’m not depressed about the way this has turned out. Sure, I didn’t dance Giselle, Aurora, or Kylian, but do you ever feel that you’ve danced all the ballets you’ve wanted to or danced the level you wanted to? I think that part of the draw of ballet is the desire to keep going, work harder, achieve the next ballet, dance one more season. Of course there is a level of sadness and reflection in moving on from something I’ve given so much to, but I am confident in my decision. I was dancing in Nutcracker this year, knowing it was probably going to be my last, and I kept trying to take my mental temperature. How did I feel? When I was performing (which is my favorite part of dancing), did it make me want to keep dancing? Would I really be okay if this was the last time I danced to the Waltz of the Flowers? And the answer was yes, I would be.
Working as a ballet dancer takes 100% of your time and energy. It consumes you. I have worked so hard to be an exception to this–working through college while dancing, maintaining another part-time job while dancing…but it is exhausting. Working for Lumerit full-time will enable me to explore what else interests me in life.
(some visions of Nutcrackers past…)
WHAT ARE MY SKILLS AND STRENGTHS?
I believe this decision will come as a surprise to many people in my life, but in reality this decision is not out of the blue. I happen to specialize in over-analyzing. So I read (not kidding) 20 self-help/mid life crisis books, made thousands of pro/con lists, did 5 year plan visualization exercises, and consulted (/annoyed) all my closest friends.
Not reflective of my vivacious character, my journey with ballet had been an extremly slow climb. I often felt like I was treading water. I felt like I was working so hard, but not really moving forward. More often than not, I felt sad, insecure, frustrated, devalued, and unheard. Six years ago at the beginning of my professional career, I kept telling myself that once I got an AGMA (ballet union) contract, then it would be easier, and I would feel more at home. This goal eluded me for four years, as I was not hired to the main company of two companies after spending two years in each of their second companies. Then, once I finally had the thrill of an AGMA contract, I still felt as if I was missing something. I found myself still dancing the same roles I had danced as a second company member. I felt as if I would never reach my full potential and I couldn’t put my finger on what it would take to get there. I worked so hard every single day and still most days did not feel happy or successful.
However despite these difficulties, I knew that if I was going to stop dancing, I didn’t want it to be because ballet made me sad or upset…I wanted to stop because something else made me even happier. I did not want to leave something I that had become such a huge part of my identity feeling jaded, so I stubbornly stuck with it. I had a conversation with some friends around December, and one friend was talking about how she didn’t have her “dream job”, but how it was okay because she was happy at work and happy at least 80% of the time. I explained to them that it was an interesting thought because for me, I had my “dream job” as a ballet dancer–but I would say I’m not happy 80% of the time. I started to question if being a ballet dancer was truly my dream job anymore.
One of my sleepless nights, I found a fancy strengthsfinder/job assessment test. You can look at it here. I took it, and it profiled me spot on and very specifically. The way the site works is once you take an assessment, you can match yourself to careers and see (the site says) “how you would be motivated in the job. Not if you could do the job, but rather if you would be happy in it.” I looked up some graduate programs and jobs, as well my current life coaching job…all of which were in the highest category, a “Level 1 Match”, a “Exciting Possibility,” scoring that I would have over 70% satisfaction in the job.
Then, almost nervously, I looked up ballet dancer. I scored in the second to lowest match, on scoring my personality, interests, strengths and motivation. The test read, “if you have a lower motivation level this does not mean you cannot do the task, it simply means you would rather not and it most likely will not satisfy you.”
I realize that perhaps it’s just a dumb test on the Internet. I swear I’m not basing my life decisions on some test anyone could have made. But, I believe there was some truth to it. The test read that ballet dancer as an occupation would not satisfy my need for:
- systematic, logical reasoning
- my need to plan, control and direct the activities of others
- my need for analytical numbers
- my need to compile data
- my need to help others through passing on information
- my need to solve problems and apply new ideas and strategies
On the positive side, the assessment pinpointed my strengths as that:
- I am motivated to find, identify, classify, store, remember and retrieve important information. I can help ensure that important information does not get lost or overlooked.
