The music started, Jonathan winked at me, and we were off. I channeled my inner vixen and strutted all over the dance floor with as much conviction as my heels would allow. I smiled until my face hurt, and when it came time for the split, I searched for the camera. Damn. There were six of them. Which one was I supposed to grin seductively into? I took a wild guess and did my best. I finished the number without any of my bracelets flying off and hitting Jonathan in the face -- again, a success in my book, but I knew it was unlikely to impress the judges. I was right. I got the lowest score again and I knew I was destined to be booted off first. Luckily for me, Penn Jillette was kicked off at the same time, so I didn't have to brave the rejection solo. Misery loves company. And I was pretty miserable for the first few days. People recognized me all over the place -- at the grocery store, the gas station, the airport -- and they were incredibly kind to me. The only thing I'd wanted to do was stay on the show for at least a week, and I was mortified that I hadn't been able to do it. But nobody seemed to remember just how dismal my performance was. They told me how great I looked and how gutsy I'd been to try something new. I was disappointed in my performance and crushed that it had been in front of millions of people, but those lovely dance-show-watching strangers were right -- I had been brave to give it a go and my legs had looked pretty good in that gold dress.
If I'd done the same thing five years earlier, I wouldn't have come back for the second dance. I would have returned home to Florida, cried, eaten, cried some more, eaten even more, and hidden from everyone for weeks. I would have carried the sting of those comments around with me like a scarlet letter. I would have avoided social situations and spoken to few of my friends. The humiliation would have been too much. But I was a different person now, and it took only a few days of moping around before I realized that I was fine. I'd faced my greatest fear, performed despite a case of nerves that was worse than any I'd had before my Grand Slam finals, subjected myself to the judgment of total strangers, and taken criticism without falling apart in front of millions of people. In the end, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared it would be. If you don't take risks in life, you won't get anything out of it. If my core could take that and still be in one piece, there wasn't anything I couldn't take on.
Excerpted from Getting A Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self by Monica Seles. Copyright © April 2009 by Avery Books, a division of Penguin Group USA.