When I was a little girl I was confident that my future would involve fame. My 10-year-old self’s plan was to be an actress or a singer. “Or maybe a nurse,” I’d add when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I hadn’t worked out the fame part of the nurse idea but it was on the list and always met with approval. With the untarnished confidence of youth, before the world had its way with me, I believed I could do anything I wanted to do and be the best of the bunch.

Pursuing my dream of acting, I once auditioned for Paul Newman. The casting director for the film he was directing watched rehearsals for the high school play I was in and chose me to audition. This was it! I knew it! I sat across the table from Newman, acutely aware of the luminous blue of his eyes in my peripheral vision as I read with the casting director. I knew I was good enough and felt I did well in the audition. Although Eli Wallach’s daughter got the part, I learned via a letter from the casting director that I was seriously considered for the role. I think I read that letter a hundred times. I snapped my fingers and thought, “Argh. So close!”

Over the years, though, my confidence eroded, for reasons not unique to my personal experience. I think this happens to most people. We get rejected and rebuked and disparaged and we either pop back up from each hit like one of those punching bag clowns, or we internalize the negative and start to hesitate and doubt ourselves, as I did. 

I wanted so badly to find my way, to reclaim the self-assuredness I once had. Instead, I doubted every decision I made from what to do with my life to what to wear on a date. I second-guessed nearly every thing I did and then beat myself up for having made what I perceived to be the wrong choices. I functioned in the world just fine and had plenty of friends but there was this constant internal dialogue dragging me down.

It’s far too easy to point fingers and blame the usual suspects: Parents, siblings, cruel schoolmates, personal failures. While it’s an important step toward recovery to acknowledge from where the self-doubt comes, too much time spent on that step only leads to emotional and motivational paralysis. It is important not to get stuck there. Anger and self-pity can easily become an excuse not to move forward.

Soon after I met my husband, Dan, he very gently said to me one day when I was wrestling over a decision, “Stop looking at your feet, Irene. Make a decision, look forward and start walking.” I knew he loved me and believed in me so I took his words to heart. I was tired and wanted to rest. Fame was no longer my objective. Being a healthy human had taken its place. I realized the worst that could happen if a choice ended up not working out was that I might regret it So what? Experiences, both good and bad, would add to my life education. Another Dan-ism was, “Education is expensive no matter how you get it.” Experience and education ultimately lead to wisdom. And that is a good thing.

I finally began to submit my writing after years of keeping it to myself. Because, at long last I realized that failure is not personal. It’s subjective. And rejection can be as much a motivator as acceptance, if you develop the resolve and the determination. Sometimes I get published. Sometimes I don’t. Either way, it’s more interesting to think about the why or why not than to allow it to dictate my next move.

Raising kids on Queen Anne, we all wanted our kids to shine, to be the best. Trophies were handed out to all players on the softball and soccer teams regardless of achievements. Parents fought for their kids’ wins in everything from school to sports to (fill in the blank). Many of us misguidedly instilled in our children the idea that winning was the goal. Oops.

Making us all “winners” was one of the president’s campaign promises. “We’re gonna win so much, you may even get tired of winning,” he said. “And you’ll say, ‘Please, please. It’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore.’”  That’s a terrible attitude. And not at all realistic or evolved. Well …  I won’t digress …  but I could …

Thankfully these days, when something doesn’t work out the way I had hoped, I am able to move on. To say, “Okay. That was not meant to be.” A shot of tequila, a one night pity party, and I’m back on track.

A friend told me last week that her daughter did not get a job she applied for and dearly wanted. It was highly competitive and hard to even get an interview, which she did. But not getting the job put her into a deep funk. This essay is for her. Chin up girl! Look ahead and keep walking!

Irene Panke Hopkins (irenehopkins.com) is a freelance writer and essayist. Her winning essay, Home Waters, is featured in the April issue of Real Simple magazine (https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/dramatic-change).