Pursuing Your Passion While Working 9-to-5

Artists of all kinds often find themselves accepting 9-to-5 jobs along the path to their passion.  Some “settle” after realizing a career in their craft would be challenging to obtain.  Others prefer to have steady income for the sake of comfortability.  For many, it could be a combination of both and other reasons.  Our 9-to-5s can even be ones that we love and enjoy showing up for every day – but our passions are forever engrained in us, thinking and dreaming of them constantly.  No one says that the fire inside of you needs to be extinguished upon the start of a full-time position in an unrelated field.

Your artistic flame can stay ablaze in many forms.  For me personally, I work regular business hours at an office and intend to remain there for the foreseeable future.  I remain active in the dance community by auditioning only for companies whose rehearsal times are compatible with my schedule.  Currently, I am a member of two companies that rehearse on weekday evenings.  Both fulfill me, and without their existence in my life, something would feel missing.

Do you work in an office setting, but yearn to reconnect with what it is that you love?  Do you dream of possibly even starting your own company, but question how it can even happen when your free time is limited?

Lee-Ann Barber has done just that – proving that it IS indeed possible!  She is a wife, a mamma to two kittens, and a full-time employee at the American Association for Cancer Research in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — all while running her company, Two Hearts Dance & Yoga.

Who is Lee-Ann Barber?

Lee-Ann was born in Easton, Pennsylvania and has been dancing since the age of five.  When she was seven years old, her family moved to Maryland, and it was here where she furthered her training in ballet, jazz, modern, and tap dance.  This childhood activity became her passion, and she went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Dance from the University of Maryland.  After graduation, Lee-Ann began working full-time for Thomson Reuters in downtown Washington D.C. while also dancing professionally for Momentum Dance Theater and on the NBA’s Washington Wizards Dance Team.  She was a Wizard Girl for three seasons before closing that chapter in 2013 to pursue a Masters degree in Business Administration from the University of Maryland University College.  Because she was working full-time, Lee-Ann decided to take her Masters courses online.  During this time, she began to long for a change and soon made the move to Philadelphia, a city she was familiar with from traveling there with her parents.  She continued her online courses in Philadelphia and earned her degree in 2015.  Lee-Ann knew she wanted to own a business one day, and wanted an M.B.A. to provide her an edge and a strong foundation.

In Philadelphia, Lee-Ann worked full-time, spent time with her boyfriend (now husband), and taught various dance classes.  Over the years, as she was teaching more classes and training more people, she started getting requests for private lessons.  She always dreamed of starting her own company to teach dance, but this time period is when it started to make sense. 

Just do it!

Lee-Ann says you have to “just get out there and do it!”  Once you do that, create a website and brand yourself.  Lee-Ann created a website on her own and started to market herself and her dance teaching services.  She decided to expand on her teaching abilities by completing a Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training Program in 2017. 

She says you have to talk about what it is that you offer, and talk about it as much as you can!  The more you talk about your passion and the more people hear it, the more opportunities reach their way back to you.  She stresses the importance of spreading the word about what you love to do.  Have conversations with people.  Make sure that everyone knows what you do.  Putting it out into the universe is key to manifesting your goals.  She was constantly connecting with people and discussing their needs and how her expertise could help them.  She still implements this mode of sharing today, but it was especially necessary in the beginning.

A co-worker who helps run the Wellness at Work program at Lee-Ann’s full-time job heard she was in yoga teacher training.  She asked Lee-Ann to join the team.  Lee-Ann began to practice her yoga instruction on her own co-workers, which led to more connections.  The demand for her services began to grow.  This is when she knew her branding needed to switch from personal to business.  She thought of the name, created a logo, updated her website to become Two Hearts Dance & Yoga, and most importantly, wrote up a business plan.  Lee-Ann says that writing a business plan is super key to starting anything.  You need to have a strategy for your business.  If you don’t know where to begin, there are an array of templates online that you can use for inspiration on how to get started with this.

Be Proactive: What Can You Do Now?

All of these above tips are fine and dandy, but for anything to come to fruition, you must be proactive!  Lee-Ann drove passed a Kung Fu academy every day on her way to work and decided to reach out to the owner, asking if she could teach a Yoga for Everybody class in the space.  She also credits a lot of her success to business cards, so make some business cards!  But, she says, you can not just leave them to dust.  She would leave them anywhere she possibly could – in a tip jar at a restaurant, on a bulletin board at a bookstore.  At that time, she felt like she was just winging it, but all of those small efforts made her business become what it is today.  

“People would call me from seeing my business card that I left somewhere.” 
Today, Lee-Ann offers lessons in a wide variety of styles of movement: ballet, tap, jazz, modern, meditation, technique, dance team audition-prep, wedding choreography, and more!  Near and dear to her heart are her specialized yoga classes for Veterans, Seniors, and Special Needs.  Her father is a veteran and her mother was a Special Education teacher for many years.  Inspired by her parents, she wanted to lead classes that were accessible for everyone.  

Life can get hectic working full-time and running another business, but for Lee-Ann, her life would not feel complete without it.  Dance and Yoga are outlets that make her happy and forget about a rough day at work or any external stressors.  After working eight hours during the day at the American Association for Cancer Research, she then teaches dance and yoga classes in the evenings.  Her schedule changes with the seasons, but currently she teaches four nights a week with an occasional Sunday yoga event.  In addition, she is a feedback and accountability coach for Sideline Prep.  Some classes she teaches through a studio, while others she organizes under Two Hearts Dance & Yoga. 

As Two Hearts grows, she wishes to add more people to the team – such as a social media intern or another teacher.  It can be really hard to give up the reigns, but change and more importantly, learning how to grow with change, is a vital quality to possess in business.  There are certain aspects of this journey that Lee-Ann said you will look back on and wish you knew, but you will learn along the way – like taxes, paperwork, and expenses.  You have to accept that, in your first year, you may simply break even with no profit.  If you push through, you will eventually get to the other side of the tunnel.  

It is very important, Lee-Ann says, though not always possible, to try to schedule one day off a week.  We’ve all heard the term “burn-out” and many of us have probably experienced it.  For someone as busy as Lee-Ann, without making a point to schedule even a small amount of free time, burn-out can easily happen.  Time management and balance are an extremely important part of successfully pursuing your passion while working 9-to-5.

If you are sitting at your desk reading this right now, and you’ve been wanting to pursue what you’ve always dreamed about, whether that be a dance teaching business or anything else – it does not necessarily mean you have to quit or leave where you are now.  With the proper resources, determination, and time management skills – you can do it all!

“If you love something so much, you will make time for it, no matter how busy you are.  You will make time for what is important to you.”  – Lee-Ann Barber

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