Not Another Inspiration Story

OK I’ll say it. I love my job. I love the people I work with in the community. I love performing and touring. I love being a creative practitioner. I love being an artist, a dance maker and movement shaker. I love the variety. I love the start of a new project and the ending of another. It’s a wonderful, nurturing and fulfilling career that keeps me on my toes and I feel privileged to do what I do. But I’ll also say that a career is only one part of your life, not the whole of it.

I have been known on occasion to get swept up in the ‘this is everything’ mentality and that ‘if you’re not pouring your heart & soul, blood, sweat & tears into this, are you really an artist?’ For a long time – particularly the early days when I took myself far too seriously because did you know ‘this is a lifestyle choice not a job?’ – I understood that working in dance and performance was my passion and that to be fully committed to my art, I must focus all my creative energy into it. And really, it’s not difficult to see why anyone whose self employed would have this attitude, regardless of the industry. There’s a certain level of drive, determination and commitment necessary to be self employed; to network and put yourself in the eyeline of others (to ‘put yourself out there’ as they say), audition and write funding bids without having the immediate reward of a paycheck at the end of the month. So obviously you need to love it to do it.

I am totally guilty of this. Over caring and giving too many f**k’s. A lecturer at college used to say “it’s just a stupid dance” as a reminder to keep calm.

Basically to chill the f**k out.

In November I read a book called BIRDS ART LIFE DEATH : The Art of Noticing the Small and Significant by Kyo Maclear. On discovering a musician who spends his time photographing birds, Maclear follows him for a year and allows those experiences to influence her life and writing. As well as offering details about her experiences and interactions with the birds, Maclear gives examples of individuals, well known for their artistic contribution in one field, who were passionate about something else altogether. The poet Emily Dickinson was a keen gardener and herbalist spending much of her time in her garden, providing a constant source of inspiration for her writing. After her death it was revealed that over a third of her poetry was inspired by her garden. There are many examples in the book but Dickinson’s love of her garden is the one I remember most.

This book gave me the permission to commit fully to my passion for hiking. Over the past few years I’ve known I want to invest more time in the outdoors, hiking long distance trails. In 2018 I set off with my partner on our first long distance hike: 96 miles over 8 days along The West Highland Way in Scotland. To cut a long story short this was an adventure of a lifetime and ended on the last evening in Fort William with me crying into my fish and chips in the pub. I felt overwhelmed. Actually I felt a lot of emotions: proud of our achievement, devastated it was over, relieved that it was. I couldn’t comprehend driving back to Sheffield and resuming normal life. I couldn’t comprehend how I wasn’t going to wake up the next morning, pack the tent and walk to the next stop. It made me crumble. I feel the same way writing it now. Homesick for our tent, for being free, for being fully alive.

Back to November last year. I was listening to BBC Radio Sheffield in the car (another favourite activity of mine) when they had a guest on chatting about her hiking adventures. Over a couple of years @adventurer.nic (name on instagram) introduced hiking and the outdoors into her life to the point where she quit her job, sold her home and walked all the Munros in Scotland in 6 months. So I’m not about to up sticks & go backpacking round the world for a year, but from listening to Nic’s adventures and following her on instagram I did discover a huge community of people who love the outdoors and share their experiences online. Obviously this is not news. Social media is full of different communities but its primary use for me had been connecting and networking in dance. Now I had an endless source I could tap into and feed my new curiosity. Up until now I’ve completed 3 long distance hikes with Rufino. I knew I was into it (obviously, we’re choosing blisters over sun loungers for holidays) but entering this world on social media opened new possibilities. I was inspired. I wanted to invest as much time into this as possible. So I set up a blog & instagram account for our hiking adventures in order to keep it seperate from my work social media and also to give it a dedicated platform. But the more social media accounts I discovered and podcasts I listened to, the more I began to hear similar sounding stories:

“well I was in a dead end job stuck in an office 9 – 5… in the rat race… invested in my career for 10 years… realised how unhappy I was… then I discovered adventure… wanted to make adventure a bigger part of my life… so I quit my job, sold my house and moved to the Lake District… now I’m a travel writer… an instagram influencer… a paddle board instructor… a photographer… oh and I’ve bagged a lot of mountains”

Ok so not everyone had the same story. I’m generalising. But there was a surprising amount of inspirational’ stories like the ones above. Whilst brilliant and inspiring, I knew I didn’t need that. I don’t need that. On the contrary, I’m in a career I enjoy not a dead end job. Which is why this isn’t another inspiration story.

(But I am obsessed with hiking…)

Reading BIRDS ART LIFE DEATH, there was a real click moment for me. Maclear reflects on artists having something else that motivates them other than their work. The musician she follows – and only ever refers to as the musician – has a career in music, but Maclear associates with him as the bird photographer. My main take away from the book is that it’s ok to have multiple identities expressed through different passions. Having something else to sustain you, something other than your work, is a good thing.

Permission granted, you can be obsessed with something other than your job!

Initially I was worried committing to something else would pull my focus away from work because remember ‘if you’re not pouring your heart & soul into it…etc etc’. But the irony is that it hasn’t removed energy from my work, it has aided it by removing the intensity. 

Last year I wrote a blog post called The Commitment. It’s me reflecting on procrastination, imposter syndrome and navigating the highs and lows of creative confidence and insecurity. I wrote, ‘I will not seek all my validation for my identity through my work’, (clearly I’ve been thinking about the work-life balance for some time). For years my focus and goal was to secure regular and consistent work. Once this has been achieved and maintained for a few years naturally the goal posts need shifting, making me reevaluate.

And not all goal posts need to be work oriented…

So like everyone in this world, I have many identities. And I’m excited to say one of those is a hiker.