Sacrificing Good Things to Achieve Greatness


Sacrificing Good Things to Achieve GreatnessMy son, Shane, didn’t stay in gymnastics for too long. After a while he got bored with the routines, we got a trampoline at home that he had fun jumping on, and swimming seemed like a good thing for the kids to learn.

So I took them out of the gym and put them into the pool.

A few years later, Shane joined the dive team. He was eleven, and he was better than his high school teammates. The coach said, “Your son has such control over his body. You don’t see this often in a kid so young.”

Shane was a born athlete. Just before he turned two he got a plastic bat and ball for Christmas. I was amazed to find that he could hit the ball every time I tossed it to him. He wasn’t just aware of, and able to control, his own body, he also was aware of the bat and ball. He had a great command of himself and the space around him.

His dive coach put him into an Olympics program where he competed in one meet, taking a gold going against a higher age group than his own. But what does Shane do today?

Shane works in a FedEx warehouse. He started as a package handler. He’s managing package handlers now and planning to move up in the company, I think. It’s a job that he’s well suited for. There are plenty of people around him—the kid is a total extrovert—and there’s a load of competition. His first month there he got the “package handler of the month” award. And he still often beats the other managers by having the fastest team. He thrives on competition.

Could Shane have been an Olympic diver or swimmer (he was a super fast swimmer—long, strong arms, and wide, flat feet)? I think so. But here’s the deal. We all have limitations. Just because he was good at diving and swimming, doesn’t mean that God created him for those things.

We all have limitations.

Way back in Shane and Nikki’s preschool days, when they were done with their gym lessons all the kids would gather in a huddle and they would put their hands on top of each other. Their coaches, a husband and wife team who were of the Bahai faith, would whisper some inspirational huddle talk to them and then the kids would shout, “I can do all things!”

And as we drove home many afternoons, I’d work to counteract that proclamation. “Can you really do all things?” I’d ask. “Can you eat a wheelbarrow full of ice cream? Can you run as fast as the car? Can you fly?”

No. Clearly, there are some things we can’t do. God didn’t give us the ability to fly.

Along with the limitations God has put on us, though, we also have limitations that we put on ourselves. Could Shane have stayed with the dive team and pursued Olympic dreams?

That would have required a two-week, sleep-away summer camp with a man who may or may not have been a decent fellow, and Shane was just eleven, and that was not OK with me.

I had a friend back then who had served time for sexual abuse of minors and I was aware that many pedophiles choose jobs that put them in close contact with kids. My husband and I chose to limit Shane’s away-from-home time, so the Olympic dive program was no longer an option.

And, finally, I get to you, dear writers.

What will make you happiest?

You are also limited. You probably can’t spend your limited writing time on an MG novel, on an adult nonfiction, and on blogging. When we make one choice, other options are lost to us. If you decide to work full time in children’s writing, you won’t be able to work full time writing for tech magazines.

So what will you choose? Maybe you can be a New York Times bestselling novelist if you set yourself on that path. After all, we have learned to fly. We’ve learned to get around the natural limitation of having no wings. So what if you read every bestseller on the list at which you are aiming and then draw a bunch of conclusions about what is selling? What are the commonalities? On which page does the inciting incident fall? Is the protagonist male or female? How many secondary characters? How many subplots? What if you spend five years submersed in the bestsellers? What if you practice and practice and practice? Will you be able to write a bestseller?

I think, maybe, yes.

I know I drive some students crazy with my courses because I’m giving them boring, basic rules about how to use words when what they want from me is a little magic. But writing is not magic. Writing is just using tools. It’s just doing a brain dump and then going back and fixing things. Stories follow patterns. Stories can be taken apart and put back together. Writing can be learned.

Can you be a best-selling author? Could Shane have been an Olympic diver? Probably, yes, to both questions.

But will you be happy? Do you want to sacrifice family life? Will the payoff be worth the price?

Make your choices and then forget the roads not taken.

Maybe you can make it work. I’m not here to make decisions for you. But I do want you to think about whether you might find something besides bestsellerdom that will make you happy. Something else that will utilize your talents and suit your personality. Is there a FedEx of the writing world that might work for you?

Nothing is any different now than it was when my children were three. We can’t do all things. We all have to make our choices. We all have to sacrifice some things in order to get other things. If you have enough time and money, you can become a bestseller. You can learn how to write and how to build a platform and how to market. Most of us don’t want to spend all our time and money on it, though. Just as most people don’t want to spend four hours a day practicing dives or triple lutz jumps.

I intend to talk about some of the different directions we can go with our writing in upcoming posts. Meanwhile, give this some thought. What do you really want and how much do you want it? Is there a way you can use your skills to follow after lower goals that will give you a lot of enjoyment? Or do you feel that you can’t be happy without attaining the higher goals, no matter what sacrifice is required?


