by Sheena Jeffers
“Make your life a mission, not an intermission.” ~Arnold H. Glasgow
My eyes fluttered open. I could see the sunshine pouring through my rose-colored curtains. For a few golden seconds, there was quiet, there was peace. Then I remembered, “You have an audition today. Two hours away from where you live!”
I spun around so quickly that I made myself into a human burrito stuck in my blankets. I grabbed my cell phone. Wow—I had woken up, naturally, two hours before I even had to leave for my audition.
I wrestled with my blanket, and when I finally released myself from its all- encompassing grip, I thought, “Ha! First battle of the day won.”
Grabbing my iPod, I picked the perfect song and started my morning stretches.
This audition was my chance to start a new life—a dancing life, one where I was full-time living my dream. It was my chance to be accepted in a Masters program studying dance education.
Here’s the thing though—let’s flash forward a few months.
“You are done. Thank you,” I said to group number 10 out of 20 Broadway hopefuls, coming to audition for a local production.
I released them from the studio, their faces full of worry. I looked down at the list of auditionees, waiting for the next group to arrive, and tapped my pen in a quick, anxiety-ridden way.
This was a part-time gig for me—auditioning young dancers, teaching them proper technique.
I loved being able to work with children and pass dance education along, but having to keep my passion of teaching as a “part-time gig” always felt like rubbing sandpaper on sunburn for me.
I constantly battled this lingering feeling that I wasn’t taking what I felt to be my calling very seriously.
I stood up to walk across the room, and I just couldn’t anymore. With my back against the wall, I slid down, hands covering my face, tears rolling down my cheeks. How did I get there?
Growing up in the dance world, I knew all about intermissions in theater (or “interval” as they are called in British English). It is a recess—the part between the grandiose, beautiful performance parts.
As a dancer, it was my time to breathe, re-group, and prepare for the next big moment.
But somewhere between living the grandiose, beautiful performance parts of my life, I got stuck in intermission mode—curtain closed, dark, quiet, no one watching or caring, alone.
I was overwhelmed with the feeling that my life had fallen off track, and I couldn’t figure out when the curtain would be raised, and I would, once again, feel the warmth of the lights on my skin.
As I sat there on the floor broken, lost and yearning, I heard voices of young dancers approaching. I heard their whispers of hope, their prayers of concerns, and their giggles of nervousness. I pushed the tears from my face, took a deep breath, stood up and smiled.
“Welcome. Come on in, stand in line; make sure I can see your numbers.”
I had to carry on, but now I knew that I had something else I needed to do: Make my life a mission, not an intermission.
And so I began. I made a number of choices, including:
Understanding who I was and who I wasn’t
I started forcing myself to be aware of my decisions, my priorities, my likes and dislikes. I painstakingly went through memories of hurtful relationships to determine what it was that hurt me, irritated me, crushed me.
I jotted down notes when something made me feel happy, joyful, and free. Slowly, I started to learn about myself.
Coming to terms with my past
I forgave myself for times I felt I could’ve done better, or shouldn’t have said something. I let myself off of the hook when it came to things I did or didn’t do to lose someone or something. I forgave. I accepted. I changed my point of view.
Tuning out negative voices
I stopped listening to people who told me, “You can’t do that” or “You’re only mediocre. There are so many better than you.” I stopped listening to the doubt within myself, and I stopped giving the mountains I knew I’d have to climb so much darn credit. They’re just mountains.
Giving up my idea of what my life should look like
I had created some crazy life plan that looked nothing like me! I thought I was supposed to get a desk job, secure health insurance and a retirement plan. I thought I was supposed to be clocking in and out, and living off of coffee.
I was forcing myself to live in a life that wasn’t right for me. I gave up that life plan and drafted one that fits who I am and what I want.
Stopping the comparison game
For years, I looked at my successful co-workers lives and tried to model my life after theirs. I thought, “Hey, they got a raise; I should probably emulate their lives.” But when I did, and when I got the raise, I still wasn’t happy.
I resigned myself to the day-in and day-out of a job that simply didn’t have my heart, and I felt myself growing bitter. Then, one day, I stopped looking at other people’s choices and assuming I’d get the same results.
Nobody lives the same life or timetable, and nobody has the exact same results. I finally realized I wasn’t going to allow myself to stay in a job that I didn’t love.
Letting go of my stubbornness
I thought I was in control. Turns out, I’m really only halfway in control. As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, “Destiny is a relationship—a play between divine grace and willful self-effort. Half of it you have no control over; half of it is absolutely in your hands, and your actions will show measurable consequence.”
I finally realized that my ability to relax was directly proportionate to my ability to trust life. Once I started trusting, I could breathe again.
Facing my anger and anxieties
If something made me nervous, I forced myself to face it. If something scared me, I learned about it. Anxiety causes our body physical reactions, which end up making us tired and groggy.
Nobody can take on the world feeling like they’re carrying around weights. Get rid of it. Figure out the source and then, give it up, let them go. Know yourself so well, that if the anxiety tries to come back (which it will) you know how to be stronger.
Giving up bad people
They may not be “bad” people, but they were bad for me, or it may have been a bad time. I walked away from them. Now, I only hold those in my life who will lift me up to new levels—those who will tell me the truth, who will help me grow and learn from mistakes and successes.
Bad people can be corrosive. You may not even realize it until you are left feeling empty and weak, but once you know it, walk away. Find the good, and stay there.
Four years, later, and here I am listening to my favorite music, sunshine pouring into my room, preparing for my audition. I finally know who I am and what I want.
I turned in my two weeks’ notice to my office (a day job that stressed me out, but paid the bills while I was self-discovering), and I bought a notebook, which is now full of new life plans.
I have a clear vision of where I’m going and how to get there. It all starts today— with this audition.
Today, I transform my life to follow my mission. At last, the curtain is rising. The intermission is over. Please find your seats, the show is about to begin.
I once ran across a magnet in a book store that read: “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
The truth is, it has taken me years and a lot of energy sorting through feelings. I was lost, confused, and lonely but it took all of that for me to finally realize who I am and what I deserve.
When we step back, when we grant ourselves time to learn, when we finally take the first steps to change our life’s direction, we possess the power to create our dream world, which transforms our life’s mission.