Monday, January 23, 2012

One in a Million Special

So I grew up with this kid Johnny Madsen. We weren't ever close friends, mostly because he was a really cute boy, and as a boy crazy girl, that meant I didn't ever talk to boys.

Logical, right.

Anyhow, I remember Johnny Madsen often because of my fifth grade teacher. One day in class she asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. Everyone raised their hand and said things like, "I want to be a doctor," or a firefighter, or a mom. I raised my hand to say that I...Sheena then Dabel... wanted to become a movie star. Luckily for me, the teacher picked on Johnny Madsen before she picked me. Because Johnny said he wanted to be in the NFL.

The teacher, (I don't remember her name, but I do remember her really horrible haircut.) then proceeded to explain why that dream was foolish. She said that in classrooms all around the country there were kids dreaming of becoming professional athletes, or actors, or singers, and it just wasn't going to happen for ninety-nine percent of them. For most of those kids, she said, the closest they are going to get to being in the NFL is to watch it on TV. Then she looked pointedly at Johnny and said, "Do you really think you are one in a million special?"

I remember this, because Johnny, this tall scrawny kid with a mess of black shiny hair and gorgeous eyes, got royally mad at the teacher. He was usually pretty quiet, but on this day, the normally soft spoken Johnny he basically yelled at the teacher and told her she was mean and dumb and wrong.

After she sent him to the principal's office, she looked around the room, "So how about the rest of you," she asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

My hand stayed hidden under my desk.

I think about her now, this nameless teacher with a bad haircut, as her voice tells me that I am wasting my time trying to become something special. I think about her as I get discouraged, and I think about her after I receive a vicious rejection.

What am I doing? Do you really think YOU are one in a million special?

And then I think about Johnny Madsen. That picture...right up there...that's of him playing in the NFL.

Now it's true, not everybody who dreams get to wake up and realize that they are living their dream. But some people do.

But the fact is,  it's not something that you just wake up to make happen. I think about the hours and effort Johnny had to put in at the gym to go from that scrawny kid to that hulking giant. I think about the hours he spent on the field, the practices, the injuries, the hits he had to stand up and walk away from. He could have quit at anytime, but he didn't. I think about the stubbornness it takes to go from one in a million who dream, to become one of the few who are ready to become selected.

Now I can't choose if I will ever be "drafted" so to speak. But I can show up. I can practice. I can prepare, and hopefully when the day comes I will be ready to say, "Pick me, Pick me."

Hopefully, by then, I'll be ready.

Really, I don't think the odds are one and a million. I think it's much closer to fifty fifty. It'll either happen, or it won't. Fifty fifty.

But it'll be my choice if I'm ready.

So... Mz... whatever your name is... I, Sheena now Boekweg, want to be a writer.

Go ahead, tell me it's not going to happen.  See if the principal can save you from my wrath.


p.s. How about you? Want to join me and say, I...[state your name] want to be...[state your dream]?


  1. Okay. This was such an ubber-encouraging post! Well said. I think someone said something like this to me once. Well. Some people listen to it. Others, who refuse to contain their dream, go for it. Some might not make it. Sure. Including me, but I'll give my best.

    Keep up the awesomeness! :)

  2. What a great post, Sheena. I needed to read that right now. And that one in a million shot isn't worth worrying over, because what if Johnny Madsen hadn't made it to the NFL? If he'd worked his butt off doing something he loved, he probably would have found another path that was right for him even if it didn't lead to the NFL. He'd still know passion. Lots of people work for "impossible" dreams and don't make it, but I think that's so much better than abandoning them altogether.

    I don't write because my odds are good. I write because I love it. I spent a lot of years choosing my path by what was safest and not finding any joy along the way. If you only pursue things you know you can achieve, I think you miss out on a lot of the best parts of life.

  3. WOW! That ticks me off that a teacher would discourage dreams especially for kids as young as fifth grade. What a bitter woman.

    The surest way to fail is to never try.

    I'll keep writing as long as I love it. This is not a race, and the best thing about writing is that there is no age-limit like there is in professional sports. I don't care if I'm eighty-years-old plugging away at my lap-top telling my husband, "this is the one." I will keep working until I get there.

    Awesome post, Sheena. Thanks for sharing.:)

  4. Who would have thought that an NFL football player and a Newberry award winner would be in the same class in school?? Your teacher may have been awful but your school was doing something right.

