She chooses passion.
She chooses success.
He chooses to leave the spotlight.
She chose to paint.
She chose to dance.
Everyone must eventually choose their path in life. Some choose to find the balance between what they love and what they need. Some choose passion, throwing caution to the wind. And some people choose to defer their dreams, chasing material success.
An Aspiring Artist
In eighth grade, sophomore Anahita Sukhija was trying to find herself. Everyone around her had a calling, a talent, a passion. She felt confused and lost. And so, she began creating art. At first, she was just sketching fragments of cloudy dreams and aimlessly painting faces. But somewhere, in the hours of painting, sketching, shading and drawing, she found herself. She found her passion and her future.
“I was always into art but I really got into it around middle school,” Sukhija said. “That’s when everyone’s trying to figure stuff out and I liked it more than other things, so I decided to continue on with it.”
For Sukhija, art started out as a hobby, a way to pass time. However, it slowly evolved into her calling in life. Sukhija was only in eighth grade when she realized that she had found what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Since then, her dream has become more concrete and solid. Sukhija has now decided she wants to pursue a career in animation and her dream job is a position at Pixar.
Sukhija was convinced from a early age that art was her future, but she had to fight to convince everyone around her. She explains that her parents had a very traditional Indian mindset, believing that pursuing an art-related field would lead to failure.
“They were against [me pursuing an art career] because they didn’t think I would be able to actually get a job and make a living,” Sukhija said. “They also moved from India, where there aren’t a lot of [art-related] opportunities. It’s the whole mentality of you have to be in a STEM career to make money.”
However, Sukhija didn’t let her parents’ wishes deter her. Instead, she convinced them that art is a well-paying and viable future. She researched the art field, hoping to convince her parents that she was seriously deliberating a future as an artist, and that this was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. Fortunately for Sukhija, her mission was successful.
“Now, [my parents] are supportive because they’ve done their research and I’ve done my research and I’ve showed them,” Sukhija said. “They’ve realized that it’s completely possible to be an artist and still make a lot of money.”
Sukhija explains that this inflexible attitude is a characteristic of the Bay Area mindset. With the high standards of living and the emphasis on tech-related jobs, Sukhija believes that a negative stigma has developed around art-related careers.
“I think it’s a really common thought that a lot of people, especially people over here have,” Sukhija said. “That art is not a field that you can actually get into and that it’s a hobby. [That] you can’t pursue it; you can’t actually have it as a career.”
While Sukhija has successfully convinced her parents, her extended relatives are still skeptical of her career aspirations. She has encountered this scenario many times: a relative either sees her artwork posted on Facebook or her parents bring it up in a conversation. When they question Sukhija about it, they are first confused, unable to understand how she can calmly claim that she wants to be an artist. Then, they are dismissive, lightly saying that she will eventually mature and think logically.
“They all have a similar face that they make, like ‘you can’t do that,’” Sukhija said. “I just block them out because I know I can. And my parents know I can. I don’t take into account what what they say because they’re not right.”
Sukhija used to try and convince her relatives that art is a viable career, but she has given up. She came to realize that some of her relatives have a closed, inflexible mindset and aren’t open to considering new ideas, so it is useless to try to justify her stance to them.
“I think people can be very close-minded,” Sukhija said. “I don’t try to persuade them otherwise now. I used to do that but if it’s their mentality and I don’t get anything out of explaining; there’s no point.”
Sukhija thinks everyone should follow their passions but also acknowledges that money is an important factor. She understands that in reality, basic necessities often outweigh passion.
“Being able to enjoy your work while still making money is something that not a lot of people are able to do,” Sukhija said. “For me, I think that both are important. But you do need to be able to make enough money to survive. I think it’s a personal choice that you make.”
Sukhija explains that she is determined to pursue an art-related career, as art is one of the few activities in life that fill her with contentment and pride. For her, it is both an escape from reality and a form of self-expression. After a long, draining day of school, Sukhija finds solace sitting in her room drawing, losing herself in the strokes and colors.
“You can express yourself and it’s a stress reliever,” Sukhija said. “It’s the feeling you get when you finish an art piece and you’re able to see what’s in your mind come on paper.”
Finding a Balance
Sophomore Ivanshi Ahuja was just a toddler when she started drawing. She would climb onto her mom’s desk in her office and scribble doodles all over her accounting checkbooks and papers. Her mom would pull Ahuja off her desk, scolding her. But once her mom actually looked at Ahuja’s doodles, she noticed that her daughter possessed raw, artistic talent. She immediately registered her for art lessons, and ever since then, Ahuja has been an artist.
