Yes, you can love more than one

How learning something different can open your eyes to so much more not only about the world, but also about yourself.

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The year the world stopped

2020 has been a strange, crazy year. Our physical limitations have been put to the test as well as our mental and emotional health. We are trying to get back to normal, but our normal isn’t going to be the same as before. There are implications that we need to live with right now that will impact how we live after. And the year isn’t even over yet.

For the past five months I have been participating in Flatiron School’s Web Development Fellowship. I applied at the end of February, just before the world shut down due to COVID-19 and during a point where I felt stuck. Currently I’m working on my final project and feel like it’s senior year all over again. So I want to take this time to reflect on my journey here, and share one of the most important lessons I’ve learned.

To move forward you need to look back

First, let me start by saying that I love to dance. I started dancing at my local dance studio when I was five years old and never stopped. My weekends growing up were often booked with classes and rehearsals (not that I was complaining). I was often referred to as “the dancer” by my friends and relatives, constantly being asked if I was going to be a Rockette or ballerina. I went to a performing arts high school for dance, and continued to major in dance when I went to college. Dance has and always will be, a huge part of my life.

At a certain point in my college years I felt that I needed to constantly prove that I love to dance and that I was serious about it. Being a dancer/artist isn’t exactly an admired or sought-after career choice, and to be frank, is very much looked down upon by others. I remember one time I was home for the weekend, wearing some of my college gear and walking around the grocery store. Someone started talking to me because of it, and once they found out my major, and that it was my only major, immediately started to try and convince me to stop. I still remember their last words, “You should really quit while you’re ahead and do something else” as they walked away from me. That wasn’t the last conversation I’ve had like that about my choice of major, and while I can brush it off and say that they just don’t understand (which is another issue about the arts, culture, and society as a whole), it’s hard to do it every single time. But it was those conversations and this stigma that made me want to prove something of myself and my choice; that I can do it and it is possible.

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The spring semester of my junior year into my senior year, my class was constantly told to “get the contract”. We were encouraged to go to auditions, take class in the city, and network with others as much as possible to get our name out there. All valid advice.

It was during this time that dance started to become an end goal of “just a job” to me. I felt pressured to get a dance job as soon as possible, to have a plan, to get a contract, and it didn’t matter how I felt about a company as long as I got the job. That I should be grateful and happy to any company who took me because I get to dance. Focus on the fact that I would be able to dance and perform and be paid for it.

Every day I walked into the studio these thoughts loomed over me, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was suffocating. I stopped dancing for myself and I started to dance for others. Who are these “others”? I’m not even sure. A little bit for the audience, a little bit for my peers, a little for my dance teachers, the choreographers, the people who looked down on dancers/artists, and probably some in-between. But once I stopped dancing for myself I stopped having fun. Dancing wasn’t enjoyable for me anymore, it was just a job.

What made me feel worse was that so many of my peers didn’t dance for themselves; they danced for the audience or a relative. They danced and performed for them, and lived for the stage. But me? I dance because I love moving, and I love the process so much more than the end performance. I felt that compared to them my love for dancing was trivial and selfish, that I didn’t deserve to be there, that I was less of a dancer and I needed to change.

But now I accept that part of myself. I accept that I’m different from them and have different motivations. I love to dance and I dance for myself, it’s as simple as that. And that’s okay.

But you can’t move forward if you keep looking back

As much as I would like to say I was doing something cool and that’s how I got my injury, nope that’s not the case. My junior year one Monday morning I woke up and I was in pain. I went to an orthopedic doctor, who diagnosed it as an overuse injury. Taking a break from dancing should have been all that I needed to heal.

Long story short, I didn’t heal. I lived with this injury for two-and-a-half years, doing physical therapy, taking more breaks, among other things recommended to me. I felt extremely frustrated with both myself and my body for not healing, especially because I didn’t know what I could do to make it better. The frustration only became worse as the weeks turned into months, which then became years. But what made everything worse was that I didn’t feel supported by the dance community I was in. At a certain point I felt the conversation switch from “What can you do to heal?” to “What are you doing wrong since you’re not healing?” I felt like they gave up on me, and honestly, I started to give up on myself and dance.

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Their judgements severely impacted me mentally and emotionally. I felt accused of purposely not doing what I needed so I can stay injured. It made me feel that I was making my injury up, that the pain I felt was all in my own head as a result of my insecurities for falling behind my peers since I wasn’t able to train as hard as them. I didn’t feel like anyone cared if I healed, just if I danced or not. One time when I was having fun with the combination in class, I danced the entire time ignoring the pain because I was actually enjoying dancing for the first time in a while. Later I heard one of my peers say, “What’s she doing? I thought she was injured?” and I immediately felt guilty, as if I did something that I shouldn’t be doing.

Even after I graduated those thoughts and feelings never went away. I loved to dance, I wanted to dance, but the only way to dance was to be in a company. But how could I be in a company when I wasn’t even able to dance a whole class? As I tried to continue moving forward and do what I could, a lot of myself was still stuck in the past. At the time I didn’t even realize how much baggage I was carrying or how much it was weighing me down.

The follow through with your first step is important

After some time I was told my only option left was to get surgery. At first I wanted to run away. But then I realized that prolonging the surgery was only a disservice to myself, so at the beginning of this year I had it done. During my physical healing, especially in the first week, there wasn’t much for me to do but lay around and think. That’s when I started exploring other things that I always wanted to do.

