I was standing over the kitchen sink way too early on a Sunday morning, dressed in my church clothes and frantically scrubbing a skillet, when my life almost changed forever. My son, who was six or eight months old and turning into quite the explorer, was perched precariously on my calf, having crawled up my ankle and hoisted himself to a standing position. My husband and I were having one of those disagreements that feel weighty and important in the moment but end up evaporating about fifteen minutes later. I had awoken after a night of baby-broken sleep to a messy kitchen and a never-ending to-do list and dreams that felt much bigger than I could ever hope to achieve – all of which had put me in quite the disagreeable mood. I was deep in the dishes and deeper into defending my argument when a sudden, sharp whacking sound woke me from my self-involved haze. The baby had gone down, not lightly, and the wail that followed the whack nearly shattered my heart. I stood, shocked still, for what felt like an hour before the I heard the sound of my tears mingled with those of my son’s. My husband, God bless him, remained clearheaded enough to be at our sides in a split second. He scooped up the babe, check him for injury – mercifully, there was none – and set about consoling both of us.
After my initial shock, the guilt set in. Why am I always trying to do so much? Why was washing this frying pan seemingly more important to me than tending to the baby? Why does it seems like there always a “frying pan” that seems to take priority in my life – a blog post to compose, a social media comment to reply to, a lesson plan to write, an email that needs response? How can I balance my devotion to my family AND remain engaged in this career that has been my life as long as I can remember?
As professionals in the dance field, we are used to doing the most at all times. We teach because we love inspiring the next generation – and often, to be frank, because it is what pays the bills. We choreograph because it fills the creative longings that live deep inside our souls and cannot be satisfied by any other means. We take class or cross-train and maybe we even try to perform once and a while because our bodies just don’t feel right when they are not moving expressively on at least a semi-regular basis. We likely have “day jobs” to support our artistic habits, and maybe if we are lucky (like I am) they also ignite our passions, making it that much harder to relegate them down the priority list. We hustle because that’s what you have to do in this day and age; curating our social media accounts, and networking, and making videos, and blog posts, and business cards, and fliers and, and and, and and …..
It’s a labor of love, but it’s still labor, and now that I have a family it’s getting harder and harder to manage it all with grace. And the implicit expectation that I should is getting weary.
Dance professionals, it’s time that we embrace work-life balance. Yes, our work often feels inseparable from our life; dance is our calling, our personal outlet, our source of community, our purpose and passion. Too often, our bosses and directors and colleagues and students and their parents and most especially our own egos take advantage of that fact. The expectation seems to be that because we are lucky enough to do work we love, we will do nothing BUT that work. But I disagree. Just because we love our work doesn’t mean we need to be available 24/7, or say yes to every single offer that comes our way, or stretch ourselves so thin that we don’t have anything leftover for the rest of our existence.
In that moment at the kitchen sink, as I held my son and cried with him, I vowed to try harder put my career in perspective. I would allow myself to say no sometimes. I would resist the temptation to answer every email immediately. I would put down the phone and shut down the computer during playtime so I can focus totally on my son. I would create – and respect – boundaries in my career and my family time, whether that time is spent tending to the home, taking a long walk, or sharing a meal together. And I would even learn to be okay with dirty skillets in the sink for a little bit longer.
I’m still working on it, of course, and it’s not easy. I’ll admit that I find myself thinking anxiously about my inbox and my next Instagram post and why I haven’t written a book yet, even during my “career-free” times. But I think the effort is paying off. I’m much more aware of my distractedness, and able to mindfully bring myself back to the moment more often. I’m more productive during my working periods because I know I have to be, if I want to get things done! I find myself inspired by my time with my family, and that inspiration is finding it’s way into my choreographic explorations. It’s a lifelong work in process, and I encourage you to join me in the journey. Let’s change the expectation in our field, and let’s learn to embrace balance in our lives.