Throughout my years of teaching, I have been very lucky to have all sorts of incredible people gravitate towards my world. Some become my go-to kids; the ones who kept coming back for more, year after year, naturally developing into the leaders of the activities that I advise. They are the strong personalities, talents and visionaries who eventually become the officers, dance captains, and crew leaders that are the liaisons between the adults and the student body. Those kids provide guidance, the occasional “head’s up,” as well as an extra set of eyes and brains to help us guide the activities.
Elya Shavrova, graduate of 2010 (with episode 20 guest Alex Domini), was one of those “go-to” kids. Starting in her freshman year, she took advantage of every dance class and theater opportunity she could, and explored each aspect of the performing arts onstage and off. She had the gamut of theater experience: singing and tap dancing, focusing lights, building sets, being a crew ninja, and calling cues in the booth as stage manager. All of that involvement made her a perfect candidate to take on leadership responsibilities as the executive board VP in her senior year.
Aside from all the Thespian stuff, she loved being engaged in the school community. I taught her in dance class for four years, where she performed in all of our dance concerts, and she took advantage of so many of the other sport and club activities like swim team, dance club, Thespians, Model UN, Forensics Speech Club, and Key Club. Being so strongly engaged in school helped her to navigate her tumultuous adolescent experience.
After high school, she attended CW Post University in Long Island, NY, first as an Arts Management major, then switched over to accounting. Graduating in 2015, she got right to work, accepting various positions before she landed at Dashlane, where she was recently promoted to Senior accountant. It’s definitely a place where I feel very valued, and I feel like I can make an impact. I’m always being challenged, always learning, always growing. I’m very happy with my work.
Elya looks back at her teenage years as an unsettling, yin and yang kind of experience. As an adult, we look at all of that as perfectly normal, but in the moment, adolescence feels otherwise.
Maybe from an outside perspective, it might have looked like I was this high-achieving student, involved in all of these activities, but on the inside, I was very insecure, sensitive, emotional, all these thoughts in my head like, ‘Am I doing this right? Am I going to mess this up?’ It lends itself to be tumultuous. I had a pretty chaotic experience.
Despite the chaos, she also described herself as warm and caring and shared that part of herself with the people and pursuits she loved. Her friends, Thespians, doing well in school, leading the swim team: these were the benefactors of Elya’s big heart. All of these activities provided ways to both develop her character and to distract herself from the tumult.
There was a method to the madness: she took advantage of every school opportunity she could to keep herself out of the house for as long as possible. Raised by her grandparents, Elya was immersed in a huge generational and cultural gap. She emigrated from Russia when she was a child, and grew up in an American suburb that was very different from her grandparents’ childhood experience growing up in Soviet Russia. Part of her internal struggle in high school was being more attracted to the American life she wanted than living up to her grandparents’ cultural expectations. Elya was always on the search for emotional stability and she found that by immersing herself in the American experience. Taking advantage of the school activities and making friends in the process gave her great joy and made her feel grounded and rooted in herself.
Now in her late twenties, even though she has a job in which she feels comfortable, that old unsettled feeling still surfaces from time to time.
You never know what’s going to happen next, you don’t know where life is going to go, and sometimes you don’t even know where you want your life to go.
Sometimes, that can feel a little overwhelming. The good news is that no matter what life throws her way, Elya has set herself up with a good cushion to manage whatever life has to offer. She calls that having strong roots, like a tree. She even has a big tattoo of a tree on her back, to remind her of those roots:
The thing it means the most is, trees are very strong organisms. They have very strong roots that are capable of ripping through cement. They’re always constantly changing; they go through all these seasons, they lose their leaves, they grow back, they grow flowers, but the one thing that remains is that the roots remain strong in the ground. I think that’s a person’s moral compass, who they are at the core of themselves, I believe is like the roots of the tree, and that’s what helps it weather all those changes and continue to grow through all of the things that can happen in life.
Finding her roots in the performing arts
In the dance studio, Elya found a place where she could feel comfortable, tapping into the artistic part of herself where she could use her body to be creative. She lamented that she doesn’t consider herself a creative or artistic person in general, but the regular movement and dance training in school helped her self-confidence to emerge. That confidence further developed each year with every artistic, technical or leadership activity that she took on. As she built on her skill base, she also had a stronger guide to get herself through the chaos of being an adolescent. The discovery process provided the practical experiences to figure out what she specifically was good at, what she wasn’t good at or didn’t like, and gave her the chance to slowly reveal her authentic self.
Positive reinforcement from the adults around her in school was something she appreciated most. She thrived from the targeted feedback of exactly what she was doing right, or the specific guidance she received when she needed to change or improve her performance. Arts teachers often have a special portal to the hearts and minds of teens in the midst of chaos. We use the framework of the human experience to help them relate better to the things that are happening in their own lives, especially when they don’t fully understand everything they perceive. We have the power to do it in a way where they can feel safe to navigate their world. Elya expounded upon that idea:
With academics, aside from maybe English, there’s always a right and a wrong answer. There’s always only so many ways you can get to that right or wrong answer, whereas [in] the arts, there is no right answer. There’s maybe no answer at all. There’s so many ways to get there, so many things that you can do any ways you can think in that you really don’t get when you’re doing math or science.
