By, Jilleen Barrett, Features Editor & Managing Editor
My childhood was consumed by ballet classes, rehearsals and pointe shoe appointments. Though dance does not serve as a form of exercise in my life anymore, I’m still interested in ballet, and I go to Lincoln Center to see the New York City Ballet perform as much as I can.
Naturally, when principal dancer Megan Fairchild released her book on sustaining mental health when working toward career goals, I was intrigued. I read it during the winter break, and I have to say, Fairchild’s advice has already helped me improve my mindset when it comes to my own ambitions.
In the ten chapters of the book, Fairchild discusses anxiety, body image, perfectionism and more. She moved up in the ranks of the famous company incredibly quickly, which led to a lot of stress for her. She discusses one of her first significant roles, in which she had a male dance partner and they had a lot of difficulty getting used to each other.
“We must have rehearsed certain steps for the pas de deux a hundred times that November,” Fairchild writes. “I felt horrible for the pianist, who kept having to repeat the same four bars of music for us. It was demoralizing to have to keep trying over and over.”
The feeling of embarrassment when something just feels impossible to achieve is natural, and Fairchild discusses in the book that this feeling was largely linked to her anxiety. Despite her talent, she felt she had no idea what she was doing and worried constantly about messing everything up. However, her worry is what really held her back from doing everything better.
“By worrying, we think we are more actively controlling a situation, but it’s a false sense of security,” Fairchild writes. “It gives our anxious minds something to do — something that feels productive but in reality is hindering us from being able to create a successful outcome.”
In addition to anxiety over doing things incorrectly, Fairchild points out how differences are often perceived as flaws. While many dancers are tall with long legs, Fairchild is five foot three and was self conscious about this. She found that by maintaining her confidence, she was able to attract people with her differences and turn them into strengths.
The Ballerina Mindset is written for people who are ambitious, so naturally it touches on stress and stress management. Fairchild writes about her experience with transcendental meditation (TM), which she experimented with after a series of fainting spells and panic attacks that landed her in the hospital.
“TM is a method of meditation that is taught in a methodological way to help you learn how to let go of thoughts effortlessly,” Fairchild writes. “The idea is that by slowing down the mind we release stress and heal the body and mind, so that after meditating we are able to resume our activities with clarity, intention and energy.”
After practicing TM, Fairchild says her approach to life was “slower and calmer,” which helped her with both of her burdens.
One burden we all face as a product of stress is a fear of feedback, which she also focuses on. After seeing her name pop up in both good and bad reviews in the media, Fairchild believes that ignoring any sort of comments from people who are not trusted mentors or close friends is fruitless and does not help you improve your personal strength.
It can also make the struggle for self-satisfaction harder, especially for perfectionists.
“Achieving perfection isn’t possible 100 percent of the time, and we have to pick and choose when to put that effort into play,” Fairchild writes. “It’s not always a positive thing to push ourselves past what we are capable of handling.”
When you release the pressure of perfectionism, you are more likely to be able to handle failure, she says. But failure in work, life, relationships and more is natural and necessary if one wants to grow.
Fairchild goes on to write about several other topics that goal-seeking people need to learn more about, including taking time off and learning new things. She says taking the time to diversify a resume and taking time to breathe are both necessary for a well-rounded life.
As someone who is looking for a lot of things out of life, I enjoyed this book a lot. I recommend it to anyone who needs a reminder that their worries will not help them, and everything will work out exactly as it should.