You become what your learn
‘Show no pain’. This was the first lesson I learnt as a 9-year-old aspiring ballerina. This sentence predestinates your life. Forever. You learn that you have to perform no matter what; that if you don’t perform, you fail. You learn that nobody is interested in your physical or mental pain; you must go on and show no pain.
‘The audience doesn’t come to see you suffer; they come to see perfection’. Needless to explain, this was lesson number two. You learn to smile, when you want to cry, you learn that your body (and mind) has no boundaries, you learn to create a life, which exists only among you, dancers. Your life seemed normal, but you knew there was another normal, somewhere out there.
Some people change career because they’re drawn to something else, to some other passion or to pursue some other type of talents they discover in themselves. I didn’t change with a desired outcome in mind; I changed because I desired change. And it might be the harder way than having an immediate alternative path to step into, but we all have our unique journey that we’ll understand only by looking back from the future.
However, there is one thing that every career-changer should master regardless of how and what they change for. And that is the ability to accept the consequences of our decisions. And not only accept, but be happy with it.
Here is the story of my decisions, my consequences, and yes, my happy ending:
An early career choice
I had a dream, or my parents had, or we all had – I am unsure after 20 years. But let’s say, I had a dream: I wanted to be a ballerina. I was that little girl, who did not get shy when the neighbour came over and asked her to sing the latest from the innocent kid’s collection. The same applied when it came to talking with strangers, perform in the kindergarten’s Christmas shows or dancing at any occasions. I was in leotards and other ‘costumes’ since the age of 5. Jazz classes, modelling classes, folklore classes, acting classes, classical ballet classes, piano and flute classes, swimming classes and even chess classes (this last one is rather odd, I know). Regardless of all these classes I do not remember having any other dream than to be a ballerina.
This is how I became one. I earned admission to the Hungarian Dance Academy when I was 9 and continued my studies there until the age of 19. I was diligent, quick learner and, above all, committed like someone, who knows no other life. And indeed, I woke up with ballet, and ate (or not) with ballet and dreamt with ballet. This ten year was tough – but, of course, we showed no pain – yet, I graduated as the most promising school-leaver in 2004 and started my official career at the Opera House in Zürich.
I danced for over 12 years. I travelled through the world. I bowed and thanked the audience thousands time. I loved the magic surrounding this life. I loved the (rather imagined) status that comes with being a ballerina. But I would be lying if I said I never dreamt of that other type of life; that normal life. I dreamt of it all the time. I dreamt of the college life seen on TV, I dreamt of the freedom my brother had, I dreamt of real friends and girls’ nights out, I dreamt of being normal in all the senses you can imagine.
I think this unconscious (and, of course, many conscious) wishes led me to hang my leotard on the hook and leave it there forever(?). I left Zürich. And even though I got a contract offer from the Royal Danish Ballet, I knew I wasn’t going to sign it. I just couldn’t anymore.
Leaving a dancing career is not usual and even less gentle. Especially if you are talented and uninjured. Sure, some people quit along the way. But mainly for one of these two reasons; and even then, they can’t entirely leave this magically tender life. Thus, they become ballet masters or on-and-off-gig-dancers. I was talented, I was not injured and I did not want to shift into predestined option A or predestined option B.
Leaving my pointe shoes for another life
I decided to go to college. I got a blank paper and I started my life number two.
The next four years have opened my eyes. I heard about careers and jobs that I did not even know existed; I talked with ‘normal’ people about topics I have not touched upon before and I started to see the world more openly. I became the other normal. Or at least I thought so.
But soon I started to realise that the features of a ballerina are engraved in you for life. The way you talk, walk, or act; the way you approach a project, friendship, or love. On my first ever job interview – when the experience section of my CV showed only the pompous Ballet Dancer – the HR person asked me bluntly: ‘So if you quit that, are you going to quit this job as well?’. Needless to say, I answered her in a way that is most probably categorised as ‘don’ts on interviews’. She offended me and judged without knowing what it means to do ballet and to stop ballet. Yet, I was hired. I spent my 12-month placement with them as an HR consultant.