“I really like doing art because it lets me escape reality,” Ahuja said. “It helps me get lost in my own world. Every time I feel stressed, art really helps me be in my own zone and just forget about everything. I really enjoy doing it.”
Despite her passion for art, Ahuja plans on pursuing a career in medicine. She has decided to either be a cardiologist or a dentist. To her, art is just a hobby. She would never consider pursuing a career in the arts, as that wouldn’t provide her with financial stability.
“I would still do [art] on the side because being an artist, especially a fine artist, is not a stable job because not all your paintings sell,” Ahuja said.“It’s really hard. I’m still going to do art and I might sell some paintings on the side but I don’t want it as my day job. It’s going to be ‘doctor by day, an artist by night.’”
Ahuja has seen a strong force of peer pressure pushing Bay Area teens to enter fields in medicine and engineering. She believes that choosing a career for the sole purpose of achieving success will only lead to failure and suffering, as some interest in a field is necessary to be successful in it. Ahuja is also interested in science, so she doesn’t think she is completely abandoning her passions.
“A lot of people end up getting into fields that they’re not interested in and they end up struggling,” Ahuja said. “They hear that ‘doctors make a lot of money,’ but then they just end up struggling in medical school. There is peer pressure. You shouldn’t go into something you’re not interested in.”
Ahuja explains that her parents haven’t influenced her career decisions. Her parents are very open-minded, always supporting her decisions, as they understand that interest and passion are important factors in sustaining a career. Ahuja believes that if she came home one day and announced that she would be an artist, they wouldn’t object.
“My parents just want me to do what I want,” Ahuja said. “They just want me to live my life and live it the way I want. They’re just here right now, they know that I’m going to be an adult and they can’t force their decisions on me. They just want me to be happy.”
Ahuja believes that achieving a balance between passion and success is essential to building a stable lifestyle. She doesn’t understand why somebody would decide to be a fine artist without a concrete career without a backup plan, as the odds of success are so low.
“I don’t want to be starving while following my passion,” Ahuja said. “Everyone’s heard of the term ‘starving artist.’ What’s the point of following your passion if you’re living in a hut and you have no money? Then you’re just going to be sad. You won’t even be able to buy canvases.”
Ahuja thinks that one doesn’t have to sacrifice their passions; as long as one thinks rationally and logically, she believes that it is possible to be both happy and successful.
“It’s good if you’re following your passion, but I think that having a stable job is important,” Ahuja said. “You can always do art on the side, it doesn’t have to be a full time thing.”
Leaving the Spotlight
When sophomore Alex Yang was a little boy, he was shy and quiet. He didn’t meet people’s eyes; he ducked his head when he spoke and his voice dwindled to a whisper. He had always admired actors, brave enough to step onto the stage and pretend to be someone else. But he had never imagined that he would have the courage to take the stage himself. However, as soon as he stepped onto the stage and delivered his first line in front of an audience, he knew that he had found his passion in theater.
Yang was first dragged onto the stage when he was seven-years-old by his mother. She signed Yang up to be part of [company name] production of Sleeping Beauty Jr. At first, Yang was horrified and attempted to quit the show. However, his mother wouldn’t budge, wanting her son to overcome his shyness.
“I was so nervous about auditions that I never wanted to do another show again,” Yang said. “My mom conspired against me — but for me really — to help me get over stage fright and to get me on stage more. I eventually started doing every single show there.”
Yang explains that theater has helped him overcome his stage-fright and fear of public speaking, as it forced him out of his comfort zone and into the bright spotlig
ht. Theater transformed him from a timid little boy into a bold person, willing to be open and raw with people. It has taught Yang to own his own personality and never apologize for himself. He has learned to fake confidence, even when he is nervous.
“Sometimes on stage, you look stupid because you’re doing something stupid and silly,” Yang said. “You have to own it. You can never think, “Oh no, I’m being stupid,” because then, the audience thinks you’re stupid. But if you own it, and you put all of yourself on stage, then the audience has a good time, instead of being uncomfortable. Theater has helped me own myself. I’m still not confident, secretly, but I am definitely more open.”
Despite Yang’s passion for drama, he has decided not to pursue a career purely in theater. Yang’s father, who works at Google, doesn’t want his son to enter a risky, competitive field like theater, as he believes the odds of success are very slim. Due to his parents’ expectations of him, Yang has decided to blend his two talents: theater and computer programming.
