Self-Sabotage & the Art of Giving Up on Your Dreams — a fable from the acting profession

Unfulfilled dreams. Nobody likes to think of them. But unfulfilled dreams are pretty common in life. So is there maybe an art to giving up on your dreams?

In this series of short stories (which make up chapters of the humorous novel non-Hollywood) author Neal A. Yeager tells tales of self-sabotage, dealing with failure, fear of failure and even occasionally, yes, occassionally accepting failure.

Hey it happens, so why not enjoy it?

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Giving Up on Your Dreams

Chapter 26: Giving Up on Your Dreams

Nineteen years, eleven months and two days before being stabbed while acting on the set of a vampire movie, Terrance, 24, stood with his father-in-law in the parking lot of the hospital. Melanie, 23, had been in labor for quite a while and the two men had grown tired of sitting in the waiting room. Also, Terrance’s father-in-law needed a smoke and had been surprised to learn that sometime between the time his daughter had been born and the time his daughter was giving birth the hospital had banned smoking in the waiting room.

Terrance was one of those rare individuals who could occasionally smoke but wasn’t really a smoker. He would just smoke a cigarette every now and then. He took the cigarette his father-in-law extended and said, “In California they’re talking about making it illegal to smoke in restaurants.”

His father-in-law scoffed, “Well, that’s Soviet California for you. Never happen anywhere else. Never happen here.”

“You never know,” said Terrance. As they stood in the parking lot he glanced inside his in-laws’ car. Four tiny dogs stared back at him, yelping from the back seat. There were several more little dogs back at their house but apparently these four couldn’t be left alone — even as Melanie had clearly gone into labor, time had to be made to gather these dogs, their water bowls and their various toys before making the trip to the hospital.

“They okay in there?” his father-in-law asked.

“Looks like it.”

Now Terrance liked dogs. He’d had a dog growing up and he had loved that dog. But what was going on at his in-laws’ house was overkill. He and Melanie had temporarily left L.A. and had been staying at her parents’ house in her old room. It had been a month now as they waited for the baby to come and Terrance had to keep the door to the room closed lest he be wading through dogs.

It was a bit much.

“So Terrance, how long are you gonna stick with this acting thing?”

Terrance replied, “I suppose as long as it takes.”

And truth be told, Terrance kind of felt the same way about his in-laws as he did about their dogs. He liked dogs but the dog situation at the house drove him nuts. He liked his in-laws but man oh man was he ready to get out of their house.

His father-in-law took a long drag of his cigarette and said, “Don’t get me wrong. I understand it’s your dream and all that. I completely understand that.”

Oh God, thought Terrance, here comes the story again.

“I had a dream myself once. I was about your age and I was really gung-ho about the idea of raising dogs. And when I heard that there were people who actually made a living at it, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I had a real love for it. A real passion. Like nothing I’d ever known before.”

“Uh huh.”

“And it was great at first. It was a struggle. And I was losing money but it was great. I was doing what I loved and I felt like maybe I could actually pull this off. And it was great. A great time in my life. Maybe the best time in my life.”

“Uh huh.”

“So I understand about dreams. But the thing about dreams is that you’ve gotta know when to say when. You need a deadline. I learned that. I gave myself a year. And when that year was up I did the right thing for my family: I got a job with a steady paycheck and raised dogs as a hobby.”

“Well, it’s not exactly the same…”

“It is the same Terrance. You’ve got a dream. But you need a deadline because you’ve also got a wife and any minute now, a child. You need to think about a deadline and making your dream your hobby like I did.”

Terrance simply nodded and hoped that the baby would come soon so that all the attention would turn there.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Terrance.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 27 ]

Is accepting failure acceptable?

It's a common dilemma that a lot of people face. It is especially common in competitive situations such as with an acting career. At what point do you give up? Or do you never give up?