  5. My secret dream is to be a rock star. Sort of along the lines of Shirley Manson of the band Garbage (awesome voice, screeching guitars, lots of eyeliner, doesn't take her clothes off).

    But since I can't sing at all, I'll stick with being a writer. I want that much, much more, anyway.

  6. Thank you, thank you. I needed to hear that.

  7. Karma dictates that this teacher is now employed as a soft pretzel salesperson at the same stadium that Johnny plays in on Sundays.

  8. My 11th grade English teacher wouldn't let me take college English because she said my writing wasn't good enough.

    My *ahem* college English teacher said on day one she doesn't give A's because none of our writing will be good enough to warrant an A. (I got a B)

    That same teacher gave me a C in my creative writing class. The only C I received in my first two years of school.

    My publishing history is thus far proving them right. My 4th place finish in Q3 WotF last year is proving me right.

    The way I see it - we're in a tug-of-war. With each rejection I move a little toward the middle. With each HM or finalist I pull them toward the middle.

    My hands are bloodied and raw, but I'm not going to let them win. Ever. Someday - I'll get that A.

  9. Wow! I love hearing teachers who think they are god proved wrong. I also like being reminded of the dream I had as a child. It was definitely silly, definitely a long shot and much more difficult than getting into the NFL. Here goes...
    I wanted to be J. Carter Brown or at least Curator of the National Gallery of Art. I decided this at the age of 5. I WANTED IT.
    I was told in 7th grade (while being given a failing grade on a book report because my drawing of the book cover was horrid) that I would never make it in the arts. EVER. I decided there and then that I would NEVER EVER let a teacher tell me I wasn't going to make it. It was at that moment I knew I was going into theater and the arts in high school and college. And it wasn't just a matter of "oh I like and I'll try it" it was a plan of attack and a go out of my way to learn and do as much to pursue.
    My undergrad institution was a repository for the National Gallery of Art, I curated my first exhibition there my junior year, worked in an art gallery in DC then in NYC right out of undergrad.
    In the art gallery I was an art historian, curator of exhibits and then working with local museums to showcase works.
    So I've been sucessful in the arts but I've never made it to be curator of the National Gallery. One day I'll be close but I still really want it.

  10. @ Poist, when I was five I didn't know who J.Carter Brown was. (In fact, when I was 28 I didn't know.) You must have been some kid. Good luck!

    @ Dustin, Beautiful comment. That's the kind of stubbornness you need. I think I'll borrow some from you. Thanks for posting.

    @Steve, Ha Ha Ha! She wishes.

    @Susan, Be brave and keep going!

    @ Sabrina, technically you don't need to be able to sing to be a rock star.

    @Melanie, :)
    Oh crap, they're contagious.

    @MaryAnn, They should have an old folks home for writers. We could be neighbors, and take breaks from writing to do water aerobics.

    @ Sarah, Well said. I'm the same way.

    @ David, Thanks for posting. I checked out your blog, and oh my gosh do you follow a billion blogs. I'm amazed that you have time to read any of them, let alone this one. Thanks for stopping by, hope to hear from you again.

    @ Sheena, Holy crap that's a lot of @. Next time respond earlier.

  11. Well, I just learned in this post who J. Carter Brown is. Mrs. Poist, you continue to educate and impress me from afar :)

  12. Forgive me for being blunt: something must be terribly wrong with the American education system for it to allow such people to call themselves teachers.

    I also think American education system is not the only one that does this so I can't really point fingers.

    But in all fairness, that teacher should be sterilized. For starters...

  13. @Martin - We have our nurturing teachers as well. Pick up a hundred books and you'll probably find a few dedicated to the teacher who believed in the author.

    Mine, however, won't have such a comment.

  14. @Martin, Dustin is right, we have amazing teachers as well. Two of my teachers wrote their names into who I am, and will definitely be thanked via dedication by me someday.

    The above teacher may make it into a dedication someday also, but the sentence that follows it will say, "For being wrong."

  15. What a fantastic post! I 100% agree with everything you wrote up there, and MAN, someone should've fired that teacher! I just published my first novel, Cobbogoth, and I have dyslexia, so I know exactly how your friend Johnny felt, because teachers and my dad were telling me all of the time that I should pick something more practicle--perhaps not always in words--but kid's know when an adult does or doesn't believe in them. So keep going, Sheena! You can do it. My favorite quote is by Henry Ford: "Whatever you think you can or can't do, you're right." I've found that to be absolutely true!


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