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Of Life Passion, Lost and Found

Running into an old classmate from college, my first question to her was, “Do you still dance?”

“Mom, dance?! No way!”

The tween boy beside her stared at me like I was crazy. Yet I remembered her to be a most graceful dancer, rhythm and melody in her every move. She would often be missing from college classes, off to some riyaaz, rehearsal or performance. More than anything else, her dancing seemed to give her the greatest joy and in my memory of her, it was a large part of her identity.

“No,” she said ruefully. “I haven’t danced in over 14 years.”

She admitted to missing it terribly. But in balancing work and her family, somehow she had lost touch with it completely. So much so that her children didn’t even know she was immersed in it at all, let alone to a defining degree. She said she had thought often of going back to it. But there never seemed to be enough time, or point.

This is a story I hear often from peers. Of having a passion in our youth that is now lost. Whether it was an art, a sport, a skill, or merely an interest, many of us had that one thing that fueled us and helped us decide who we are. And yet, we now lead lives in which that hobby doesn’t feature at all.

Most of us cannot pinpoint the moment we lost it. Perhaps it started when we began our professional journeys and our days were consumed by long working hours and unrealistic deadlines. (Crafting a career around a passion was not much of an option for our generation.)

Some of us did fight valiantly to keep our life passion alive. In my 20s, I was part of a theatre group that entirely comprised lawyers, bankers and consultants determined to do something creative; my brother-in-law played squash five days a week. The time spent in those studios and courts nourished and energized us. Of course, rehearsals and practice games would never begin before 9 pm, and we barely slept. It was a constant struggle to juggle it all.

Perhaps it slid a little further away when we had children, and parenting brought even more balls to keep in the air. It was a combination of my kids giving me great joy (so perhaps I didn’t notice the loss at first) and sleep getting scarcer that killed my own dancing, something I had deeply enjoyed since I was 10. Then, between career and family, there was enough guilt to go around already. Work kept me away from my children most of the week; the ‘indulgence’ in a personal interest or hobby was not even considered.

  In striving to strike a good work-life balance, I limited the definition of ‘life.’

The few times I did practice were frustrating because my body could never keep up with what my mind knew I was once able to do. And soon, what had seemed like a short hiatus from a passion inadvertently became a full-scale retirement.

One can blame many things, but honestly, I myself was responsible for short-changing this vital part of life. In striving to strike a good work-life balance, I limited the definition of ‘life,’ defined a satisfactory situation as one in which I could have a family while remaining at work. I left no room for leisure, for pursuing a life passion – unconsciously assuming it to be a guilty desire instead of essential replenishment.

One good thing about realizing that you are responsible for your own mess is that you know it is within your own reach to fix it. And so, I and many of my old friends are doing just that. (Maybe hitting a milestone birthday has something to do with the self-reflection and resolutions.)

A dear friend spent all her evenings and Saturdays this past year locked up in her home-office, writing a book and fulfilling her life dream as it was published. I recently went back to dancing, practicing and performing with a troupe. A third has resurrected his old college band and can be found strumming his guitar in his garage with other balding, paunchy middle-aged boys every Sunday morning.

It’s been surprisingly smooth to incorporate a little ‘play’ back in our lives. Indeed, our children are older, and the years of constant hands-on parenting are behind us. We are also deliberately more patient with ourselves. I am constantly reminding myself to simply enjoy the practice and not to be daunted by the Energizer-Bunny-like 20-year-olds around me or the creak of my old bones.

And rather than feel guilty, we’ve chosen to share our interests with our kids. A friend who enjoys martial arts joined her son’s weekly judo class. It took some work to convince the teacher to take on a 40-year-old alongside 5-year-olds and offered great amusement value to everyone involved. But she gets to pursue her interest while spending time with her son.

That is a risk of course — looking foolish in your kids’ eyes as you dust off your art or skill and try again (particularly if they are almost-tweens like mine are). My daughter came to my last concert and diligently made a list of all of the mistakes she saw. (As a dance student herself, she could catch errors that the audience couldn’t.)

Yet I want to believe she saw something else, too. That in watching her mother not care if she looks silly as she carves out time and effort for the things she loves, my daughter saw her own capacity to find and stick to what she cares most about.

We fancy ourselves to be Clark Kents, my friends and I, leading regular lives till we disappear into garages and dressing rooms and emerge as Supermen, saving our own souls. Then, when we are done, we go back to the straight-and-narrow, the only trace of our superpower being the spring in our step, the glint in our eyes – and the self-assurance that we haven’t entirely given up on ourselves.

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