“I have a knack for computer programming so they really want me to expand on that, especially because that’s what my dad has done all his life,” Yang said. “My parents would never let me major just in theater, so what I want to do is double major in computer science, career-oriented, and also some aspect of theater. I want a duality so I can be unique.”
Yang understands that his parents are only acting in his best interests by advising him to not pursue a career in acting. He knows that theater is an unstable field, which is why he has decided to be more realistic with his career choice.
“Only three percent of all actors work,” Yang said. “It’s really hard to get a career and it’s almost never stable. They’re looking out for me. They want me to have something I can settle down with.”
To be a successful actor, Yang believes one has to be the best of the best. Despite his own extensive theater experience, Yang believes that he isn’t skilled enough to be a professional actor and make a living off of acting. However, Yang can’t imagine a life away from the stage, which is why he wants to be involved in the technical aspects of theater.
“I am not confident about being an actor,” Yang said. “I’m confident on stage, but during rehearsals, I’m super self conscious on everything, like my acting choices. I’m not good enough to have a career. I’d be much more comfortable being off stage and doing backstage work because I love every aspect of theater.”
Living the Dream
When art teacher Jodi Johnson entered college, she was lost. She had no pre-decided path, no map of her future. Everybody around her knew where they were going, but she didn’t. In her junior year of college, she still hadn’t declared a major. Johnson and her counselor sat down in her office to discuss her career options and finalize her future. After a long conversation and hundreds of brochures advertising different majors, Johnson left the room confident and sure about her future. She was going to pursue her passion: art.
Johnson had always been an artist, constantly drawing and painting as a child. She had participated in art all throughout high school as well. Her small town high school in Montana had only offered one art class, but Johnson had signed up for the class every year, finding new ways to challenge herself as an artist.
“My favorite thing about art is just making it. I like the process of art. I like coming up with an idea,” Johnson said. “I like looking at different things and being visually inspired by them and then coming up with my own way to demonstrate or express that feeling to someone else.”
However, Johnson had never considered pursuing a career in art. She had been trying to discover herself and was experimenting with many different classes, never realizing that art could be her future. She explains that she tried many different courses that weren’t right for her, which eventually led her back to art.
No matter what she was pursuing, Johnson says that her parents were always supportive of her. They encouraged her to find what she was passionate about so that she would be able to excel at it. Johnson explains that they wanted her to have pride and satisfaction in her work more than material success.
“My goal was never to [be] a famous artist,” Johnson said. “My goal when I went into college was not there; I didn’t have one. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My family was super supportive of whatever I wanted to do, I could be a plumber and they would be supportive or I could be a doctor and they would still be supportive. They just wanted us to be happy.”
Johnson’s parents always trusted her to find what she was best suited to. When she declared her career choice, Johnson was a mature adult, which she believes made her choice more valid, as teenage decisions are often dismissed as spur-of-the-moment. However, Johnson believes her parents would have been supportive in the end, no matter what age she made her decision at.
“I wasn’t 16, but had I been 16 and told my mom that I wanted to go study art, she would have been totally into that,” Johnson said.
Johnson explains that her friends were all accepting of her career choice. Her friend group celebrated each other’s differences and different interests. Johnson explains that all of her friends thought of each others’ career paths as equal, whether they were studying physics and art. No one’s major was superior to another — they were all just different.
“I had some friends who were physics majors and we would joke around,” Johnson said. “They would try and do my homework and I would try and do theirs and we would both fail. Because they’re just completely different things.”
While Johnson believes that stability is important in a career, passion is essential. Johnson wakes up everyday and does what she loves. Sometimes, she spends up to 12 hours in the art studio, mentoring students and facilitating their projects. If she didn’t love what she does, Johnson believes she never could have happily given this time to her students.
“It wouldn’t matter how much money I made if I came into work everyday and hated my job,” Johnson said. “If I don’t love what I’m doing, my quality of life is greatly diminished. My mom has a job she hates and it’s just miserable for her every single day. That carries home and carries into your personal life. I think that finding a balance is important but you have to be happy.”
The Life of a Dancer
P.E. teacher Dasha Plaza has been dancing as long as she can remember. Her earliest memory is of leaping and twirling around her house, and she decided she wanted to be a ballerina when she was five years old. What she didn’t realize at the time was that dance wasn’t all glamorous recitals and sparkly tutus. However, Plaza committed to dance, deciding that it was her future.