- I perform well in roles where I feel I can share information that makes a positive difference to others.
- I am talented at training others, whether formally or informally. I will excel when given opportunities to train and mentor others.
- I am good at logic, analysis and attention to detail. I excel at tasks requiring accuracy with numbers.
WHAT ARE MY PRIORITIES?
In January as I weighed options, I made a list of my must-have priorities for a joyful and meaningful life. These included: Being with Kevin, having control of my schedule, being able to help and take care of people, being financially stable, feeling successful and respected at work (by experiencing a level of autonomy, mastery, purpose, and progress).
The above priorities look very different from two years ago. Surprisingly enough, dancing no matter what was no longer a must-have priority. And this is coming from someone who two years ago was flying all of the country doing every audition possible. Honestly, if you had even suggested to me at that point in my life that maybe I would be happier doing something else I would have been offended that you dare question my passion. I can honestly say that the day I received my AGMA contract was the happiest day of my life. However, priorities change. If I could dance and have all the above priorities, that would truly be the best of all worlds…but I don’t really feel that is possible. I believe at this point in my life I could live a fuller life as a non-ballet dancer.
That last priority above, “feel successful and respected at work (by experiencing a level of autonomy, mastery, purpose, and progress)” is a huge part of my decision. I want to enjoy and feel capable at my job. There actually is quite a bit of research on why this is an important motivator for employees.
I do not blame this lack of success and respect on anyone or any place. Regardless of all the places I’ve danced and people I’ve worked with, I have felt similar feelings of “replaceableness”. And perhaps that’s just how my personality meshes with ballet–but I really don’t think it’s just me. At ballet, it’s never good enough, ever. And I love the philosophy of constant work to be all that one can be, but at my new job I began to actually feel confident about my abilities. I don’t mean any of this in proud way, but in a confident way that honestly I had never felt before as a dancer. I remember at the beginning of my coaching training, my boss would ask if I wanted to do extra practice calls with her throughout the week. Of course I said yes, at ballet, you always say yes. Do you want to run the variation again? Yes. Do you want to do that combination again? Yes. To say no is to say you’ve mastered the art form–which is impossible and considered lazy and rude. Slowly, I started to understand that at this new job, it wasn’t a mind game when I was asked if I wanted more practice. If I said no, I felt comfortable with the information, it was celebrated that I had reached that level of understanding.
At this new job, I did not cry every day, my feet did not hurt every day…and more importantly, I felt capable at my job. I felt that my abilities meet the challenge. There is this concept called “flow” in positive psychology. It is the mental state when the person performing the activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. It is explained, as I said above, where one’s ability meets the challenge. Experiencing this feeling of “flow” once again in coaching filled me with hope for a more fulfilled life.
I feel that I lost this feeling of “flow” somewhere along the way in ballet. I’m not sure that I believe the theory that “you get out what you put in.” I don’t mind things being difficult. I love challenges and the hard work and dedication that comes with tackling them. However, I began to see a difference between working hard to be the best I can be to do good in the world, and working hard to struggle just for the sake of the struggle. I was tired of having to prove myself every moment of every day. I was putting so much into ballet for so long, and still I never felt like I was flourishing. I had been putting 110% into ballet my whole life and still felt like I was just making the cut, always having to be worried about my job security. And perhaps this is true of many dancers, just due to the nature of the work. However, when I put my 110% into this new job, I immediately could see the accomplishment, recognition, joy, improvement, and ability to make a difference in the world. My 100% went further somewhere else. Within 6 months of coaching told me I was “blossoming”–which had never been a word used to describe my journey with ballet. Ever. The coaching was a better fit, which was confusing to me as someone who had dedicated her life to the art form of ballet.
WHAT ARE MY VALUES?
Success and accomplishment are important values to me. I (finally) realized that my version of “success” as a dancer was not something I could ever control. For a long time, being my goal-oriented self, I defined success as “making it”–as getting to do principal roles, feel valued as an employee, have a stable contract, being respected by other dancers, and being happy. So then, as I started to peel back the layers of my unhappiness, what was holding me back from “making it?” For me, I had always pinned it on external factors. I chalked it up to delayed gratification–struggle now and someday it will be worth it. I had decided somewhere along the way that only things that were extremely difficult were of value worth pursuing. Perhaps once I was thin enough, I would be happy (I said that for 10 years), perhaps once I was in a main company, I would happy (I said that for 4 years), perhaps once I get to do more soloist roles I will be happy (said that for 2 years)…and the cycle went on and on.
