Sometimes I wish I had a normal childhood. One where there is time to play with other kids, listen to their dreams and silently figure out my own dreams during the risk-free years. But I had little time to enjoy and less time to figure things out. When I was born my mum exclaimed joyfully: ‘She is going to be a ballet dancer”.
This is the point where you ask: ‘So it’s true that ballerinas are pressed by their mothers?’ Sorry, I have to burst that bubble: No, their mothers do not push the majority of the dancers but there is a minority who, at the age of 9, can say for sure: I want to be a ballerina. At the age of 9 the most girls or boys want to be something different every day, so yes, it is indeed your mother who holds your hand and accompanies you to the audition, but it is you who has to wake at 6 am and go to sleep at 11 pm everyday. It is you who has to go to ballet seminars during summer times, when everyone else is at the playground. It is you who loses all possible friendships as soon as you are selected for a role. But above all, it is you who has to fit into the leotard and force your body into first position each and everyday until you……yes, until you quit.
Having graduated as the most promising dancer of the class I spent two years in Zürich as a member of the Opera House. That was the greatest wake up call in my life. I believed that once I graduated all the real hardship, pain, and rules would ease a bit and I could finally enjoy the real Art. I left Hungary and my parents at the age of 19 only to find out that the real hardship was just about to start. I did not get injured, not physically at least. However my soul was tortured and following 12 years of constant attempt to ‘fit in’, I finally stopped wanting to fit into my leotard and force my body into first position.
I was 21 when I moved back home and I knew for sure that my point-shoes, leotards, tutus and honours would pile up in a box at our attic, destined to lie beside all my other memories. The next month passed in darkness. I literally have no idea what happened during that time. As a ballerina would say: a complete black out.
A girl without tutus and point shoes
A month later I was sitting on an unfamiliar bench with unfamiliar people. Their hair was not in impeccable buns, their posture was far from Degas’s dancer drafts. They seemed convincingly laid-back, and felt rather familiar on those benches. I was terrified. Excited, but truly terrified. My palms were sweaty, my heart was palpitating and I had only one constantly returning thought all the time: ‘What am I going to talk about with these people?’ Three years passed and I was a soon-to-be-graduate once again. Only this time I tried to earn a title that was more tangible for society: I was to be an International Relations Expert – what was tangible for them, was rather intangible for me. But the black hole returned.
I needed a job, and not the one I knew with stages, curtains, lights and mascara. I needed a real job. I needed it desperately, since everybody wanted one. My parents wanted me to have one; all my new friends wanted to have one and of course if there was something I knew about this new and daunting world of mine was that jobs give money; therefore I most probably need one. But honestly? I had no idea what I wanted. From age 9 the directions were given and somewhat predestined, I never developed the ability to assess my needs, and at this point I was still far from seeing that.
A girl who decides over others
I got a job as an HR consultant at a prominent UK firm, which was just opening its branch in Hungary. It was a real job, without stage, curtains, lights and mascara. Ok a little mascara. I signed my first real contract. It was good money. The job looked interesting, and I was put into the deep end on day one. I had no particular idea what an HR consultant or more clearly, a head-hunter does, but I liked deep water (if ballet taught me something then it was swimming when others would sink) and I was curious. I was and still am an extremely curious person.
Therefore, unless I would have got a job offer to work in a mine (which I could not take due to my claustrophobia), I would have accepted anything just because I wanted to try anything and everything. I wanted to try the real thing. I spent a little more than a year with this company, during which time I was given extremely powerful roles: with my absolute virginity to corporate life, I was responsible to set up a whole new department from scratch. I loved it. I loved that I had to fight for every result (once again something felt like home after my ballet life). I also loved that I had authority but what I liked the most was the independence. I stroke all records within my probation period and we had this office gimmick that when you place somebody (jargon makes you belong) you ring the bell.
I remember my first bell; it sounded like the Christmas bells my parents used to ring as a sign: little Jesus secretly decorated the tree. Yes, I was happy, and content, and felt that I was finally doing this real thing.
Yes Tom, as a freelancer career coach.
Do you still work in HR?