from the ground up

For the past several posts I’ve been talking about “how to not die” in honor of the ten-year anniversary of my rock climbing accident. Part five is almost done. Today, however, I want to take a brief break from my story to share some breaking news:

I just got rejected. Again.

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that, back in December, I applied for graduate school at Berkeley. I thought getting my masters in journalism would be a step towards something I desperately want—which is, of course, to write.

I looked at many programs. There were thoughts of MFAs in Creative Nonfiction (an elusive degree that doesn’t exist in many locations), MAs in International Affairs (I do want to go abroad again), and, what seemed most practical, journalism.

In the end, I decided on journalism.

I worked hard on my application. I was pleased with what I wrote. I didn’t apply to many programs. After living in Asia for three years, I didn’t have the heart to move from California to Chicago. Or New York. Or Missouri. (If I’m going to move that far, I might as well go overseas again . . . Don’t tempt me.)

I got an interview. I was excited. This was further than I’d gotten the first time I applied. (That was before I moved to Taiwan.)


But, in the end, it wasn’t enough.

I wasn’t enough.

Or was I?

I was disappointed when I got the news. But, strangely, I wasn’t devastated. In my heart of hearts I know I’m every bit as good as any other writer who got into Berkeley this year. I just didn’t have the connections or a good enough portfolio at the time of deadline to PROVE to people I’ve never met that I am worthy of their program.


I’ve been thinking, too, about the pedestal on which we place certain organizations. “Oooh, you went to Harvard?” “I’m a graduate of Yale.” We oooh and ahhh at these highfalutin names, but, really, if you attend these schools, are you necessarily that much better off?

One of the best writers I’ve run across recently is a 21-year-old high school dropout from Romania.

Writing comes from deep within, and I’ve decided I’m done trying to live up to someone else’s expectations. Society tells us we should do all kinds of things. We should get married and have babies, or, if we don’t, we should get into pretentious schools with well-known names and become famous and make lots of money.

Well, I don’t care about money. And I’m not worried about fame. And I’m certainly not ready for kids.

And I’m perfectly okay with that.

All I want is to write. And, apparently, I’m going to do it starting from the ground up.

*image credit:

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22 thoughts

  1. Oh dear! I’m sorry. But big thumbs up to your attitude, girl! Mark my words, you’ll go places.

    I loved it when you said that we have created THIS reputation for certain Uni’s. But know this fact, Shakespeare didn’t go to Harvard. Neither die Voltaire attend Yale.

    Writing is from the heart, Jess. In this day and age of the internet, knowledge is not available to a select few. You could look at online resources, or courses which could give you meaningful insights on improving your writing.

    To become a writer – one must write. Just write. Lock yourself up and write. My best wishes to you Jess.

  2. That really sucks Jessica! I’ve been trying to think of all of the encouraging things I could say to make you feel better. You are good! You are a hard worker! You are determined! You are interesting! You are flexible! All of these attributes have become clearer because of your writing. So there you have it! Keep writing this blog.

    • Thank you, Terri. It’s okay, really. I… Part of me wanted to get into Berkeley just to prove that I could. Just to prove that I was as good as others who graduated from bigger, more competitive schools. But, in the end, that just wasn’t “the plan.” That door is closed to me now, and it’s up to me to find doors that are still open.

      I’m glad this blog is doing something. I love writing it.

  3. All I can do is echo what others have said Jess. I haven’t had the opportunity to read much of you, but from what I’ve read I can see someone who is dedicated to writing well and willing to put in the work in pursuit of a dream. I like your attitude about this, and while it stinks I’m not willing to bet against your success, however YOU define it.

    • Thank you! The way I see it, every closed door is an opportunity. If I’d gotten into Berkeley the first time I applied, I wouldn’t have spent three years in Asia. If I’d gotten into Berkeley this time around, who knows what wouldn’t have become of me. I’m still trying to define success myself. But I am finding the practice of writing this blog to be extremely rewarding. Thank you for reading.

  4. an artist needs encouragement more than school. the human heart *is* your school.

    you’re beautiful at this, just write.

  5. I never liked this attitude when it comes to oh so great schools. It’s the same everywhere though. Just because somebody went to a certain school doesn’t mean anything. Same with people that go like “I studied this and that and I have this degree bla bla bla” I mean.. what the hell is wrong with these people? Don’t let them get you down. My favorite writer didn’t go to any fancy schools. They were simply good and lucky enough there was somebody who noticed.. So you better don’t stop believin’!

    • Thank you! I’ll try not to. And don’t get me wrong: Students who go to “great” schools have a reason to be proud. But a school doesn’t make a writer. A writer makes a writer. And that’s something.

