Laura Odden Quaintance


As I move toward two decades of directing choirs, I’m learning that, for me, success looks like a constant check for balance.  Early in my career, I took it as a compliment when students, parents, and coworkers would see me at school and ask, “Do you live here?” I was proud of putting in time and proud that people noticed. I wanted to impress my administrators, and community. I was determined to rebuild a program, learn the ropes, and succeed. I achieved those things, and had a great sense of pride in my accomplishments. Now I look back at that time and know that balance with other aspects of my life suffered as a result. I am now finally paying attention to where I can improve.

Success for me looks like a healthy mixture of career focus, repertoire expansion, and life outside of work. Pairing my job with time fueling other joys has been something I hope is also helping me prevent burnout. I want to be present with my students, and I want to be present with my family and friends. If the past few years taught me anything, it is how much our lives need balance.

Something many of us can challenge ourselves to improve is the balance between the connection with those we love, focus on our health & well-being (mentally and physically), and time spent “turned off” from our work. Is balance easy? It certainly isn’t for me, but I have learned that my students are more successful when I enter rehearsals this way. They also see me model what healthy work/life balance can look like.

During my first year teaching in my current job, a former President of our college came to me and said “Laura, I know you love what you do, I can see it in your work. But promise me this one thing: don’t sacrifice your family and your life to maintain your career. Too many people do that in your line of work.” To this day, the thought of that conversation gives me chills. He knew that too many of us need permission to shut off from our work. When I struggle to keep balance, I think back to that conversation; I’m so grateful for his wisdom.

Learning balance is essential. For your life, for your family, for your students or singers, and for yourself. The Oxford dictionary defines balance as “1. a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. 2. To offset or compare the value of (one thing) with another.” Can you value your work in high regard? Of course! Is there something you could realign in your work life to create a healthier balance? That’s up to you. Maybe it’s simply the proportions you choose to improve upon. For me, I’ll continue doing checks and balances every so often. My career, my students, and the people I love deserve that.