What if you never “make it”?

I have a bad habit of getting too far ahead of myself and then when I look back to where I am now, the gap appears so huge that I start to lose hope that I’ll ever close it. Ever happen to you? Maybe you see someone else more advanced in the dance studio and think you’ll never be able to reach that level. If you’re like me, you might even wonder if you should just give up now.

I posted on social media this past week that I’ve set a lofty goal for myself in 2020 – five competitions. On average, I don’t do more than two or three competitions in a year. Realistically, there’s no way I can afford five comps. My knees are wondering if they’ll be able to keep up the pace. And there’s the voice in the back of my head that whispers, “what’s the point?”

When the odds are clearly set against me, so much so that this goal sounds like a fool’s errand, why am I making it my intention for next year?

Another lofty goal of mine is making dancing and writing my full-time career. I dream of being a recognized professional dancer and seeing my books displayed in bookstores and on Amazon as top sellers. But what if I never make it? Will this journey all be a waste?

My dreams and goals have always tended to be larger than my reality. Which means I fall short a LOT. Time and time again, I fail to reach my goals. It’s discouraging and disheartening.

Almost every time I hit a rough patch on this journey, I question if it’s really worth all of the struggles and whether I should just quit. I’m spending thousands of dollars every year on ballroom dancing that could be going toward erasing credit card debt or saving for a new car or a home with a backyard for my boys. What is it all going towards? Just more private lessons and competitions in the proam circuit? What if I never reach the level of dancing I’ve set my long-term sights on?

I’ve also spent thousands of dollars on building my brand as a writer and self-publishing three books and two journals. What if no one beyond my small but mighty tribe (love you guys!) ever knows I exist? Should I accept that I need to keep the day job indefinitely to keep these passions alive? Is there a point where I need to give up trying to make these passions my career?

The hard truth is I may never “make it.” I’m 36 and it’s quite possible the only advancement I’ll make in ballroom from this point on is in my age category. Maybe I’ll continue to self-publish my books and never hit those traditional markers of success in writing, like signing a lucrative book deal or making it onto the New York Times best seller list.

The problem with “making it” is it’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint what that means exactly. What timeframe do you apply? If you define “making it” as accomplishing something by the time you’re 35 and you accomplish it when you’re 40, were you still successful? I would say yes, but then what if you haven’t accomplished it by the time you’re 40? Do you keep going and try for 41? Or is 5 years past the deadline too far and you should give up? What if you thought 3 years past the deadline was too far when you were on track to succeed at 5 years?

I don’t have any answers because I don’t think there are any standard ones. I think it’s individual to each person. The way I get through these incessant questions that have no good answers is ask myself another question – what’s the alternative?

If I decide I’ve missed my shot to become a professional dancer (what “professional dancer” means is a whole other topic, by the way) and that means I should give up on dancing, what’s the alternative? If I decide I’ve tried long enough at this writing thing and the recognition I’ve already gained isn’t enough to be considered “making it” as an author, what’s the alternative?

I could drop dancing and writing, close down The Girl with the Tree Tattoo blog, and just work the day job 5 days a week until I retire. It might be nice to have evenings and weekends free and a cushy nest egg in my savings account. I could go on actual vacations or buy a house.

But would I be happy? Would I be fulfilled?

Hell no.

I did the go to work, go home, chill on the weekends thing before I found ballroom. I ended up empty, miserable and divorced. Ballroom dancing woke up the creativity inside me that was slowly withering away with every day I spent sitting in rush hour traffic. I realized I was just surviving life, I wasn’t thriving.

I started thriving when I started pushing myself to try things that scared me and challenged my creative limits.

Maybe reality hasn’t matched up with my vision yet, but if I shift my focus from comparing the future vision to the present and instead compare the present to the past, I’ve gained more success than I ever imagined. Or perhaps it just looks different from what I imagined.

Whenever I feel stressed or depressed about not having “made it” yet, I stop and ask myself what that really means. And what happens after I make it? Is that where the journey ends? Or does a new journey start and I’ll have to deal with not having made it in some new way?

Goals are essential to any journey. They give you direction. A destination provides a pull for you to keep moving forward when you stall or get off track. At the same time, the point isn’t necessarily to reach that goal. It’s about the journey you take to get there. It’s about thriving while you’re on this planet, instead of just surviving. Whatever goal or dream you create for yourself, working toward that will help you accomplish way more than if you didn’t have that goal, which in turn makes you successful even if you never reach the original goal.

I know there is a high probability that I won’t be able to compete five times in 2020. But I’ll compete more while working toward that goal than if I set no goal and decided to just wait and see how things work out. As someone commented on the original social media post, the time is going to pass anyway. So we may as well make the most of it.

Here’s to thriving!

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14 thoughts on “What if you never “make it”?

  1. Annie Elliott says:

    I recommend Twyla Tharp’s new book, Keep It Moving. I think she wrote it for older people, like me, but she addresses the difference between a goal and a pledge. Exactly what you’re talking about.

  2. Babs says:

    I had one of those lessons two days ago, “why am I doing this, putting myself through the frustration and disappoint AND spending money?” Then I remembered, I’ve been there before and at the VERY least, I’m getting exercise and challenging my mind. Also, that this happens every so often, so what else is new. AND that I am constantly improving. My goals are small, two, maybe three little comps/showcases, but it gives me a reason to keep dancing and pushing myself. Do I dance like I did when I started. OF COURSE NOT! I’m much better, just like I’ll be better in a few weeks and much better in a year. It’s all part of the journey.

  3. Karen Petrick Robb says:

    As I started ballroom late in life. I have to remember that it’s for me. One of the few things I do for myself. It is also a proven fact that as we age we need to set goals and have a purpose in our life. Dance / life balance is key. But sometimes hard to achieve. “ it’s not about waiting for the storm to pass- it’s about learning to dance in the rain”.

  4. Babs says:

    Hey GIRL, I think that maybe Karen and I would define “later in life” a bit differently from you! You youngster you! Karen, for me it was 58 years old, but didn’t seriously take private lessons until I was 60.

  5. Nadine says:

    You could do dance and still have that joy and not be spending all that money in competitions. And save for retirement as well.

    Have you read glamour addiction?

    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      I haven’t read that, but you’re right! There are plenty of ways to dance that don’t require such a large investment. Or any investment for that matter! Just depends on what makes you feel fulfilled.
      For me, I find fulfillment in the challenge that competition brings to my dance journey. So while I still question myself at times, it always comes back to my ultimate why for choosing this path and what makes me feel most fulfilled on my journey. 🙂

      • Nadine says:

        It’s an interesting book, and I think a must read. I spend thousands and thousands of dollars in ballroom as well, and I think it’s a good idea to do it with open eyes.

        I try to be aware when I feel that most *spark* or *alive* feeling in dancing. Is it during privates, social dancing? Or is it when someone verbally praises me?

  6. rhakakatresna says:

    I relate personally to your post this time. There’s no other thing in my life that can literally save my life than dance. You found your purpose and pursuit, then you make the way for it. I was thinking that I’m late to dance and compete. But after seeing you and your journeys. I’ve changed my mind. You expressed that you can achieve for your life time.

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