  6. I agree with Subhabrata. Just write.

    There are lots of reasons why you didn’t get accepted to that program. Maybe they’d already filled their quota with well-connected brats whose parents already donated large sums of money into some university fund (this happens no matter how unfair it might seem), or it was because rejecting you increases their rating in the league tables (the university league tables are governed by a formula that gives majority weighting to schools that reject large number of good applicants—and almost no weighting to those that produce good graduates). Possibly, they were being kind, and honestly thought that *you don’t need* their education.

    I regret going to university. It was the biggest waste of time, money and energy so far in my life. From my perspective, I recommend spending that time and money doing something that actually develops you as a person. Travel. Read. Write. Stay at home and look after your family. (That’s just 4 examples; there are a thousand more…)

    • Wow. Thanks so much for your kind and insightful response. There are many things I do not know/understand about the acceptance process into graduate schools. I believe you. I certainly felt frustrated because I felt I deserved the chance… Where did you go to university?

      You’re right, though. Because I did not get into Berkeley, many other ways to “develop my person” are now open. I am going to double up my efforts to find freelance opportunities. And I am loving writing this blog.

      • The tallest trees, when they were tiny seedlings, grew around seemingly enormous pebbles, survived droughts and some even broke through concrete to become as tall as they are.

        I went to Cambridge University in the UK then worked in student admissions. I then emigrated to Australia and am now a teacher-in-training (or will be in a week’s time).

        If you want to do a job that requires a university degree (e.g. doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, teacher) then make sure you’re completely familiar with the job before you start. Many people, in my experience, make a foolish rush to university at 18, when they could have gained experience, got some clarity and and direction in life, polished their reading an writing skills, read hundreds of books then apply any time before the age of 24 (the cutoff age for most universities). The mad, blind, unprepared rush at 18 is insane. You actually have six years to prepare for university and can use it all f you need to. You’ll find undergraduate much easier at 20, or 22, than at 18. Age is the easiest grade-boost.

      • I would agree with that. It’s true many people rush into school. I started college at 18 not knowing what I wanted to do and finished at 23 the same way. I’m still not sure what I want to do, lol—not exactly, anyway. I was hoping graduate school would open my eyes to opportunities and give me insight into the ever-changing world of journalism. I was a teacher in Asia for three years. I found I LOVED teaching, but something was missing. That something is what I’m doing right now.

        Writing is my world.

        Congrats to you on your teaching degree. I just looked at your site. I’ll be checking back soon! And I hope you love Australia. I want to visit someday soon.

        Thanks again!

  7. I remember when I was trying to ‘break in” to journalism. I had done numerous internships, NY Times, LA Times and a bunch of others. I spent 6 months to land a job when journalism was a booming industry. I remember reading a piece about a talented young writer who, frustrated that he couldn’t land a job out of college, wrote a book instead. It was accepted and published. He was rejected in the journalism industry but made it in the publishing industry. The journalism professor who told his story commented that the pioneers of journalism from the 60s got in without many qualifications and then set up criteria for newcomers that they themselves wouldn’t have passed. Irony.
    Write, and don’t be discouraged by “setbacks.” If this is God’s call for your life, you will meet with success, regardless of who “rejects” you. If this is your passion, you will succeed no matter who criticizes you. I like your writing.
    Btw, I’m glad to see I have “earned” some wings for an angel! Hahahaha!

    • Thank you! Yes, I suppose the whole setup is rather ironic. I’m trying not to be discouraged, and I do feel I was called to this, though sometimes it gets old to not have a plan… I guess God does, though, right?

      • I think you have the gift. You need practice and editing from pros (at least that’s what helped me a lot). In the meantime, keep writing. When I went to the mission field almost 20 years ago, the realities of writing were one. Now I come back and discover the reality is totally changed. Journalism is a dead career. There are no jobs; it’s worse than when I broke in. But now the Internet has changed everything, including publishing. Now more than ever, self-publishing is the way to go. I am still learning the new realitiies of writing. You are on the right track. It’s not about the oldschool entry points. You create your own entry into writing. Having a blog is big. Every blog flourishes in a niche. The more specific your niche, the better chances for success. It’s no longer about being discovered for fantastic talent as it is about promoting yourself. Find you niche, promote your blog, work it a couple hours a day, publish a post daily pretty much always on the same subject, make it grow in Google’s rankings, increase your followers everyday, do ebooks. You can do an ebook now with your experience on your rock-climbing fall (I was a rock-climber too, though not quite as proficient as you). Anyway, there’s a lot of things you can do, and I myself am still learning. Fortunately for me, my good friend is an SEO, so he is educating me about all the new realities. There are those who say the Internet is changing the world just like the printing press did. We are in the throes of change. It is up to us to take advantage of it. Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged, becuase that just paralyzes. Let the creativity flow, keep working at it, keep believing in the dream, and don’t let the “rejections” get you down. They don’t know who you are.

      • Also, I completely agree. I KNOW I need practice and editing. Really, I should write my stories a week in advance, let them sit, and then edit them intensely before publishing them.

An angel earns a pair of wings every time you comment.

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