Thursday, October 11, 2012

A new life.

It's official: I am taking a leave of absence for a year, and moving to NYC to pursue teaching social dance full time.

It was not an easy decision to make, given the many reasons that I should stay in school at Stanford. But thanks to the encouragement and support of trusted friends (as well as some unexpected acquaintances), I have found the courage to pursue something I love.

It's scary to completely shift your professional focus. I have lived two separate lives for the past eight years: one in engineering and one in dance. They don't commonly intersect, especially when it comes to advancing my career in each. For the first time, I am making dance my top priority and treating it as a full-time job. I have never lived as a freelance artist, never made my livelihood dependent upon the spending whims of others, or based my ability to feed myself on my ability to market my talents on a continuous basis.

But that's what change is for: to push us in new directions. And boy am I being stretched -- in all kinds of directions. 

I am redefining my relationship to money. I am used to living on not much (graduate salary was ~$15K), but I will be making a fair bit less than that in dance, especially in the beginning. Up until now, I have lived frugally and found that my spending habits naturally balanced with my income level. Now I will have to start making sacrifices, particularly in my living space and eating habits. I am moving into a much smaller space, which means divesting myself of most worldly possessions. I will bring with me to NYC what I can fit into two checked bags and a carry-on. It's interesting how much attachment I have to things that I never use, like books or dishware or my Xbox. But at the end of the day, those things don't matter much. 

I am now living in a vastly unstructured work environmnt. Whereas in school, I have classes to attend, homework to complete, exams to study for, and research to conduct, in the dance world I am entirely my own boss. I answer only to myself. That means I must find a way to motivate myself to practice dance or work on promotional tasks instead of watching another episode of The Daily Show. It's been a surprisingly big challenge to learn how to be productive without external motivators like a grade. I think exploring productivity in this space will prompt tremendous growth on my end, but only through a lot of frustration and difficult times. 

I am fully redefining myself as a dancer, not an engineer. I have spent most of my life working on disciplining my mind. Now I must make a stronger practice of disciplining my body, moreso than ever before. I'm excited about it, but it has been rather difficult to find a normal stride. I suppose that's natural in the growing pains of dramatically shifting one's direction in life. Being a dance instructor also calls upon a less practiced set of skills, such as marketing, networking, and business management, just to name a few. Again, all things that I'm excited to work on, but man it's going to be a learning process.

In conjunction with this radical definition of self, I am embarking on a new relationship. The effervescent Jennifer Sowden appeared in my life over the summer. Our origins story is almost something out of a movie script.

Jenny is the reason I'm moving to NYC; she's been living there for the past six years. She has a weekly swing series going, and now we are planning to expand operations and do a couple nights of swing and one night of blues classes each week. It will be nice to have something regular to build. On weekends, I hope to keep traveling to teach workshops.

It won't all be entirely focused in New York. I am already planning to take the entire months of March and June for European tours. (Most exciting of all, the transatlantic flights for both are already covered! That's the most difficult part.)

Mixed emotions surround the decision to move to NYC. It will be good for our relationship (because we will actually get to be together), and we will get to explore the crazy world of being in a romantic relationship + dance partnership + teaching partnership + business partnership. I'm also excited to live in the bustling metropolis that is NYC with someone who knows many hidden gems of the city. I am not so excited about the higher cost of living. I am way less excited (read: quite sad) about leaving my friend base on the west coast. Yes, they will travel with me in spirit and always be there for me, but I know that I will see them less. I will also see my family even less than I do now -- yet another sad consequence of moving east. Still, it will be a valuable experience to move so far away from home, to a land vastly different from my past experience. When the time is right, people can benefit a great deal from changing their base of operations and forging a new life elsewhere.

A new profession, a new way of life, a new location, a new relationship.

As a dear friend said to me earlier today: "It sounds not boring."

My thoughts exactly.

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