It’s been a while since my last #MonthlyMessage post – over three months, to be exact. March, April, and May passed in a blur, busy with commitments including choreographing my first full-length musical, teaching my regular workload, assisting with the staging of La Bayadere’s Kingdom of the Shades at the ballet studio, and revamping The Holistic Dance Teacher Collection of Resources. It was a busy, productive, and overall very happy period of time; but of course it had its stressful moments. With two small kids, childcare is a juggling act, and as I rushed from class to the theatre and staying up late in front of my computer, I found myself missing my babies – even when I was sitting next to them. I realized that wanted to make more time to be with my family, to really be with them, not with half my brain in the studio. As June neared, I looked at the teaching offers on my plate, and the growing list of things I planned to do, apply for, and accomplish over the summer. I realized that what I really wanted – what I needed – was to step back a bit and savor the summer months with my kiddos and husband. (Let me stop here and say that I am grateful to be in such a position and know that not everyone is, financially or otherwise.)

Saying no has always been difficult for me; I am a natural people-pleaser. When it comes to my career, it’s even harder to say no because I genuinely LOVE what I do. If I’m being honest, too, I still get a thrill every time I’m asked to take on a new class, a new project, a new challenge: they want me, they like me! I usually don’t want to say no when a new opportunity comes up, in fact, I wrote a couple of blog posts many moons ago about the joy of saying yes and the growth that comes from taking on new challenges, even when they scare you.  (You can read them here: saying yes and A Year of Yes.)

The dance field overall is fueled by YES. Most of my role models could be considered “Yes-a-holics,” taking on a seemingly endless string of challenges with apparent ease. Dancers/dance teacher/choreographers are constantly fed messages about the merits of testing our limits, pushing our boundaries, and trying the impossible. At times, it seems like always saying yes is the only path to success in our industry. Those who don’t, won’t make it. “No” is for the weak.

But since becoming a mom, I’ve learned that saying no can be a sign of wisdom, not weakness. My life is filled with no’s at this stage of parenting: No, three and a half year old, you cannot use a butcher knife to cut your play dough. No, eighteen month old, you cannot climb the bookshelf. No, children, you cannot eat the sand from your sandbox and wash it down with water from the garden hose. No, you cannot have a screaming match in the car just to see who can be louder. No, you can’t eat ice cream sandwiches for breakfast … unless I’m eating one too! Some of these no’s keep my kids safe, some help preserve my sanity. In general, though, any observer would agree that there is a great deal of wisdom in each one.

So, too, can there be wisdom in saying a well-thought-out “no” when presented with a new career opportunity or artistic challenge. Discernment is necessary for growth. Blindly saying yes to every opportunity that comes up may fuel your ego, but likely doesn’t feed your soul. It can become easy to use “busy” or “booked” as a defense mechanism. When you keep yourself moving at such a rapid pace, you don’t have time for personal reflection – and the discomfort that can come with it. But growth happens in that discomfort. If you don’t slow down enough to reflect, you can become stagnant, creatively blocked, or burnout. You can lose sight of who you are as an artist, educator, and person, and what you really want, in and out of the studio. Self-reflection and evaluation are the path to growth, in your career and in your life. <<< I’ll note that both your career and your life are equally important, since as artists we do not hear that often enough. If you find yourself growing away from your art, or wanting to prioritize other areas of your life, that’s okay too. Who you are is more important that what you do. >>> Discernment allows you to make choices based on your needs, goals, values, and ability to serve others, not just your innate desire to fill your calendar, pad your resume, or populate your social media accounts. (And we ALL have those innate desires!)

So, before saying an automatic yes to a new opportunity this summer, I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I need this opportunity for practical reasons, i.e.: to pay my bills, get a raise or secure tenure, fulfill a contractual agreement, etc.?
  2. Is this opportunity a good fit for my life right now, i.e.: can I make it work without adding unnecessary stress for myself, my family, my budget, my schedule, etc.?
  3. Will this opportunity make my heart sing, bringing me real, honest, organic joy and adding value to my life?
  4. Will this opportunity allow me to serve others in a meaningful way?
  5. What can I gain by accepting this opportunity? What can I lose by turning it down? Does one outweigh the other?

I will be honest, looking at my nearly empty calendar for the months of June and July is a bit frightening. But I trust in my discernment capabilities and know that ultimately, the choice to step back for a bit is the right one for me. The opportunities I passed up will arise again, in one form or another, if they are meant to be. Even if they don’t, I know that I will be happier having prioritized my family at this moment. And being able to choose happiness over ego is perhaps the greatest wisdom of all.

Visit my Resources page for tools that support a holistic teaching and creative practice. Keep in touch by signing up for my quarterly newsletter, or join me on Facebook at The Holistic Dance Teacher.