Why We Study What We Study

I have a dancer friend from France whose parents encourage her to pursue a "real career" rather than dance. She's in NYC for an internship. You guessed it -- software engineer, like many of the great Lindy Hoppers of our generation. She sits in her dark office listening to jazz all day, dreaming of all the dancing to be had later that evening. The computer work doesn't fill any voids, in fact it drains her. 

She's meant to dance. I've known it since the first time I saw her. When she's on the dance floor, the entire room can feel it.

I've been thinking a lot about why we do what we do in this model of life the majority seems to follow. Why we go to college and study what we study...why so many parents shepherd their kids away from the arts to a job that can put food on the table. Mine even did.

They mean well, I don't have to explain why. But really, this sort of thinking leaves us at a place where the point of life is to be self-sustaining. If we're lucky, to provide for others too. All the while, we're told to find something we're passionate about -- because the majority of our time will be spent at work -- but it must fit into one of these self-sustaining careers. 

Some are lucky enough to figure this out brilliantly. Others flail, waver, and try to balance their passion with their day jobs. 

So I have to go back to the question: Why do we go to college and study what we study? I'd like to think the reason must stretch beyond being self-sustaining or even providing for others monetarily. Those are foundations, essentials. Sure. But, then what about passion?

Without passion, you're an empty vessel making money.

(Hopefully making money.)

I think the real reason we study what we study is to change lives, which could come in the form of inspiring others, discovering new solutions or resources, affecting social change, connecting people, and many other things. That's why doctors become doctors and teachers intensely study the subjects they teach to others. In the same way, there were several historic creators who developed a sort of common vein through which people meet and inspire one another. 

That said, there is definitely something wrong with our career ecosystem. I don't think there is enough education or guidance on choosing what to study. Either that or people don't know how to find it. In college, I thought I was doing my due diligence by visiting my academic advisor every semester. (I took them seriously when they said to do so during freshman orientation.) That really did help me slide down the college chute gracefully. I have a lovely B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations, and, not one but, two minors to prove it. Yet, like many, upon graduation, I was like -- "wtf am I supposed to do?"

I started swing dancing in the meantime. I was 23 year-old server and a directionless wreck. I danced my way through fear, anxiety, lostness, heartbreak, you name it. This dance pulled me out of a very dark time, and through difficulties that occurred later. I could sit here and say swing dancing, or any new passion pursuit for that matter, will change your life, but the truth is, you have to be willing to let it. You have to be willing to push through the uncomfortable stuff to get to those moments when you feel alive. 

The lessons we learn in dance are strangely and beautifully parallel to life. But, unlike life, the turnaround in dance is much quicker, and you often experience moments of acceptance soon after moments of rejection. Or moments of inspiration right after moments of frustration. I think that shapes the way you look at life. You begin to realize that although dances operate on an accelerated timeline, life follows a similar pattern. And therefore, when you're in a rough patch, you stop focusing on it so much because you realize there must be something good ahead. You start to look at time for the month rather than the week or the day, and the year rather than the week and you know from past years how everything can change so quickly. And like in dance, the strongest catalyst for that change is you and your choices moving forward. 

I think sometimes we all need reminding of why we do what we do -- what the point of all this is. Joy is a truly powerful emotion. Connection and a sense of belonging are two of the greatest healers I know. And if you're a part of creating events and instances where these things take place, where lives are changing, thank you. Thank you to musicians, organizers, volunteers, teachers, people who invite others to things, and people who occasionally step into these roles at random. Especially those who have the courage to make one of these things their full-time career, despite the lack of stability everyone warned you about. 

This is what I want to be a part of.

I moved to New York City in September to study Lindy Hop, Balboa, Blues, Solo Jazz ... etc. My ultimate goal is to open a dance studio where these dances and jazz are the primary focus. But it will also be a place for people to discover themselves so they can do whatever it is they're meant to do in life.

That friend I mentioned in the beginning -- I wish I could bring her parents here, sit them down, and tell them to watch her. Just watch. That's pure joy. That's the spirit that changes lives. THAT is the thing she can study to do what she's meant to do in this world.