The career transition column by Liz Weldon
My last season, I tried implementing regular meditation and mindfulness practices. Around Thanksgiving, I was using a meditation app and I sat down to do a meditation focusing on gratitude. I remember listening to this meditation, and all I felt was anger, frustration and bitterness.
I was frustrated by my career. I was bitter that I had missed out on years of training that my coworkers had had. I was in my mid-thirties and felt like I ran out of time because I started so late (see the first installment). I didn’t feel like I had the chance to fully develop as a dancer; that I was perpetually trying to catch up. Underneath it all, I was angry and disappointed with myself for not speaking up about how badly I wanted to be a dancer during my formative years; for not advocating for myself and what I really wanted, but had instead buried inside and denied for many years.
During that meditation, I couldn’t get to that place of being grateful. That experience felt like a huge indication that something needed to change. I knew I was stuck mentally.
For the rest of the time I was dancing, I focused on shifting my perspective to being more grateful. I wanted to be at peace as much as possible. I just wanted to try to savor and enjoy it as much as I could. I tried to be present, notice every moment on stage, and treat every opportunity as such a gift because I knew that it would be gone soon. There are meditation practices that focus on death in the idea that if we see everything as impermanent, it can in turn help us appreciate our lives more, and find value in the simple pleasures of living.
The final months of my career were about finding appreciation in everything with the understanding it would all end. Not that complex emotions weren’t still present, but I think I had a better way of relating to those feelings. I had found more of a sense of acceptance. Through meditation, I was better able to see the situation I was in and have the awareness that I had to choose to leave in order to choose myself. I could also observe the mental tension I was living with from experiencing ongoing cognitive dissonance: I was struggling to reconcile being a dancer while seeing the disgusting aspects of the industry and disagreeing with the way people were being treated.
In Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life, he suggests one of the ways to cultivate a positive brain is to practice gratitude. Achor is a leader in studies on positive psychology, a NY Times bestselling author, and featured on the cover of Harvard Business Review. His research shows that certain practices, such as finding 3 things you’re grateful for 21 days, can rewire your brain to be more positive and that having a more positive brain leads to success, versus thinking that it is success that leads to happiness. While this can be a useful tool, it should also be said that if you’re experiencing trauma in your work environment, as many dancers do, additional options should be explored.
Listen to Achor’s TedTalk
Read more on Why Gratitude Is Good