In a life coaching practicum in my training, a fellow coach pointed out this trend to me and asked “how I could be happy now” and “how I could have success now.” She asked “when I would know I had achieved success?” All of these questions brought up deep, confusing feelings for me because I didn’t know the answers in ballet or in my personal life. This particular conversation happened last summer, and it started a huge transition in my life that, honestly, I am still working through.
I’ve summed up this new life perspective to: “Find value in being rather than completing.” This mantra led me to realize how much emphasis I put on accomplishment and achievement in my life. I was constantly placing my happiness on future goals rather than believing that I am enough as I am right in the present moment, while still continuing to pursue my goals. I mentioned Brené Brown in the top of this post (here’s the link to her famous TED talk). Her work tied these themes together for me as she writes that “our worthiness does not have prerequisites.” That we are worthy of love and belonging as we are right now, not once we achieve something.
Starting to believe this truth changed how I approached dancing (and my life) this last year. For this first time in my life, I tried to just dance to enjoy it and not for a contract or to prove anything to anyone. I tried (*still trying*) to let go of my need for perfection. I have tried to believe that I deserve to be happy as I am. Right now. Not when I weigh my ideal weight, not when my to-do list is done, not when I win the approval of my boss, not when I get cast a certain way, or get promoted. Regardless of those external achievements, my story matters because I matter. Now, in this present moment, in my imperfection. I believe trusting this helped me not only dance better, but also embrace life more freely and with more courage. However, this new mantra didn’t just lead to more confidence in ballet like I thought it would. Instead it led to the confidence to know that I needed to change my life.
Focusing on being happy in the present process, led me to (excuse my language) “You are a Badass” by Jen Sincero. She writes that “your life can be a collection of interesting projects, not just trying to get through until cocktail hour.” Even though I love to dance, I felt like I was counting down the hours every day at ballet. The chasm begin to widen between “loving ballet” and “loving my job as a professional ballet dancer.” In contrast, I really enjoy the process in my job as a coach. In coaching, of course there is constant learning and growing, but there is not overwhelming fear and need to prove my worth at every second. I by no means have reached the highest level of coaching, and it’s something I will continue to work towards every day. However, I feel believed in and supported. I believe that I am the right person for the job and if there was something I do incorrectly or don’t know, it will become a learning experience, rather than a punishment. There are also concrete standards, with numerical values! Within 3 months of being hired, I was notified that my students had earned the most credit in the company for the month. There were certain objectives to be met for promotion, I met them, and therefore was promoted. And perhaps it isn’t as cathartic as a ballet performance, but it is a more steady, daily joy I have not known before. Perhaps I don’t “love coaching” as much as I “love to dance” but I definitely love my academic life coaching job more than I loved my ballet dancer job. I am at a constant state of peace, rather than an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows. And it is rewarding in ways I have never felt before. My students’ lives matter so much to me. And I can help them! I can help them organize and take care of their little details, biggest dreams, and darkest fears. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I can make a difference in the world.
I value looking ahead with a solution-oriented mindset. I have no regrets. I think sometimes you know you’re ready for a hard decision when it doesn’t feel like a big deal, it just feels like the next step. When I first set out, I wanted to be a principal dancer so badly. I danced Juliet in the Philippines right before starting with my first professional second company. My goal was to get back to that, to have the chance again to become completely immersed in a character and to dance from my soul. As my career went on and I found myself starting from the bottom of a different company every two years, that dream started to fade. I never wanted to dance into my thirties, I always wanted to have a family and pursue graduate school. As these priorities changed, I changed too. I became less emotional, less all or nothing, and more understanding and logical. I began to prioritize being a good employee and a good friend over being the best dancer in the room. It was the sum of a thousand little decisions rather than one big monumental one. I don’t feel the need to keep going for a specific casting or for an awesome retirement show. I have had such amazing opportunities both in the studio, out of the studio, on the stage, and with all the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet.
