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Quitting Your passion is a process I’ve struggled with in the past… And one I’m also wrestling with at the present (more on that… in time). But no matter what your passion or your specific situation, quitting can be so… shameful.
But I’ve recently come to know another great blogger, SC from MissFunctional Money (I know, great blog name, right??) who has also had some intimate experience with quitting something that was her life – for nearly all her life. And news flash – it wasn’t easy for her to make that decision. And because SC has been so open and honest in her post below, I think we’ve been given the fortunate opportunity to see when quitting the thing you love – may be the best thing that could’ve happened to you.
I’ll let SC take it from here:
“What are you going to be when you grow up?”
The question comes from behind the video camera, where my dad is presumably wearing neon 80s thigh-bearing shorts and beaming with pride at his 3 three-year-old.
“A ballaweea!” I answer automatically.
“Yeah, I am!”
So simple. A question, an answer. No hesitation. I knew who I was, and what I would do with my life.
And unlike many other childhood dreams like going to space or becoming a fireman, I stuck with this one. It was my passion.
So what happened when I changed my mind?
There’s a lot of discussion in the personal finance community about when it’s OK to quit your job to pursue your passion.
There’s talk of money, like how much you should have saved before you shove your resignation in your manager’s face and skip out of your office for the last time. There’s talk of early retirement, and what role it plays in your identity. There’s talk of side hustling, and how you can find a creative outlet to compliment your soul-sucking corporate cubicle. Lots of people hate their jobs, and so there’s a lot of chatter about how to know when to quit.
But there’s little talk of quitting your passion.
In fact, a simple Google search for “when should you quit your job” yields 136,000,000 search results.
It would seem that the world has an opinion or two on this.
Interestingly, a similar search for “when should you quit your passion” yields only 57,400,000 results
Still, the top five search results are about quitting your day job to pursue your passion.
This is just a quirk of Google’s algorithm — it’s predicting what it thought I meant to find based on what everyone else is searching.
But it made me feel like it was something I shouldn’t be searching for. I felt Google-shamed.
Why does it feel like “quitting” is a topic shrouded in shame and guilt?
Here’s a little context
I came out of the womb with jazz hands waving. When I was 2, I would strip off whatever clothes my mother had dressed me in and trade them in for a tutu because, fashion.
There used to be this book called “I Wear My Tutu Everywhere!” and it was my personal anthem.
Even though I was about nine months too young for the cut-off date, my mother begged a local studio owner to let me join the class. The owner graciously said yes, and my entire life’s course changed… No biggie.
I trained from the time I was two years old and became really serious about it when I was about eight. I joined the competition company, I did auditions, I performed, I trained in summer courses all over the nation — and I LOVED it.
I was homeschooled (for a myriad of reasons, one of the most prominent being my time commitment to and traveling for dance).
And when I was about 13-14, my family started thinking about that next step
For a ballet dancer, what you do from age 15-18 is critical if you want to pursue it as a career. It’s typically the age where you either decide your high school activities, hobbies, friends, and other sports are too important, or where you go all in with serious ballet training. Logistically, it’s nearly impossible to find a place where you can do both. High-quality ballet programs are just too few and far between.
So, when I’d just turned 15, I packed up and moved to be a trainee with a ballet company year round. I am SO fortunate that my family situation was such that my mom could move with me those first two years before I could live on my own. And even with summers spent away for training and eventually living by myself, my parents (and my grandparents) made countless trips back and forth to keep things moving for me.
My family sacrificed so much so that I could chase this crazy dream, and I never, ever forget it
(Honestly, an ode to my mother deserves its own post … *immediately updates MFM Editorial Calendar*)
When I say ‘I grew up dancing,’ I don’t mean I grew up going to dance as a hobby.
I mean I grew up dancing.
I learned how to ‘adult’ as a dancer.
I had to remember the choreography for 12 different scenes in a ballet, and also to take my trash out. I’d stay up late sewing pointe shoes, and also doing algebra.
Eventually, I was across the country from friends and family, and I learned my own emotional fortitude
This is not to say I had it all figured out or anything — it’s an illustration of my bumbling, premature entry into adulthood.
I was moving through this bizarre realm as a young teen in a very grown-up world — a world with more drama than HBO and more cigarettes than Mary Kate Olsen’s wedding. (None for me, though, thanks very much.)
