My Double Life
One year ago today, after a year and some change of being fully freelance, I said yes to a “real job”.
One that meant getting up at 6am (let’s be real, I rarely made it out of bed before 6:30am) five days a week to teach high school Jazz Band at St. Vincent de Paul High School. One that came with a contract, conducted a background check, required safety training, held an orientation (and lots of other meetings), and took taxes out of a paycheck I actually received every two weeks.
I said yes because it meant I got to work with amazing kids and weave teaching music back into the fabric of my every day life, and because it meant having just enough consistent income to take the edge off of the unavoidable financial anxiety attacks of freelancing, and because teaching so early in the mornings meant I could still spend my days pursing photography work and building my business – and I needed to do both.
To be honest, I don’t know much about the “real job” game. I have been going against the grain since 1990, and after almost 27 years of rebuking “the norm” I finally understand and am learning to embrace that being an artist is who I am – not what I do. It is not just a job, it is my life.
So when things twisted and turned into this creative arrangement of being able to do two things I love (both in the arts) every day, in a way that provided a sliver of this elusive financial stability all of us millennials are endlessly searching for, I didn’t dare say no.
I’m not going to lie, there was a small part of me that felt like I was selling out – like I couldn’t cut it freelancing, or wasn’t tough enough to stick it out, so I chose the safe route, and maybe I did, but it felt like an investment in my future at the time… so, I signed on the dotted line of that fancy “real job” contract and that was that.
Little did I know what a return on investment the next 365 days would be.
In the days leading up to the beginning of the school year, I worried about balance between the two worlds. How could I possibly be good at two very demanding careers at once? Which one would lose? Where would I fall short? What if this doesn’t work?
A wise teacher/photographer friend living the same kind of hybrid life told me at the beginning of the year, “Your jobs will trade off being rewarding. One week, you’ll land a big photography gig and the piece of music you’ve been rehearsing for a month will start to fall apart. The next week, the lightbulb will come on. The music will be there and you’ll lose a wedding to someone else… but in that trade off, there is balance… you’ll find it.” …and I did.
It is an imperfect balance, and I wouldn’t say I’ve found my perfect rhythm, but I’m finding my way.
We’re finding our way together.
We remind each other constantly that it isn’t always about being perfect. It’s about showing up.
It’s about bringing whatever you have to offer to the table and taking a seat. Your seat.
It is impossible to know what my students walk into when they walk out of my classroom or what they bring with them when they arrive, but we all need a place we can come home to… which is why my final for the semester is to show up to family dinner.
I want them to know that there is room for each of them in my classroom and in our world. That they are loved and supported unconditionally. That they have a place to create and to be creative. That their ideas matter and that their contributions are appreciated. That they are a part of something bigger than themselves and why that is so important to who they are individually. That they have somewhere where they can be themselves with zero inhibitions.
I want them to feel empowered to think more about who it is they want to be when they grow up and less about what they are going to be. I want them to find what it is that they love and to pursue it unapologetically so that even the hardest days are worth it.
Because that’s what they’ve done for me.
There have been so many moments where the gratitude for my double life has overwhelmed me.
I hope that never stops.
I wake up (in the wee hours of the morning) a music teacher and go to bed (often also in the wee hours of the morning) a photographer… but I live for the days when my worlds collide.
Because these are the fleeting moments that become lifelong memories…
and I hope their friendships last a lifetime.
I get to see things differently, thanks to this double life. I have a real sense of motivation every day, a new sense of responsibility to myself, my community and the people around me, and a renewed urgency to create work that matters.
Chasing my dreams is what keeps me up at night, and enabling theirs is what gets me up in the morning.
I have been staring at my (hard fought) contract for next year all day… surprising myself with the same hesitations, fighting the same doubts, mulling over the same laundry list of things that could go wrong on each professional front… but this time, I have a much longer, more meaningful, experience-based list of things that went right.
And so, again, I’ll sign the dotted line of the fancy “real job” contract, and that will be that.
I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for my co-workers and clients who have been gracious and patient when school commitments impacted turnaround times. And for my teacher friends who helped me navigate year one. And for my bosses in both worlds: John Walker, who has been the most supportive principal any first year arts teacher could ask for, and Paige Green, who inspires my work ethic and continues to stick with me through endless transition. Thank you both for giving me a chance in the first place and for being flexible while I found my way. To my friends and family who I’ve not been able to keep up with like I used to, thank you for being kind and for refusing to be strangers. I’ve missed you.
And to my kids, who taught me more in one year than I could teach them in a lifetime, thank YOU.
At 7:30 in the morning, you’ve been my sanctuary…
and when I lose sight of the good in the world, you remind me.
I love you all, and I’ll see you next year.