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I Advanced Confidently in the Direction of my Dreams and Found Myself in a Tap Dance Class on a Wednesday Afternoon

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Henry David Thoreau

What are we calling the “Rat Race” these days?

Whatever it is, I’m heavy into it.

I work as a full-time nurse in a rehabilitation hospital caring for stroke victims as they put the pieces of their lives back together and attempt to function with their “new normal”. I work 12-hour shifts that occasionally turn into 15 hours.

When people find out I work only 3 days per week, I know they picture me those other days, sitting on a sofa eating bon-bons and watching daytime television, or maybe lying in front of a pool sipping margaritas or spending my long luxurious days pursuing hobbies, traveling and lunching with friends.

I also have a full-time position as a mother. End fantasy.

My days off are filled with getting kids to and from school, appointments and lessons. I am secretly tempted to sign up as an Lyft driver and pick up an extra passenger from time to time because at least I’d be earning some money with all the driving I do. Not to mention housework, paying bills, caring for our pets.

Sadly, there are no bon-bons or margs in my world.

I’m also exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally after my work week. At 45 years old, I try to eat right and exercise but it’s not easy being on my feet for 40 hours, transferring patients in and out of their wheelchairs, helping them process their anger at their lives having changed in an instant, and dealing with the reality of the modern American healthcare system where expectations are high and resources,low.

Between meeting the needs of my patients and my family, I very often feel liked I’m being sucked completely dry with no time left over for myself.

Cue the tiny violins.

I realize I’m extremely blessed. I have a job that pays well and I have time with my kids, even if I only ever see them through the rear view mirror of our Subaru. I have a supportive husband, and a great house in a great community.  

If this is all there is…if the story were to end here, I’d say it was a great run.

But I also have these pangs of “what else is there?”

What am I doing with my “one wild and precious life”? (To quote Mary Oliver.)

During spare moments on my days off I found myself dozing off from exhaustion, fuming and ruminating over some issue at work, or sort of just waiting to pick up the kids.

I decided to be more mindful of how I was spending my spare time.

I picked up something called a “Passion Planner.” Cheesy? Yes.

It’s basically a journal and calendar rolled up in one where you have space to process what your priorities are and then actually schedule in time for activities that move you toward your goals. I have had several writing projects in the works for months now that I keep putting on the back burner because something more “important” takes precedent.

With the Passion Planner I now had appointments with myself to write so fuming, ruminating, dozing and waiting would have to go by the wayside in order for me to move toward finishing these projects.

I also identified a few other things I want to get to in my life, one of which is getting back into doing some performing.

This is the big one for me. I love to sing and dance. I went to a performing arts high school and minored in music in college. I wrote music and sang in a band for awhile in my 20s. I look at auditions for community theater productions all the time but I always come up with a million excuses why I couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t even write it in my Passion Planner. I couldn’t admit to myself that this was the big dream.

It took me 3 weeks to finally write “perform in some capacity, somewhere” in very small letters in the corner of my planner.

I scanned the auditions again. It occurred to me that I should brush up on tap dancing, since a lot of these community theater musical productions have big tap numbers.  Then I slammed the book shut.

Today was not the day to face that dream.

But it was my first day following through on one of my appointments with myself.

It was glorious. I was on cloud nine walking back to my car after a productive writing session when I ran into my friend Kristen who was struggling with a very large plastic tub.

“Whatcha doing?” I asked.

“I’m going to teach my tap class…you should come.”

I was incredulous. I had just been thinking about taking tap dance and now here presented a random opportunity to take a tap class. This was definitely a sign.

“No thanks…I don’t have shoes—”

“I have shoes!!” She exclaimed excitedly. “That’s what’s in this tub.”

“No, that’s okay, thanks though, I’m not really dressed for it,” I managed.

“You’re wearing yoga pants,” Kristen observed.

“What does it cost? I don’t have any cash on me.” My excuses were limitless.

“It’s $10 and I take credit cards,” she asserted with finality.

I was out of excuses. I followed her up to the studio, put on the borrowed shoes and tapped my heart out for the next hour.

My thoughts as I danced? I’M CRUSHING LIFE!!! I’m tap dancing at 1:00 on a Wednesday afternoon.

Okay, so I hadn’t advanced the most confidently, and maybe a tap class isn’t the paragon of success for most people. It might actually be somebody’s vision of hell.

But for me, something magical happened when I broke through the inertia of doing what I have to do to survive, and prioritized my dreams—instead of just letting the days slip away making circles in my Suburu.

I’m still not ready to go on an audition. I’m still terrified.

But I’m enjoying the journey and that’s really what it’s all about.

Carolyn Williamsen

Carolyn Williamsen

Carolyn Williamsen, RN, BSN is a rehabilitation nurse, certified Pilates instructor, mother of two and self-styled singer/dancer living in Denver, CO. She is a passionate advocate of self-care and stress management for health professionals.

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