Being Enough in the Pursuit of Perfection

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 2.06.14 pm

I’ve always been seen as a strong and reliable person, someone who is always ‘on.’ For so long, that has frequently been at odds with how I feel on the inside. Likewise, I am often cast to dance roles that are seen as ‘strong’ and ‘steely,’ the roles where the virtuoso nature of the dancing means there is nowhere to hide on stage. They demand a certain confidence and sense of bravura, and it could be fair to say that mostly I thrive in these roles and experiences.

Having an Auto-immune disease like Hashimoto’s however, can be pretty good indication that someone has been too “strong” and “dependable” for too long. Your own immune system has had its wires crossed and wants to attack your own body tissue, in my case the Thyroid Gland. The body is sending you a wake up call saying I’m not ok, stop pushing me!

But how can you not be ok in front of 1000 people each night? How can you not be ok when your trying to prove to everyone  around you that you are on top of things? That you can do steps over and over again, meet the pressure and expectations and always with a smile? And of course, always trying to be better than before, not settling so to speak.

That’s the real clincher for me. In high performance careers, it’s commonly blasphemous to believe that something was good enough, as if there wasn’t more you could have done. It is actually a fact that there is always more you could have done, but is that the point of the pursuit, to complete a task only to acknowledge that you were always going to come up short from the beginning.

I’m not just speaking about performing arts, but elite sport, lawyers, doctors, judges, nurses and so many other professions  where others depend on your ability to provide and be dependable at that very moment. At this point, it’s integral to mention how fortunate I feel that as a performer, making a mistake isn’t a life-threatening situation. I am so very grateful for this and have ultimate respect for the people, like my sister who is training to be a Surgeon, who really are on the frontline of being dependable in the most critical of ways and times.

How many people have thought that you’re not really trying if your not striving for perfection and doubting yourself in the process. How many of us have judged others for not trying hard enough? For some, they might be scared that means they’re over-confident (no one wants that do we?) Or you just couldn’t possibly be happy with a performance for a second, in case the next one doesn’t live up to that. A conscious, consistent disclaimer to the world – “It’s okay world, I know I am not perfect and I am working on that right this second.” I can beat myself up, before you do.

But what if we could recognise that we were good enough in that moment? In that moment, when we had only ourselves, the experience and knowledge at the time. How can we as high performance artists/athletes/mothers/people meet our own lofty goals and the ones our superiors expect of us, but maintain a sense of strength that you are also simultaneously enough as yourself already?

This is my constant challenge as a dancer. Naturally, I have softened towards the concept as I mature and gain clarity on why I still dance, what I gain from dancing and what I want to share with others. I also have some experience on my side and can only attest to learning what I have through that very windy road of ups and downs that have got me to this point.

It does not take away from the fact that there is always more potential to reach for, that you can be stronger, you can make a better position, use more body, you can do more turns or really nail the ending of that solo. But it does not have to do away with the fact that you are enough already. Right here and right now I am enough. I belong and I am worthy just for being me.

A teacher once said to a colleague, you have just as much right to be on that stage as the leading principal dancer. Just as much right. A first year corps de ballet dancer really? Yes really! Our talent has got us into leading ballet companies in the world. We are already at a peak of a career that sadly only allows for so many to get there. You can feel a sense of worth when you walk on stage within you (or whichever workplace that is true to you!) that is absolutely nothing about anyone else. You can pursue excellence in whatever you may choose and still be enough in that moment, irrespective of the result.

I have a dream that everyone, especially, more dancers can feel empowered by their differences, by there ‘themness,’ their signature in the way that they dance or their presence on the stage. It is so obvious in some dancers when they are on stage, that they are owning the opportunity, their talent and most importantly what they have to share with an audience. The dancers who value their position on that stage are almost paradoxically, the most generous of performers on and off the stage.
As Dr Wayne Dyer says, “Self worth comes from one thing – thinking that you are worthy.” It’s a life skill that all of us are here to learn, a journey without a set destination. It’s not determined by others, it’s determined by ourselves. It’s there on the good days and it’s equally there on the bad days, just sitting quietly. Self-worth is not loud, it’s not intimidating but it is potent resilient. It’s the flame that never goes out, even if and especially when you can’t see the barest flicker of light.
Take the journey towards achieving your goals, but take your sense of self-worth with you. When you know your worth, no one can make you feel worthless.




  4 comments for “Being Enough in the Pursuit of Perfection

  1. Emily
    December 8, 2014 at 5:45 am

    This is perfect! I always dance onstage and conduct myself as professionally as possible, it’s wry dfficult to believe in your abilities, I find ballet class the hardest place of all to believe in myself, as it’s just raw technique, I love loosing myself in the story and music of performance! Belief in yourself is everything!

    • Dana
      December 9, 2014 at 6:31 am

      Thanks for your lovely feedback 🙂 I feel the same, class is often the hardest because it’s more focused on technique and much easier (especially when tired) to become too stuck down in the perfection of the technique. Performing allows for more freedom I find as well. But just as I return to the barre every morning for class, I try to remind myself each day at the barre that I am there to improve and develop but not at the expense of destructive negativity. That the two aren’t mutually exclusive!

  2. December 11, 2014 at 9:36 am

    I really loved this post, Dana. Thank you so much for sharing! There’s so much in what you say that can be applied to life outside the studio. I recently moved to France with my husband and it’s hard to adjust to life in a new country. I often question if I’m ‘enough’ and if I can make this huge adjustment but going to dance class helps me gain perspective. If I do my best in the moment, whether I’m at ballet class, or French class, then I am enough. Day by day, that’s all we can do. Thank you for your lovely writing.

    • Dana
      December 12, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      Thank you for your lovely feedback, I’m glad it struck a chord with you. It’s something on a daily and even momentary basis that I ground myself with. It’s always when we are living outside our comfort zone, with you moving abroad for example, that we often have these doubts and how that can affect our self-confidence. I’m glad dancing brings you back to that feeling, that you are enough, it can be a meditation like that I find!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *