By Amy Lancaster
Before I got into this totally foreign world of personal finance and investing (shout-out to Mark and Drew for hiring me), I was on a completely different path in my life. The 4-year-old in me was burning to come out, and at the age of 23, I decided to respond to that desire by pursuing a dance career.
I was classically trained in ballet since I could walk, but, unfortunately, I missed the boat on becoming a principle dancer at a company, so I thought that door had closed.
Enter the world of ballroom – a new style of dance to me. One that would give me the best memories of my life. One that would provide a celebrity-status lifestyle that I never even dreamt I could have. One that would let me live my dream of being a professional dancer in an entirely new world.
And one that nearly killed my wallet – and me.
While I enjoyed the ride, it was the most unstable rickety roller-coaster I had ever ridden. And the end result left me physically detesting dancing and cutting it out of my life for a good period of time.
If you’re struggling with the idea of whether or not to pursue your dreams, know that it’s not too late, and know that you should at least give it a try. You should, however, give it a try in the right way. Here are the mistakes that I made that led me to have to walk away from my dream, and here is what you can do to (hopefully) prevent that, and if not, how to overcome walking away.
1. Have a cushion.
This was my first mistake. I should have known that pursuing a dancing career from the beginning meant literally being a starving artist. I went into my adulthood with no savings, and, because I was only 23, still had no savings to speak of. As if you’re starting your own business, I would make sure you have at least six months’ worth of expenses in your bank account before making any career change this large. I thought the job that came along with ballroom dancing would take care of it, and it would have – if I had put the work.
2. Make sure your day job will pay for it.
The competing itself was fun. I loved staying at the studio until the late hours of the night perfecting my craft for my own dancing. The job itself, I loathed. As much as I prefer to tell people I was a ballroom dancer, I was truly, at the heart of it all, a ballroom instructor. Because I didn’t think this way, however, I didn’t succeed. If you’re teaching enough and have enough students competing, you can absolutely afford your own competing (we paid for everything out of pocket – travel, entries, coaching, hotel, costumes, shoes, hair and makeup – all of it). I was absolutely not teaching enough. Because I had the mindset of being a dancer, and not a teacher, I never perfected my skills to make sure I had a steady income. Most of my days, if I wasn’t teaching the maybe 2 out of a possible 10 lessons I could have had that day, was spent sitting on my butt wondering why I couldn’t keep a student to save my life. It was all about my mindset.
It took me a long time to come to resolution that I needed some sort of stable income to pursue what I really want to do – even if that meant working a “day job” to make that happen.
3. Don’t fall for the lavish lifestyle.
This may be dependent on what exactly your dream is – but this was certainly true in my case. Ballroom dancing is a very glamorous lifestyle. I had some of my fanciest, richest, elbow-rubbing-est life experiences in this job. I wore $3000 dresses like they were a pair of jeans. Necklaces donned my décolleté that were worth more than my rent. Could I afford any of it? Absolutely not. But, you had to look the part. It was expected to be well-groomed, high-fashioned, and lavish at all times. The other, more successful instructors wore Jimmy Choo’s and carried Louis Vuitton bags, so I tried to keep up with my knock-offs. Turns out, knock-offs cost money, too.
Keeping up with the Joneses is never a good idea. It’ll just make you unhappier, not only with your lifestyle, but with your finances as well. Plus, you may end up putting yourself in a more dire situation – like losing your apartment.
4. Know it’s O.K. to ask for help.
As I got older, and my parents became more strict on giving me money (which, thank you for that, by the way. Seriously.), I grew this perception of being so independent that I didn’t need help, and that asking for help was a sign of weakness. I also got this idea in my head that my parents wouldn’t help me as an adult, because they did not “help me” as a teenager. Now I know that, as a person who was a late teen during the housing bubble burst, they financially could not help me. They are still recovering from this. I know now that of course they would help me – but financially, they just could not. And this stung during my dancing days.
Don’t be stubborn about asking for help. Even if you don’t think you do, there is a very good chance that you have someone in your life who will help you get back on your feet, whether it be financially, or giving you a place to live, or even driving you to work to save on gas money. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People want to help, believe it or not.
Unfortunately, in my case, it was too little too late – by the time I admitted I needed help, I was already at the head of my career, and I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life.
5. Know when to quit.
I still remember vividly the day that I quit, despite it being almost three years ago. I left my apartment intentionally early so I wouldn’t have to face any of my other co-workers, and I still didn’t get there until about an hour before work was meant to start because traffic was unusually heavy that day. I attempted to convince myself that it was a sign that I shouldn’t leave, but I wasn’t thinking logically at this point. I was about to lose my home. I couldn’t pay my bills. I hadn’t slept in weeks. I was losing weight to the point where people would ask my dance partner if I was okay. It was killing me to stay.
It took me a very long time to get over it, but I will say – it was quite possibly the best decision I could have made for my mental health and my financial health. I’m still slowly climbing back up from the effects, but the direction is upward, and that is what is important.
Now, my work-life balance is much more stable; I have savings, I can actually budget because my paychecks are consistent – I have even been able to go back to school because I can financially afford it and I have time for it now. So, while I miss dance and what could have been, I know that this is better for me in the long run.
I do want to figure out how to budget dance classes into my finances, however. I think I’m finally ready to go back – and this time, for fun.