May 28, 2016

Be Careful when Leaving the Beaten Path for the Road Less Traveled.

Unsplash/Henning Witzel

Several months ago I entered a slew of writing contests. (A slew equaling 15.)

Over the course of the last month or so, the results have been rolling in—and guess what? I have received six “no, thank yous”—some more polite than others. (And by that, I mean detailed enough to make me think they actually read what I submitted.)

One contest was particularly interesting, as I received feedback from two different judges—one loved it, and one thought it was not very good. I found it curious that their specific feedback—regarding effectiveness in “hooking” the reader into the story—was at opposite ends of the spectrum.

This leads me to the only sensible conclusion possible—tastes differ. A conclusion that is of absolutely no help to me. “Judge A” loved what I wrote, while “Judge B” hated it. Gee, thanks for nothing, esteemed judges.

Science, math, law, statistics and medicine are all objective disciplines. There are clear conclusions to be drawn—supported by observable evidence—to guide how those bodies of knowledge and practice function. I am trained as an attorney and licensed to practice in several jurisdictions. I like law. I like how it is rigid and relies on precedence.

But what can we except from that which is created on the “other side” of the brain? Nothing consistent or reliable, because tastes differ.

What do we do when the feedback from others—on the exact same creative endeavor—goes in two opposite directions?

Thankfully, we have the benefit of personal daily training…

For instance:

  • Getting out of bed and dressed for early morning yoga vs. Hitting snooze
  • Venti Americano (black) vs. Grande Frappuccino with whipped cream
  • Allowing child to leave house with mismatched socks vs. Picking a fight and “winning” on getting socks to match
  • Taking advantage of the children being at school for a Friday “nooner” vs. Making a list with your spouse of what needs to get done over the weekend
  • Calling a friend vs. Sending a text
  • Late night snack of banana with honey, cacao and walnuts vs. Entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s Vegan Chunky Monkey

(Side note: of the above five scenarios, I can put checks next to four of choices which sit to the left of the “vs.”)

Remember Robert Frost, the poet who suggested that choosing “The Road Not Taken” over the other has “made all the difference”?

Frost was not endorsing the narrator’s “good” choice in selecting the road “less traveled by.” Rather, he was reflecting—”with a sigh”—on the regret felt for being “one traveler” left to wonder what he missed on the road “not traveled.”


That poem is about regret, which in my opinion, is the most painful of all human emotions. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s true. ”The Road Not Taken” is one of the most recognized poems, and it is also perhaps the most misinterpreted.

Reading the divergent feedback from “Judge A” and “Judge B” leaves me looking at those two roads, veering off in opposite directions. As much as I want to “please everyone” by making all the changes suggested—I can’t.

If “Judge A” loved it and “Judge B” hated it, I simply cannot please them both. This means that I have to choose. Keep it as is, thereby pleasing “Judge A”—or change it, thereby pleasing “Judge B.”

Simple, right?

No, not so simple. It’s easier to leave it “as is” and tell myself that “Judge A” is the “better” judge. But now that I also have feedback from “Judge B,” I’m stuck knowing that there’s that “other road”—and my failure to take that one could be the greatest mistake of my writing life, maybe of my entire life.

(I know a bit melodramatic, but read “The Road Not Taken” a few times, and let it settle on your mind as a cautionary tale about choice and regret, and you’ll be able to better sympathize with my plight.)

The very first book I wrote was, thematically, about regret. When it is published, this quote by Friedrich Nietzche will be in the opening pages: “Is life not a hundred times too short for us to stifle ourselves?”

How’s that for an indictment on a life led without taking risks and opening up the retrospective possibility of feeling regretful? Scathing, but true, in its existential observations—which as an aside, are never objective.

Two roads diverge?

Well just pick one already—but be prepared to look back on the road not taken with some degree of regret. The only solace that can be gleaned by having the knowledge of the existence of two roads is not letting that regret resonate.

Don’t let it take hold in a way which hinders your choice. Instead, allow it to give you the strength and courage to say “No thank you” to that pint of Ben and Jerry’s calling you.


Author:  Jenna Brownson

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Unsplash/Henning Witzel

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