Even actors who have ended up with a successful career have at one point or another thought of throwing in the towel. Some of the biggest names in the business have, in fact, gotten their big breaks when they were on the verge of moving on to something else.

But how do you judge at what point to give up (if ever)? That is the real question. For Terrance, the answer is obvious in that he has no plans to ever quit. But for his father-in-law, as for most people, the a deadline makes more sense.

But if you want to keep going, if you feel that you can overcome the odds and rise to the top of a competitive business, just how long do you give it?

And how do you avoid self-sabotage along the way?

Terrance is hoping to figure this one out.

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Chapter 27: Baby

Nineteen years, eleven months and two days before being stabbed while acting on the set of a vampire movie, Terrance, 24, became a father.

A baby daughter with Melanie’s eyes and little wisps of his blonde hair.

And it was just as magical as everyone had told him it would be. There was a certain joyful something that was touched within him that he had never felt before — had never even known existed. And he immediately loved his daughter more than anything else in the world.

But he also absolutely had to get out of this place and back to L.A.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Terrance.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 31 ]

Good news in the midst of being a failure

And sometimes we get past the self-sabotage.

Sometimes we get to a good place.

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Inappropriate Mustache Club

Chapter 31: Inappropriate Mustache Club

Nineteen years, nine months and eighteen days before being stabbed while acting on the set of a vampire movie, Terrance, 24, was walking into a room to do his second-ever audition. He and Melanie, 23, had stayed at her parents’ house for a few months after the baby had been born. While back there in Indiana, Terrance had been submitting himself for film roles here in L.A. Being called for this audition was the excuse that he had needed for the two of them to finally return. Melanie had borrowed some money from her parents and now they were back.

This audition was already feeling more professional than his first audition had been. This was no cattle call. They had scheduled him beforehand and given him a few options for appointment times, and so far today it looked as though they were keeping to the schedule. As Terrance walked into the room he noticed one person with a video camera on a tripod, three people sitting attentively beside the cameraman and one person, also attentive, who was obviously the man he would be reading the scene with.

They were gracious and polite, offered him a seat and told him to take his time and begin whenever he was ready.

Feeling pretty relaxed and pretty confident, Terrance read the scene. It felt fine. He was thanked and he stood up to leave the room.

As Terrance turned to leave, one of the men in the room said to him, “It was a good call losing the mustache.”

Terrance actually turned and looked over his shoulder to see who the man was speaking to, but since there was no one else there the man must have been speaking to him.

“Mustache?” said Terrance.

“Yes. Your mustache. It was a good move getting rid of it. You looked kind of like Hitler.”


“I’m sorry, but we just had to meet the guy who would sport a Hitler mustache in this day and age.”

Terrance was monumentally confused. He said, “Uuuuum, I’m confused.”

The man pulled Terrance’s headshot from the top of the pile, held it up and asked, “You don’t think that looks like Hitler?”

And to Terrance’s amazement, there on his professionally photographed, professionally reproduced photo was an unmistakeable Hitler mustache.

Terrance walked over and looked closely at the outstretched photo. It wasn’t a smudge or a trick of light. It was obvious that someone with some sort of skill at photo manipulation had somehow fitted him with a tiny mustache above his lip.

No doubt about it: it was a Hitler mustache.

The man continued, “We just had to meet the guy who would submit that photo. Had to.”

Terrance, puzzled, began to murmur, “This is not…. well, it’s me, but… I have no idea how…,” and then a thought occurred to him. He said, “Wait, was this the only reason that you called me in for this audition?”

“Oh, I didn’t say that.”

Terrance looked at the photo, then back at the man and said, “Yeah, you kind of did.”

“Oh. I guess you’re right. I kind of did. Like I said, we had to meet you.”

“Okay, but for the record I’ve never had a Hitler mustache and I don’t know where this photo came from.”

“Oh. Well, actually that’s a relief. Good to know that we weren’t auditioning a Nazi.” said the man. He then cleared his throat and said, “So, thank you. We’ve got other people to read here. We’ll let you know.”