It’s extremely vital to someone’s brain development and how they see the world, how they process information in general, ’cause you can be an academic and read a book and see one thing, and you can be an artist and read a book and see a completely different thing. Having that exposure, especially for children, is very important.
One’s best success comes after their greatest disappointments.Henry Ward Beecher
Before she entered high school, Elya had her sights set on joining Thespians. Her friend’s sister was involved and gave her the scoop about the club, which piqued her attention. She was also on the district swim team with one of our active members, so Elya was well-versed in all things Thespians when she entered as a freshman. She was very excited to join Thespians and wanted to climb the proverbial ladder and excel more each year.
As high school things go, she had her first boyfriend in 11th grade and she became distracted from her Thespian passions. She was not as involved in the drama club activities as she spent more time with her budding relationship, and in the spring, when we hold officer elections for the next school year. Elya had her sights set on being president. Instead, her good friend was elected for the top spot and Elya was voted in as Vice President.
I was really disappointed in myself. I knew that I didn’t get President because I wasn’t around as much in junior year, I didn’t get to forge the relationships with the younger kids that made up the bulk of the voting, and that was because my focus changed from school, academics, swim team, dance classes, to this boy. I realized, in that moment I lost, that it doesn’t matter if you’re really good at something or really passionate about something – you have to be consistent, you have to show up, you have to show people all of the time that you are reliable and trustworthy; that you are capable of being a leader. I didn’t do that in that moment.
But, since then, I have worked really hard to remain consistent in the things that I believe are most important to me. My friends, my relationships, my job. Now, I think people know me as that trustworthy person, someone they can always rely on.
Sometimes, the strongest lessons come from our biggest disappointments. I see it every year, in so many capacities. Elections, cast lists, missed opportunities, I see kids grappling with these things all the time and struggling to make sense of their feelings. My eternal hope is that they, like Elya, use the letdowns as an opportunity for growth.
How has Elya changed?
Though she feels, at the core, she is very similar to her adolescent self, the years of maturity have boosted her confidence and personal strength through her life experience. Despite the lingering insecurities that most of us hold on to after high school, she understands who she is and what drives her, acknowledging that there’s always room for improvement. Her life quest now is to love for herself and find things that bring her joy and make her feel at peace, something she wasn’t able to do in high school. Then, it was about trying to be good at all the things she did and pleasing the people around her.
While she is still an emotional, sensitive person, the feelings are tempered. If she could go back and give her younger self some good advice, it would be this:
Nothing is permanent; no feeling, no situation, no stage in your life. You’re never going to stay somewhere, stuck like that forever. Everything you’re feeling is okay, just know that it’s not going to be that way forever. There’s always going to be movement, growth, you’re always going to learn something new every day that will help you move through these things.
As she said all this, I smiled, because it’s true. Even when adults have to deal with those uncomfortable emotions, ones that challenge our sense of stability, we have to remind ourselves that “this too shall pass.”
I feel like I’m just a 16-year-old that’s 30 years old. I think that a lot of adults go through life trying to get that adolescence back.
She’s definitely onto something.
As tragic as adolescence can feel, she noted that there’s something magical about the firsts, the fun, the freedom that being a teenager can behold. She does her best to keep those things in her sights as she gets older:
The things that bring me joy are the same things that brought me joy when I was a high school student: dancing, swimming, being with my friends, laying out in the sun. Very simple things that make me feel like a kid.
We all need a break from the weight of the world. Staying in touch with our inner child is an essential connection for adults because we bear the brunt of knowing about the real world and dealing with the fallout. Whether society changes, or we change to see society through a different lens, Elya grapples with her place in today’s culture. She sees how her sense of “normal” is shifting; the current definitions of success and the surface metrics that people use to determine what is important is very different from what she remembers.
I struggle to align myself with the world. I’m really trying to figure out how I can be myself and not let those things pressure me and make me feel out of place. I think it comes down to having your confidence in yourself and knowing that whatever path you’re on, whatever you’re doing in your life, that you’re happy with it, that you’re content with who you are at the core. Once you reach that place, all these other really loud things in your way start to quiet down, and the things at the forefront of your life are the things that bring you joy.
Sage advice for teens
In that pursuit of things that bring her quiet peace and joy, Elya has learned that being mindful and present in the moment is an important strategy. She recalled the old saying that she still hears once in a while “your life hasn’t even started yet,” suggesting that your current experience doesn’t count towards setting up your future. Instead she has this, more nuanced idea to offer:
Your life has already started. You’re at this point in your life where you can choose to want to be out of this time in your life, but enjoying the moment that you’re in is so important because then, you can live a life without regrets. Lean into where you are in your life. Find those places where you’re happy, where you’re comfortable, the most at peace; especially in high school because you’re never going to get that time back.
Elya’s self-care plan
Elya is squarely focused on finding joy in the simple things. These are the go-to activities that work for her:
- Elya spends about an hour every day taking long walks where she can listen to music and sit with her thoughts. That time is spend sorting out her jumbled brain, thinking, planning and paying attention to what is really going on in there. What’s bothering me, what’s driving me, what I want to accomplish that week. That brings me a sense of peace and regularity and makes me feel energized.
- She’s a big fan of giving some consistent time to skin care. It’s a great way to follow a few steps in a routine that is solely focused on herself and makes her feel good.
- I like buying myself flowers! They give her joy, they are easy to go down to the store to get something simple and pretty to look at.
Check out our full interview for more of Elya’s story!