I was dangerously naive to be in the position I was, but it all worked out.
Again, gotta give the nod to ultra-involved parents for that one.
It was a complicated approach to growing up — but I can honestly say it was never boring.
Everyone has to learn how to fend for themselves eventually. I just did that a little early on, and with a lot more glitter eyeshadow and bobby pins than most.
I was under a lot of pressure. Too much pressure, maybe
But it was fun.
Oh man, was it fun.
I lived for the singular heart-drop of the curtain going up and the high of the applause. I made some of my closest friends in the world — the kind of friend that GETS you because they’ve been right there in the trenches with you. I even shared the stage with my all-time favorite ballerina.
It was a magical world. And I was in it.
So why did I quit?
Shady directors. My non-prototype body. I was homesick. I was super injured…
Take your pick.
Part of the job of a ballet dancer is to look in the mirror and nitpick everything about your body and determine what could be improved. To constantly strive for something unattainable can be draining.
Most learn to cope — to appreciate the beauty in imperfection and evolve into a well-adjusted, emotionally mature artist.
Others … don’t.
I like to think I was fairly well adjusted.
Maybe it was the multitude of tendon problems, the debilitating foot injury I was nursing at the time, or my general disgust for the politics involved in a ballet company.
But if I’m honest with myself, I quit because I had options.
I wanted to go to college. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a mommy. I wanted to * gasp * have enough money to pay rent without help from my parents. Before you fly to the comment section to tell me that people can be mommies AND dancers, or writers AND dancers, I know…
But I just wanted so much more. And I could opt out
I’ve heard people say “Dance isn’t a part of who I am, dance is who I am.” And I’ve heard similar sentiments from baseball players, artists, and guitarists. Dance was — and remains — a significant part of my identity.
But it’s not the only part.
I had so many other interests, even while I was peaking professionally. One major tip-off was after high school when I got an anatomy book from the library and started taking copious notes. You know, studying for an exam that DIDN’T EXIST.
What a psychopath.
The point is, I was curious. I was hungry to learn. I knew what my body could do, and I was ready to push my mind. College became a more constant thought, especially if I thought this ballet thing wouldn’t be a sustainable, money-making career for me.
Speaking of money…
I’ve written about money in showbusiness before, namely that there isn’t much of it until you “make it,” whatever that means.
When you’re starting out professionally as a trainee, apprentice, or second company member (kind of like second string), it’s common to be paid in shoes.
DO YOU HEAR ME WHEN I SAY “PAID IN SHOES”?
Custom-made pointe shoes are typically $70-100+ per pair.
As a professional, a pair lasts maybe 1-4 shows, depending on the dancer.
Having shoes provided is basically necessary for survival at this rate. As for an actual salary, it varies widely depending on the company. Corps dancers (entry level, but in the main company) in major ballet companies in large metropolitan area cities probably make about anywhere from $1,500-4,000 per month.
But that’s for a major ballet company.
I can only think of six companies off the top of my head that would pay a corps member that starting salary. Six, in all of the United States. And those are in places with high costs of living, like New York and Boston.
A former roommate of mine currently works in a small midwest ballet company where the starting salary is (according to Google, not her) $400 per week, which is much more common.
For a select few larger companies, the dancers pay dues to the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA). In exchange for union dues, they receive union-y things like a mandated 5-minute break every 55 minutes, more protection when injuries occur, and even access to third-party health coverage.
An additional consideration is that dancers don’t have a guaranteed job year after year
You’re typically paid weekly, during rehearsal and performance weeks — roughly 34-44 weeks per year, and you don’t get paid in the off-time. Many dancers collect unemployment in the “layoff” periods as a means to get by. It’s quite common to work in your layoff, and even to work while you aren’t laid off. While a standard part-time job usually isn’t possible due to the dance/performance schedule, many dancers teach, coach private lessons, get certified in Pilates or yoga instruction, or babysit.
Do you see why you have to really, REALLY want to be a ballet dancer more than anything else in the world to sustain a career?
I have nothing but genuine respect for those that have decades-long dance careers, truly, because it’s a wearying career physically and emotionally.
And I reached a point where I was captivated by the art, but no longer enchanted by the lifestyle
And when you’re committing all of your time, energy and money into something, you need to be OK with the lifestyle it gives you.
I was ready to explore other pieces of myself. Or was I?
