This is Reshma Gajjar.
If you saw Academy Award winning film, La La Land, you'll recognize her. She was the first to appear on screen in the opening number, "Another Day of Sun."
When she was in 8th grade, Reshma was my daughters' babysitter. I asked her partly because I thought she'd be a solid role model, but mostly because I knew she'd be fun. When we returned home after one evening out, Kyrra told me that after they had been playing she asked Resh if they should clean up. "Clean?" Reshma answered, "What's clean?"
In high school, Reshma got good grades and planned on four years of college like "everyone else at (her) school." She was on that hazy college/career path at U.C. Santa Cruz when she enrolled in a dance class so she "could feel something familiar."
Her professor recognized her potential and introduced her to the world of commercial dance, specifically the convention circuit. Although Reshma had danced throughout her childhood and teenage years, she never thought of dance as a profession because she had never seen anyone who looked like her doing it.
People get paid to dance and travel? she thought. I want to do that! She won a yearlong scholarship to The Edge Performing Arts Center, moved to LA, trained hard and began auditioning. Her parents were massively against all of this, but after she promised to get her college degree, they reluctantly agreed to support her.
It took more than four years (and attendance at multiple colleges), but she kept her promise. She earned a business law degree that she has never used, but "it gave my parents peace of mind, which was a priceless gift."
Reshma has danced all over the world. I still have the futbol jersey she bought for me in Portugal while on tour as a dancer for Madonna. Today, based in the home she and her artist husband, Miles, bought in LA, she still dances and now works as an actress and model, too. This year she has finished shooting an indie film and was recently up in the Bay working on a pilot for a new TV show.
"I never know when or where my next job will be," she told me.
I asked her if she had any regrets about not settling into a more stable and "secure" way of life. Wouldn't that be less stressful?
"It would be more stressful to live that life. I couldn't do it."
What about getting married relatively later in life? What about kids?
"Maybe. Possibly. But, either way, I love my life."
I didn't hear what she said after that.
"I love my life."
I've been obsessing over those four words ever since. How many people can say them and mean them?
I don't think I have ever said them. But after thinking about it, I do.
I love my life.
It's the ultimate report card grade, isn't it? Assuming you're not living amorally or hurtfully - could anyone living that way truthfully say that sentence? - what more is there?
If you love your life, you get an A+. Where you live, how you live, who you love, who loves you, who doesn't love you, who admires you... None of that matters.
"I love my life." Those four words are what I hope to hear from every student I've ever taught. Hell, they're what I most want to hear from everyone I've ever loved. Everyone I know and care about.
If you can't truthfully say, "I love my life," what must you do - what must you change - to get there?
And how can I help?