To Stay or Play? Differentiating Set-Backs and Shut-Downs

By Mia Lyndon (of

To achieve anything, you must first be tested. You must prove that you are committed to what you say you want. Regardless of what you desire, or the lengths you say you’ll go to achieve this, you will be torn down, frequently. It’s all about whether you decide to stand back up again.  

The greatest accomplishments are not simply handed out, they are fought for. It’s common knowledge that even the most successful individuals have had to scale sizable hurdles, yet have still wound up triumphant. We label these barriers as ‘set-backs’ and understand that they are a product of being outside your comfort zone. Set-backs are nothing like failure, they are simply delays in your time-scale towards success, with the ultimate power to reveal how certain you are about your greatest aspirations. 

Within dance, set-backs are plentiful. Why? Because dance is so desperately competitive and demanding, both physically and mentally. For many, dreams of dancing professionally are hatched in our elementary years- so later, when we are older, we must prove that these desires are still up to date. With so many dancers wanting to make it onto the stage, set-backs act as the invigilators who assess which dancers are cut out for this competitive pathway.

Cropping up so regularly, set-backs should be treated with normality- they are to be expected. Whether they show themselves as injuries, failed auditions, illness or motivation deficit, any set-back can be attempted to be overcome. By nature, the dance industry utters constant mantras of resilience and strength- we are encouraged to withstand hardship. We are encouraged to take set-back after set-back, bouncing back stronger than before.

However, life has a fantastic ability of sailing you down a particular path. If something is not right for you, usually it won’t happen. Every body, every mind has unique limitations and opportunities, acting as shaping tools to decide what you go and achieve. Sometimes, set-backs are, in reality, indicators that you’re pursuing the wrong objective. They can be constant reminders that better success can be found elsewhere. 

So, how do we know when we’ve reached our limit? How can we clarify whether something is just another set-back or a direct indication that you should pursue something else? There comes a point when the constant hardships you face are, in reality, life’s way of pushing you away from something. A gentle push towards greater, happier goals.

If we look directly at psychology, an individual quits when they are weak and unhappy- both of which are typical resultant emotions of a set-back. When we lose our mojo to carry on pursuing something, we often feel like giving up. Set-backs are effective in making us feel like quitting. 

All the time that you can create future happiness from overcoming a set-back, you should continue doing so. However, when we start to find happiness in other areas, in other opportunities, that do not involve pursuing that same pathway, we are perhaps being swayed to chase that path instead. 

Set-backs encourage us to think creatively- they give us an excuse to problem solve and investigate other opportunities. A set-back can expose the faults in our ultimate life-action plan and enlighten a new, different path. When this new path appears to make you more happy than your previous path, perhaps this is an indication to follow it. 

Put simply, when we face a set-back, we have two options: Overcome it, or change direction. Assess which one will genuinely make you happier in the long-term and act accordingly. 

In dance, this is often a cause of intense confusion. Deciding upon a pathway is made difficult when you have options, and dancers often an abundance of options. Characterised by intelligence, creativity, commitment and motivation, dancers usually excel in more than one field. So, when we come to decide what is truly right for us, it can be painfully tough. 

Choosing to stay or play is a decision that must come from within, with your best interests at heart. We must remember that life dishes out the toughests of setbacks to the strongest of people, with dancers as no exception. When life shuts down one avenue and opens up another, consider. Take time to assess. Chase positivity.


‘Why We Quit’

Psychology Today

Alex Lickerman M.D.

Jan 09, 2011 

About the Author


Mia is the founder and director of Audition Quest, as well as a freelance writer. Having written commissions for dance institutes, various dance magazines, professional dancers, casting directors and industry leaders, she has a large amount of knowledge and experience within the written dance scene.

For inquiries, commissions and queries, please contact

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