No one is immune to the mountains and valleys of life. At times, we find ourselves kicking ass at work and coming home to loved ones who fill our lives with joy. Other times, our co-workers “forgot” to invite us to Happy Hour so we go home alone because we were just broken up with only to find the dog had pooped on the bed.
Experiencing the highs help us get through the lows. We learn to appreciate that this too, shall pass. However, sometimes we can’t quite fight through the mist sitting low in the valley, obscuring the view of our next mountain. We feel like we’re drowning with nowhere to turn. In order to look upwards and begin another ascent up the mountain, sometimes we must begin by looking downwards to unearth our roots.
For any of you involved in the freelance performing arts as a source of income, I don’t have to tell you the struggles of making a living, having a life, or maintaining relationships. There are, of course, the 1% who have hit the jackpot of a permanent gig that provides steady income, God forbid benefits, and the luxury of being in one place year round as to actually have a family and a home.
The rest of us are in a constant state of impending unemployment, and struggling to pay bills all while trying to hold on to friendships and significant others over the phone or internet. My personal journey through this minefield of a profession has been wrought with all of these worries and stresses, and continues to be so, even though I do consider myself to have had a certain degree of luck and success. This is just the way it is for most of the people who do what I do.
The frustration and stress that accompanies theses truths cause me to reconsider my career choice almost on a daily basis. I am in a constant tail spin of circular thinking about whether or not to go to grad school, and if so, for what. What other career would provide me with the financial security and stability I crave while also giving me even a fraction of the joy I get from doing what I do now? What else am I even good at? Is it worth the time and money to get a Masters in my current field just to hopefully get a teaching position? I never seem to be able to arrive at an answer that sits right with me.
However, there are times – far fewer than the times I am shrouded in self doubt and feelings of failure – but there are times when I become overwhelmed by how much I love this stupid job. I love this community which has not always been kind to me, but always finds a way to remind me why I’m here, that I’m meant to be here, and that the work I do is important, even when I feel like I’m being kicked while down.
In these rare moments, I am reminded of the two most important things – the two things that make up the roots that have grounded me in this work and keep me here, weathering the storm as best I can. The first of these roots is the fact that I truly believe, at my core, that the performing arts are an essential and vastly relevant part of humanity. Before we had computer programmers and financial consultants, we had communication, creativity, human expression – through art, literature, and music. Expressing ourselves through the arts is fundamentally human, one of the building blocks of our species and a vital part of our communities, history, and development.
The second of these roots, and the one that reaches the deepest within the soil of my self, is the fact that I have found my tribe. The actors, dancers, singers, stage managers, flymen, musicians, writers, photographers, conductors, lighting designers, directors, choreographers, props artisans, set and costume designers – all of the people whom I surround myself with everyday – they’re my people.
I don’t always like them but I do love them. I love them because we’re committed to the same thing. I love them because we all grew up on Singing’ in the Rain, Brahms, Maya Angelou, and the need to create. I love them because they make me laugh, God I’ve laughed so much. I love them because they make me cry, both from moving me to tears through their art and also from the growing pains and life lessons they have taught me. I love them because I feel connected. Connected to all of the incredible people who have touched my life, regardless of how many months or years go by without speaking. I feel connected to the artists with whom I have never worked and will never meet, because we are connected by this common passion, this need to create.
So as I ride the wave of another one of these extra-ordinary moments, I would like to give thanks. Thanks to all the creators and storytellers who didn’t give up, who keep fighting the good fight because they too believe that this crazy business is significant and meaningful, and they knew themselves well enough to know that they would be miserable doing anything else.
Someone in the field once gave me the advice that if I could at all fathom doing anything else – then I should go do that. That this career was too difficult and awful to bother with if I could imagine enjoying any other work. I’m still mulling that one over.
I don’t know where I will end up. Maybe I’ll find a niche somewhere else that will allow me to have the personal life I am needing. Maybe I’ll go back to school. Maybe I won’t. I’m sure the familiar tail spin of circular thinking will continue. The point is I have no idea where this path is leading me. I do know that wherever I end up, I know where my tribe and where my passion is. Having the opportunity to work, live, and grow in the thick of both of those things has given so much meaning to my life, helped mold me into a person that I like, and provided me with so much joy. (Stress, fear, pain, and worry, too – but, ya know. It’s all part of it.) I am eternally grateful.
In times of stress, loneliness, financial worry, heartbreak- whatever your hardships may be – I encourage you to search for your roots as well. Rediscover how and why you ended up where you are today, whether it be in your relationship, job, or any situation you’re questioning. It may be that those reasons are no longer applicable to your life, maybe it’s time for a change, and there is absolutely no shame in admitting that your needs have changed. It may be that reconnecting with those roots reminds you that you actually are where you want to be, and practicing gratitude for that will help ease life’s inevitable struggles and give you the strength and resolve to keep doing what you’re doing.
From the valley to the mountain – keep calm and climb on.