Sunday, September 20, 2009

Say what you mean/mean what you say.

I have been fortunate to have many opportunities in my ballet career. Although some seemed literally to fall into my lap, I can honestly say with full confidence that I have put the hours in for what I've received. I feel that I've earned every opportunity. Mind you, "earning" is different than "deserving." I may say it a million times throughout my postings, but I know that I have been extremely blessed, and I take nothing for granted.

One such opportunity came early when "Pointe Magazine" wrote a blurb about me beginning my career. It was a was surreal to think of myself being announced to the dance world, and of course I used the opportunity to say something that would plague me for the remainder of my life.

"Keeping a positive mindset and putting egos on the sideline make a difference in a performance."

I remember first reading the article when it came out and saying to some people, "Oh man, I'm really going to have to live up to that!" Throughout my years with the company, I have thought back to this article on numerous occasions, and it has really helped me.

I would be the first to stand and call myself a liar at this moment if I thought that I was implying that I've had a ten year career without complaining. Get real! I'm a dancer. Dancers and actors are the most passionate and dramatic of all artists, and when we have a complaint, it often isn't the quietest sentiment in the world! I will be the first to admit that I have given my fair share of complaints-some I've dealt with better than others.

Around the time this article came out, I was given the best and most infuriating piece of advice that I have ever received. A senior dancer in the company looked at me one day and simply said, "Matthew, you need to stop complaining." I was speechless. I went home, fumed for a good five minutes and then thought, "Hmmm.....maybe he's onto something." Why would this guy who had nothing against me deliver this statement if it wasn't true? I had a choice to make at that moment. I could say, "Who does this guy think he is?!?" Or, I could take the criticism and try to apply it. Thankfully, I chose the latter. So many times during my years working I've thought back to this when I've found myself complaining or being negative.

My Mother is the most annoying woman in the world when it comes to this subject, and I love her for it. In those early days when I was coming into this career and would have my bouts of complaining, she would simply say, "If you hate it so much-then quit." There is nothing that makes me as a human being angrier than someone speaking truth when I'm being a baby. Knowing that this would be her response has helped me to weigh my love and disdain for what I do many times throughout the years. I've allowed myself to have bad days without beating myself up for them. I allow myself to complain(trying to keep it to a minimum,) but at the end of the day, does my love for what I do outweigh the negative?

I have been so lucky to have numerous people in my life who are able to deliver this kind of honesty. As artists, we need to surround ourselves with these kinds of people. People who will simply coddle and give "poor baby" sentiments do nothing to help us grow. Yes, we need encouragement, but that should go hand in hand with "tough love."

There is another aspect to this issue. I have learned that in order for what I am talking about to work at all, I need to be open and spongelike. There is no other way to be. I cannot be afraid of healthy criticism. Yes, there are people who give advice that really isn't helpful and/or healthy, and the only way to discern the difference between the good and bad is to not instantly go on the defensive. When someone approaches you with something that may be difficult to hear, learn to breathe. This doesn't just apply to artists. As humans, if we allow ourselves to be open, I believe that in time we will become able to tell who to listen to and who to brush off.

This is a daily battle for me! As an artist, I take things so personally, and it only has gotten more difficult as the years have progressed. One piece of advice that I would like to offer to any young professional at the beginning of their career(regardless of the field) is to make a statement that will haunt you. Say something for which you will always have to hold yourself accountable.

I'm not going to say "stop complaining," but I will say that If you have a complaint, take the necessary steps to address and solve the issue. If at the end of the day you can't solve it or you find yourself hating what you're doing, do yourself and everyone else a favor and quit. Find your happiness-make your happiness.

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