Our passions are a part of our identities. What happens when you lose that?
Ballet was something I could be secure in — a place I knew I belonged. It was an integral part of my story — what brought you to this city? Ballet. Do you have a boyfriend? Yes, ballet. You’re 18, what college are you in? Ballet.
It was my safe small talk.
I’m still known to some distant relatives as “the dancer.” It’s how people remembered me.
One thing I wasn’t prepared to feel when I “retired” was the intense guilt
Oh, the guilt.
I lost that identity. That thing that made people proud. Impressed. I was past tense. I was a has-been.
Nevermind that I developed a marketable, profitable skill set that would last me a lifetime.
Nevermind that I learned to be a disciplined self-starter.
Nevermind that I made amazing friends and traveled the country.
Nevermind that it was fun.
I felt guilty for letting this lifelong passion slip away. I’d been so loyal for two decades, so passionate and loving. And ballet slapped me with a “just friends? :)”
I felt guilty for the literal thousands that my parents had shelled out to support this dream
Remember how I moved away to train? Yeah, that means paying for an extra apartment. And that’s just skimming the surface of the costs.
But it was my dream. And I am so privileged and blessed to have a family who could and would help me make that happen. But WOWWWWWW the weight I felt when I realized the sacrifices — financial, time, togetherness, and otherwise — my family made would be for “nothing,” I kinda freaked out (past tense, fruck?).
But my parents could not have made it more clear that they weren’t disappointed in me. And I am lucky for that.
They assured me that they were happy to help me achieve my dream in any capacity and that they’d bought skills like teaching and coaching that wouldn’t just vanish if I quit. Plus, they wanted me back closer to home.
It was mind-boggling to realize that this thing that I had always turned to for comfort, for expression, and for joy — it betrayed me.
But then, once that pity party subsided, all I felt was relief
I will never forget that distinct feeling because it shocked me.
I was in a park entirely across the country from my parents — seriously, just about as far as you can get without being in the Pacific Ocean — when I called to talk through the decision with them. I’d just had a meeting with the director and knew that I was never going to progress at that company.
I’ll never forget that sense of deep relaxation that washed over me when I knew I was going home to rest. A ball of anxiety had been lifted off of me, and I had a peace so deep.
And that’s how I knew it was OK to quit
Every class, I felt lighter. I was going home. Impossible choreography sequences suddenly seemed a bit more bearable; that blister wasn’t as much of an annoyance; my ballet mistress’s squawking corrections suddenly felt endearing. It made me appreciate the little rituals, too, the insignificant things that I knew I’d never get back.
- Stretching before class, centering myself by blasting Eminem on my iPod Mini while in a tutu.
- The pre-performance beautification process, otherwise known as the reason I still like to apply my eyeliner in peace — precious “me time” that my husband knows better than to interrupt.
- Timing my water bottle refills with the cute company member I had a crush on… (Just me?)
I miss that. I missed that, while it was still happening. It made me nostalgic for something that was still happening, which is a strange feeling. And still, I was happy it was ending. And that’s how I knew it was OK that I was allowing the dream to come to a close. I had other things to look forward to and I wanted to push this passion to the background before I hated it.
If all of this sounds like the broodings of a bitter has-been, you couldn’t be more wrong
I am finally — FINALLY — able to reflect on my experiences clearly and unmuddled by the sting of rejection and pettiness. I see now how important and joyous my time with ballet was, and how many doors it’s opened for me.
I felt like I’d reached the milestone I wanted to achieve with this. That doesn’t mean there weren’t higher goals that could’ve been reached, but I was at peace knowing that I’d given this dream my absolute “all” in the time I spent with it. And that’s when it’s OK to quit.
Just because you fail at something, you’re not a failure. And just because you move on to the next passion, you’re not a quitter
We have so much trouble believing that for some reason.
And you know what? Life is too short for that shit. (Sorry 4 the swearing, Mom.)
We should be allowed to pivot, and not look back.
I’m not saying “I quit and I never looked back.” In fact, I rarely believe the people that do
I struggled with this decision. I mean, really struggled. Agonized, even.
Should I move to New York and give Broadway a shot? Should I try a much smaller ballet company that expressed interest in me? Should I just say screw it all and burn all my leotards?
I still wonder how different my life would be if I’d stayed.
I wonder; I don’t regret. There’s a big difference.
