One of the first musicals I ever fell in love with was A Chorus Line.
A story about 17 dancers auditioning for a spot in the chore for a Broadway show in the 1970s, the musical serves almost as a mockumentary of what it’s like to be an aspiring dancer. The cast of characters is full of different backgrounds and stories – some who got boob jobs to suppress their lack of self-esteem, some who still haven’t come out to their parents, some who confided in their priest that they thought they had gonorrhea. They are a broad collection, to say the least.
There are a lot of reasons why this show has remained close to my heart, even after giving up a dream to be a dancer on Broadway years ago.
I loved watching dancers muddle through combinations because it felt too accurate. I loved seeing characters unravel their personal baggage as if it were for Humans of New York. I loved recognizing in myself how much dance was both a teacher and an escape as it was for the auditionees. But what I loved more was the sentiment of a bunch of strangers wanting the same thing: a shot.
God, I hope I get it. I hope I get it.
The entire opening scene shows the ups and downs of attempting a dream:
One moment you’re thinking you’re absolute trash and the next the absolute shit. This is another lesson dance has given me: sometimes there are no in-betweens on the extremities of self-evaluation.
You can feel either incredibly insecure or unwarrantedly confident of your abilities after a performance – on stage, in the classroom or the office. Both states are impossible to sustain for too long.
During the last few weeks of college, I’ve been going back to this opening scene. Its applicability is astonishing as I am now “auditioning” for the “show,” praying to whomever that someone will hold the door for me and ask me to step through.
Look at all the people!
At all the people.
How many people does he need?
How many boys, how many girls?
How many people does he…?
I really need this job.
Please, God, I need this job.
I’ve got to get this job.
This number speaks to the desperation for work and the time-consuming nature of comparison – things we are taught to hide and should refrain from succumbing to. But these feelings are so incredibly visceral. Anyone who tells you that they haven’t wrapped themselves in these moods for a day or two (or longer) is lying. It is natural to have tunnel vision. It is also natural to be aware of those who have those same dreams.
The point is, in charting the waves of uncertainty, we become those weird versions of ourselves who bounce between extremes. Confident or doubtful. Desperate or assured. Competitive or apathetic.
It’s through those exhausting shifts in self-esteem that I look back on A Chorus Line and feel some comfort. Those people want something. It’s important to them. They’ve worked for it. Why not them?
When I study that opening scene, I try to figure out who I would be in the room. Am I the one who thinks she’s entitled to the spot in the front? Sometimes, I’ll admit. Or am I the guy who overthinks it and goes too full-out too fast? Maybe. But in reality, I’m the person stretching in the corner who’s just … hopeful.
I understand the reality that I, and so many like me, face in looking for post-grad work in an ill-defined time. We have now officially lost a decade’s time worth of job growth in a single month. As if it weren’t already nerve-wracking enough to see how four years at a university prepared you for the real world, there are fewer jobs to be had and that takes those feelings of desperation and comparison to almost a new level. Almost consuming.
But then I take a closer look at this Chorus Line example and am reminded of what silenced those thoughts of anxiety and uncertainty: the dance itself.
Once the combination starts, there is only that moment. The exhilarating feeling of nailing it (hopefully) and using every step as an opportunity to have control over your outcome. The only choice you have is to rise to the occasion and enjoy it. It’s the easiest part because you get to be the best version of yourself. I feel like we can take stock in that; that at least there’s a zeal of pursuit of knowing who you are, or who you want to be and going for it, even if failure waits on the other end.
The only choice for job-seekers now is to “enjoy” the process as dumb as that sounds. As much as we need these jobs and need these shows, what we crave is belief. A shot.
That begins and ends with us.
What I hope for beyond a job offer is that tiny sense of accomplishment in the practice of sending cold emails or filling out a form. That I enjoy the dance and feel like I’ve done everything I could. That much could hold me off for now.
God, I hope I get it. I hope I get that.