Happy New Year - Retreat yourself

My friend, Kelly, and me on New Year's Eve

Another year has past and another one is upon us. The world didn't end on December 21st, we survived a northeastern hurricane, and the arts have a chance to prosper thanks to the re-election of president Obama. Each year we have new experiences that shape our being; physically, emotionally, spiritually, and career-wise. Often as the new year starts, we reflect on what happened in the year past and we resolve to work towards the things we would like to change or maintain. Most people have a mental conversation with themselves about their resolutions, but few write it down on paper. Some of the best advice I ever received was to write down my goals so that I can revisit and re-evaluate them. One of the best ways to evaluate your goals is to have a retreat for yourself. What better way to start the new year than setting new goals and restructuring old ones?

Not this kind of retreat
I had never heard the word retreat used for anything aside from a tropical vacation until I became the liason for Pacific Northwest Ballet's young patrons group, Backstage Pass. Once a year, everybody on the group's board, PNB's administrative liason, and myself would set aside an entire day to sit around a table, go through bylaws, and write a loose plan of events and goals for the group of 21-39 year old dance-loving patrons the club serves. Once I moved across the country and started freelancing, I started to feel scattered, like I had lost a sense of direction in my career. After a particularly stressful experience, my partner suggested I reassess my goals as a freelancer and take a self-retreat. Using the tools that I learned working with Backstage Pass, I set out to define my path.

The first step to having a successful retreat is to pick a location where you feel comfortable lounging around for a few hours and you wont have any distractions (like loud music or a place that your friends frequent). Get out of your house and stay away from your regular workplace. I typically enjoy taking a walk around a neighborhood that I haven't explored. I like to pick a new place because it starts off the retreat with a good sense of exploration.  I'll pick a street or two to walk down and find a place that looks calm with comfortable seating. I tend to favor cafes, as coffee shop culture allows one to sit around for hours while only buying one cup of coffee. They typically offer a hint of ambiance and you usually find yourself surrounded by others who are quietly studying, perhaps beckoning you to remain focused and work.

After you have found a comfortable place to begin your retreat, its time to put in the work. I usually come prepared with a list of topics so I have a set focus for the retreat. It is best to leave your computer at home, so you won't be distracted by Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit. I like the old school paper and pen method. Yesterday, on new years day, I had my own retreat. I ended up at a Starbucks in Old City because all of the cafes in the area were closed for the holiday. The list of topics I came up with prior to my retreat were an assessment of 2012, what mistakes I made this year, what I did well this year, what stresses me out, what makes me happy, what are my needs, what are my goals, and the top 10 actions I would like to take at the beginning of 2013. I take a page for each and I list whatever comes to my mind. Sometimes I write a statement and other times I write notes to myself. I always try to be completely open and honest. Nobody ever has to see what you write, unless you choose to share it with others. I often move from list to list, then go back and add things. I like to move around and balance out the negative experiences and thoughts with positive affirmations and potential actions.

Visiting my friend, Abby (former PNB dancer), in LA on my month off
To give you an idea of how I approach my retreat, I will give you a few examples of my responses. Under the topic, What mistakes did I make this year?, I had an injury nearly a year ago that caused a lot of drama and strife in my life and career. One mistake I made was that I did not have a back-up plan in the event that I became injured. To counter this mostly negative topic, I followed on the next page with the polar opposite question, What did I do well this year? One of the statements that I wrote here was that I recognized when I was approaching burn out. Instead of pushing on, I chose to take a month away from dance prior to Nutcracker season to rest, relax, and refocus.

One of my biggest problems since I began freelancing has been my stress and anxiety level. Not knowing when the next job is coming and making ends meet when there isn't much work is extremely stressful. I recognize that dealing with certain stresses will not only make me happier, but will benefit my work as well. For this reason, I made a list of things that stress me out. Having a written list of stressors helps me brainstorm ways to de-stress and avoid situations that could be potentially stressful in the future. When coming up with your list of topics, be sure to assess different experiences that you've encountered since your last retreat and come up with subjects that will benefit you and help you gain focus.

One thing many freelancers forget is that they are their own business. Successful businesses and corporations sit down for meetings and assess their budget, focus, and goals quite often. Just because a dancer is only an individual doesn't mean that they shouldn't take time out of their schedule to focus on their businesses needs and to inspire goals to attain. We always think about our dreams and aspirations. We often forget most of them, aside from our biggest and clearest goals. Taking time to devote to your business and yourself on a retreat can push your freelancing to the next level. And I always feel hopeful and inspired at the end of a retreat!

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