Make-or-Break Choices

The other day I went with a friend and two of her children (one of whom is the imaginary tea drinker I posted about awhile ago) to see Monsters University. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you have to see the Monsters University website. Go on. I won’t mind.

The movie trailer informs you that Mike and Sulley from the 2001 Pixar classic, Monsters, Inc., enroll in Monsters University (which makes this movie a prequel). If you’ve read any of the reviews, you know that the highly prized program at the school is the illustrious School of Scaring.


I won’t spoil the movie by saying more, but I can’t help being reminded of a day long ago (a few months after Noah built the ark), when I received my college acceptance letter, welcoming me to Northwestern University.


Also, it said, welcome to the Medill School of Journalism, the illustrious program where my journalistic adventures would begin.

Ha. It didn’t say the latter, though I’d hoped it would. Instead, I was told that I had not been accepted into that program. I was welcome to enroll in another program. Perhaps I could transfer into the J School later.

I panicked, because I had everyone that I applied to that program! Getting into the program was my dream! Now I would have to tell everyone that I couldn’t get in! And what guarantee would I have that I would be accepted into the program later, if they wouldn’t take me now???

The fact that I was not accepted into the program meant only one thing: I was a failure, since my essay and journalism experience weren’t good enough to get me into the program.

That, my friend, is a make-or-break choice. I could let this setback break me, or I could adapt and move on.

The fact that I’m writing this post tells you that I eventually moved on. But not for a long while. I let the choice break me instead. I partied like there was no tomorrow, and my grades plummeted. After nearly getting expelled, I wound up in the creative writing program. But I couldn’t embrace creative writing. I looked upon it as the inferior sister to journalism. For me, it was like getting Miss Congeniality instead of being crowned Miss America.

After graduating, I applied to another university for grad school and was accepted in the journalism program. Because I had a strenuous editorial job, I lasted a semester in the program before dropping out.

Failed again.

Let me take you even farther back if I may. When I was eight years old, the school librarian handed me a book she thought I’d like: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. After reading that book, I had a revelation: I could write stories for kids, stories like this. So that’s what I did. Morning, noon, and night. I wrote hundreds of stories.


So, why was I so set on believing that I was a failure because I didn’t get into the “cool” program? It was like my desire to be popular when I was in middle school and high school. The fact that I was not “in,” meant that I was nothing.

The choice broke me, because I allowed it. Until I embraced the kind of writing I naturally gravitated toward, life seemed hollow.

Seems silly now—all those wasted years I spent believing in my failure. And years after I graduated from Northwestern, I avoided doing the very thing A Wrinkle in Time inspired me to do: writing stories for kids.

Make-or-break choices. Are you facing one? Will you let it make you or break you? The choice really is yours.

Mike and Sulley from NU seal from Wikipedia.

35 thoughts on “Make-or-Break Choices

  1. So true. Thank you for giving us such an honest perspective on the decisions you made. I’ve also let opportunities pass me by because I’ve either 1) been turned down and walked away in a huff, or 2) grown to expect that I won’t be chosen and not even tried. I thought about applying for VCFA ten years before I actually did, but I didn’t think I was good enough to get in. Of course, the up side of my ten year delay is that I got to be in the class with you!

    • Lyn, I’m glad I applied when I did! And I also let years pass before I applied. But I arrived at the right time–to be with our wonderful class. 🙂

    • Marylin, I’m so glad you commented. That led me to discover your blog. You totally made me cry (especially the post where you quoted from Fellowship of the Ring). Thanks for commenting and for leading me to your wonderful blog.

  2. It is so easy to look at our past lives and judge ourselves for bad choices, time we’ve wasted, or failing to see our paths clearly. In my more lucid and compassionate moments, I realize that all the choices I’ve made (poor or otherwise) somehow brought me here, and that I wouldn’t be who I am now if I’d lived a different life. All of it fits into the puzzle somehow. Some of us take a long, twisty path to get to our goals–because we convince ourselves we aren’t good enough or that we want something else (or for some other reason). But eventually, those things that call us knock on our heads hard enough that we finally listen. I’m glad you found your way back to creative writing–and that you are part of this blogging community.

    • You’re right. We often learn through trial and error, so our mistakes are a learning tool as well. Still, I do regret the years I wallowed instead of embracing.

      I’m glad to be here too and to have found your blog!

  3. I think we all have those moments when we look back and see that we were trying to be something for others. You wanted to get into Northwestern because that would prove to others that you were a talented writer. That’s not to say you didn’t want to prove it to yourself as well, but I’m glad you eventually saw your skills weren’t limited in their development solely based on acceptance into Medill. 🙂

    • Thanks, Phillip. It’s sad that we spend so much time trying to fit our square pegs into round holes. I’m also glad I saw Monsters University. I wish I could say more about why the plot of that movie was so apt for my life. But I hate to give out spoilers. But truly was fitting.