“Okay. Thanks,” said Terrance.

As he exited the room Terrance heard giggling behind him. One of the men called out in a stage whisper, “Sieg Heil!”


“Aw, damn,” said the owner of the print shop as he examined Terrance’s Nazi photo, “Another one. Damn. I’m really sorry about that and obviously we’ll reprint them for you for free.”

Terrance said, “I went through the whole stack. It’s only every, like 8th one. What the hell happened?”

“Somebody we fired. That’s what happened. He vandalized several actors’ headshots. This is the only Hitler mustache as far as I know. Some black eyes. Warts. Raunchy tattoos. I thought we’d gotten them all, but I guess not. Rest assured, he has been fired for it and I’m really sorry.”

Terrance asked, “Why only some of them?”

“We print them 8-up, which means we print 8 at a time on one big sheet, then we cut them down to size. That’s why no one noticed. They only looked at the top few, which obviously you did too. We’re pretty understaffed at the moment, which, of course, firing him made worse, but I’ll reprint them myself. And, as I said, we’ll reprint them for free.”

“Thank you. I suppose that’s all I could really expect. I hope they didn’t cost me any auditions.”

“Again, I’m sorry,” said the print shop owner. He then picked up the photo again, looked at it and said, “You’ve got to admit though, it was actually pretty good work. Looks like a real mustache.”

“Yeah, it actually does.”

“Not much use for that kind of skill though. Unless he wants to work at a tabloid. Maybe that’s where he went when I fired him. Who knows? But I’ll get to reprinting these as fast as I can. We’re slammed and understaffed but I’ll push this to the front of the queue.

Terrance nodded and was about to turn and leave the shop when a thought occurred to him and he asked, “You said you’re understaffed?”

“Yeah. That’s how this went on without anyone noticing.”

“Well, I’m kind of looking for a job.”

“Kind of? Have you ever worked in a print shop before?”

“No. I worked in an office supply store in high school. But I’ve never run a printing press and all that.”

“Hmmm,” said the print shop owner. “I do like that you were able to remain calm about this. Every one of the other actors and actresses who this happened to came in and blew up. Big drama. Felt like I was watching a movie and it was a scene where one of their loved ones had just been killed by the bad guy. Way over the top for a few messed-up photos… Do you think you could stand behind this counter, keep your cool and help people out?”

“I think so.”

“Okay. Come in here tomorrow at 9 a.m. and we’ll see how it goes.”


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Terrance.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 35 ]

Unfulfilled dreams and the jobs we have to take instead

An audition!

It has been awhile since Terrance has had an audition and he is definitely ready to go for this one.

No more worrying about unfulfilled dreams, no more thoughts of being a failure, none of that. Just a focus on what's ahead. And what's ahead starts with this audition.

Unfortunately, this audition is not exactly what Terrance had hoped it would be. He has been the victim of a prank, and it is being furthered by being called in for part which no one has any intention of casting him.

A definite blow, and a definite reason for him to perhaps begin to have a fear of failure.

But that's not Terrance. Terrance is not the sort to just accept failure, he is intent on winning, on making his way in this business of Hollywood.

But first, he really does need to get a day job.

They're necessary. Unless you come to Hollywood with a trust fund, you need one. But there are definitely different ways to go about them. And taking a day job does not mean that you are giving up on your dreams.


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Terminated & The Terminator

Chapter 35: Terminated and The Terminator

Nineteen years, three months and eleven days before being stabbed while acting on the set of a vampire movie, Terrance, 24, had been working at the print shop for six months — six miserable months. Needless to say, it wasn’t what he wanted to be doing with his life. He was an actor not a printer for God’s sake. Plus, he kind of felt that if he was doing something that he didn’t really want to do then he should be getting paid more to do it. So Terrance had developed a slight tardiness problem, as well as a tendency to clock out a bit early so that he could make it to his acting class on time. It had gotten to the point that the print shop owner had warned him more than once that he was on thin ice.

