This past year has been a bit of an adventure for me. Between opening a studio, quitting a job, and moving to Montreal for school, there's been a lot going on. There's been a lot of change.
I'm going to tell you a little more about why I ended up in Montreal with a new studio in Milton, how training in pole dance and circus has helped me feel more comfortable in situations that may be considered "risky" and cause fear, and how these experiences have influenced my perspectives on fear.
Let's go back about a year and a half to two years. I had a great job! And when I say that, I mean a stable, permanent, full-time position with 4 weeks vacation, great benefits, one of the top 2 pension plans in the province, some great people to work with, and all for an organization with a vision for meaningful, impactful work.
The problem - I was miserable.
Like I said, job, co-workers, organization - great. The problem was that I had grown into my role quickly and suddenly found myself unchallenged with no opportunity for growth that was meaningful to my goals. I was stuck and my life felt purposeless.
To add meaning and purpose, I chose to go back to teaching pole, even though I now lived rather far from studios. As much as I LOVED it, it meant that after my 8hr work day, I was driving 1-1.5hrs to teach 2-3hrs of pole, maybe stay to train for a bit, then driving back home to hang with Wicket for a bit, sleep for a few hours and then get up and do it again the next day.
I understand that I was extremely privileged. I had a great job with benefits (everybody's dream, right?), I got to teach pole, which is my passion. I felt horrible complaining about it because it logically felt like I had it all. But the way they all fit into my life left me feeling like I was running on a hamster wheel - spending so much energy and going absolutely no where.
Sometime around February 2018, I decided that something had to happen. My life had become so stagnant. I considered many options including giving up pole dance all together and just working at my job where I felt stuck, but with evenings free to try out new activities. I considered moving to a new country. I started making small actions by exploring what opportunities might be available. I looked through job listings and considered who was still in my network that I could connect with. Just for fun, I decided to Google "circus research" because why not?? I was super surprised to find a research centre associated with the National Circus School in Montreal.
I took a slightly bigger action. I wrote an email to the director and decided to be super honest about my pole dance background (not my common practice when looking for jobs in academia) just to see where it could lead:
"Hi! My name is Melanie Stuckey. I have a PhD in Kinesiology and am interested in learning about any potential Post-Doc opportunities at CRITAC. I have been pole dancing for since 2007 and I am an instructor and international competitor. There's been huge growth in the industry and my goal is to research how to make the practice safer for recreational through elite level pole dancers. I understand that you likely do not research pole dance, but am interested in any opportunities where I could learn skills that would be transferable and help me reach my goal."
I already felt a little more hopeful and less stuck just by taking some kind of action. And I kept my mind open to new opportunities.
With my cushy job and 4 weeks vacation, I packed up for a week to visit my friends in Italy. I remembered that when I was still finishing my PhD at Western, there was a visitor from Italy who did research in physical activity for healthy aging (not circus, but another of my research interests). A little more Googling and I found that the visitor was from the University of Verona - very close to the area that I would be visiting. So I kept moving forward with my "what have I got to lose" attitude and sent another email. This one did not mention pole dancing, but asked if she had an opportunity to meet while I was visiting. At an 8am meeting on the last Friday of my vacation, I met with her and discussed possibilities for a 3-6 month exchange. If my work would go for it, I could keep my job, but get the challenge and growth I'd been longing for plus an extended stay in Italy.
Things were starting to look up. I started to feel more hopeful.
Once I was back to work, that awful "stuck" feeling came back. The hopeless, purposeless feeling coupled with the post-vacation, back-to-reality blues. The momentum from the actions I'd taken faded.
Eventually, I received a response from CRITAC - "We have someone who may be a suitable supervisor for you and we'd like to set up a time to chat."
Long story short, we chatted, agreed that we should meet in person, I got to see the school, watch some performances, learn about the research going on, and meet the people. I was really excited for this opportunity. But, of course, everything depends on funding and we had to wait and see what would come through.
So I waited. And waited.
This waiting period was extra harsh. I really wanted it. It just seemed so perfect for me. I was back to feeling stuck at work, had given up some teaching, and just longed for this opportunity to work out. The stagnancy became uncomfortable and started to feel like a prison. It was so limiting. It felt like such a cruel joke to let me get this close to freeing me from my misery only to have it not work out.
While I was waiting, another opportunity came up, though I did not yet see it as an opportunity. A studio that I had worked for in the past would be closing. I agreed to go back to teach for the last month so that she would have enough classes to offer her current clients. Sometime while we were taking inventory and helping to get things ready to close, something started nagging at my gut.
"I could open a studio."
Even when I first said the words, I immediately laughed it off.
I can't do that.
But that little voice kept pressuring me - "but what if you can?"
100% my initial reactions of "can'ts" were fear. Entrepreneurship seemed so far outside of my skill set. But as I started to consider the skills that I actually did have from various jobs and volunteer-ships, it started to seem more and more do-able. Of course I had gaps in skills, but I could learn and of course there are consultants and others who can support.
You can probably guess by now that, yes, I did open the studio.
A little while later, I received an offer from CRITAC to come and work on some projects related to injury, safety, and performance in circus.
The decision to open Volair was kind of tough. There was a lot of fear. But at some point, it became an easy choice. Essentially, I could continue to pursue a great job with no growth that left me feeling miserable most work days (and I mean I cried before work, at my desk, while I was walking at lunch, in my car on the way home. This was not an, "I'm dissatisfied with my job" situation, it was seriously impacting my thoughts and my quality of life), or I could try something new and unknown.
At some point, the fear of still being in the same place of stagnancy a year or more down the line became much more terrifying than the fear of the unknown.
The decision to leave my studio for 7 months to go pursue more schooling was probably the most difficult decision I've made in my entire life and I learned so much by going through the decision-making process and facing fears one by one.
I won't list out all of my fears for you as I'm sure you can imagine most of them. But I will say that there is something so incredibly freeing about conquering your fears.
I believe that fear is fueled by inaction and neutralized by action.
For me, fear and stagnancy go hand-in-hand. When I am not taking action in my life, my fear grows. The what ifs? the hypothetical risks and situations that build up in your mind, but you never actually face. As I mentioned a little earlier, even the smallest actions helped me feel better - starting to job search, sending some emails - just these little things.
"It takes courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life and in change there is power." ~ Alan Cohen
I am lucky in that I've had numerous opportunities to practice facing my fears because, let's be honest, there's a lot of scary things you do in pole and circus.
I've overcome my fears of showing up for something wayyyyyy outside my comfort zone, taking my feet off the ground, inverting, wearing shorts in public, trusting my arms to hold my weight, trusting someone else to hold me, dropping, flipping, performing, expressing myself in front of others, competing after failing, trying new styles of dance...the list goes on. But in our classes and through our practice, we learn to take the steps. To prepare ourselves appropriately. To trust our ourselves. To have confidence. To recognize the risks. To face our fears when the time is right for us. And to celebrate the success we achieve by facing and neutralizing our fears, because most of those fears- as legitimate as they were at the time - are no longer my fears.
Somewhere along the line, fear became more of an invitation than a deterrent to me. An invitation to adventure, newness, movement. A step away from familiarity and comfort to build, grow and reach a new potential.
Of course I accepted the offer in Montreal, packed up my things and headed out on the only day that wasn't snowing between New Year's and my start date.
My journey has been an amazing experience! I have gained so much invaluable knowledge, skills, perspectives, connections, and I fully believe that this experience will bring much added value to Volair. I am super pumped to be back and making plans for our new programming and studio improvements!
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