  4. Oh my. I needed to read this today.

    I’m really glad you moved on and are writing again, pursuing who you are meant to be.

    I’m in make-or-break mode myself. I got a heartbreaking, and I mean heartbreaking, rejection on Wednesday. I’m down to my last agent reviewing my novel. Doesn’t mean I can’t run the gauntlet again, but dang, I’m tired. I spent the better part of yesterday crying (hence, the depressing blog post; sorry) and today soul-searching. What is it I really wanted when I started down this crazy road? How do I make this work for me? Do I walk away? Make-or-break choices. All of them. Why do they always crop up when we feel least equipped to handle them?

    Great post.

    • Andra, as beautifully as you write, I’m amazed that anyone would say no. Much as I’d wish to, I can’t bend reality, so I grieve with you. And I know hearing, “I’ve been rejected too,” does not prove much consolation. But oh how well I know about weariness. You get tired of putting your stuff out there. After a round of recent rejections, I’m tempted to cut and run. But doggone it, I believe in this novel. I owe it my last ounce of self-preservation.

      I’m standing with you and hoping the best for you!

      • I also got a rejection today (and last week). The word that upset me the most? The agent called my story “nice.” Nice? It’s not nice. It’s silly and funny, features two great characters, lots of action and its 122 words fit together like a puzzle! Nice is demeaning to my work and shows a complete lack of understanding of the depth below the surface. See how emotional this makes me? The question is should I keep going? I feel like I’m eternally running in place while craning my neck trying to move forward.

      • Naomi, I’m sorry for the rejection. My only advice is to keep going. I received 27 rejections for one novel. I know a woman who received 200 rejections for the same book–some after she received a contract from a publisher for the book!!!

        My pet peeve is when someone refers to my writing as “cute.” “Oh that’s a cute story.” Cute is a three-year-old child or a puppy.

        I don’t know how many rejections you’ve received. None of them feel good. I can say that if you are receiving any kind of personal feedback, that means you’re on the right track. Please keep going!

  5. I’ve just been on a buddhist course, and the topic of talk today was – challenge, challenge, challenge, unlocking the dreams in your heart.

    The condensed version goes like this – the internal world of our spirit, mind, call it what you will, is collectively known as the body. Society is the shadow. (or reflection) Want to change the effects manifesting in your life? (the shadow) Move the body! The external world will have to follow.
    So, stop chasing shadows. We spend too much time trying to manipulate external things – like agents and publishers. Go back to what you have dominion over – yourself. Start again. Redetermine until you win over your own weakness. (That could mean laziness, arrogance, cowardice add your own here…) The stronger you stand, the more the shadow will follow you!
    Good luck.

  6. L. Marie – thank you for this post. It reminds me that the upside of ending up on the ‘Break’ side of the Make-or-Break equation is that we, as humans, have the capacity to heal and then make choices to follow our dreams. I, too, had a circuitous route to writing fiction. Some days, like today, I feel too old. It seems preposterous that I’m doing what I’m doing. But my path led me to writing now, so I’ll follow that path now, rather than bypass it as I did twenty-five years ago. Besides, if I followed it then, who knows what my life would look like now. And I wouldn’t trade that in for any number of book deals!

  7. Laura and Linda, don’t give me that ‘old’ stuff. I’ve got you both beat. After my series of rejections so far this year, I’m hearing the clock ticking down.I have to slap myself out of that frame of mind. I’ve decided to be a writer and, hopefully, an author. I may be 90 when I finally sell a book, but I can guarantee I’ll never sell one if I quit now. Make or Break? Sometimes, those setbacks like Linda’s eventually lead us to someplace we needed to get to. But every choice has made us who we are now and gotten us where we are now. Beating ourselves up for something that’s past accomplishes nothing. Learning from it does. And all that ‘wasted’ time, Linda, gives you fodder for your stories.

      • Oooh, me too! And also, the weird thing about age is that I don’t *feel* too old to write good stories. Worrying about age is such a waste of energy anyway. There are much more relevant things to worry about, if that’s how I really want to spend my time 😉

      • Oh yes, let’s do that. You too Laura. Oh the places we’ll go and the people we’ll see.

  8. That Wrinkle in Time keeps coming up. I know that I read it in primary school but cannot recall anything about it. I really must re-visit it. Which reminds me-how you getting on with Brown?

  9. Thanks for sharing this….been there for sure. And recently, regarding a film I tried raising money for. I had to disappear for a while after it didn’t work, but returning little by little. Glad to hear you got back on the horse too…

Your Turn to Talk

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.