Get on My Level

So many of our cultural narratives tell us to “go for it” — to “follow our dreams”, to “reach for the stars”, to overachieve. “Anything worth doing,” we are told, “is worth doing well.” Right?


Challenging Delusion

I’m not saying we should be totally without ambition, and I’m not saying we should never challenge ourselves. Hell, nearly everything I’ve taken up in my life has been a challenge. Take ballet, for instance: I’m head over heels in love, and I’ve got I better chance of seeing pigs fly than I do of becoming a professional dancer.

Now, when I tell people that I very often get a certain type of reaction.

It’s a “don’t be so negative” reaction. An “I’m sure you’re just being modest” reaction. It’s also a “what are you talking about, you’re so skinny” reaction, but that misses the point on so many levels that I’m not even going to start.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m not being unnecessarily negative or falsely modest. I do not have the natural facility to be a professional ballet dancer, period, end of story. That’s just facts, friends. Pretending I could is just self delusion — damaging self delusion (I could cite examples, but won’t on a public forum). I can’t, and won’t ever be a professional ballet dancer. But here’s the thing — that’s totally okay with me.

And yet so many people seem totally unable to comprehend that! Non-dancers and dancers alike have wondered why, if I don’t intend on going pro and never did, I invested so many hours in an activity that is, in a lot of ways, very unforgiving.

The answer is simple, and it’s this: I love to dance. If I’m not interested in being the next Julie Kent…so what?

A Sum of Parts

I do a lot of things. I dance, I write, I photograph. And study anthropology. And…you get the idea. A person is more than the sum of their parts, certainly, but those parts are pretty significant, and there are usually a lot of them.

What I want to say about all these activities, though, is that I do them at the level which I want to do them at. I love to dance but I know I wouldn’t be able to make it as a professional — so I trained at the highest level I could, and I take as much class as I can fit into my schedule, and I seek out as many performance and choreographic opportunities as I can.

I love to write, too. I’m good – not great- but I want to get better, so I try to write a lot and I do NaNo and I seek out feedback and I run this blog which nobody reads (except, like, three or four people, and believe me it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside that you do 🙂 ). I want to push myself to a higher level with my writing.

But take photography, for instance. I’m pretty good at photography – I have a little bit of a natural eye, and a basic working knowledge of composition and exposure, so my photos definitely look better than snapshots, and every so often I take one that I really like. But there are things that I could be doing with my photography that I’m not — I could be going to portfolio reviews, seeking out feedback, making friends who do photography and talking about it, etc. etc. And I’m not.

I’m happy with the level at which I photograph now – shall we say, semi-pro? – and I don’t really care to invest the time and the effort to do it at a higher level. At least, not right now.

The Ultimate Constraint

As much as I sometimes wish it weren’t true, there are only 24 hours in a day. And that means that — especially if you’re passionate about a number of things — there just isn’t time to pursue everything to the end of the line, so to speak.

Some things I prioritize over others, because I enjoy them more or because I’m better suited to them or simply because I like sleep and something’s gotta give.

So I don’t do everything at the highest level possible — I do everything at the level at which I’m comfortable. And that’s okay.

Your Levels

Thoughts? Do you have a lot of hobbies or interests, and if so, how do you balance them? Are you happy with the level at which you pursue them? Or do you disagree entirely with my premise, being one of those people who’s somehow an Olympic whatever with a doctorate from a top tier university and an Oscar from the acting they do in their spare time, in which case…don’t tell me!

6 thoughts on “Get on My Level

  1. This is actually something that I’ve had to come face to face with recently as well. And it was a bit of a hard lesson, to be honest.

    I mean, I gave up drawing very recently. Not like, gave it up completely, completely, but gave up the regimented, scheduled sketches I’d been trying.

    And that was just…the reality of the situation.

    I mean, I know, KNOW, that if I were to keep up that practice? In a couple years, I’d be able to get to a point where I’m reasonably happy with what I’m drawing. A point where I could actually put down on paper the things and the characters I saw in my mind?

    But…the cost to GET there seemed daunting. Essentially speaking, my current drawing ability and the level of ability I wanted to GET to….the gap was too large.

    It could be closed? But it would never be to the point where I could freelance consistently and make money off it. Never be to the point where my work would be shared all over the net and go viral like the art of those I admired.

    …So I put it away. Made the decision to put it away. To focus more of my time and effort on my writing and my guitar work, things where I felt the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be were…more manageable? Or, in the case of writing, where I felt that I couldn’t really do anything but to try for it (can’t give it up).

    So yeah…I agree with you.

    But the taste is rather bitter.


    • It is a bit bitter – there are SO MANY things I wish I could do, but I know I would never get to where I wanted to be if I split my attention that much.

      Having said that, accepting limits on certain activities/etc. makes life a lot less stressful.

      Six of one, half dozen of the other?


  2. I agree with you 100%. When I was young (even younger than you are now), I thought I could be the best at anything if I worked and tried hard enough. During college, at a school where I was in over my head, I learned the harsh reality. Sometimes, hard work and perseverance really aren’t enough. I like what you and thelordsnow both said–it’s not being negative, it’s being realistic.

    Honestly, I’m much, much happier since I learned that not only can I NOT be the best at anything, but more importantly, it doesn’t even matter! I can have fun and enjoy doing something without being the best.

    Why do I “waste my time” on something like that? Because I want to! And it’s fun! I put as much or as little time into improvement as I want to, based upon how much I enjoy working on it.

    So now that I’m old, I spend my time on stuff that I enjoy and I don’t really worry about how good I am!


  3. Pingback: The Enthusiastic Yes | The Great Novel Adventure

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