What was your first dream? You know, the one you really wanted as a kid? When did you learn that you could never achieve that thing you wanted so badly? When did it go from something you enjoyed to something you had win at? When did it stop being enough that you loved it?
As a child, my life revolved around weekly dance classes taught in a large, mirrorless room with a linoleum floor in a local synagogue our teacher rented. I was a weird kid; large, sensitive and awkward child compared to my classmates. I was often picked on. But dancing brought me into a whole other world.
When I heard music I instinctively created choreography in my head, moves I couldn’t begin to achieve. Dancing meant moving through time and space, a routine playing itself out, carrying me with it. As music is often similar to math, the creation of a dance felt like the fulfillment of a complex formula, bending and swelling with the inevitable rise and fall of the song.
My sister was built for dance more than I was, and switched to a hard core ballet studio. In 7th grade, I switched as well. I was big, sturdy, well rounded. Teachers were completely unimpressed with me. And Goddamn were they clear about it.
I knew I would be better suited to choreograph than perform, but there was no question about continuing my ballet education. There was no place for me, and I didn’t know how to carve one out for myself at thirteen.
We were told as little children we could accomplish anything we wanted. But by the time we hit puberty, we were told we were only worthy if we could eventually be the best at whatever it was we wanted to accomplish. It wasn’t enough if we enjoyed it, only if it could “go somewhere”. So- I switched. I jumped from dancing to acting. I tried to love it like I loved dance and pursued it with determination.
Acting fell by the wayside by the time I was in my early twenties. The stage was a great outlet for an abundance of feelings I had no place for. But auditioning, and constant rejection, did not support any kind of mental health. Plus my parents were not behind this. The model of the starving artist was at the forefront of their minds. And they stressed a fallback plan and argued over my college choices.
From there I bounced. From fallback plan to fallback plan- trying to eek out some satisfaction. I was told, often, to grow up, surrender to a 9-5 office gig, build a career, build a business. I did all those things. And every time I walk into a new office I feel allergic to the fluorescent lighting, adrift in office politics and social cues. I managed to create a career while feeling like I’m always treading water.
To make it worse, ideas about my talents, strengths and place in this world was often wrapped around religion and spirituality. That my talents and accomplishments were not mine but somehow a reflection of the divine Sky Daddy and his plans. And my struggles were due to my own lack of alignment with His plan.
Funny thing, those gifts always managed to focus on serving others in ways that didn’t serve me. The message was clear- it doesn’t matter what you want, it only matters what God, Spirit, or The Universe wants for you. That is why you are hitting dead ends. And after trying and failing at so many things, how could I not internalize the idea that God wanted me small, working in a job I hated just because I could be good at it?
It was sometime in my twenties that I decided all of this was bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit.
It is a bullshit idea that worth is only determined by achievements. Your art has value if you hang it on your bedroom wall, fail to sell it in a regret-sy shop, or place it in the finest gallery on earth. It just doesn’t have equal monetary value. That’s it.
Take money out of the equation and followers have become the benchmark of success. “You do you” is accompanied by “then post it on Instagram”. Social media is a great way to get voices and viewpoints amplified, but it is all too easy to compare one’s inner journey to someone else’s retouched image of success. It’s sometimes hard to remember that this, too, is bullshit.
And finally, the idea that you owe it to your family, the world, or your God to pursue a career or goal you don’t like, just because you are talented at it, is beyond bullshit. Depending on the situation: it can be abusive.
If the soul feels stretched out and free by doing yoga, building tables, or performing poetry slams- does it really matter if the person doing these things is a guru, craftsman or professional writer? As long as your day job supports you, isn’t the process of stretching that soul from its default cramped position important in and of itself?
And what if we could go back to that formative time when our hearts were so wide open and ask, “Do you love it? What about it do you love? How does it make you feel?” Can you imagine how different your life would be if when struggles hit, someone helped you strategize how to continue to enjoy the journey rather than focus on what you may or may not be able to accomplish? What if they helped you figure out how to make and manage the money you need to support the dream, rather than abandon the dream to make money?
Because that is where I am, trying to figure out what my soul’s needs are while finding that next gig that will keep me fed, clothed, sheltered and not eating cat food when I am old. Pretty simple, right? A small task that leads to lots of big questions:
- What feels satisfying from the inside out?
- Can I erase decades of programming that dictate how success should look?
- Can I focus on the journey?
- Can I let go of comparing myself and my path to those around me, especially those I knew as a child who went on to do amazing things?
- Can I turn jealousy and envy into happiness for others and a deeper motivation towards my own creative self-expression?
I don’t know, but I wonder what our world would look like if these had been the questions we were taught to seek answers for all along.
Every once in a while I will go to a tarot reader. I like to find random ones who haven’t read me before. And when the topic turns to career, I sometimes get a puzzled look at my plus-sized self. They will say, “I have no idea what this means, but for some reason I see you dancing.” I smile and nod. This doesn’t surprise me anymore.
I don’t focus on the road not taken, or feel I missed my calling.(With the exception of this post.) But I wonder what stamp was left on my soul. This type of rejection is so common, we just consider it a part of growing up. It’s just something to learn from. But when the focus is accomplishment, what is the lesson and does it really serve us? Right now, from where I stand, I don’t think so.