From The Power of Uniqueness by Arthur F. Miller – “. . . gifted goes beyond a mere inventory of talents. It’s the lifeblood of a person , the song that his heart longs to sing, the race his legs long to run. It’s the fire in his belly. It’s his reason for being. So any time you tap into giftedness, you hit a nerve that runs right to the core of the individual.”
When you grow up loving the performing arts, it is mistakenly communicated to you that what you love is nice for a hobby, but is only a true calling for a select few. Everyone loves to tell you how many wannabe pop stars or actresses there are that never make it as a big star. And they would be right. As the old saying goes, “there is a broken heart for every bright light on Broadway.” Somewhere along the line, I got the distinct, unspoken message from many well-meaning adults that I should find something “real” to do with my life. Loving the performing arts is still allowed as you get older, but you become a spectator. Or someone who plays piano or provides special music at church. And going into a classroom and teaching what you love to others is okay too. Just as long as you . . . “grow up”.
So what does an impressionable teenager prone to people pleasing do? She starts lying. First to herself about what she wants to be when she grows up. About her purpose. About what really digs down deep and connects with the core of who she is. Then she lies to others about what she LOVES. When people ask her why she entered the career field she did, she makes up stories about loving some part of the job. Something to prove that she has done what she was supposed to and has made a responsible, safe choice.
Let me stop right here and say that no one – not one single soul I ever encountered – set out with the express purpose of squashing my dreams, my drive, or my passions. None of them wanted to dissuade me from being me. They wanted me to have a plan and goals and work hard. The interpretation of “grow up and be sensible” was more of a miscommunication or a misunderstanding than a sinister plot.
Fast forward to today – in my mid-40’s, I work multiple part-time/seasonal jobs. It can be exhausting and I’ve gotten really good at “schedule juggling.” Seriously, you would be impressed. I teach part-time at the local community college, serve as the accompanist for the choirs at the local high school, work as the pit pianist and rehearsal accompanist (and sometimes vocal coach) for the Spring musical at the college, handle the theatrical directing and most of the choreography for the spring musical at the local high school, oversee two productions every summer as a part of a youth theater program (directing, producing, music directing, whatever!), help out on marching band staff at the local high school, and serve as the artistic director for Stage Door Productions which manages the aforementioned youth theater program and also stages small cast musicals. You may have noticed that, with the exception of the college teaching gig, most of my work life revolves around the performing arts. And nearly all of it involves working with young people from Kindergarten (summer youth theater kiddos) through college (theatrically, in the classroom, and with the theater company). There are times my schedule is insane – trust me, people point it out to me repeatedly! – and I have, for the past few years, gone from January to August without a break between shows. I love it. I cannot imagine having any more fun doing anything else.
The other day, a friend asked if I’d be willing to help her with a dance team she coaches. They have a big competition to get ready for (it’s in early December) and she’d like an extra pair of eyes, and extra adult to help supervise . . . maybe even someone to help her maintain her sanity, I don’t know! But she asked me. I was thrilled! Details haven’t all been worked out yet, but I’m a little excited. That’s not true. I’m REALLY excited. I was telling hubby about it and my excitement started to show. As I gave him the information I DID know, I knew he would start asking questions I didn’t yet have the answer to so I tried to head a few of those off before he asked them. As I wound up the conversation, I heard myself say “I don’t care if I get paid or not because the simple fact is that working with young people in the performing arts – believing in them, pushing them to be amazing – is my purpose on this planet so I’m going to take the opportunities available as often as I can to do just that.” In the seconds after I blurted out that “my purpose on this planet” thing, I realized that I had never, not in my 46+ years of existence, uttered a more accurate statement. In my heart, I knew my purpose; I’ve known it for awhile now. In my work life, I am living it out. But I finally allowed myself to say it. Out loud. Without apologizing or feeling like I had let anyone down.
And you know what? It felt WONDERFUL.