  • You always post just what I need. Thanks for these reminders. You have led me to prayer – which is just where I need to be

  • Oh my, pick a direction. That is so tricky for me as I’m not exactly sure where the bulk of my writing gift lies (if you have evidence that I do not have a writing gift, please don’t tell me, I’ve spent too much time on this to turn back now). I have so many ideas, too! Argh! I’ve spent years researching and reading YA fiction. Learning how to write it, writing it myself. Then boom, my publisher picks up my romantic comedy. Am I supposed to write romantic comedies, I didn’t even know I could write them, but man are they fun and I do love to laugh. But what about all my angsty teenage heroines moldering in the back of my mind? And what about all that middle grade reading I’ve been doing out loud with my kids? That’s research, too, only unintentional. And what about how my sons keep begging me to write something about our huge wimpy dog. Her stories made bigger would make great early chapter book tales. I’ve gone so far as to research some chapter books. Could I write these??? They are sparse on description and have a very basic sketch of the characters but are high on action with a zippy plot. Kind of like Flash Fiction which I’ve been enjoying lately. You see my problems? But you asked another question: “Is there a way that you can use your skills that give you a lot of enjoyment?” Oh, yes! Back when I was taking my first writing class, my dream was to write an article for Brio Magazine. As a young teen, I had been inspired by an article about a girl who got a promise ring for her 13th birthday and so I talked a promise ring out of my parents, wore it proudly, and presented it to my husband as part of our wedding ceremony. Besides the fact that the chain I got for him to wear it on always bounced up and smacked him in the face when he played basket ball, it was a beautiful love story. I desperately wanted to write about this for Brio magazine and I did and I sent it in to them and got a quick little rejection slip and then the gut punch. Brio Magazine went kaput. No Brio, no more dream, ugh! Well, about a year ago, my publisher called me up and asked if I would write something for their Pure Amore imprint. What is Pure Amore? A line of romances that promote chastity. Sweet love stories that may have heartbreak at the beginning and trials in the middle, but always have a happy ending filled with hope. So I may not have been able to write for Brio, but I was able to write that sweet romance after all. Oh, and I’m teaching a creative writing class today at my oldest son’s public Jr. High School. I love love love doing that! So much fun and well worth the effort.

    • I think you should write whatever you want and then when someone bites, you can throw more energy after that if it looks like more doors will open there.

      I know many Chrisitan writers who say, “I’m writing this great work and I’m running into so many barriers. This proves that my work is really important. The forces of Hell have come against me. But I will persevere.”

      And I wonder sometimes how they know it’s the forces of Hell closing the doors and not God. How do they know that God isn’t saying, “Not that direction. Move over this way.”

      I can’t answer that for any other writer. I think it’s between God and them. There are stories we all love that tell of a person who has persevered against great odds and won in the end. But I think we all know people, also, who have pursued a goal that appeared to be beyond their talents and capabilities and who never did achieve it.

      In the end, we can’t live other people’s lives. And, also, Christians can’t be pragmatists. Many people die in poverty and disease who were doing God’s will as far as we can see. We can’t say to others, or even to ourselves, “Because in the eyes of the world I am failing at this thing, God doesn’t want me to do it.” Jesus failed in the eyes of the world when he was on the cross and that was the most successful mission in all of history.

      So this is why I say, “know the markets, aim to put your passion into a vehicle that will sell, and then walk through the open doors that God provides.”

      There! I wrote you a novel back. :lol: I’m in favor of thoughtful discourse that takes a little bit of time to spin out. Not a big fan of 144 characters tweets.

      • So true, Sally! It is difficult to recognize the gentle hand of our Lord vs. the destructive powers of our enemy. I’ll write away and pray and love on my family in the meantime as I know for sure that that is a calling from the Lord!

  • Hmmm … it appears that I wrote an entire novel right here in the comments section. Sorry about that!

  • Add this to your book. :-)

    That was a pet peeve of mine, too, Sally, the “You can do whatever you put your mind to” parent. I mean, if your kid is tone deaf, that opera singing career is not gonna pan out!

    But writing? I agree…if you’re willing to put in the time and practice, you can succeed. It’s all about sticking-to-it which is, unfortunately, a lot harder than it looks!

    • Thanks! I will put this in the book. One of these days. One of these days.

      It does not surprise me that you didn’t like the “you can do anything” refrain.

      When my son was about 13 he and his friend were going to have a rock band. I was surprised because he’d never shown an interest in music. I asked him if he was going to learn to play an instrument. He thought that he might, but he might not. He wasn’t too keen on learning anything or working at anything. So I asked what he would do in the band. He said he’d probably be the singer. And I said, “But you can’t carry a tune.”

      :doh: He was pretty ticked off at me for saying he couldn’t just be a rich and famous rock star just because he wanted to be one. He didn’t think that was right. He should be allowed to be rich and famous if he wanted to be. :lol:

  • StarletteNyte Cain

    I’ve got so many of the same stories, just different sports and activities, when it came to my children. Thank you so much for your insight and wisdom. And, yes, I too chose a different path, but I was never happy (content, but missing something) It wasn’t me, so over thirty years my creativity had been hinder, and caged.

