Years ago, I was teaching a Humanities course in a Summer School Program at Wayne State University. We studied a short story by Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis. This story was disturbing to say the least. A man wakes up one morning to find that he is a large insect, and he freaks out his family and their boarders. So why am I thinking about this at 7:00 a.m.? Because last night, I was having one of those times when I was asking myself if I was going to let things in my new career “evolve,” or was I going to totally abandon my mission and try on a new lifestyle? When I looked for an academic definition of “evolve,” it said, “metamorphose.” Needless to say, I’m not planning to be an insect any time soon, and if I were, I would choose to be a butterfly with beautiful colors and a wingspan like Rachmaninov’s 14-note reach.
So what’s that got to do with my message? Everything. Do you ever start a project, work your self to a frazzle, succeed, and then ask yourself, “Do I really want to repeat this?” Well, that’s the point. Let’s say you’re an artist. You spend months painting the most beautiful landscape you’ve ever attempted.Your fingers are sore, your arms ache, and your energy is sapped. It wins a huge award, and you are written up in the art journals. You revel in your success for a month or so, and then someone asks you to paint the same painting three more times. Get my point? “No,” you say. “I’m ready to move on to my next project.” Well, that’s where I am.
I don’t like it when my fingers hurt, my arms ache, my energy is sapped. Was it worth it? You bet your life it was. I am drained, but deliciously so. Do I want to repeat the process next week? I don’t think so. So what’s the answer? Give up all I’ve worked for or perform when I’m not in the “zone?” The obvious answer is to “Take 5.” Five weeks, 5 months—whatever it takes to “refresh.” I often wonder how concert performers repeat the same performance night after night, even year after year (the same show) and don’t burn out. I assume the energy of the audience and the success propels them, but at what price?
I remember when I was in my 40s, I had a small but hilarious role in a play (one for which I was paid, actually). The run was five week-ends. After it was over, I ended up with pneumonia and was out of work for another five weeks. Was it worth it? Absolutely not. Fortunately, the work I would be out of presently would be watching sunsets, lying by the pool, riding my bike and going to the theatre with Mr. Wonderful. Am I willing to give all that up for the applause? Nope. You see the dilemma.
Butterfly or star? Hmm. How about you? Are you or have you ever been in this situation? What was your decision? Was it a no-brainer, or are you still grappling with it?