Motivation Monday... or Lack Thereof

11:05:00 AM


Change is wonderfully terrible, and terribly wonderful.

Terrible in the chaos and havoc that it brings, and wonderful because one is forced to grow amidst change.

Change forces you to examine your roots, to reflect upon your identity and goals, and allows you to choose who you want to build yourself into.

This is the story of how my loss of motivation for ballet (and much of life) went from causing months of sleepless nights to strengthening my identity and passion. This is how I learned to turn the grief from a fading passion into determination and excitement to build a new one.

the story: denial, torment, and guilt

Ever since I started pursuing ballet, one thing was constant: my motivation.

Who was I? I was the girl who was fueled by an unending supply of motivation. Motivation was innate--all I had to think of were my dreams of dancing professionally. To be honest, most of my motivation came from a negative mindset; I kept thinking that I needed to work harder than everyone else because my body and technique were inferior, and my work ethic was the one thing I could control and excel in.

I had this idea of "enough." I hated that I wasn't enough, I desperately wanted to be "enough," and I could only get there through hard and smart work. (Only later did I realize that there is no such thing as "enough." There is only you, and the standards you hold yourself to.)

After years of working, after making work ethic the cornerstone of my identity and self-esteem, one day, I couldn't.

I couldn't coordinate my dreams and passion with my work ethic anymore. At the studio, I couldn't focus, nor push myself to do the combinations twice, nor stay after class to work by myself and go the extra mile I always used to go. At night, I couldn't sleep, feeling terrible about how I was "slacking," feeling like crap about myself not because someone made me feel that way, but because made myself feel that way. I kept thinking about that burning passion I had for ballet, and how it now seemed more like a distant flickering light, a diminishing light that I desperately wanted to hold on to as I was trapped in a darkening room.

The train had crashed, and it did not know where to find its fuel.

Perhaps I should clarify that this wasn't just a slump I had gotten into. Everyone has bad days and weeks, but this conflict was a matter of months. And it's still an ongoing struggle, although less.

In my tortured mind, every single day that I did not work my hardest was a day lost, a step away from my dream. Time wasted, time that couldn't be afford to be wasted because I was not good enough to afford one day of slacking.
Shame on you, Lydia. Shame. On. You.
That's what I told myself.
Anxiety and self-loathe built up,  I couldn't sleep, and as a result, my focus worsened in class.

It came to a point where I felt constantly depressed, wanting to do nothing but stay in bed, yet torturing myself for feeling that way. I still went to ballet everyday, but I only felt obligated, rather than excited to work.

I hated all this with a painful fervor. Why couldn't I just be me? Why couldn't I be the Lydia that didn't need to search for joy in dancing, but gladly endured numerous sacrifices for her love of dancing? I kept trying to force myself to be that version of me, but I couldn't. It took me forever to realize that that wasn't me anymore, or rather, that part of me had faded, although not completely.

So who was I going to be?

the road of healing and growth: rebuilding foundations

My first question is always, "Why?" It is often people's least favorite question to be asked, but without asking it, the roots of the problem can never be found, and thus, never solved.

At first, I had no idea why I was feeling unmotivated, and it took months to figure out why. My depressed state was a toxic combination of several factors; mainly, numerous competitions had left me in a state of constant exhaustion and stress, and injuries made dancing more of a painful challenge to endure rather than work that I voluntarily enjoyed. These problems had no immediate solution (since a break was not an option at the time), but I did not want just want to wait it out until the next break, because a life lived in between breaks was not one that I wanted to live.

Innate passion was no longer something I could rely on completely. However, that didn't mean that I couldn't build my passion in a different way. I needed concrete reasons to remind myself why I was pursuing ballet. Although it was uncomfortable and terrifying when I didn't know the answers, I kept forcing myself to ask daring questions, to challenge my own motives and decisions.

What do I love about dance?
I love music terribly, and dance is the perfect medium through which I can represent the abstract and paint the music. For me, playing the music is never enough; I always feel the need to dance. The utter sensation of artistic movement is exhilarating.
But why ballet? Why not any other dance?
I love the beauty of classical movement, the aesthetic appeal of the lines the human body can make.
I love the study and discipline ballet requires, the strict systematic rules, its rich history, and the art's extreme attention to detail.

And again and again, doubting myself so that I could strengthen my responses and build a firm foundation.

the little things

Although there is no "how-to" formula for getting through burnout, there were several small things I did for myself to get through the day.

As trivial as it may sound, watching ballet videos helped tremendously. It brought me back to the days when I first started ballet, spending hours watching ballet videos as I was frozen in awe of the beauty. Watching inspirational dancers reminded me of the beauty of dance when I couldn't see nor feel it in myself. 

