17: Too Much of a Good Thing

17: Too Much of a Good Thing

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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Too Much of a Good Thing

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.

~Thomas Merton

Dancers occupy the lowest rung on the ladder of the art world. Patrons will occasionally pay visual artists and musicians for their work, singers and actors can rake in the big bucks, but dancers? Forget it. There are very few financially viable career opportunities for those of us who choose to dance.

So when I received my first job offer, fresh out of grad school, I was overjoyed: a full-time position as Arts Education Director at the Children’s Studio School in Washington, D.C. Never mind that my commute was going to be an hour in each direction. I had a job!

Then, before I even started work, I was offered another position: part-time instructor of modern dance at the University of Maryland. I had to commit to spending my Saturdays on campus, but my office hours were flexible. This would not conflict with my full-time position at the Studio School. As long as I put in the required forty hours per week in D.C., I was golden. Now I had two jobs!

You may not believe it, but my good luck did not end there. I soon received a phone call asking if I was interested in another part-time faculty position: Goucher College needed a Dance Education Specialist to teach a course that fall. I was the perfect candidate, having just completed a master’s degree in this exact subject. How could I say no? That’s right, I ended up with three jobs!

However, in order to put in enough hours at my full-time job, I had to get up before the crack of dawn, drive an hour in the dark, and sweat through eleven-hour days at the Studio School. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I drove an additional hour and a half to teach my education course north of Baltimore. After fighting the tail end of rush hour traffic all the way home on the Beltway, I’d collapse into bed, often too tired to even eat dinner.

Did I mention I was newly married? My husband and I were living together for the first time after enduring a two-year separation while I attended grad school in New York City. And I decided we really needed to adopt a puppy to make us feel like a family. If you have ever owned a puppy, you already know the fluffy balls of fur are irresistible but practically as much work as a newborn infant. Many sleepless nights ensued. There was much crying and whining. Some of it from the puppy.

As I battled through that fall semester, I began to wonder where the joy had gone. Here I was, living the life of my dreams. I was in love with a wonderful man. We had a house, a yard with a vegetable garden, and a beautiful little puppy. I had not one but three fabulous and highly coveted jobs in my field. And yet, I was angry and irritable during the vast majority of my waking hours. My husband and I fought over everything from the dishes to the laundry to the training of our pup. My fuse grew shorter and shorter until it took almost nothing to set me off.

On a particularly bad Thursday of a week that felt longer than a month, I had scheduled a hands-on teaching experience for my education class. The students and I showed up at the on-campus daycare center to share a carefully planned creative movement lesson with a group of four-year-olds. Disaster is the only word to describe the fiasco that took place: children running in all directions, knocking over desks and chairs, ignoring suggestions, climbing on top of each other and rolling on the floor like a troupe of crazed monkeys. In order to control the chaos, I was reduced to screaming at the top of my lungs, a very big no-no for an education specialist! The gaping mouths on my students’ shocked faces told me in no uncertain terms, I had stepped over the line.

Driving home that evening, the light finally dawned on me: I had too much of a good thing.

When I examined all the commitments I had made, I realized not only was I stretched way too thin, I was receiving very little enjoyment from most of the work I was doing. I was stressed to the breaking point, spending too many hours driving on crowded highways, rushing from one place to the next, not to mention the constant worrying about the little details that inevitably slipped through the cracks. I couldn’t do my best at any of these jobs, and that included being a wife and a puppy mommy.

So I quit.

In fact, I quit the full-time position at the Studio School. I completed the single-semester commitment at Goucher and ended up with only one job, and a part-time job at that. But as it turned out, one part-time job was plenty for me.

Now, instead of sitting for hours in traffic, I was able to sit in my claw foot tub and enjoy a good soak. Instead of skipping dinner, I harvested fresh tomatoes from my garden and made spaghetti sauce. My husband and I had time to hike with our puppy and even throw a dinner party on occasion. In other words, I had a life. Not just a career, but an actual, fulfilling life.

I discovered too much of a good thing can be a very bad thing. But in the end, I found the perfect balance for me.

~Liz Rolland

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