Years passed by and I graduated as an International Relation Expert and then gained other papers as well. I caught up with languages and other things ‘normal’ people need in order to succeed. It all seemed to bring its fruits: I got a promising job in Brussels. So I left my country for the second time. This time, I was to be a diplomat, not a ballet dancer. The life of VIP treatments, European Parliament badges and endless so-cool-like networking events lasted for a year, after which, I was supposed to return to Hungary.
Though my diplomatic skills were rather outweighed by my outspokenness and rebellious stands, I thought I would love my diplomat life and it would be the perfect career choice to utilise my skills and build success. It looked fancy on paper, it paid well, it was a career to be envied – all seemed great. But a year later I knew more about the dirty side of politics than I wanted and I started to feel off: I just wasn’t creating anything. So, instead of going back to my secured government office in Hungary, I decided to stay in Brussels. But, and regardless of being a former diplomat, Brussels was not welcoming me with open arms and unbeatable job offers. After an intensive search period, I got an internship. Yes, an internship that did not look fancy, paid three times less than my previous job, and was certainly something not to be envied. But I accepted.
I knew what I wanted and I also knew that taking a few steps back in this new normal life could lead to … a great career.
My plan was kicking off: I started a job I enjoyed. I was responsible for communications. And little did I know then that it was my unconsciously chosen 2nd career. By now, I would be in my 4th year of a well-established career I love and I am good at.
But I am not. Life tricked me, (or rather my heart tricked me) and I fell in love in a place, where I should have built my career. Once our relationship entered a very-very-very serious level, I left the company. I chose love over career. And I am still in love.
What do I want to be?
At first, I was desperate to find something, since me, Virag, is not someone, who is unemployed – Remember? Perfection. I avoided eye–contact with people, I felt it was written on my face. I felt it was something to hide.
How wrong I was.
Within days, from a CV-checker I became a CV-sender. During my first two weeks, I got three interviews. I went, I performed, they liked me but something was missing. I did not feel the fitting. Then there were a few weeks when haze started to cover my mind: ‘what do I want at all?’ – It felt like an overdue identity crises. When the self-sabotaging, self-questioning, and self-doubting epoch raised its peak, I opened a blank Word page and started to type. And then I wrote each and every day, until one point I heard a voice inside me screaming: You need to write…and a new dream was born.
Listen to your heart not what everybody tells you
Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? – I do.
If I had taken the first job I applied for, by now, I would be working among lawyers as their right hand, working 26 hours in a 24 hours day, wearing high-heels and smiling every evening at a different networking event. The picture is not that bad – certainly, a dream of many – but then I would never have crashed, cried and lost all hopes as much as to actually re-discover and re-identify myself. I would never have spent so much time alone with myself, never would have indulged in self-discovery and most probably never would have heard my heart beating an unstoppable rhythm: ‘take your savings and go to New York.’
I was mesmerised and doubtful, but my persona’s invisible hand bought me a flight ticket, enrolled me to the New York University, found a place to live in and eventually placed my body on the flight from Brussels to New York.
I spent over three months living my dream. Learning from the editors, journalists and news anchors of the New York Times, The Post, The New Yorker and CNBC was something for life. I met like-minded people, who made me believe in friendship again. I received more kind words, mentoring and inspiration than ever in my life. I discovered not only almost every street of New York City but also what life could be when you have a chance. And I started to rebuild my definition of good life and career.
The Finale (?!)
Within a year I built up a great writing portfolio, I am a publishing writer, I founded MissCareer/less, and every now and then, I coach young people on how to use their skills in interviews. Sometimes I am still unsure how to define myself; where ever I go, people still think I am an active dancer, whenever I am alone, I do a barre exercise and my muscles are still in shape – my bar being my kitchen chair – and yet, I am not a dancer anymore.
But perhaps I don’t have to define myself or my career at all. It is enough that I learnt that the ‘show no pain’ is a fallacy and I needed to let it go. I learnt that being open and honest is more rewarding than pretentiousness and perfection. I learnt that ‘normal’ is what I feel normal and that my different lives can go hand in hand. I learnt that being a ballerina predestines my life even if I am not on stage anymore. I learnt that I have gifts that I must utilise and skills that I must improve. I learnt that changing my career was the most challenging and most gratifying journey I have ever taken. But above all: I learnt that no matter what, our decisions are good as we take them; so just learn to take them!