    Do I know what I want to do with the rest of my life? The answer is, yes–without a doubt. Maybe not writing just for MG or YA, but telling stories, yes. I have so many inside my head, waiting to be written down. And, yes, I would love to have someone read and enjoy them, and make a profit for something I’m so passionate about–it’s the color in the balloon. This passion I have, what’s driving me to never give up.

    Will I be on the NY best sellers list, I don’t know, but what I do know is–I’m not stopping until I do. If there is one thing about me that’s everlasting, is my will to do my best, and if I have to keep taking classes and reading what ever I can to improve my writing. Then, that’s what I’ll do. I allowed someone to put my imagination and essence in a bottle, but someone opened it and unleashed this world of possibilities.

    So get ready, the genie’s been uncorked!

    Your student,

    • Thanks for commenting, Star. Your determination is inspiring. We do need to keep going if we want to succeed at anything. And aiming high is not a bad thing. The only thing that is bad, I think, is being unhappy when we land a little short of what we aimed for. I think we should all aim high and then all be happy with going as far as we are able to go. And I think we should all keep working until the day we die and enjoy the journey without ever thinking we have arrived. There are always new mountains to climb. Keep on going!

  • Another excellent article. I faced a couple big “give it your all or do something else” moments when I was in college. The thing is, even if we give it our all, there’s no guarantees.

    In college one of my volleyball teammates decided to transfer to a large university in hopes of getting on an Olympic caliber team. I never heard about her again. The thing is, Olympic volleyball players, even back then, were 6 feet tall. My friend was 5′ 7″ at best, and not a defensive specialist (which sometimes is a position shorter women can play). She went all in, but she wasn’t suited for the position she was aiming for.

    My point is, giving it your all is risky. That’s why they tell writers not to quit their day jobs. There’s more to success than trying hard–if by success a person means, getting on the best-seller list, winning awards, making big money.

    But writing success can be so much more. It can be what you demonstrate, Sally–encouraging, helping, changing people’s lives and minds by what you say, er, write. :yes:


    • Thanks for the comment and the share on Facebook, Becky. I have definitely changed my definition of success. I love being a literary agent. But there was a time my definition of success was being a writer and getting myself a literary agent. :lol:

  • Thank you, Sally, you’ve given us much to think and pray about. Well written and timely. I’m looking forward to your next posts.

  • Unlike your son, I am completely unathletic and competition for me is a private matter. Still, I have this aching inside me to be a novelist even though I am told I am superb at essays. So, I struggle every day at the keyboard pounding out sentences I hope will someday be a novel. I am taking the hard road.

    • Good for you, Glynis! Keep at it and hag in there. And that essay writing will always come in handy, an amazing skill to have, someone I know got into Westpoint pretty much on his essay alone. Essays are nothing to sniff at, they change people’s lives.

    • Well, there is something to be said for the aching inside. That’s a pretty good reason to pursue something. And if you are good at essays, then it would follow that you can write. So you should be able to learn to be a novelist. You have the basic skillset and you just need to learn the rules of plot and characterization, I’d guess. You already have voice if you are a superb essayist.

  • Sometimes I think I settle for the Fed Ex job because I’m scared to fly. Maybe not?

    • But the point about the FedEx job is that my son really likes it. He’s really well suited for it. He’s not settling. He wouldn’t have been afraid to fly–wouldn’t have been afraid to be an Olympic diver–but even if we’d let him pursue that, I think he would have dropped it. He wasn’t willing to put in that amount of work at anything. He wasn’t dying inside feeling like he had to dive and his whole life would be in ruins if he didn’t dive. He really enjoys his FedEx job.

      So don’t think I’m saying anyone should settle. I’m saying that we should all decide to be happy regardless of our limitations. We should take stock of our limitations and not keep pushing for things we clearly cannot obtain. But we should push for those things we long to push for and we should be happy living within our means, so to speak. Living with the limitations we have.

      My son’s limitation was that he didn’t want to practice diving four hours a day. If he had wanted, I would have found a way to take him to the training camp. But just because he was talented didn’t mean he had the drive to succeed. On the other hand, some people have lots of drive and not enough talent. In either case, we ought to be happy with the journey and happy with the level of success we’ve achieved on any given day.

      There’s a difference between enjoying life and being content, and settling, I think. Don’t settle, Kathy. Push on. I think we begin to die when we settle.

      • Thank you, Sally. I was certain from your post that your son didn’t settle. It is obvious he excelled at what he enjoyed. (And, I’m personally grateful for the great Fed-Ex man that services our office.) I’m at a crossroads for some things in my career, and I’m going to have to be brave, I think. Thank you again for reminding me there are some things I’m not willing to sacrifice. But there is also a time to press forward.

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