By ballet videos, I don't mean videos of dancers doing a crazy amount of pirouettes or whatnot. While those are amazing, that is not the beauty of dance to me; in fact, when technique is glorified in quantitative terms, I feel that it makes ballet materialistic and awfully boring, entertaining to those who only have a shallow understanding of the art form. I watch videos of actual performances, rehearsals, etc. in which I can see the culmination of training in its most ideal and artistic form.

Listening to classical music before class also helped stir the inspiration and emotions within me. I prefer to listen to music from the Romantic Era rather than say, baroque, at least for ballet purposes. Romantic music is deeply dramatic and stirring, and in short, makes you want to dance from the overflow of emotions that the music ignites. (Favorite composers include Tchaikovsky, of course, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin.)

Lastly, exploring other art forms helped tremendously. I found myself in art museums, playing piano, reading poetry, and just appreciating art for what it is and being amazed by how all art forms connect on a very deep, heartfelt level. 

the search for balance: less is more 

A physical break is ideal for introspection and refreshment. And if a break is possible, take one without the guilt that many dancers are imprisoned by. Taking a break is not "laziness" if it is something you need; in fact, it can help you improve yourself if you use it to reassess yourself and set new goals.

However, if a physical break is not possible, do not underestimate the power of mental breaks; creating time to take your mind off from whatever you're burned out from, practicing mindfulness and appreciating the simple things in life did wonders for me. It allowed me to expand my horizons, to remember that life truly does not revolve around ballet, as much as it is a priority.

Life does not need to revolve around ballet for you to be working your hardest. I came to the realization that not every moment needs to be spent on something ballet-related. Time off, whether it be a vacation, allowing yourself to go out with friends, or simply taking 5 minutes before bed to breathe, can not only give you a fresher mind to work with, but make you a more wholesome dancer.

What do I mean by that? As artists, as much as we need to dedicate ourselves to our work, we cannot be genuine artists without experiencing life outside of our work. Only then can we bring our emotions and experiences into our work and onto the stage. We tell fuller stories when we live life, stories that are richer, as well as more human and genuine. We are dancers, but we are also artists, and artists must be human.

my current state

All these little revelations made me learn a whole lot about myself, especially how to take care of myself--something that ballerinas often forget as they put their art above almost all else. As painful as all this has been, there is always a silver lining, and these experiences are invaluable.

On a spiritual level, all of this was a great eye-opener to remind myself that even my love for ballet can be temporary, and I should always set my eyes on the kingdom of heaven as the true goal. Once more, I look back at all the questionings and doubts I had of God and his intentions through all this and am continuously amazed by His ability to turn anything into a positive means of growth. I learned to lean on Him even more, and am excited to see how He will work through my life. 

I still struggle with motivation and finding my work ethic, although less. One of the most important things I've learned is forgiving myself. Allowing myself to accept what has been done and set a firm goal on improving tomorrow has helped tremendously with the guilt and anxiety. I am building a different me, one that is no longer simply fueled by raw passion, but passion that has been challenged, shaped, and defined. I do not only love ballet now, but I know exactly what I love about it. It's an exciting journey!

As always, if you need to talk, have a prayer buddy, or ask questions, contact me on Instagram or email me :)

Mucho amor,
Your introspective mess of a ballerina

4 comments

  1. I felt the same way the whole last season and sympathize so much. Thankfully it wasn't as extreme as what you described (and for a little different reason), but I was able to get myself out of it by going to a summer intensive and being able to dance in a different environment. Remember, if YOU need somebody to talk to, I'm here for you, too!

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    1. Aww, thank you Ruiko! I'm so happy that you are better now :) A change in environment can really help sometimes. Just as a friendly reminder, you inspire me with all the joy you exude in your dancing :) keep pushing!

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  2. Depression is real, I've struggled with it all of my life. I'm so l amazed by your writing and your wisdom at such a young age. I'm happy that you're coming out of that darkeness and finding your 'new' self. You aren't the same young lady as you were prior to this abyss in your life. You've been tested and you are stronger on this side. It may not feel like it but it's true. The one thing I missed from this blog was if you questioned your faith? Remember that 'The Devil is a Liar.' He feeds into our insecurities and self-doubt and as long as you remember that; you'll be okay. This won't be the first time you get lost but it will be easier to get back to 'you' because you've been there before.

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    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging words! I am sorry you have struggled with depression, and you are in my prayers! I'm also considering doing a blog post on mental health in dancers, since it is a topic that is buried far too deep.

      I'll admit, it was very easy to question God at times where I really felt like I couldn't get back up. I felt like He had done so much through ballet, and I was kind of like, "You're just going to leave me here now?" He felt so quiet when I kept crying out for help in my prayers. But as always, I look back and realized all the things He did for me without me realizing at the time, and am just continuously amazed by His perfect timing and love for me.

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