Plaza grew up in Russia, where she began doing rhythmic gymnastics at the age of five. She then enrolled for ballroom dancing and ballet lessons, performing in recitals and competitions at a national level from a very young age. Her dance coach suggested that she audition for a prestigious ballet academy in Kazakhstan so Plaza trained for months, spending hours in the studio perfecting each pirouette and leap. When she auditioned for the ballet academy, she was accepted. And for the next seven years, she learned ballet from professional dancers and graduated with a degree in ballet.
Soon after her graduation, Plaza and her family moved to the U. S., where Plaza spent a year at the San Jose Ballet School. Plaza then went off to college, where she realized that dance was the only thing she could imagine doing for the rest of her life.
Plaza explains that dance has made her a motivated person, who is able to set goals and accomplish what she sets her mind to, as dance is a difficult field which demands persistence. Dance also taught her the value of hard-work and perseverance, helping her understand that one has to work for every good thing in life.
“Dance is everything to me,” Plaza said. “I wouldn’t be who I am if I wasn’t dancing. First of all, the work of a dancer is very tedious and difficult, so it definitely shaped me into a more disciplined person. You have to be organized; you have to be self-driven. Find the way to motivate yourself when you’re down or tired or discouraged.”
Dance has also taught Plaza to be a flexible individual, who is able to adapt to her environment and evolve, both as a person and a dancer. As a teenager, Plaza had always planned to be a ballerina because of the beauty and grace of the dance. However, after puberty, her physique changed. Plaza no longer fit the stereotype of a slender ballerina, as she had become more lean and muscular. She started experimenting with other dance styles as well, discovering her passion for contemporary, jazz and modern dance, in which more athletic body-types are welcome.
“I had to adapt because I’m a more muscular and athletic type,” Plaza said. “In ballet, there’s such a stereotype about what you’re supposed to look like as a ballet dancer. I discovered jazz and contemporary styles while in was in San Jose Ballet. I found that passion and realized that I don’t have to concentrate on one type of dance.”
While Plaza had always had her heart set on being a dancer, her family tried to change her mind and expose her to other career options, as they knew that dance was a difficult field to succeed in. Her brother tried to convince her to pursue a career in nursing, but Plaza quickly rejected the suggestion, as she had no interest in medicine.
“I could not ever see myself [being a nurse],” Plaza said. “It took me a good year to decide, ‘Am I doing this?’ and ‘What is the next step?’ It’s a huge risk, if you decide to become a dancer. It isn’t easy. It’s a competitive field, but I listened to my heart and my soul, and I just followed it.”
Plaza’s parents were both Olympic-level fencing coaches. They knew how competitive and risky sports were and tried to shelter Plaza from sports as a child, never signing her up for sports teams. Instead, they signed her up for dance lessons, unaware that dance was just as competitive, if not more so, than sports.
“They knew the whole backside of what it’s like to be an athlete,” Plaza said. “My parents never put me into sports, trying to protect me, knowing how crazy and hard that world is. I don’t think that they fully understood that dance is just as competitive.”
Reflecting on her life decisions, Plaza doesn’t regret anything. She is proud of herself for taking risks and following her passion. However, Plaza believes that not everyone is suited to a career in dance as she faced rejection many times, especially when she was applying for performing jobs. However, she didn’t take the criticism personally and instead viewed it as advice. She blocked out her critics and focused on her art, painstakingly perfecting each step.
“Constant rejection in the audition process — it builds your character a lot,” Plaza said. “You have a tougher skin; you can’t take things too seriously. You can’t reflect on yourself and say, ‘I’m not a good dancer, I’m not a good performer, that’s why I didn’t get hired.’ It’s not for everyone because some people face the rejection and are ok with it and some people are sensitive to it and might quit along the way.”
Plaza believes she wouldn’t be who she is today without dance. She has been shaped by it, by both the rejection and success. She thinks that the most important thing is to keep an unfaltering smile plastered on your face, even in the face of criticism.
“It’s the constant fight of always believing in yourself and having that confidence within yourself,” Plaza said. “It isn’t ever perfect, it comes and goes, because we’re human. This is who I am today because of all the experiences that I’ve had, positive and negative.”
Everybody has to make a choice. Whether they choose to pursue their passion or chase success, the journey inevitably changes them. Sukhija has learned that life is meaningless without passion. Ahuja has learned to always strive for a balance in life and has understood the value of stability. Yang has learned to adapt his passions to the changing world to find his own unique place in a world that may seem black-and-white at times. Johnson has learned to value diversity and celebrate her differences and uniqueness. And Plaza has learned to drown out the haters and focus on herself and her passion. The arts have changed each of their lives and left an everlasting mark on them.