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Growing up, besides dance I really enjoyed school. Kind of a weird thing to say, but I enjoyed school because I always loved learning. If you asked me what was my favorite subject/class, English would always be my number one because of writing and reading. But honestly I loved math, science, social studies, and foreign language too. In fact, that was the one thing I missed in my college years; a diversity of classes.

So when I applied to Flatiron School’s Web Development Fellowship, I did it because I took one intro to computer science class when I was in college; it was interesting to me but I didn’t pursue it. I also applied because I wanted (and needed) a change in my life. When I was accepted into the program a part of me was excited and couldn’t believe I actually did it, but another part questioned what I was doing. Nevertheless, I wanted to follow through with this curiosity, so I accepted and enrolled into Flatiron.

Before the program started, and even halfway through the program, every so often I would question if “I gave up too easily” on dance. In my mind, pursuing this meant that I could no longer introduce myself as, “Hi, my name is Waverley Leung and I am a dancer” like I have for so many years. I felt torn between being excited about learning how to code and web development and that I shouldn’t be enjoying it because I’m a dancer. Many of my dance peers in college said they hate being stuck at a desk. But I didn’t mind it. There was a stereotype that we’re not supposed to be good at this stuff. But I was doing well, and each day I was excited to apply and learn something new.

Embrace the present “you”

One week it was especially bad and I couldn’t even do any of my work. I couldn’t stop questioning myself and what I was doing. But then I talked with someone in my cohort, who is honestly one of most amazing human beings I have ever met. And they said “You’re always going to be a dancer and an artist, that will never change. You now have a new medium where you can apply your creativity and talents”. It was something I heard before but at that moment it was exactly what I needed to hear.

Later that day I talked for the first time in a long time with one of my dance peers who I really admire. As we were catching up I opened up and told them about how I was feeling. Even though I accepted where I was and appreciated talking with my cohort mate, voicing it to someone in my dance community was still terrifying to me.

I was so scared of their response, but what they said let me exhale that breath I didn’t know I was holding. They said “Dance is just a part of what we are or what we do. Not all that we are,” and made me realize that at some point I made my passion for dance become my identity. I no longer see myself as a “dancer” anymore, but that doesn’t mean I am not a dancer. Just because I like to do other things or am interested in pursuing other things doesn’t make me any less of a dancer.

Yes, you can love more than one

A huge theme of this year for me has been reflection and growth. Reflecting on my journey to where I am today. Learning and becoming aware that I’ve changed, I’m different, and I’m okay with that. I have never felt more okay to be who I am, and I am so excited to learn about me, and who I can be, more than ever before.

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

I am so grateful to be in Flatiron School’s Web Development Fellowship program. In a strange way it was exactly what I needed right now, more than I thought when I applied. To say that I’ve learned a lot in the past five months is an understatement. Sure I’ve learned a lot about coding, being a full-stack developer, and the tech industry in general. I expected to learn about that during the program. What I didn’t expect to learn was me. In fact, learning full-stack development and how to code has reminded me how much I love to dance. I’ve never been more excited to get back in the studio to move and dance with others. I truly feel the artist in me has a new channel to express myself.

I appreciate my background in dance from a different perspective because of what it brings to coding. I appreciate the progressiveness and diversity of the tech community and how tech is constantly changing so there’s always something to learn. I’m also grateful to have gained an amazing community of people from different backgrounds that I would otherwise never have met. A community who learns together and pushes each other to be their best self. Doing this program has made me accept the me of the past who felt different and ashamed of those differences, making me finally accept who I am today.

Photo by Lucas van Oort on Unsplash

Now the point of my story isn’t to push you to learn coding or join Flatiron School (unless you were already thinking about, then go for it!). It’s to encourage you to try something new, whether it be as small as eating something you never would have before, taking up a new hobby, or walking the long way home. It can also be something as big as looking for a new career in a different field, taking that trip (once we’re able to of course) you’ve always wanted to, or even just prioritizing yourself if you’ve never done that before. If you’re frustrated with wherever you are or whatever you do, take that first step to try something new. Believe in yourself, and take that chance.

And once you’re on that new path, keep going. Follow through with it and see where it takes you. If you realize it’s not for you, that’s totally fine; you tried it and learned that about yourself. But if you enjoy it, in whatever capacity that means, allow yourself to like it. As said by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.”

If you question or doubt yourself, know that change can be scary. But have the courage to do it anyway. We’re human beings, we’re constantly changing and growing so embrace it. Even if you have two things you already like, try out that third, fourth, even fifth thing because you owe it to yourself to do what you love. No matter how many things you do, it doesn’t mean you are not as serious or dedicated to any of the others. You are enough, and you don’t need to prove anything to anybody.

Let me repeat that: there’s nothing wrong with having diverse interests. When you work on something you will need a break to step away at some point. That time spent doing something else can actually be helpful with whatever you are working on; whether it be a huge breakthrough or a time to refresh and come back with a new set of eyes. In those times you will see where parts of your life intersect; that’s where innovation comes to life.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. This year has been rough but I hope my story is able to help you take back that power you have to keep moving forward. I also strongly recommend Emilie Wapnick’s TED Talk “Why some of us don’t have one true calling” below; personally it really helped me solidify where I want to go.

“Be present. Be open. Be kind. But speak your mind.” 🌱 Passionate about tech, connecting with people, eating good food, and dancing to my heart’s content.

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