Why do they call it “dancing for your life?”
It’s a phrase frequently repeated on the popular talent show So You Think You Can Dance, a phrase that extends an invitation for the contestant to take one last shot. There are only two sides to this coin—a 50/50 chance to either continue on in the contest or go home, defeated. The dancer faces a choice in this moment: Will they capitulate to fear, or will they embrace hope?
How can they know how to respond without predicting the eventual outcome of their last-ditch effort?
I recently heard something else on a similar program. About how nervousness and excitement are essentially the same emotion, the difference between the two being our response to what lies before us, or in other words, our point of view. Hope and fear.
Perhaps they call it “dancing for your life” because something actually dies in the contestant who gets sent home. When your dream gets shot down, it’s easy to let your hopes wither. Death, basically, is loss. That’s why, when you’ve put it all on the line and that person you’re looking to for affirmation rejects your efforts, it can feel like death. Because you’re beginning to lose your dream. Not only that, but when they tell you to dance for your life, or give it all you’ve got, or something similar, a huge weight is dropped on your shoulders. Suddenly, it’s all on you. And if you don’t make it, it’s your fault.
You could have done better.
You did something wrong.
You’re not good enough.
Rejection always proffers a critical choice: Either rave against the ones who turned you down, beat yourself up for awhile, or continue to believe in your dreams, learn from the experience, and keep working.
This all brings me to share a bit about my own journey. I recently attended my third year at the Realm Makers writer’s conference, a unique gathering of speculative writers and industry professionals where we have the opportunity to pitch our manuscript to editors and agents, learn a ton, and connect with other authors. It’s a wonderful event, and I’m indelibly grateful for the connections I’ve made and what I’ve learned attending this and similar conferences. After returning home, I began to process my inner thought-reel. And I made some realizations.
I realized there were some things in my life that I’d “learned” to stop getting my hopes up for.
I want to be a published fiction author. I’ve been working on this dream for over twelve years. And it’s been good. But, it’s also been hard. I’ve invested a whole lot into my writing—tears, sweat, time, money, commitment, energy, prayer, my heart. I have worked so hard and sought out help and done my research on the industry. And I’ve punched out the words and written the stories, often treating it as a second full time job.
But I haven’t seen a lot of return. At least not yet.
Sometimes, the dream is sparked to life again. Realm Makers helps a lot with this. But I’ve come to recognize that most of the time, in the tension of uncertainty, I forget to be excited. I tamper down my hopes because I don’t want to risk disappointment.
And I’m dying inside.
Not because someone rejected me. But because I can’t seem to live up to my own expectations when I do gamble and toss out my hopes. And because I cheap shot my dream.
So I asked myself a question:
If I don’t see the return, and I can’t predict when it will come, can I sustain a life where I just keep investing, or is this whole venture going to wear me down?
See, I’ve told myself I have to dance for my life. I’m afraid of letting myself down, not someone else. So I stress over getting things “just exactly right.” But my perfectionist tendencies don’t work, because even if I do everything right, I still face the very real possibility of seeing zero return.
What I have to admit and embrace is that I can’t get it perfect. But that doesn’t mean I have to stop hoping, stop working, or stop dreaming. And it certainly doesn’t mean that my dream isn’t valuable. It means that maybe it’s not all on me. Maybe I’ve forgotten how to dream with God. With my Father, who is nothing short of the dream-giver himself. I might not get everything right, but he can and will do something good with my investment.
There’s a fine balance we must find between holding onto our dreams and letting go of certain mindsets. We do have to face the realities of life, the realities of the writing industry and that it’s not easy to “make it.” But if we can learn to surrender our need for control, our need to know the outcome and letting that determine whether we’re nervous or excited, we will be able to let ourselves dream again.
I’ve been holding too much.
I need to let God hold things for me so I don’t become disheartened. He’s really good at that. He loves to cradle our longings and desires to his chest, to breathe life on them, and to care for our hearts. Sometimes the ache of unfulfilled dreams is too heavy, weighing us down and stealing the joy of the process. But if we allow God to hold them, it frees us up to keep going. Because now there’s room. Of course this is going to require vulnerability and trust, but I’m convinced it’s worth it.
One more thing I was struck with at Realm Makers: The immense importance of the community around me. I may or may not get a book deal from this one conference, but I have gained an army of comrades. I am reminded of the specific people I’ve met that have had a huge impact on me and my writing. They have championed me and helped me and taught me in the midst of the doubts and hopes of my journey. Not only that, but I have a community here at home, people that have become cheerleaders for me, praying and encouraging and offering me their time and ear to practice pitching or bounce ideas off of.
And it makes me want to do the same for others.
In fact, I can keep my own dreams alive by championing and celebrating yours. And I certainly hope I do. On that note, let me make myself available. If you need a listening ear, an encouragement, or a prayer to keep going and not lose heart, please reach out. I’m learning, just as you, and perhaps our paths can intersect, if even for a moment.
Thank you for listening.
Thank you for not giving up. On yourself, or on me.