By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 25, 2013
I studied ballet at the old Metropolitan Opera when Antony Tudor, the famous choreographer, was the head of the ballet school. In fact, Margaret Craske was the teacher most students considered to be more important. She had danced with Pavlova in the ’20s.
Miss Craske instructed us: “Leave your problems outside the classroom.”
This excerpt comes from an upcoming book by my mentor, David Leddick. David continues:
Such good advice. And in that hour and a half of intense concentration on every part of your body, the music, the coordinating with other dancers you really couldn’t think about your troubles and it was great escaping them. You emerged much more relaxed and self-confident.
We worked hard. We never had a sick day. You went on even if you had to lie down in the wings until you were needed. No one thought this was unusual.
At the Met, the powers that be were only interested in two things: how well you sang and how well you danced. Your race didn’t count, your background, sexual preferences, family, none of that mattered. You had to deliver. That was the sole standard. It was great.
In later careers all of this has stood me in good stead. I never had to work that hard in any of the various worlds I entered. I knew the quality of the work I was doing. Dancing at the Met was a wonderful experience and a wonderful preparation for the rest of my life.
2013 is almost over. How will you and I handle our work in 2014? What’s so great about “Leave your problems outside” is it’s applicable even if we’re only going to have one hour a day to pursue our artistic dreams.
One hour is plenty if we banish all distractions at the doorstep. We enter our workspace, which is sacred space even if it’s only a cubby at the end of our double-wide with a hand-scrawled sign:
KIDS STAY OUT NEXT 60 MINS.
One hour is plenty if we focus. It’s plenty if we block out the self-censor and the inner critic. It’s plenty if we play. It’s plenty if we give it our all.
It doesn’t have to be hell in our “classroom.” It can be like it is for me or it was for David: the one time of the day when we are really ourselves, really working from our belly, really laying it on the line.
David has another axiom (actually he has many): “You can only feel for an hour and a half a day.”
You can only muster your emotions and really focus on life for about an hour and a half a day. I used to go to ballet class every day for that fated hour and a half. I loved it. I concentrated on it. I was living fully and emotionally every minute I was there.
We can’t do much better, all of us in this coming year, than to keep in mind these two maxims of David’s.
Inside the walls of our workspace, our job is not to compete with others. It’s not to shoot the moon, or prove something to those who doubt us. It’s not to get rich or win an Oscar or get bought by Google.
Our job is to speak with our own voice and do the best we can. Enter with intention. Enter with humility. Enter with focus.
Leave your problems outside.
And have a Merry Christmas!