If I were to paint a picture of myself in a relatively flattering light, I would say that I have the focus of a horse wearing sturdy blinders, sights set relentlessly on the task at hand, the goal waiting in the visible distance.
I’ve always been this way.
I was the kid who needed reminders like “are you going to eat dinner any time soon?” or “have you gone to the bathroom recently?” to interrupt my long hours of nonstop creative time at my art table in the playroom, for example. I’d sit there and draw and paint and experiment with pastels for as long as I could get away with it.
I didn’t budge. In this way and many others, focus and discipline seemed to run through my veins from the start, informing everything about who I inherently was and who I’d surely become.
That said, I’ve never been the person who does it all and does it well. I’m the person who gives her all to only one thing, settling for nothing short of brilliance. At least, I was that person—until I realized that this strange perception of what brilliance would look like proved unreachable, my hunger for excellence never being fully satisfied.
And because that one thing on which I focused at the time was all I had, I left myself with nowhere to fall back, no support to catch me when I tumbled down from the high of working so hard to climb a mountain so steep.
So through this messy process of becoming, I’ve learned the hard way that such determination has its faults; I can recount several instances in which I’ve kept myself narrow-minded, bereft of opportunity, completely isolated and painfully hopeless as a result of my intense focus, the main problem being that because I devote myself wholeheartedly to whatever I’m striving to achieve, I leave virtually no space for anything else. Sure, it seems obvious in retrospect that this is a bit too extreme of an approach to be at all healthy or sustainable, but it took a few crises to figure that out no matter how many people warned me.
See, as a dancer, this personality type is actually somewhat useful; training and eventually working in any fine art requires such steadfast determination to make the most of each day that heightened focus and self-discipline are perhaps the most necessary tools a student/professional can have—both of which should of course derive from the sheer love of the art itself. In fact, it’s safe to say that the only reason I’ve been able to dance professionally is because I am the way I am: self-motivating, obsessively focused and stubborn as hell.
But as we know, anything to an extreme leads to a little something called burnout.
It should have been shocking that I stopped dancing for a while not only once, but twice. It should have been completely surprising that I was so willing to give up after having such an unblemished track record of blind determination.
But it didn’t feel that way—I was too tired and spent to feel anything, really.
Both times I stepped away from dancing, I subconsciously channeled that energy elsewhere; I knew I’d have to put that intense focus on something, so I started writing. A lot.
I practiced yoga as much as I could and planned to enroll in teacher training. I took on the yogi-writer-trying-to-find-myself persona in a way that felt natural, though I soon realized upon stripping away my ego that I was merely coping with the loss of one identity by trying to take on another. When I started dancing again after the first break I took, I stopped writing. I stopped practicing yoga as frequently (to be fair, I couldn’t necessarily afford to get into classes as frequently and the option for a self-practice didn’t feel as available to me yet).
Then I stopped dancing for a second time and recommenced both my yoga and writing practice, and again I took the focus to its peak: I even started writing a rough (really, really rough) manuscript of a book. And I don’t just mean jotting down ideas…I mean I wrote over 50,000 words because it was all I did when I wasn’t working my side jobs.
I couldn’t break my focus from getting the words down.
And then I started dancing again. And then I stopped writing for a while. I dropped the manuscript.
The yoga got a little left behind as well.
And that brings me to the present, a place where I’m facing the discomfort of being scattered across several tasks as I’m currently dancing, writing, and yoga-ing—all of which I’m doing a decent amount. I’m finding that I want to enroll in a teacher training again. In short, I’m uncomfortable because I don’t know which person I should focus on being. I’m craving a sense of devotion, but I want to do it all. It sounds simple and quite logical (perhaps you’re thinking, “okay, then just do it all”), but this scattered state would normally send me into a tailspin of frantic events, leading me to focus on only one thing for a while—until the whole plan backfires and I end up in yet another meltdown/identity crisis.
This time, however, I feel different. I am different. I’ve been through this series of events at least two or three times before. I’m a few years older. I’ve learned a thing or six. And quite frankly, going through the process of climbing and falling and wallowing in my confused identity and lack of purpose again is not only extremely unappealing, but I can’t afford it (in both literal and mental/emotional senses).
So I find myself here with only one option, and that is to figure it out.
I say it to myself every day: Figure it out. Figure out who you are without being attached to anything you “might” call yourself. Figure out what it means to be. That’s all it is—a matter of existence. Figure it out.
So here I am, trying to figure out what that means, not in the context of what I do, but in light of the fact that I exist as this person, in this time, in this place. The keyword here of course is “trying,” and don’t be fooled: it’s hard work. Really hard work.
Most days I fail as I catch myself craving to commit wholeheartedly to “Sara the dancer” or “Sara the writer” or “Sara the whatever-I’m-feeling-that-day,” and I have to remind myself with a gentle but firm hand that this will only result in that familiar scene again—the one where I climb like mad only to feel defeated just inches from the top, subsequently ending in another identity crisis.
And at this point, that reminder is enough to keep me from heading down that road.
I’m simply too tired after having gone through it so many times in such a relatively short few years. Doing it even once more would be counterproductive and would likely drain me beyond anything I’d want to imagine.
But as overwhelming as it is, challenging myself to be scattered for once in my life without tripping into a meltdown, I’m surprising myself with the level of self-awareness I’ve begun cultivating as a result: While I’ve always associated finding center with being focused on one thing—by identifying with what I do as though that’s what makes me a person—I’m realizing that having a sense of who I am has less to do with what I do and more with how I do it.
This realization alone, this calling myself out on what’s happened before and why, is a huge deal; not only does it set the ego apart from the self, cowering in its smallness without the bolster of a human body and brain, but it questions its motives: “What does it matter anyway? Why do I need to be one thing or another? Why do you make that so difficult?”
And when the ego has no answer for me but the shrug of its (nonexistent) shoulders, it’s easier to find the answers for myself: It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to be any one thing or another. I can do everything I want to do. I can do whatever the hell I want.
I can keep dancing professionally. I can pick up writing again. I can keep up with my yoga practice. I can fulfill my desires to perform and tour with choreographers I admire, I can write countless articles and maybe even revisit that manuscript, I can fulfill my dream of obtaining a yoga teacher certification to eventually cater to mental health advocacy and healing practices.
I can do it all. Why? Not because I’m a dancer or a writer or a yoga-teacher-wannabe, but because I am passionate, creative, artistic, caring, compassionate, driven, eager, curious, invested, dedicated and loving—that is, I am who I am. And I can channel that me-ness in whatever ways I please so long as I remain with myself instead of identifying solely with what I do.
Sure, it’s still uncomfortable most of the time. This is new to me, being so stretched and scattered across so many facets of what I can do. But the fact is that finally, I feel that I can do it. It’s possible for me to have all these dreams and to be the person who goes after them simply because I know myself a little better this time around.
And I think this notion of finding center is based on exactly that: Knowing myself regardless of the directions I might go, trusting that no matter what I do, I’m always first and foremost who I am.
Author: Sara Rodriguez
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Jordan Sanchez via Unsplash