The career transition column by Liz Weldon
During my career I also had challenging personal relationships that affected me in the work space. I went through a really difficult break up with a coworker who I had been with for many years. And the man I was in a relationship with next broke up with me on the first day back to work after a summer layoff. I came home from work that first day and found all of my belongings from his house returned to my apartment and that was it. Around the same time I had a falling out with my best friend in the company. These back to back relationship endings were traumatic for me at the time. I felt so hurt and betrayed and really lost trust in other people. I began to isolate, and went through a time of being very fearful and paranoid.
I had friendships at work, but I really longed for deeper connections that I struggled to find. I started to develop an internal narrative, or story, that as long as I was dancing, dance would require that I sacrifice every personal relationship in my life. I loved dance, but I was also deeply conflicted internally. I internalized a lot of self-inflicted guilt for wanting to be a dancer and spent most of my career punishing myself in a way. I really struggled to allow myself to enjoy it.
I began to blame my career for preventing me from connecting with others. To dance, I had to move away from my family, and I struggled to have relationships that would last. In a way, I think I believed I had to sacrifice everything else to dance. Operating this way left me with a sense of loneliness and unfulfillment in my life. I wasn’t progressing in my career the way I had hoped, and I really wanted a partner who would be supportive of me and my career. I felt like I was struggling to manage relationships, romantic or otherwise, while dancing. I felt like I had to leave because I didn’t see a future for myself where I was.
This past April, Vivek H. Murthy, MD, United States former surgeon general, published a book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. In it, he emphasizes the importance of human connection for our physical and mental health. I realized I wanted to be more connected with people outside the ballet world, to have new experiences, and be able to spend more time investing in meaningful human connections.
Close-up by Kay Tien
THE DOMINO EFFECT
What Liz experienced was the domino effect of her identity toss-up, to the point where she felt socially disconnected and cut off from people within the company, and sadly, the people she sought support from. What's even more interesting is that as Liz searched for deeper connections with those in her chosen field, it came at the rejection and resentment of the industry itself. The internal narrative blamed ballet at its core for the sacrifices made and thus resulting in the lack of meaningful connection and career fulfillment. Her hunger for anything but ballet only intensified under these circumstances.
As a former ballet dancer, I understand the pressure of living an all-encompassing life dedicated to ballet, and having transitioned outside the bubble, I know just how damaging it is to become overly developed in one area. Ballet, like life, is not a guarantee, and as much as we want to sugar coat that narrative, the truth and reality are concrete. Your dancer-athlete identity may be a major aspect of you as an individual, but it's not the only one.
Head over here for further insight on how to combat loneliness.