(a few of my favorite Romeo and Juliet moments..)
I’m also glad I kept dancing until I did. I certainly don’t regret anything. I’m happy I moved away from home when I did, that I sacrificed all the things I did, and cried all the tears I did because it made me exactly who I am today. I believe that dancing as long as I have has enabled me to understand myself better. If I had stopped at any other point that I considered quitting, it would have been for the wrong reasons. I would have eventually been okay, but I think I would have had some regrets. Last year was one of the years I seriously considered quitting. I had wanted an AGMA contract so badly and finally being there completely terrified me. I was anxious on stage for the first time in my life. I cried all the time. When I was fortunate enough to be offered a contract again, I decided to come back and see if a second year would make a difference. And it did! I have been the happiest I ever been dancing this past year. I was able to dance more featured roles, feel respected within the company, maintain good relationships within the company, and I even had an option of a full-company contract to continue if I wanted. I was able to finally see a bigger picture of two life paths ahead of me–one path as a professional ballet dancer in a wonderful, respected company and one path as a life coach/blogger/freelance dancer/academic advisor. And I chose the second one. I guess I’m a slash career sort of person. And making this decision even when my career is going well is why I feel confident in my decision. I’m happy, nothing is really wrong, and still I feel that it’s time for me to do something else and to design a new life that I can be excited about.
WHO DO I WANT TO BE?
Life is short. It matters more to me who I am than what I do. I love ballet. I love to dance. I cannot say that enough. It is certainly not from a lack of passion, drive, or love for my art. I have come to the realization that by fully embracing who I am, I could be more successful and happy pursuing something else professionally, and maybe even be fortunate enough to make a bigger difference in the world. I am a realist and I know that the grass is always greener on the other side and that there are challenges and hardships in every walk of life. However, I am ready to try something else. To struggle in a different area, even.
I say none of this to complain, cast blame, nor question anyone’s choice to dance. Dance is truly a gift and I have loved my professional ballet career more than I can express. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been given, the places I’ve traveled, and the people I’ve met. I am so thankful for the for the people who have believed in me and supported me. But I believe I owe it to those people, to the art form, and to myself to be honest and to know when it’s time to change course.
I had a student, wise beyond her years, say to me “I don’t care what job I do, I just care what sort of person I am doing the job.” If I wanted to be someone who held herself to the highest standard, who lived intentionally with purpose, who used her skills and abilities to help others…was ballet dancer the best professional path for me? In my rambling musing about all of this, a wise woman said to me, “what do you want to be known for?”
I don’t expect everyone to understand my decision, but please know this: I want to be known for doing things with excellence. I want to be known for my integrity in productively accomplishing my work, all the way, 100% all the time. I want to be known for being a good employee for being respectful, accountable, committed, hard-working, and loyal. I want to be known for being passionate, successful, and for always putting the need of others first. And, evidently, I also want to be known for living to my full potential and for having the courage to walk away when I’m not. But the exciting thing is that I’m not just walking away…I’m walking towards something else that somehow feels even more like home than a ballet barre. I finally feel free. And I couldn’t be happier.
Food for thought:
Designing Your Life (Bill Burnett and Dave Evans)
The Gifts of Imperfection (Brené Brown)
The Best Place to Work (Ron Friedman)
You are a Badass (Jen Sincero)
One Person/Multiple Careers (Marci Alboher)
How to find the work you love (Scott Dinsmore)
The power of vulnerability (Brené Brown)
6 Lessons I learned from quitting dance (Bodies Never Lie)
Why I quit my job as a professional ballet dancer, part 1 (Corporal Culture)
Why I quit my job as a professional ballet dancer, part 2 (Corporal Culture)
Whew! That was a lot! Good job making it through! Go reward yourself by making a tasty recipe! 🙂
Also, I promise this blog will get a lot more attention after June 1st and I plan on many new, exciting recipes to come!
If you’re interested in learning more about Lumerit, I would love to tell you about it, or you can check it out here.