Work hard, play hard is a great motto, and it’s one that I should follow more. Especially, it seems, on the “play” side of things. I’ve always prioritized hard work, placing self-created expectations on myself which has led to a work-play imbalance. However, a recent weekend away watching some Broadway shows in New York City challenged what I view as most important in life. The joy I experienced in the theater reminded me that indulging in fun needs to be a constant choice in life, not just an occasional treat.
Workaholism has always been my double-edged sword. Assignments, projects and studying — paired with juggling extracurricular activities and a pretty type-A personality — don’t make for too many moments for me to be completely relaxed. My job right now is to be a student, so these priorities have always been my focus, often coming before attending social events and going out on weekends. Even though I can afford to indulge more in some fun and play, my mindset hadn’t changed until I was sitting in the first row of the Walter Kerr Theatre mezzanine four weeks ago, completely immersed in the world of Hadestown.
From the booming vocals to the quiet whispers, the joy to the helplessness and the shadows to the blaring lights of the “electric city”, the show made me realize just how much I missed — and needed — the theater experience. I’ve enjoyed Broadway’s opening numbers and ballads for most of my life, starting with both of my grandmothers taking me to children’s theater series since I was three years old.
In recent years, my main source of musical exposure has taken place through my AirPods. However, listening to polished cast recordings has nothing on actually being captivated in the darkness of a theater with the actors, where I can truly feel the power and rawness of their voices. These kinds of songs are meant to be experienced, not just listened to.
Show tunes and theater have always brought me immense joy. As someone who loves stories, musicals have given me a way to experience the intricacies of storytelling through my favorite medium — music. But because I devote so much time to work and school, I haven’t incorporated this joy as a constant in my life. An experience like the one I had in New York does not have to be — and should not be — a rarity. My commitment to going out of my way to do something for myself that makes me happy must equal the commitment I have to schoolwork and studying.
It’s so easy for me to get caught up in the pressure of the academic year and to get stuck in the workflow. However, I realize that breaking my work routine is probably the best thing I can do to care for myself. I’m human — I can’t always be “on”, an efficient machine chugging along nonstop. Little breaks aren’t enough. I have to fully embrace opportunities that bring me happiness and make that a regular habit.
I recognized that my perception of being a student was wrong. Sure, being a student is our job, but clearly I’ve been missing some of the responsibilities of that job. Just as studying for exams is important, so is treating yourself to fun. This is the real test of college. The work and challenge of class content is certainly difficult, but that isn’t the hardest part of our four years as students. The real test is figuring out how to balance it all, the work and the play. That might mean a little more work some weeks and a little more play others. But to me, real success has to have components of both, always.
We also must be willing to adapt our joys to our environments. I can’t see Broadway shows all the time, but the arts are very much alive on Grounds and in the greater Charlottesville community. This past year, I saw the University's Drama Department’s production of “Sense and Sensibility”, First Year Players’ “Hello, Dolly!” and the Hoos In the Stairwell’s spring concert. There are so many other avenues through which I can indulge my love for theater, and do so more often. A little effort put into exploring ways to embrace your joy regularly is well worth it.
That weekend in New York reinvigorated my love of the theater. The jolt that I felt when the first note of “Road to Hell” reverberated in my ear transported me to another world. Whatever it is that brings you happiness, there are ways to weave it into your life — we just have to look a little harder and in places we may not have considered before.
There will always be work left to finish, and that’s not just in college — that’s all throughout life. But while work is constant, opportunities are not. I have to make the time to pursue my passions, no matter how busy life gets. The trepidation I sometimes have about putting the piles of work aside pales in comparison to the absolute thrill I enjoy while getting lost in my bliss. Life is meant to be lived, and there’s no better way to live than by reveling in experiences that make me feel whole.