I used to wonder how long my ballet career would last. As I would ponder this question and run it by other artists who had already or were about to retire, I would often get the same answer:
"You'll know when it's time."
That seemed to me like the most idiotic cop-out of an answer that anyone could come up with. As a younger artist I often poo-pooed this idea. However, there is something to be said for respecting and listening to those who go before you. I have learned that no matter what I may think of someone either from a personality standpoint or an artistic one, I must respect experience. It turns out that I am here today eating my words. It really is almost that simple. When it was time for me, I just knew. Let me take it a step further and say that it really helped that I knew what I wanted to do next, and I believe that as long as artists keep something else to strive for, then they too will "just know" when it is time.
I have had the great fortune to live without roommates in a lovely(and inexpensive) loft apartment for almost six years now. It feels more like home to me than anywhere I've lived. When I first stumbled upon this apartment several years ago I said to people, "One way I'll know that I'm ready to finish and move onto my next career is when I can look at my large apartment full of all my lovely things and say-ok! I don't need this stuff anymore." I feel strong enough now to let this go. I believe that my loft has definitely played an important part in my life, but now I'm ok with preparing to say goodbye to it all.
Another thing I had said was that I would know I was ready to retire when I could look back at all of the roles I've danced and be satisfied. Of course there are things that I know I will never get to do that I would have loved to, but I feel fulfilled enough to let those things go. I think this is just perhaps another tiny part of what I hope is large personal growth. I suppose I could just be in denial, but I don't think that's true.
It's so strange to be rediscovering things that I first said years ago. It helps reassure me that I'm making the right decision. It also makes me feel good to know that I've always had a plan of action-even when I didn't realize it. There won't be any surprises for me because I've always known that a day would arrive when I would stop. I will work to keep this attitude and focus. It helps me enjoy what I'm doing right now. I hope that I will eventually be able to offer young dancers or those who are wondering when to finish a bit more than "You'll just know when it's time," but for now, I'll just smile and tell them to soak it all in-every moment.