During those six months Terrance was happy to see his little daughter growing. Happy to see Melanie, 23, growing so well into the role of mother. She made a beautiful mom. That side of things was great. But he hated this job. He hated that they had to continue borrowing money from both Melanie’s parents and his own (which particularly bothered him as his own parents didn’t exactly have a whole lot of money to start with). And he hated that despite submitting himself for literally hundreds of roles he was not being called in for auditions.

Why was this not working? For as long as he could remember, people had been telling him that he looked like a movie star. He had easily gotten those local commercials back in Indianapolis. He had easily gotten that small role in that movie (and by the way, when the hell was that thing going to come out?). But so far the acting career was not going right at all.

Something had to give.

The phone on the desk rang and he picked it up and answered with the business name. It was Melanie, which immediately sent him into a mini-panic as she never called him at work.

“Mel, is everything all right?”

“Yeah. Sorry I called you at work.”

“It’s okay. You just kind of scared me. Is everything all right?”

“Everything’s fine. We just got back from the store and there was a message on the machine for you. It’s a movie, sounded like a religious movie. Something about a street preacher out at Venice Beach. Or something. Anyway, they’re doing auditions on Tuesday only and they want you to come in.”

“Aw damn. It just had to be Tuesday, didn’t it?”


“All right. I’ll see if it’s okay if I miss half a day or something.”

“And if it’s not?”

Terrance paused. “I don’t know. It’s an audition Mel.”

“And your job is a job Terrance.”

“Yeah… I know.”


The result was a surprise to exactly no one. Terrance’s request to take at least part of Tuesday off to go audition for the religious movie had been denied. He had been threatened with firing if he did take it off.

So he quit.

He avoided going home after he left the print shop. It was Thursday and on Thursdays he always went straight from work to his acting class. It wouldn’t seem unusual to not be home until late. As he sat in the class awaiting his turn to do a scene his mind naturally dwelled on what he was going to say to his wife when he got home.

His thoughts were disrupted when the teacher called out his name and that of his scene partner for tonight. His scene partner was new to the group and this would be her first scene. She had been present at last week’s class but had not participated, only assigned the scene that she would perform with Terrance this week.

Terrance certainly did not want to seem mean but looking at this girl he did have to wonder what business she thought she was getting into. She was easily 30 pounds overweight. So unless she was a stand-up comedienne or something, she was going to find a difficult road ahead. Hell, Terrance was a good-looking human being and he was having a difficult time of it. How in the world did this girl expect to get anywhere in a place like Hollywood?

At any rate, he and the girl were about to perform a scene from The Terminator. In most acting classes you would do scenes from theater (and as every actor knew, there were a ton of theatrical scenes for sale at Samuel French bookstore) but Paul, the acting coach who led this class, believed that those who wanted to be film actors should practice scenes from films. Thus, Terrance and the new girl were about to do the scene wherein the characters of Sarah Connor and the time-traveler Kyle Reese have just escaped from the Terminator and Kyle tells the freaked-out young woman about how horrible the world has become in the future. A great scene with plenty of emotion for both characters.

As the two actors sat in the chairs at the front of the room, Terrance looked over and noticed that his partner was starting to hyperventilate. She grit her teeth together and breathed heavily and angrily in and out. Terrance was just about to ask her if she was okay when she launched into the scene and he realized that this was her way of expressing the intensity of the scene. After she said her first line, her breathing — though this would seem impossible — got even louder and she began to grunt.

Yes, grunt.

It took Terrance a moment to get his bearings but he launched into his character’s long explanation of the prison camps to which all future humans had been sentenced. Terrance doubted, however, that anyone in the class could hear him as his partner breathed and grunted, then ultimately cried out in reaction to his dialogue. He had no idea what this girl was going for. She seemed to have gone insane.

