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.