“Wow! You basically had my dream life!” she said.
We were at a house concert, chatting over cheese and crackers during intermission. Me and Mackenzie, a high school girl I’d bonded with in the improv dance class at Jazz Camp West earlier that summer.
The dream life she was talking about was when I was a dance student at Juilliard in New York City.
Before I actually lived it, it had been my own dream life. Eons ago, when I was Mackenzie’s age, I remember dreaming of maybe someday dancing at a school like Juilliard. Impossible, surely. But maybe…
I imagined it would be… well, amazing. A bit like the movie Fame, albeit without the spontaneous dance jams on the cafeteria tables, perhaps. (That part, at least, I knew was too Hollywood for reality.)
It would be exciting, though. I’d be dancing up a storm, chasing my destiny. I’d have interesting friends, and I would be happy.
Then, years after I’d all but forgotten the dream, I ended up living it. My dream life. Mackenzie’s dream life.
The reality wasn’t nearly so pretty a picture.
“It does sound cool and impressive from the outside, doesn’t it?” I acknowledged to Mackenzie after a sip of sparkling water. “The truth, though, is that I was miserable. It was one of the worst years of my life.”
Mackenzie’s eyes grew wide. “Really? Why?”
I told her about not fitting in at the school. About how I developed a raging case of tendinitis and spent most of the year unable to dance and horribly depressed. About the out-of-control bulimia and self-hatred that made every day a misery. About how, when you study a creative pursuit in an institutional setting, you’re stuck with the teachers they give you, whether or not those teachers are a good fit, or in any way supportive of your growth. About the weirdness of being graded for my creative joy.
Many reasons and more why that year was downright awful, and why I would personally never advise a young girl to enroll in a dance conservatory.
I don’t know whether my story will affect Mackenzie’s choices, but sharing it that night sure made me think about my own life.
How many times have I looked at someone else’s life and thought how ideal it seemed? How many times have I dreamed about having what they have?
Or at least, what it appears from the outside that they have.
From the outside, though, all we have to go on is what people choose to show. And what most people choose to show is their shiny, happy side. We rarely get a glimpse of the dark — or even just mundane — reality.
“My life is great,” is the message we get (and on the internet, that’s followed as often as not with, “and if you buy my stuff, your life can be great, too!”)
“My relationship is fabulous! We adore each other and never fight,” our smiling pictures boast.
“I’ve got all my shit together!” our Facebook profile photo beams.
Everything looks pretty from the outside.
We don’t see the dirt, the clutter, the passive aggression, the anxiety and depression, the crushing debt…
If you’re anything like me, you step into the Comparison Trap on a regular basis. You see those shiny, happy images and think, “Wow! You have my dream life!”
But it was a wise person who said never to compare your insides to someone else’s outsides. That other person’s life that looks so wonderful may very well be, but you just never know when that “dream life” is actually a living hell.
For Artists Only…
If you’re sick and tired of being a “starving artist,” check out ArtEmpowers.Me, the online course and community I run with Cory Huff of The Abundant Artist. We only open the doors a few times a year, and now is one of those times — we’re accepting new members until 10pm tomorrow night, Sunday, 11/25.
Click here to read all about it.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!