“OK enough about you. What about me? When is it OK to quit my passion?”
1- When you aren’t filled with a childlike eagerness
Just because you’re older and less naive, you don’t have an excuse to quit. But when that twinkle of hope (you know the one I’m talking about) — that subtle excitement at the root of all of your decisions — when you can’t find any trace of that, it’s OK to move on.
When even your tippy-top “reach” dream doesn’t make you see stars, what do you have to look forward to?
2- When you’ve exhausted all options
Have you taken a break? Sometimes we just need some space in order to appreciate the things we really love.
Have you tried changing your setting? Sometimes it’s the ballet company (or crafting studio space, or violin teacher, or employer) that you have a problem with, not the actual passion.
Have you tried repurposing your passion so that you aren’t quitting it completely? For me, that is teaching ballet (which is still a lucrative side hustle, I might add).
It’s supporting local theater. It’s having solo dance parties on ‘the reg’.
3- When your life is in total unbalance, long-term
I’m not talking about when you are working on your new business, and so you buy more pre-made dinners. This is different from a few years of “all work and no play.” Sometimes, that kind of unbalance is necessary for success.
I’m talking the kind of unbalance where you have stripped away every other piece of your identity to pursue this one passion. You’ve sacrificed so much that if that singular passion is subtracted from your life, you have nothing. No time for family. No time for healthy eating. No time for personal development. No mental bandwidth for learning other things. No money for rent.
4- When … it’s not your passion anymore
When the effort, time, resources, and input into your passion have exceeded its benefits or your resulting joy, then you should pivot.
Because I am a serious, research-focused blogger, I asked my husband, “Hey, when is it OK to quit your passion?”
Me: “But what if you want to?”
Him: “Then it’s not your passion anymore.”
The brevity. The brilliance. Ugh, knew married him for a reason.
He explained in three seconds what took me 3,500 words. Cool, cool.
“But really, when is it OK to quit your passion?”
My cop-out answer is that only you can know the answer to that deeply personal question.
This isn’t a question of the 10,000 hours, and it’s not a matter of how much money you’ve put into it. It’s a feeling.
My non-cop-out, I-came-here-for-actionable-advice answer is this:
Does it make you happy? Does it serve a purpose?
If it’s not doing either, it’s time to move on
My story is obviously a specific example and won’t apply to everyone. (Although if you’re a dancer/are familiar with butt glue/have bought Epsom salts in bulk, holler at me!!!)
Maybe you poured thousands of dollars into your Etsy shop endeavor and then realized you never enjoyed crafting on a tight schedule. Maybe you quit your job to pursue blogging full time, only to realize that writing well is hard. Maybe you got an advanced degree in fine art, only to realize later that you’d really, really love the structure of a more traditional job.
Quitting a passion doesn’t mean you are quitting passion altogether
You can, and will, be excited about other things. I don’t think you should ever quit being excited about life, or ever stop pursuing the things that fulfill you. I just think that we are allowed to change what that thing is.
I’m giving you permission to pivot, but that doesn’t matter.
Give YOURSELF permission
Change courses. Try something new. Appreciate the effort you’ve put in, see if you can re-structure that skill set into something you do enjoy, or totally close that chapter and move on. You’re allowed. It’s OK!
Try. Fail. Grow. Evolve.
I’ll be here cheering you on from the other side – Jazz hands and all.
Isn’t SC a great writer…? I sure as heck think so. After seeing a few of her tweets and responding to a few of her comments on MikedUp Blog, I decided to check out what her blog was all about… And literally sent her an email 5 minutes later that ultimately led to me requesting her to write a post for us all to enjoy. It turns out that we have more in common than I originally imagined and I was really stoked to hear her opinions on this topic.
If you remember a previous post I wrote about why I write about physical fitness – I was forced to quit one of my passions (playing college football) at a similar age to SC. And although ballet and football may not seem so similar on the surface… You may be surprised. So I thoroughly enjoyed her story and then her take on when it’s cool to “call it quits and hang up the pointe shoes”.
What did you think? Did you enjoy SC’s story and do you agree with what shes says about when it’s a good time to move on from the thing you love? Because I think that her and I would both agree that learning how to adult can be difficult… Either way, let us know in the comments below! Both SC and I will be monitoring so that we can keep this conversation going!
Thanks for Reading!