My son has been obsessed with this children’s book by Misty Copeland over the last few weeks – trying his best to mimic some of the challenging illustrations. Misty Copeland is a celebrated ballet dancer for the American Ballet Theater, and the first African-American woman to become a principal dancer in the company’s history.
Copeland, for those that don’t know, is something of a phenomenon. By all accounts, she should never have been a ballerina. She didn’t start ballet until she was 13, which is unheard of (I myself started at 3, but obviously lacked the talent and/or the drive!). She is only 5 ft 2 inches, and has changed perceptions across the board on the “ideal” body type for female dancers. Three months after starting to dance, she was en pointe (for most dancers, this takes years of training). She started dancing almost by chance – a friend of her drill team coach introduced her to ballet and offered her free classes to learn. And last, she had a difficult and unstable childhood marred by an absent father, poverty, and anxiety.
Despite all of these obstacles, Copeland quickly became a prodigy as just a teenager; she was soon an award-winning dancer, fielding professional offers from across the country. She joined the American Ballet Theater fifteen years ago, becoming a soloist in 2007, and starring in countless roles since then. Her outspoken desire to become a principal dancer came partly from a place she felt as a role model – she felt an obligation to future generations to succeed, and placed enormous pressure on herself to do that.
Amid the hubbub about her promotion, I came across this quote from Copeland: “I just try to approach every opportunity on stage as if it’s my first time and my last time.” I found this thought to be incredibly poignant – imagine if we all approached our own work with this attitude. Imagine if every lesson, every meeting, and every interaction with our students and families were approached with the energy and drive that comes with your first opportunity, and the knowledge and wisdom that comes with your last. At Impact Network, every day we wake up with a gift – the opportunity to change the lives of our 6,000 students. The change is slow, and it happens over time, but we have that chance every single day. It’s a blessing. Let’s try and approach it as Copeland would.