While Terrance had never claimed to be DeNiro, this girl was just unbelievably awful. “Over the Top” would be a huge understatement when describing the bizarre spectacle he was witnessing. He realized that he needed to carry on as best he could. After all, a professional acting situation wherein he was opposite a bad actor was always a possibility. But damn, that was the hardest scene he had ever done.

When they got to the part of the scene wherein her character has her first good look at his character’s gunshot wound, this girl went into full-on berserk mode. She screamed, “Oh God!” Then she started to cry, a huge, wailing cry, despite the fact that he told her that it was only a minor wound. Her cries could probably be heard three blocks away.

In short, it was the most amazing example of overacting that Terrance had ever witnessed.

And it was not what he needed today.


Terrance wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when he arrived home and told his wife that he had quit his job. So, of course before he could get up the nerve for that task he first told her of his bizarre experience at the acting class. He joked that maybe he should take some paramedic training, as the next scene this girl did was likely to send her into a stroke.

But after telling this tale he finally got up the nerve to tell Melanie the news that he had quit his job. Though he knew that she was extremely supportive of his acting career, he had expected a big scene — she would surely be upset at this news. She would have every right to be upset at this news. Who wouldn’t be? Really, what person would not be incredibly upset that a man with a wife and child had quit a perfectly good job?

But when he told her… The explosion that he had expected simply didn’t happen. There was a silent calmness to her and she said nothing.

After a few moments of silence Melanie smiled. Then she reached out and hugged her husband.

How unexpected.

How beautiful.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Terrance.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 37 ]

Giving up on your dreams or giving up on your day job?

And sometimes those dreams those day jobs that we take to support out dreams turn out to be an impediment to achieving those dreams. At that point, we have to decide which has to go?

Which one do we give up?

Such is the situation in which Terrance finds himself in this chapter. The choice between going for that audition or hanging on to that job is a choice that many aspiring actors have had to face over the years. Is holding onto the day job a form of self-sabotage, or is it the smart thing to do?

For Terrance, it is a tough choice. But since we already know that he is committed to his dream, the outcome is pretty easy to guess.

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Straight to Video

Chapter 37: Straight to Video

Nineteen years, two months and fourteen days before being stabbed while acting on the set of a vampire movie, Terrance, 25, was walking through the aisle of the local video store. The last few videos that he had rented were big budget action flicks — Terrance always thought it would be fun to act in a big-budget action film, so he would often rent them — but viewing action films bored the hell out of Melanie, 24. So he thought that tonight he would do a nice thing for his wife and try to rent a romantic comedy.

Terrance walked down the long wall of videos. He would occasionally pick up one of the VHS boxes and flip it over to read the description of the film. To him, each synopsis of each romantic comedy sounded basically the same as the synopsis of every other romantic comedy. Of course he realized that the same could be said of the blockbusters that he liked to rent. Finally he picked one because it had Hugh Grant in it and he knew that Melanie liked Hugh Grant.

As he headed toward the cash register with the VHS in his hand something he had seen out of the corner of his eye made him stop dead in his tracks. He took two steps backward and turned to be sure that he had actually seen what he thought he had seen.

“Holy Hell!” he exclaimed loudly enough for the few others in the store to turn and look his way. “This is it! How the… Why didn’t anybody tell me about this?” He quickly grabbed the VHS and basically sprinted up to the cash register where he asked the clerk, “When did this come out? Do you know?”

The clerk took the video from him and punched its id number into his computer. For a moment he stared at the green glow of the screen, then announced, “A little over a month ago.” Then the clerk laughed and said, “And it looks like it’s been rented exactly once. Wonder who that was?” he said, shaking his head with laughter.

“What’s funny? What did I miss?” asked Terrance.

“This is one that we had to get in a package for sure.”


