This meme of Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, has been making the rounds of social media this week. The first time I saw it posted by a former cast member of mine, it struck a deep chord. For the longest time, I had felt exactly the same about my own profession and dreams. I felt conflicted – I knew I had a purpose in life, but I felt like my purpose was fruitless. After years of feeling unfulfilled with “happiness” as an answer as to why I do what I do, I realized some things: 1) happiness is something worth fighting for and 2) there is a lot more to what I do than making myself and others happy.
“All of my friends are nurses and teachers, and me? …”
I went to a college that was particularly strong in nursing and education. While most of my friends were set on either of those paths, I found myself studying business with a minor in performing arts. I breezed by classes while I watched my peers struggle and stress out, and all for a great cause. My friends were out to save and influence lives, and while I was not planning on becoming the next wolf of Wall Street, all I wanted to do was be creative and let others be creative with me. And where was the use in that? Still I chased after my dreams … with reservations … And I think that affected my path after college, but I guess everything happens for a reason.
Though I thought I was going to end up in arts administration (working for a nonprofit, that’s meaningful, right?), I ended up without a job. So I decided to have fun for myself and no one else …
“I’m having way too much fun here!”
The school-to-work transition was made semi-painless when I fulfilled a childhood dream and booked a job with Disney Cruise Lines (much more on that transition and what I learned here). I absolutely loved my job – I played with families for a living! I got to dance and act and I had much too much fun interacting with kids, families, and even crew members, friends, and my own family. Still as I was sailing away in the Bahamas, I was reminded of my friends back home who were “saving and changing lives.” I even sat back and thought about why I loved working for Disney so much. Did I really feel like I was making a difference in these people’s lives? Or was I just having way too much fun?
“A chance to escape reality …”
I remember sitting down at a mid-contract training session where some guy from shoreside tried to up our morale by telling us what some of the guests go through to get there – taking out second mortgages, working extra hours, etc. There were also many guests who were cruising through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It changed my perspective on some of our guests. For many, this was their chance to escape from reality, and I wanted everyone to have an experience worth dreaming about even after they stepped foot off this ship. I aimed to make everyone smile, to make them feel like they were on top of the world. I sought to serve them. This experience, I decided, was not limited to our guests, but to our fellow crew. I sought to treat them with the same dignity and respect as I did our guests, and I hoped our interactions together were opportunities to escape from reality – whether from the long work days and months or the pressure to provide for family back at home. It only takes a few seconds to smile, but those few seconds can seem to last a lifetime. Something so minor can have a major impact on people’s lives.
“To nurture the mind, body, and spirit …”
Though I loved my time at Disney, I was not meant to stay there forever. I decided that the only thing I found as fulfilling as making magic for people was sacred dance. I went for it and soon achieved another childhood dream of mine – dancing at World Youth Day. Something extraordinary happened at World Youth Day, my dream transformed into a calling (or perhaps they revealed themselves as my calling). At that time, I was wondering how sacred dance could fit into people’s lives. My new answer, aside from “happiness,” was “spirituality,” which at first seemed weak to me because people found spirituality elsewhere, why would they need dance? Well, they don’t all need dance, but some people do. And for some people, it is more than an escape from reality, it is the way in which they can live their lives fully.
I realized for me, dance was a way to pray. A way to both escape the realities of the world as well as come face to face with it. Dance also was a means to be physically active. Prayer can be done in silence and stillness but readying ourselves to do the work of God requires more of us. As I was making my way through an 8km pilgrimage to our holy grounds on Copacabana Beach, I realized that doing the work of God is not easy and not for the faint of heart – literally! I realized physical fitness was not just for looking good or losing weight, it was for staying alive and healthy! And why stay alive and healthy? To do what God asks of us. To serve others. I realized that I wanted to help people better themselves so they could better the world. I wanted to nurture their minds, bodies, and spirits, in any way I could. And at that moment, and still at this moment, it is through sacred dance, which I have come to define as art, fitness, and prayer.
“Saving and changing lives”
I wrestled with my overall career path and choices and even my purpose because I wanted to do what I loved and what I was good at, but I wanted to feel like I was doing something meaningful and productive. I would sometimes why God did this to me, allow me to be so open to do God’s good work and to love and be good at it, only to realize that it wasn’t exactly the most popular or respected thing to do. It was an awful feeling, and honestly, I’m not sure who decided that doing what you loved and what you were good at was not meaningful and productive because they’re wrong.
Perhaps I’m still not “saving or changing lives,” but on second thought, what if I am?! The impact of what I’ve been doing and what I continue to do cannot be measured in the same way we measure the immediate effects of medical treatment or education. Even if we did, it is rarely discussed or attributed to. But to the people whose lives are saved and changed through art or entertainment, it means the world to them.
Art does more than just “entertain” people or “make people happy.” Art is an escape from reality, even for a moment, a moment in which lives can be saved or changed. Art can help us face reality and prepare us for the challenges ahead. Art can even give us purpose.