04/22/2013 03:04 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2013

When You Get Back in the Saddle Again, Expect to Fall

I wrote a post around a year ago about my heartbreak and anguish over letting my fear allow me to stop following and living my passion (which had already been a 20 year-long purpose) of acting and performing. I feel like a very important part of my soul has been missing for these past eight years without it. I don't need to rehash all I wrote, but in a nutshell I realized that I was never going to be able to go back and do what I had really wanted to do -- move to New York after college and try to make it on stage, while doing all those jobs that aspiring actors do to make ends meet in the meantime. I realized that now, in my 30s, I couldn't go back and do that. I will never have that chance again. There are many things one can pick up again, but dropping my life and starting from scratch whilst competing against girls 10 years younger than me for parts, I could not. (OK, yes, technically, I could but, come on -- let's be real.)

Anyways, that breakdown (and article) was a year ago. And it's taken me this whole year to muster up enough courage to even consider getting back in that acting saddle. Thanks to many people who reached out and encouraged -- especially to one angel of a guy who would not let me off the hook -- (thank you!) -- I decided to dip my toe back into the water... and belly-flopped instead.

So, I tried out for a play. I studied and practiced and all that good stuff, and for some reason thought I would just show up on the stage like not a minute had passed and rock it like I used to. Worst audition I may have ever given in my life -- so bad that when I was finished the room was silent with the unspoken words of, "wait, was she really just that bad?" hanging in the air. I honestly thought that I'd just be able to waltz up there and nail it. And when I didn't, I beat myself up over it; I had set such extremely high expectations, that when I didn't reach them, I fell just as low as I had set the bar high.

Luckily, the director gave me a second chance (pity, perhaps?). I went outside to work on the new scene he gave me, and my mind was immediately under attack by what felt like a swarm of crazy incoming bees bombarding me with negative thoughts. I was being attacked by thoughts like, "Just leave now. You obviously can't do this. Don't go back in there and embarrass yourself again. It's a good thing you gave this up because you obviously suck at it. You better walk away for good this time and never try it again, because you're awful and making a fool of yourself." I was fighting a panic attack and holding back massive tears, and I just wanted to go in there and tell them I couldn't do it. I wanted to leave.

But then I took a deep breath. And made a choice. I could choose to give into this attack and let fear win out again, or I could choose not to give those thoughts and that fear any power... and I chose to tell that fear to "F off." I went back in and did a good enough job to get a call-back. But for some reason -- even though I must have redeemed myself at least somewhat -- that whole night and day after, I couldn't stop beating myself up for just how bad I had been. I was so embarrassed that I sucked. I felt mortified and humiliated.

But then I realized: I had set myself up to fail because I had set unreasonable expectations in place.

We have to set ourselves up to win. How do we do that? By setting reasonable expectations and attainable goals. By being honest about where we are. And I went to the callback with some of that compassion for myself, being honest about where I was -- expecting to do my best at the level where I am now, understanding that my best today is not the same as my best was when I was in practice. Yes, it is good to set goals and push ourselves to be great. But we can't be great, or "win," if we're setting ourselves up to fail and then beating ourselves up after we do. The truth is that sometimes all winning means is getting back up after we fall. Because we're going to fall. We have to fall. That's how we learn. As my boyfriend pointed out to me, I always seem to gain strength after I've fallen down into a deep dark place. That's how I learn. That's how a lot of us learn.

When the director called to tell me I didn't get the part, at first, I'll admit, I did have to battle my mind from not going to the automatic place of rejection with self-talk like, "I suck and I shouldn't try this ever again because I'll just embarrass myself," but then, I turned that voice off and went to a place of being proud for even trying. I had told him that it was my first audition back in eight years, and he encouraged me to keep going and get my bearings again. He said it was great to see me up there on stage (and it sure was good to be up there!), and that I mustn't give up this time... and I won't. Instead of hanging up the phone feeling rejected and humiliated that I didn't get a part, I actually felt empowered -- because I had done something that I knew I could fail at; in fact, I had done something that I had failed at. I had done something that I had allowed my fear to keep me from doing for all of these years.

I don't want to let fear keep me again from the things that I love... from the things that I am passionate about. I lost almost 10 years of doing something I love -- being up on that stage -- because I let my fear win. I know I was good. I know I can be good again... I know it's in me. It's just covered in cobwebs. So all I've got to do is clear the cobwebs. When you get back in the saddle again after a long time, the saddle's going to be dirty and you'll need to polish it up. You can't expect it to be as shiny and clean and beautiful as it was years ago... it's been collecting dust while it hasn't been used! And when you get back in the saddle again after a long time with no practice, you're going to fall. But it's your choice whether you choose to get back up. And no matter what the end result is, whenever you get back up, you win.

For more by Holly Sidell, click here.

For more on success and motivation, click here.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.