“Yeah. We make most of our money off of the big movies and in the first couple of weeks after they come out. So you try to get as many copies of the big ones as you can. Sometimes the distributors make you buy a few duds before they’ll sell you more of the blockbusters. It’s just the way it is. You’re strong-armed into buying crap like this if you want the good stuff.”

“So you think this one’s crap?”

The clerk laughed again, “Are you kidding? This one is straight to video. The only person in it who’s anything like a star is the guy who played that one low-level gangster in Godfather Part II, and I’ll bet you he’s not in it much. ”

“No, he didn’t have a very big part.”

“They just wanted a recognizable face for the cover. And I’ll bet you anything that this movie blows. And he’s probably sorry that he was in it. And so is everybody else who’s in it.”

“I was in it,” said Terrance.

“Excuse me?”

“They shot this in Indianapolis. And I was in it. This is my film debut and I’ve been waiting forever for this thing to come out.”

“You were in this movie?”


The clerk paused.

An awkward pause.

An extremely awkward pause.

“Well… hey,” the clerk said, “I was just… you know… talking out of my ass. Ignore everything I just said. And the guy who played that gangster is a great actor, so I’m sure it’s good and…”

As the clerk looked up, Terrance could see that the young man’s face had gone bright red from embarrassment. The clerk hit a button on his computer keyboard, handed the VHS tape back to Terrance and said “This one’s on the house guy… and uh…. congratulations.”


Oh my God! I can’t believe that we’re finally gonna see this!” Melanie shrieked. She was even more excited than Terrance had been at the first sight of the movie cover. “We have to watch it right now!”

“I just hope I didn’t get cut out,” said Terrance.

“No, you’re in there! I can feel it!” Melanie said as she popped the video into the VCR. “This is so exciting! I can’t hardly breathe!”

At all of the ruckus, the baby started to cry. Melanie laughed as she picked up her daughter, “See, even Holly’s excited! Aren’t you baby?” In response the baby just continued shrieking.

Terrance said, “Now we know why we never saw it listed in the ‘Coming Soon.’ It never came to a theater. Which is kind of a bummer, I guess.”

“Don’t say that. Look at that cover. It’s a real movie! It’s here on a real tape in a real video store. This is awesome!”

“I guess so,” he said.

Then the movie started and they both fell silent.

It turned out that the video store clerk had been correct. The movie did pretty much blow. But the two of them at that moment could not care less. Each time that there was a shot of some location that they recognized in Indianapolis they cheered. And they were sitting on pins and needles, waiting, hoping that they would see Terrance’s face on this screen at some point.

Finally, that point arrived. “There you are!” Melanie shouted, “There you are! There you are!” And then he was gone.

They watched for a few moments longer before Melanie excitedly asked, “Was that it?”

“I guess so.”

“Rewind it. Let’s see it again.”

And so they did. Several more times in a row.

As it had turned out, 3 of his 4 lines had been cut. But still, there he was. Terrance had a speaking part in a movie.

Even after the 8th time through, Melanie was still entranced. “Holy Shit you look good,” she said, “There’s a movie star if ever I’ve seen one.”

Terrance simply smiled. “Not yet, Mel. Not yet.”


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Terrance.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 39 ]

Straight to Video: failure or just a first step?

Sometimes failure looks like success.

Sometimes success looks like failure.

And sometimes it is really hard to tell the difference.

Finally, the very first film that Terrance has acted in, the film shot in his hometown of Indianapolis, the film which inspired his move to LA, finally that film has been finished and is out there.

Only problem is that "out there" is in the video store. The film never played in a theater anywhere, instead it has gone straight to video.

But does this constitute a failure? Does this count in the unfulfilled dreams column?

Or is this just a step along a path to greater things in the future. Would looking at it as a failure be a bit of self-sabotage or is it a logical acceptance of failure.

Hard to say.

But for the moment, Terrance and his wife will simply enjoy the moment of watching his first film performance. And have faith that it will not be the last.

Self-sabotage and the art of giving up on your dreams