I had to hit the ground running when I got back from music camp, what with a custom ketubah waiting to be completed (photo below) in and among catching up with general business stuff.
Oh, and my sales tax return (still) to be done. (Yes, I know I’m a horrible procrastinator.) Running a business comes with its own built-in deadlines.
After a string of 80-hour weeks before and between music camps, however, this week has felt practically like a vacation.
Okay, that’s an extreme exaggeration, but it has been dramatically more relaxed than the rest of my summer at home. Instead of working late every night, I actually took time to have people over, meet a friend for tea, and even to have a girls’ night out in the City last night (conveniently combined with delivering the ketubah to the waiting clients, whose wedding is Monday).
All of which got me thinking about one of my favorite topics-of-obsession:
Happiness vs. Greatness
In an interview in the Unconventional Guide to Art + Money, Australian artist Hazel Dooney credits her success to her single-minded drive: “…this is my sole focus in life. This is all I dedicate my time to. I am totally undistracted by anything else, even a love life.”
In a similar way, 20+ years ago, all I really cared about was succeeding as a dancer. I can’t say that I was totally undistracted, since I definitely longed for a love life. But success — getting really, really good at this thing that I was so passionate about, and being publicly recognized for that mastery — and happiness seemed inextricably interlinked.
In fact, I remember having a certain amount of contempt for people who didn’t have such ambitions.
My parents, for example. How could they possibly be truly happy, living such… normal lives? Not making (as I saw it) some large, indelible mark on the planet?
The (younger-than-I-am-now) adults who took classes at my dance school were objects of somewhat sneering fascination and scorn to my snotty teenage self. Why were they even bothering? They’d never amount to anything as dancers, so what was the point?
If anything, they were to be pitied.
Now I’m amused and embarrassed by that teenager. I also have tremendous compassion and pity for her.
What is happiness, anyway?
Happiness, for the teenage me, was utterly dependent on a certain level of a certain type of success and recognition. I lived in a state of constant emptiness, desperately seeking to be filled by validation. No matter how hard I worked and how good I got, it was never good enough. Nor would it probably ever be.
As a result, I was quite willing to give up all sorts of normal teenage pleasures in order to pursue my dream.
There’s something quite admirable about this. Dedication, commitment, discipline can lead to amazing things.
On the other hand, I missed out on a lot. For example, although I’d been backpacking since age 6 and was an avid outdoorsperson, I quite literally ceased going camping and backpacking the year I started dancing. Heaven forbid I miss a weekend — or even a day — of dance classes!
It was a trade-off I was willing to make at the time, because I wanted so badly.
Now? The teenage me would sneer, roll her eyes and and shake her head at the present-time me. No doubt she would see me as a drop-out and dabbler.
In her eyes, I’ve become one of those adult dance students: rather pathetic.
A hard-driver goes soft (at least a little)
I remember when I noticed this change in attitude starting to happen. The year of my divorce I re-discovered dance, but in a gentler-to-my-body-and-soul form, and dove into the world of social dancing. For awhile I took private lessons from a ballroom dance teacher to learn how to follow.
Yes, I still wanted to get good at this thing I loved — that part hadn’t changed. But the desperation, and the willingness to give up everything? That part had.
I remember one lesson at a ballroom where several other private lessons and rehearsals were going on around us. One of the couples on the floor was drenched in sweat, repeating wild leaps and spins over and over again, stopping only to get notes from their coach.
It turns out they were national (or world?) youth champions, practicing for an upcoming competition.
What struck me most was that, although they were amazingly good at what they were doing, there was no joy on their faces. No bliss. And it occurred to me right then and there that I didn’t want to work that hard at anything ever again.
Oh, I’m still willing to, and do, work very, very hard. But I’d experienced dancing like that myself, in pursuit of mastery but without any real joy in what I was doing, and I never wanted to be there again.
It was that moment when I realized I’d lost some of the drive I had as a youth. Don’t get me wrong — if you’ve read anything on this blog you know that I still have plenty of drive. But what I don’t have is the willingness to give up all present-time-happiness in pursuit of some hoped-for future gratification.
All change is a loss
It’s sort of sad, in a way. I mourn that loss. Without such willingness I’ll never achieve the Greatness I’ve always longed for.
But on the other hand, I think I’m a happier person, day to day. I live more in the present than I used to. I’m much better at enjoying the moment, rather than putting so much of my energy into a hoped-for future. There’s a lovely sweetness to it.
It does mean, however, that sometimes things like writing blog posts (ahem) get left undone in favor of moment-enjoying. And if I’m totally honest I have to confess I still have conflicted feelings about this. I clearly haven’t quite achieved the zen-like state of being able to let go and feel totally okay about it.
Ah, well. There’s always something to work on.
Comments? I’d love to hear your thoughts on happiness and greatness. Is there a link there for you? Or are they totally unrelated in your world?
Melissa, it’s amazing that we’ve never met. We’ve clearly been traveling down the same road.
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Glad to know I’m not the only one traveling down this road, Jim! 🙂
wow… this deserves a (series of) one on one – idle – chat under the stars, in the moonlight, on a redwood trail, on the beach , wherever… congrats on your openness , your tenacity , (and much obvious) progress … i do have a few thoughts … hopefully we’ll meet very soon …
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, I have made much progress, thank goodness! The desperate desire for Greatness is really tiring…